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Blog posts

Philosophers at a distance

Justin Weinberg, the editor over at The Dail Nous (pronounced /nu:s/) has committed a witticism, and it is worth quoting at some length. How do philosophers respond to being told they have to “social distance” and avoid leaving their homes?

Zeno of Elea: “Don’t worry, I can never reach anyone anyway.”

Plato: “Okay everybody, change of plans: stay inside your caves!”

Hume: “Look, just because social distancing worked before doesn’t mean it’s going to work now. And I’m in the middle of a backgammon game!”

Descartes: “I doubt anyone else is around.”

Kant: “It may be bad if we don’t social distance but that’s irrelevant, for if we imagine as a universal law of nature everyone staying six feet apart in order to survive, then we immediately see a contradiction, as humankind would have long gone extinct, and so would be unable to follow such a law.”

Berkeley: “Can we all just not give this virus another thought?!”

From “Philosophers Respond to Social Distancing” by Justin Weinberg.

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Blog posts

Žižek on the pandemic

In his new intervention Slavoj Žižek (“Monitor and Punish? Yes, Please!”) advocates international solidarity in the face of the ongoing epidemic, on the grounds that such solidarity is “the only rationally egotistic thing to do.” He refers to such international coordinated action as communism, and, to be clear from the outset, this would be a very different iteration than the one experienced by Žižek and millions of other Eastern and Central Europeans in their youth:

We, ordinary people, who will have to live with viruses, are bombarded by the endlessly repeated formula “No panic!”… and then we get all the data that cannot but trigger a panic. The situation resembles the one I remember from my youth in a Communist country: when government officials assured the public that there was no reason to panic, we all took these assurances as clear signs that they were themselves in a panic.

But panic is not a proper way to confront a real threat. When we react in a panic, we do not take the threat too seriously; we, on the contrary, trivialize it. Just think of how ridiculous the excessive buying of toilet paper rolls is: as if having enough toilet paper would matter in the midst of a deadly epidemic…

Interestingly, Žižek then goes on to compare the being of a virus to that of the spirit, our soul:

To quote a popular definition …: “viruses are considered as being non-living chemical units or sometimes as living organisms.” This oscillation between life and death is crucial: viruses are neither alive nor dead in the usual sense of these terms. They are the living dead: a virus is alive due to its drive to replicate, but it is a kind of zero-level life, a biological caricature not so much of death-drive as of life at its most stupid level of repetition and multiplication.

Is human spirit also not some kind of virus that parasitizes of the human animal, exploits it for its own self-reproduction, and sometimes threatening to destroy it?

The virus, then, like the spirit is an indivisible remainder of our own being, a remnant we cannot, finally, expel, but with which we, nevertheless, have a parasitic relation:

When nature is attacking us with viruses, it is in a way sending our own message back to us. The message is: what you did to me, I am now doing to you.

In this sense it is as if the pandemic urges us to reconsider the universality of the golden rule. It is, we could argue, in our rational self-interest to do onto our neighbour what we would do onto ourselves when the way we act upon others returns to us, if nothing else, as a virus.

The entire text is available from The Philosophical Salon.

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Announcements

New book on utopos: Veisland edits Wuthering Heights

utopos publishing, the English-language imprint of Tankebanen forlag, is out with a new volume in our series Know Your Classics. In this book Professor Jørgen Veisland edits and introduces Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, noting how Brontë gives us a glimpse into a Victorian society replete with inhibitions and repressions that resist the unlocking of hidden meanings constituting the psychological, moral and epistemological plot of the text, the partly hidden but real plot within. Veisland provides some valuable keys to these hidden rooms. In this edition of Wuthering Heights the novel is supplemented with Veisland’s informative introduction, a new biography of Emily Brontë, and a modern, inviting typography that places the text in our contemporary era. Available softbound and as e-book.

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Blog posts Eulogies

Roger Scruton, the grateful philosopher, departs

Roger Scruton, a friend of Central Europe, author, teacher, and philosopher, has passed. In what surely must be one of his last living publications Scruton declared in The Spectator that 2019 gave him much to be joyous about, such as

  • learning from Wagner’s Parsifal that “our highest aspirations grow from our darkest griefs, and that the gate to fulfilment stands on the way of loss”;
  • his reinstatement as chair of the British government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, and the plentiful letters of support he received, making Scruton think that he was “listening to the speeches at my own funeral, with the unique chance of nodding in agreement”;
  • receiving Poland’s Order of Merit, and also “with an added touch of Polish humour” the Ministry of Culture’s prize for architecture, making Scruton leave with “a heart full of gratitude for another country where I would be welcome as a refugee.”

Read his full 2019 retrospective.

Scruton’s obituary in The Daily Nous.

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Announcements Publications

Inscriptions 3, n1: Outsourced! Mediatisation and revolt is out

Outsourcing is a way to get someone else to act on our behalf. In psycho-analysis the term is also used for instances of exteriorised reception, politics, or belief. This issue of Inscriptions considers cases when such outsourcing is non-subjectivised, i.e. when there is a knowledge “out there,” in the Real, but where it is not yet possible to say who it is that believes. Tidhar Nir’s essay on the experience of shock in art explores how the ego can be resituated within such knowledges, while Jørgen Veisland proposes a model for how the artistic imagination shields itself from, and yet incorporates, knowledges “in the Real.” This “Real” is very much present in the work of our editor Sharif Abdunnur, who explains what it is like to teach in the context of an ongoing revolt in Lebanon. We also present a series of paste-ups and murals by the street artist AFK that bring up complex debates while also giving us a glimpse into the holy. Inscriptions is an international, interdisciplinary double-blind peer-reviewed journal that publishes contemporary thinking on art, philosophy and psycho-analysis. ISSN 2535-7948 (print)/2535-5430 (online). More: https://inscriptions.tankebanen.no/

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Publications

Perversion’s Beyond reviewed in Interdisciplinary Studies of Literature

The international journal Interdicsiplinary Studies of Literature features a review of Perversion’s Beyond written by Professor Jørgen Veisland in their most recent issue. Veisland writes:

Dr. Fjeld’s book is a tour de force through Freudian and Lacanian theory. The book offers innovative interpretations of major works in world literature and is furthermore written in a lucid style that makes it attractive to the reader interested in philosophy, cultural theory and literature.

Jørgen Veisland in Interdisciplinary Studies of Literature 文学跨学科研究 , Vol. 3, No. 3 September 2019, p. 558.

Read the entire review here.

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Commentaries

Fosse in support of Handke

In these times when literature is sold cheaply and those who raise the banner of arts as a distinct domain are in short supply it is refreshing to review a statement made by the highly acclaimed Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse on the work of Peter Handke.

Some context: Handke was recently awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature along with Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk. The committee decided to give out two awards this time after a one-year hiatus. A debacle concerning some prominent members of the committee had led to the prize not being awarded in 2018. It would be logical to think, then, that previous conflicts have now been assigned to the past. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Recently two more committee members announced their resignation, citing a disagreement over awarding the prize to Handke.

Controversies regarding Handke’s work is nothing new. A few years ago he was awarded a different prize, the Ibsen Award for outstanding achievements in dramatic writing. On arriving in Norway to collect the prize, Handke was met by around 200 protesters who claimed he was a fascist, and in denial of the Holocaust.

When freedom of speech is increasingly encroached upon; when artists who sympathise with those brutally crushed by Western military powers are rendered as demons; and when a writer who demonstrates his affection for his mother’s homeland is haunted as if he were a war criminal, it is refreshing to see a literary luminary such as Jon Fosse come to Peter Handke’s defense. In an interview with the literary magazine Vinduet in 2014 Fosse was asked what his opinions were of giving the Ibsen Award to Handke. These were his thoughts:

Did Peter Handke deserve the 2014 Ibsen Award?

I fully support giving the Ibsen Award, as the prize has become known by now, to Peter Handke. He deserves it, not as a person, or as a political speaker and essayist, but as the author Peter Handke, the one who, as far as I can tell, is possibly our most significant living author, all things considered, that is to say if we include prose and drama and essays, i.e., the entire authorship. I have been asked several times who I believe deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature, and every time I have given the answer Peter Handke.

Subsequently, it is in my view as misguided to ground an award for aesthetic activity in political motivations, for instance in order to promote the position of women in society, as it is to ground a refusal to give such an award in political motivations. To pass over Peter Handke when this prize was awarded would have been a political act, or at least a political decision. Furthermore, there were others who had misgivings when NATO’s bombs descended onto Serbia, such as the Nobel laureate Harold Pinter. Lastly, when Elfriede Jelinek was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature she remarked that it should have been given to Peter Handke; she won simply for being a woman.

It is true that a remarkable amount of authors have had fairly extreme political sympathies. In many cases it is as if a sovereign aesthetics is extended into the political domain; in any case we see an aestheticisation of the political. This tendency is particularly apparent in the case of Peter Handke. In his books the Slavic, and particularly what was once referred to as Yugoslavia, features as a dream world of sorts, where aesthetic considerations governed at the expense of the brutal capitalism he believed to see in the West. Notice how he describes his love for the Slavic tongues: you need go no further than Wunschloses Unglück (A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, 1972). It tells the story of his mother’s suicide; she was a Slovenian, living in the Austrian village where Handke himself grew up. In this text we can trace this characteristic trait of his aesthetics.

What political responsibilities rest on authors?

I am against turning the political into an aesthetic domain; it may for instance lead to a celebration of rules who have committed genocide, such as Pol Pot, or Mao, or Stalin, or Hitler, or Mussolini. And yet I cannot hold the view that the author of On Overgrown Paths did not deserve his Nobel Prize. Furthermore, I cannot deny that Dag Solstad is the greatest living author in Norway; and I can clearly not let these considerations serve as the ground for an attack on Øyvind Berg because of his translations of the anti-Semite Ezra Pound’s texts into Norwegian, even if the Swedish Academy believed that they were unable to award Pound a Nobel Prize for this reason. Finally, it is difficult to deny Céline any literary qualities on the grounds of his opinions.

In the same manner as I am against subordinating politics to aesthetic considerations, I am against politicizing aesthetics. Brecht wrote many good texts, but it is always when an imposed political frame loosens its grip that his talent lifts us up, such as in his poetry, or in lyrical passages in his [dramatic] works. In any case, I have little regard for the political literature of the 1970s in Norway, where mountains were dressed up with weapons.

Yet, ever since my debut in 1983, I have frequently been asked whether I write politically, which, more often than not, implies that I should do so. I have time and again wondered what the point of such a question might be, and I have arrived at the conclusion that there must be something immoral about me, since I don’t commit to political writing, whatever that might mean. I have always said the same thing: I do not write politically. However, the aesthetic and the ethical domains are connected, as for instance Wittgenstein has noted; and embarking from the ethical dimension of literature it is also possible to arrive at politics, if one pleases. And from such a perspective it is clear that there is something quite different from a praise of genocide that lies at the core of Peter Handke’s aesthetic programme. Similarly, there is no praise of Nazism in Knut Hamsun’s aesthetics. In both these cases we should take the contrary view.

(Translated excerpt from “Enquête: Peter Handke og Ibsenprisen,” published in the literary magazine Vinduet, 17 September 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2019, from https://www.vinduet.no/enquete/)

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Publications

Perversion’s Beyond on LacanOnline.com

It’s always nice to get a mention by a respected site. Owen Hewitson spreads the word at LacanOnline.com. Thank you, Owen! Get Perversion’s Beyond from Amazon.com.

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Publications

Perversion’s Beyond is out

Perversion of justice, sexual perversion, perversion of tradition… The pervert has become the figure that most essentially captures what it means to live in our age. Perversion’s Beyond advocates a stricter definition of the pervert than Freud’s well-known formulation: it suggests that we should adopt the pervert as a homeostatic device. Innovation today entails perversion. Perversion’s Beyond is out on Atropos Press. Get it here from Amazon.com.

Said about Rock Philosophy (Vernon Press, 2018):

I find myself intrigued on multiple levels. When I read the words Rock Philosophy, the first thing that came to mind was the Stones, rock ‘n roll, and Queen. […] I was startled by Rock Philosophy and its reference to another, more actually stony form of rock. Sentient stones may seem an impossibility from a Western perspective that categorically separate Creator and Creation, Mind and Matter. However, consciousness appears and disappears as part of the ongoing, sometimes turbulent, sometimes placid, flows of which the world is made.

John McCreery, Visiting Professor, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan

Rock Philosophy: https://vernonpress.com/book/770

Said about dressage and illusio (SPS, 2016):

… enters directly into current philosophical and social scientific questions regarding sport – nation – body, and anchors the debate in strong, theoretical currents … rich in perspective and original analysis.

Sigmund Loland, Professor, Norwegian University College of Elite Sports

dressage and illusio: https://dressageandillusio.wordpress.com/

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Announcements

Ereignis redesigned

We have redesigned our Ereignis Center web pages: our new presentation includes a library of resources, a gallery, and a faculty rooster. It’s been designed to be mobile friendly. See https://ereignis.no/

~~ Ereignis: taking you to who you are ~~