Feb 14th, 2012 by tuomo.tiisala
NON-NORMATIVE ETHICS, SOME THEMES FROM AGAMBEN
Giorgio Agamben’s writings are difficult to understand. They are particularly difficult for those, like myself, who approach them with a desire to be able to communicate what they say to philosophers of a more analytic stripe. Coming at his writings from that angle, I have found it illuminating to compare his position to that of John McDowell’s. I will argue that a serious consideration of Agamben’s position on ethics reveals that McDowell’s opposition to highest-common factor views of our cognitive faculties does not suffice to vindicate his view of our cognitive faculties. McDowell argues that an understanding of our cognitive faculties as the faculties of one who is both rational and an animal can only make sense if we understand our rationality to be “transformative” of our animality. Agamben agrees. Agamben (but not McDowell) claims that a proper understanding of this transformation requires that what it is to be human is to be contingently rational – that is, Agamben denies that there is a conceptual priority to being actually rational relative to being potentially rational. I do not know how to vindicate Agamben’s position on this issue; nor do I know how to vindicate the claim (which is plausibly McDowell’s) that being actually rational has conceptual priority.
Jan 31st, 2012 by tuomo.tiisala
TOWARD AN ONTOLOGY OF LITERATURE: DETERMINATION AND INDIVIDUATION IN DELEUZE
This is an excerpt from a much longer chapter, the fourth of a seven-chapter manuscript. The manuscript argues for the possibility of thinking literary form on the basis of a non-totalizing organization, one that can take into account the integrity of the literary work without reducing the work to a closed system of self-identity or self-reflection. Earlier chapters trace the relationship between German romanticism and Kantian aesthetics, as well as offer critiques of notions of organic form in American New Criticism and of possibility in Blanchot.
This chapter turns chiefly to Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition in order to draw out the way Deleuze articulates a concept of creation in which notions of system and freedom appear in terms very different from Kant’s. Deleuze offers a powerful critique of the traditional concept of determination, arguing that determination depends on a schema of recognition and an already-determined, unified principle. And he offers a parallel critique of the concept of possibility, which positions the real as an inferior image of, or sacrifice of, the possible. In place of these concepts, he proposes a study of the organization of difference, of the tension between a self-differing cause and a repetition that structures and communicates. My claim is that Deleuze’s rethinking of determination as individuation, and of being as difference, provides an alternative model of form, one that can and should be put into dialogue with theorizations of the literary work. This claim is based on the idea that the literary work is something that differs from itself as well as from its causes, and thus needs to be studied on the basis of philosophies that have explicitly articulated a logic and an ontology of self-difference.
Jan 16th, 2012 by tuomo.tiisala
KEEPING IT IMPLICIT:
A DEFENSE OF FOUCAULT’S CONCEPTION OF DISCURSIVE NORMS
This paper defends the specific conception of discursive norms underlying Michel Foucault’s idea of archaeology of knowledge: norms that are implicit in practices and nevertheless constitute and constrain the discursive possibilities of the participating subjects. The goal is to refute the influential line of criticism that Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow have leveled against Foucault, which concludes that the archaeological project is unsound because it is based on an incoherent conception of its subject-matter, norms of discourse. To meet this goal, I will, first, argue that the method and aim of Foucault’s archaeological project determine the following criteria of adequacy for a conception of the discursive norms whose historical transformations it studies: (1) the norms cannot be descriptive regularities but they must involve a normative force that is efficacious; (2) the norms must be operative in a practice without its participants having an explicit understanding of them by way of grasping statements of rules. In the second place, I seek show that, Foucault’s specific aspirations aside, these two criteria are motivated by the general need of an account of discursive norms to avoid the respective pitfalls of regularism and regulism, as discussed by Robert Brandom. By invoking the Kantian criticism of regularism and rehearsing ‘the-regress-of-interpretations-of-rules argument’ against regulism, I hope to show, following Brandom, that the criteria expressed in (1) and (2) must be met by any account of discursive norms. Hence, I will conclude, the fact that Foucault’s archaeological project presupposes a conception of norms that meets the criteria expressed in (1) and (2) cannot be a problem, despite what Dreyfus and Rabinow argue.
Jan 3rd, 2012 by tuomo.tiisala
A SPLINTER IN THE FLESH: LEVINAS AND THE RESIGNIFICATION OF JEWISH SUFFERING, 1928–1944
This is a draft of chapter 2 of my new book “Sowers and Sages: The Renaissance of Judaism in postwar Paris.” Primarily the chapter works out how Jewish suffering in Levinas becomes the basis for his notion of election. The essay/chapter traces Levinas’s development of a philosophical conception of Jewish suffering/ election during these years by considering his debt to and departure from Heidegger. It treats the relationship between Geworfenheit and historicality in Heidegger and election and anti-historicism in Levinas as correlated categories. I want to show in particular how Levinas’s simultaneous debt and disavowel of Heidegger’s influence during these years lead to the project’s political liabilities.
Nov 22nd, 2011 by tuomo.tiisala
NORMS, AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF SUBJECTS: POLITICS AND ETHICS OF DEAF SUBJECTIVITY
Building on Michel Foucault’s thinking, my paper is a reflection on the concept of “norm”. The first part of the presentation discusses the emergence and development of Foucault’s conception of norm in his writings and courses at the Collège de France, exploring the interaction between Foucault’s two registers in which norms operate: at the level of the individual through mechanisms of discipline and at the level of populations through mechanisms of social control and regulation.
In the second part, I move from a philosophical perspective to a historical analysis, testing the Foucaultian framework in a field that he did not explore: the issue of deafness and the construction of the deaf subject. This connection between philosophical reflection and historical research is, I want to show, a prerequisite for diagnosing the present – and as such one of the most important aspects of Foucault’s method. Finally, I will raise the problem of resistance: how can we conceptualize a resistance against the norms imposed on ourselves and against this process of normalization that produces us as specific subjects?
Nov 8th, 2011 by tuomo.tiisala
COUNTER-MAPPING THE EUROPEAN GOVERNMENTALITY OF HUMAN MOBILITY: MIGRANTS’ STRUGGLES, PRACTICES OF RESISTANCE, AND REGIMES OF DISCURSIVITY
In this presentation I will use Foucault’s toolbox to come to grips with the stakes involved in the political technology that is presently hinged to the governing of migration in Europe, analyzing at the same time how such a governmental rationality is radically challenged by migrants’ struggles. My analytical approach consists in questioning at the very root the idea that human mobility is something to be governed, and, at the same time, in considering the migratory issue as a “political laboratory” to be analyzed within the broader regime of the governmentality of human mobility.
Rather than testing the Foucaultian grid of analysis by referring it to domains Foucault never dealt with, my point is to use some of his conceptual categories because of the “effects of reality” they can produce in our present. I will start by relating my topic to the activities of the Groupe d’information sur les prisons (co-founded by Foucault in 1971), to see the extent to which it may be useful to understand how to connect the issue of migrations to other social struggles over mobility. As a second step, I will explain why the categories of governmentality and practices of resistance can constitute the main analytical grid of intelligibility for framing migrants’ movements and highlighting their relative autonomy with respect to power. Finally, I will conclude by making an inroad to the practices of counter-mapping in order to show how undocumented migrants challenge both the politics of knowledge and the western political categories, overturning the centrality of visibility as the main axis of the political.
Oct 24th, 2011 by tuomo.tiisala
AESTHETICS OF EXISTENCE, ETERNAL STOICISM OR MORAL PERFECTIONISM? FOUCAULT, HADOT, AND CAVELL BETWEEN ETHICS AND POLITICS
In my presentation, I will discuss in depth the ethico-political dimension in the works of Stanley Cavell, Michel Foucault and Pierre Hadot. In the first part, I will try to show how it is possible, and why it is interesting, to tie together the philosophical perspectives developed by these three authors and, in particular, I will argue that they all rely on the same (ancient) conception of philosophy and share exactly the same conviction, according to which the reality of philosophy (i.e. the test of its reality) is constituted by the everyday way of life of the subject. In the second part, by contrast, I will underline the different “philosophical options” Foucault, Hadot, and Cavell offer, thus posing the problem of their contemporary relevance, that is: the problem of the ethico-political value that each of these thinkers gives to the renewal of the ancient idea of philosophy as a way of life for us, in the present.
Oct 10th, 2011 by tuomo.tiisala
THE GRAY ZONE, POWER, AND PRIVILEGE IN PRIMO LEVI
In my presentation, I will examine and discuss the concept of gray zone in Primo Levi’s work. One of the main purposes of this analysis is to demonstrate the key role of the story of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, the Elder of the Lodz ghetto between 1941 and 1945, regarding both the historical emergence and our understanding of the gray zone.
First, I will offer an historical analysis of Primo Levi’s work. In seeking to identify the roots of the gray zone, I will focus on the ninth chapter of Levi’s first book, If This is a Man.
Then, I will specifically analyze the story of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski. Narrated by Primo Levi in Story of a Coin, first published in 1977 in the Turin newspaper La Stampa, the story of Rumkowski was reprinted in 1981 before its reappearance in the second chapter of The Drowned and the Saved as an extreme example of the gray zone. I will try to identify all the analytical and moral questions this story gives rise to.
Finally, I will discuss the concept of gray zone itself by focusing on its three main conditions of possibility: isolation, privilege, and contagion. I will argue that these features constitute the core of Primo Levi’s remarks about power, giving rise to a series of questions whose relevance, though illustrated through the story of Rumkowski, goes beyond the specificity of the extreme context of the Lager.
Sep 20th, 2011 by tiisala
Please note the new time and location of our meetings in 2011–12:
alternate Mondays (even-numbered weeks of the quarter)
from 4:30–6:20 pm in Cobb 110.
Oct 13th, 2010 by tiisala
In addition to functioning as a Canguilhem–Foucault reading group, the workshop will host one guest speaker this fall.
Morten Sørensen Thaning,
a visiting scholar from Copenhagen who is attending our meetings through his stay in Chicago, will present his paper
“The Concept of Tradition in Philosophical Hermeneutics”.
The talk will take place at our regular Tuesday time on November 9, from 4:30–6:20 pm in Foster 505.
The paper contributes, among other things, to our examination of different kinds of normativity by analyzing the double role of tradition as enabling and constraining the possibilities of understanding and interpretation.
Here is an abstract:
The paper is an attempt to reinterpret Hans-Georg Gadamer’s concept of tradition and it begins by arguing that the notion of tradition plays an important epistemological role in his theory of understanding. A common criticism of Gadamer’s concept of tradition is that it plays down the space for critical reflection. The notion of tradition is perceived by many of his critics as an example of postulating a fundamental level in our experiential life that cannot be questioned and criticized. As an alternative to this readinøg, I interpret Gadamer’s concepts of tradition and prejudice in the light of his explicit acknowledgement that every appeal to bare immediacy beyond the reach of reflective scrutiny is futile. Rather than an invocation of immediacy, Gadamer’s idea is that tradition and prejudice positively contribute to every successful act of understanding in a way that outstrips our ability to bring to reflective transparency. Appreciating this point makes us able to understand why Gadamer describes understanding as an activity that is constitutively not at our disposal (unverfügbar). In a further step, I examine the ontological or metaphysical implications of the concept of tradition which become clear when we focus on how Gadamer conceives tradition as a successor to the doctrine of belongingness (Zugehörigkeit) between mind and world that shaped Classic Greek metaphysical thought. A consequence of this ontological dimension is that our initiation into tradition is the way we acquire a world-view at all. The concept of tradition thus stresses the historicity of meaning and at the same time opposes any account of meaning and intentionality in constructivist terms. In a third and final step, I attempt to show how this concept of tradition undermines Robert Brandom’s pragmatist appropriation of philosophical hermeneutics, in particular his distinction between de dicto and de re interpretation.