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It’s been a while since I updated this site, chronicling the further adventures of the Oregon State Theory Reading Group: my apologies! I’m going to try to keep at it more regularly from now on.

In the meantime, here’s a quick recap of what we’ve read and discussed so far this year:

Jan. 2013 — Readings selected and discussion facilitated by Gilad Elbom (English):

– from New Trends in Linguistics by Bertil Malmberg, trans. Edward Carney (1964)

– from A Theory of Computer Semiotics by P.B. Anderson (Cambridge UP, 1990)

Feb. 2013 — Reading selected/ discussion facilitated by Kirsi Peltomaki (Art History):

– from Kissing Architecture, by Sylvia Lavin (Princeton UP, 2011)

– “Patterns, Grids, and Painting” by Amy Goldin, in Artforum (September 1975)


What’s coming up next, you ask? Stay tuned …

Our Group has kicked off its third year of existence — hurray! Many thanks to Ray Malewitz for getting us off to such a good start by leading us through readings by Michel de Certeau and Evan Watkins. Is consumption the new production? Stay tuned …

“What is called ‘popularization’ or ‘degradation’ of a culture is from this point of view a partial and caricatural aspect of the revenge that utilizing tactics take on the power that dominates production.” — de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (p. 32)

Six and a half thoughtful, provocative minutes from Zizek. Well worth your time!

It’s been a while since my last post, but since our Theory Group is taking its annual summer break, I hope nobody will mind if I use this space to post a link to a recent blog update I think is well worth reading. Levi Bryant, one of the premiere new philosophers of the “Speculative Realism/ Object-Oriented Ontology” movement, runs a great blog called “Larval Subjects.” (A lot of OOO stuff takes place online — a media phenomenon of some substantial interest, I think.) One of his recent postings was on the politics (or lack thereof) of speculative realism. As this is a question that has increasingly preyed on my mind — e.g. does the move from discourse-oriented theory to object-oriented theory mean we are leaving behind or abandoning ideology critique? — I want to provide the link to Bryant’s response:

What do you think?

I’ve read plenty of classic Derrida before, but my exposure to the work of his final years — say, anything written after 2003 or thereabouts — has been limited. So it has been something of a revelation, or at least a surprise, to read “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow),” the opening essay from the 2008 collection of the same title (more or less) published by Fordham UP. (Kudos to Fordham, by the way, for at least partially filling the void left by retreating humanities publishers like Stanford. Fordham’s “Perspectives in Continental Philosophy” is an invaluable series.)

The style of this essay — originally a talk, like so many of Derrida’s late pieces — is the first thing that stands out. Especially when compared to the incredibly dense, intricate, formally sophisticated style of his earlier texts (I am thinking especially of landmark essays like “Plato’s Pharmacy” and “White Mythologies,” as well as formally experimental books like The Postcard), “The Animal That Therefore I Am” strikes me as almost improvisational in its looseness. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it lends the essay an intellectual expansiveness, even openness, that many of those earlier texts lack. If early Derrida is akin, stylistically, to T.S. Eliot — every word carefully chosen, control exerted over every line at every moment — then perhaps late Derrida is more like Whitman: sounding his barbaric (alright, French) yawp over the rooftops of the world. Of course, I exaggerate; Derrida is still very much in control of his material here, and has lost none of his love of wordplay. Indeed, the essay coins several characteristically Derridean neologisms — in particular, “animot” (to connote the violent power of the philosopheme “The Animal”) — that approximate the usefulness of earlier desconstructive classics like “differance” (with an accent over the “e” that I don’t yet know how to insert!) or “hauntology.”

“The Animal That Therefore I Am” is the work of a philosopher who is highly comfortable with his own elite status — so comfortable, in fact, that he is willing to use the tableau of appearing naked in front of his cat as the springboard for 50 pages of philosophical reflection on the history of humanity’s creation and multiple usages of “The Animal” as a concept and category. Does this comfort make the essay a little too self-satisfied? Or does it rather, and in good deconstructive fashion, make it easier for Derrida to enter a place of philosophical discomfort — a place, that is, where the traditionally unquestioned primacy of “Man” over “the Animal” can be thrown into doubt? Fortunately, I think the latter tendency predominates – but part of me remains convinced that late essays like this one are simply never going to be as influential as those earlier Derridean interventions, written when deconstruction was still fresh, battle-ready, and (at least potentially) subversive.


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