A Dark Precursor

Provisional Thoughts on Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Universities

Moral Stupidty

Yesterday, Talking Points Memo reported on new CBS News poll that found extremely high percentages of respondents approving of the use of drones against suspected terrorists. According to the article:

Seventy-one percent of Americans — including 78 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Democrats — said they support the use of drones against suspected terrorists. Only 20 percent of respondents said they are opposed.

My initial response to this was twofold: 1) disgust and dismay, and 2) the thought that we might need a category of ‘moral stupidity’ to describe this kind of phenomenon. I want to briefly explain the latter, since the more I think about it, the more I think such a category — or perhaps, for reasons I’ll explain below, a category of ‘moral stupidities’ — has some genuine value and is worth developing in a precise way.

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François Laruelle – Phénomène et Différence – Introduction [in English]

François Laruelle’s first book, Phénomène et Différence. Essai sur l’ontologie de Ravaisson, appeared in 1971. As he notes in the final paragraph below, the text was his thesis for the doctorat de troisième cycle. Laruelle acknowledges this academic origin, regretting that the work as it stood did not take account of some of the theoretical developments in very contemporary French thought which related to its subject matter—or that it only did so around the margins. This qualification must be added because, when Laruelle prepared Phénomène et Différence for publication, he added the introductory text which is translated here in order to position what was already, by his own characterization, a “free essay” on Ravaisson in relation to the contemporary problem of difference.

As matters now stand, that Introduction can be seen as a remarkable first statement of a number of themes that have endured in Laruelle’s thought. Indeed, in the correspondence wherein he graciously gave me permission to post this translation, Laruelle himself observed that “these three pages . . . announce a constant tendency in my thought.”

Accordingly, I am glad to be able to present the following translation. The Introduction begins in page 9 of the French edition, and I have marked the page transitions in that edition as they occur. Also, given the likelihood that many readers will have difficulty obtaining a copy of Phénomène et Différence, I have been quite free about supplying the original French in brackets where it seemed useful for clarity or where the sense of Laruelle’s text might be open to variant readings in English. Several readers, including Laruelle himself have seen this text, but none of them have checked it carefully against the French. Therefore, while I am fairly confident in its accuracy, this should be treated as an uncorrected draft translation, which may contain errors and infelicities — for which I take full responsibility and of which I invite discussion in the comments.

The translation follows after the break, or can be downloaded in .pdf form here.

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Canards about the University: “There are too many PhD programs.”

Consider this the first in a series devoted to pieces of conventional wisdom which one hears repeated in discussions of higher education, which strike me as deserving of more skepticism than they usually receive.

If there’s one thing that the current state of the job market proves, it’s that there are too many PhD programs in the humanities.

I think this is wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

Jean Laplanche Has Died

Today, Le Monde carries a short announcement, written by Elisabeth Roudinesco, that Jean Laplanche died yesterday of pulmonary fibrosis.

Here is the text of Roudinesco’s announcement translated into English:

Born the 21st of June, 1924, Jean Laplanche, psychoanalyist, graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, agrégé in philosophy, doctor of medicine, former intern at psychiatric hospitals, founder of the Centre de recherches en psychanlyse and psychopathologie fondamentale (1979, University of Paris VII), then professor emeritus, died the 6th of May at the Hospital de Beaune of the effects of a pulmonary fibrosis.

Jean Laplanche belonged to the third generation of French psychoanalysis. He was analyzed by Jacques Lacan, who remained, after Freud, his major intellectual reerence, and was among the founders of the Association psychanalyse de France (APF, 1964). He was the scientific director of the publication of the complete works of Freud by the Presses universitaires de France (PUF) and the author, with Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, of the celebrated Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse, publised in 1967 and translated into twenty five languages.

He was also the author of an important body of work: 20 volumes, pulished by PUF of which some were translated into many languages. He was also, until 2003, and under the name of Jean-Louis Laplanche, a remakable wine-maker, proprietor of the Château de Pommard, which he inherited from his father.

Badiou’s “The Racism of the Intellectuals”

Alain Badiou published the following short article in Le Monde on Saturday, the eve of the French election that brought an end to the Sarkozy government. Entitled “The Racism of the Intellectuals,” it insists that primary responsibility for the current climate of racism, xenophobia, and ‘rampant fascism’ in France must be laid at the door of a set of politicians — left and right-wing — and intellectuals who have over the past several decades been willing to cultivate and exploit such sentiments.  It also powerfully calls into question the position of the incoming Socialist government of François Hollande on many of these points, and resists the tendency to identify these attitudes only with the far right. I offer here my own rough translation in order to make the piece more accessible to non-Francophone readers, who may find that many of Badiou’s criticisms of the French intelligensia and the French political establishment can be transposed into other contexts with rather startling ease.

Full text below (and in pdf here)—and as usual, comments, corrections or suggestions for the translation are welcome.  Read the rest of this entry »

March 19, 1969: Jacques Nassif presents on Deleuze in Lacan’s Seminar

Early in the research that eventually led to my dissertation, I discovered that Deleuze had been taken up on at least two distinct occasions in Lacan’s seminar, first in 1967 (Seminar XIV) after the publication of Coldness and Cruelty, and then again in 1969 (Seminar XVI) after the appearance of The Logic of Sense. Intrigued, I went to the typescripts of these seminars — the official edition of Seminar XVI had not yet appeared — and discovered not only that Lacan had praised Deleuze warmly on both occasions, but indeed that he had been so taken by The Logic of Sense as to request, on March 12, 1969, that one of his students put together a presentation on it. This request was taken up the next week by Jacques Nassif, whose presentation was preserved in the typescript of the seminar.

Thrilled, I dutifully set to work translating the presentation. Originally, I had also intended to write up an introduction to it, and possibly an analysis of the entire episode, which is quite interesting in many of its nuances — not least among them Lacan’s rather explicit attempts to claim what Deleuze is doing as an effect of his own project, while also rebuking Deleuze for relying too much on Jean Laplanche’s portions of his and Serge Leclaire’s famous presentation on “The Unconscious” at the Bonneval colloquium in 1960, a text which was central to the break between Lacan and Laplanche. The project stalled, having too many moving parts, many of which were drawing me further and further from the central issue (at the time) of Deleuze’s own relationship to psychoanalysis.

In the mean time, I had the translation sitting around. When the official edition of the seminar appeared in French, Nassif’s text was not included. There is thus no more ‘official’ edition than the one in the typescripts, nor is one likely to be forthcoming. From the point of view of Lacan scholarship, this is reasonable; and indeed given that what is at issue is a rough presentation that was composed in the course of a week, it is hardly surprising that the editors — and quite probably Nassif himself — saw fit to let it lie.  For several years, I have done the same.

Nevertheless — especially given Lacan’s rather pointed ‘introduction’ of The Logic of Sense to his seminar the week before — it seems to me that the text retains some considerable interest to those trying to understand the relationship between Deleuze and Lacan.  Indeed, it provides a very rare example of how Deleuze, more or less with Lacan’s authorization, could be read by Lacanians prior to what Monique David-Ménard rather pointedly calls “the altercation” of the 1970s.

Accordingly, I present here a revision of my translation of Nassif’s presentation, with the original French text from the typescript linked above en face.

J Nassif on Deleuze’s Logic of Sense, Presented to Lacan’s Seminar, 3-19-1969

Comments on or corrections to the translation are, of course, welcome. There are several passages that are tricky and awkward, especially given the emendations in the text. Also, as the opportunity presents itself, I hope to work on translating the relevant sections of the two meetings of the seminar before and after March 19th, where Lacan introduces The Logic of Sense and makes a few comments in the aftermath of Nassif’s presentation. I will update this post with links to those materials, as appropriate. Perhaps someday I’ll even finish writing up my discussion of the various ‘moving parts’ animating the episode.

The Early Marx on Gender and Sexuality

From the ‘Private Property and Communism’ in the Economic and Political Manuscripts (Milligan, trans., New York: International Publishers, 1964) :

The direct, natural, and necessary relation of person to person is the relation of man to woman. In this natural species relations man’s elation to nature is immediately his relation to man, just as his relation to man is immediately his relation to nature–his own natural destination. In this relationship, therefore, is sensuously manifested, reduced to an observable fact, the extent to which the human essence has become nature to man, or to which nature to him has become the human essence of man. From this relationship one can therefore judge man’s whole level of development (134).

Leaving aside the persistence of Hegelianism (or Feuerbachianism, if you prefer), there’s a lot to say.

On the one hand, we have the recognition that gender-based exploitation is a problem, and a prototype for pretty much any other form.  He will repeat this in The German Ideology. There are surely no Marxist grounds for ignoring, minimizing, or treating as secondary and derivative the question of the status of women.

On the other hand, and especially if we treat “the relation of man to woman” as a cipher for sexuality, which is precisely what Marx has been discussing above (“general prostitution” (133), “the approach to woman as the spoil and handmaid of communal lust” (134)), we have one of those moments when it’s difficult not to feel as if Foucault was right about everything. Can we not say that sexuality appears as the secret essence, the obscure principle which gives intelligibility to the rest?

Remarkably, however, this is precisely the reverse of what Marx is saying. Sexuality is not at all hidden. It is, on the contrary, the sensuous, visible element that allows something else to appear:  species being, the essence.

This leads to more questions. First, is what is at stake here really sexuality in the sense of Focuault’s dispositif? Marx’s focus on visible acts suggests that it may not be, at least if we take the ‘secret essence’ to be essential to sexuality in Foucault’s sense. Second, if sex makes visible a set of relations that are otherwise more difficult to see, can we say that sexuality, with its postulate of an obscure essence, complicates this signal value of sex, making it more likely to function as a screen?


Taking as read, for the moment, Althusser’s analysis of the ways in which the educational system functions as the core of the Ideological State Apparatus of capitalism, one can still wonder at the extent to which this system, and especially its key employees — teachers and professors —  have become the target of increasingly intense scrutiny and criticisms in the past several years.

We are, it seems, overpaid. Well maybe not, since this has in fact drawn one or two notable objections. But at very least, we seem to be woefully inefficient. Objections? Nothing too serious, it seems, as long as you don’t count the derisive howls of many academics I know when this was posted by several of us to various social networking sites. There, people felt no compunction about eviscerating Yglesias’ argument — a treatment which, indeed, it roundly deserves.

Nevertheless, let’s consider the symptomatic value of the fact that Yglesias was taken by many outside the academy to have made a fairly obvious point — one that he, himself, didn’t feel the need to research in any depth or supply evidence for. This seems to reflect a shift that is occurring within the educational ISA — and indeed within the State Apparatuses more generally, ideological or not. Under the guise of “privatization” in many instances, these institutions are being conceived of more and more as if they were businesses in the ordinary sense. This has a wide range of consequences, not the least of which is that worker-productivity or ‘efficiency’ appears to be an increasingly serious concern. Additionally, it may come to seem as if ‘technology’ — which, as an article of faith, is taken to increase efficiency in other realms — might well offer a way of improving matters.

But one objects: colleges and universities are not businesses, teaching is not a form of production, it is highly unclear whether educational technology improves efficiency or diminishes workloads, and so on. Of course.

So what is the function of this rhetoric? Broadly, its major use appears to be the same in both Levy’s and Yglesias’s pieces: to argue for spending less money on faculty, who are, it is claimed, the source of the rising cost of education. This, too, is false — as has been demonstrated repeatedly. It is also widely believed. And as a consequence, no one considers a much more likely source of many of the cost increases in higher ed over the past several decades: increases in spending on administration, and technology.