Thursday, May 19, 2005

I saw I Y Huckabees the other night, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It's a fine line between intellectual comedy and ironic 'meta' overload, but this film was delicate and authentic enough to pull it off.

It did make me think of a comment that I made a few weeks back to a friend of mine. We were talking about Arts degrees and how it's valuable to trace your intellectual history - so, in my case, from 1. naive pseudo-socialist AND unexamined liberal democrat of sorts; through 2. the above, but harping on about "recognition"; then 3. post Nietzsche-reading anti-Christian, anti-compassion and deeply skeptical about political involvement; ending up as a Marxist of sorts who likes (and is venturing into) Badiou, Benjamin, Freud and... others.* Though in the middle of my degree, I felt panicked as all stable ground for beliefs had been pulled out from under me, I felt after 'clearing the decks' in this manner that my allegiances began to reinstate themselves and that - importantly - these were positions that I could defend, having not only 'thought them through' in a passive fashion, but also having been forced to ensure their solidity in order to escape hyper-critical limbo.

So, all this prompted me to state that I think everyone should be (lovingly) broken and reconstructed before they can move into society. I like very much the notion that someone might be 'pulled apart' by a master before moving into adulthood - be this 'master' an in-the-flesh teacher or a philosophical work.

And though this role is portrayed in Huckabees as that of 'existentialist detectives' - zen-masters come sleuths - is this not (she says in her best Zizek voice) precisely the 'job description' of a psychoanalyst, particularly the Lacanian? Not problem-solving or 'therapy' (conciliation with already-existing values), but reconstruction?


And an aside: I have noticed that this topic (my intellectual history) recurs quite a bit in my discussion on this blog. This is because I think it's important, and not just because I feel that reflexivity is good to indulge in for its own sake. Political positions have a history, and in fact are always informed by how this is put together retrospectively. One of the sources of my discontent with mark k-punk is how his change in position is very rarely acknowledged - he seemed to turn on gnosticism in a matter of weeks, for example, after reading Zizek's stuff on Christianity. This in itself is obviously no problem, but what I have qualms with is an implicit refusal of Mark's to engage with the question of just how it is that people have or will come to hold the cold rationalist position. And such an engagement might just mean that Mark will have to reconfront how it is that he understands the category of 'experience'.

But to be clear on this: this only frustrates me because I have such high regard and expectations of Mark - k-punk is one of the most sophisticated theoretical-political sites, nay works, that I read. The above is an observation born of my profound love of Mark's writing. After all, it's a key part of what I presently find exciting in politics and philosophy.

This intellectual self-examination is also important because I don't think I've ever really been Marxist, Hegelian, anti-Hegelian, Spinozist, feminist, Bataillian or anything else - I've just had perceptions of these bodies of thought and how I've 'felt about' (it wasn't touchy-feely) or approached them. It's not quite pix-and-mix, it's not a strategy that I feel obliged to hold up as "Bricolage! The only strategy available to us in our post-Hegelian world!" or anything like that. What I mean is that I've never been able to consistently ascribe myself to any one doctrine - I've always moved towards one from the direction of another, thereby prejudicing both of them. Accordingly, I *think* and *believe* at the moment that I should trace my 'journey' thus far.

Another example of where this sort of intellectual honesty might be useful:

How many truly right-wing commentators/opinion-holders have you run into that claim to be justified in not considering other opinions, because they were "left-wing at uni"? That is, they are satisfied that they know what the left is 'really about' just because they believed some rubbish purporting to be socialism when they were younger? I'm tempted to call this "the argument from the living strawman". Whereas if you acknowledge that you had no idea when you were young, it saves smearing these probably quite complex philosophies with your own ill thought-out involvement. (I apply this, actually, to my own enthusiasm for Naomi Klein's No Logo in 2001, which was a formative text for me. It's a very worthy book, but I don't think I quite 'got it' at the time.)

Concluding funny thought: even super right-wingers like Keith Windschuttle ("rather than genocide and frontier warfare, British colonization of Australia brought civilized society and the rule of law") try to pull this "hey, don't you call me reactionary, I was left-wing once, I've been 'round the block, I know that the left-wing is talking idealistic crap because I WAS THERE!" schtick.


* There are median stages in here that couldn't be broken down into this schema, including the "discovering that queer and feminist critiques are philosophically rigorous" period.

Apologies for the crazy, now-it's-small-now-it's-miniscule formatting of this post. The blogger editor is not my friend.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say that I've changed my position on gnosticism; I've changed my postion on Paul for sure! That was under the influence of Badiou and Zizek, sure; it became (contra Zizek!) possible to see Paul as a gnostic. But that has nothing to do with experience, unless the _cognitive_ counts as experience (surely reading a book isn't experience). I suppose that what I'm interested in is in following logics, and then imposing these logics upon myself; it's a question of developing a mode of writing that isn't 'self-expression' (on the contrary) but which produces a persona that can be 'lived'. It's important not to personalise or pathologize positions; that in fact is one of the great benefits and lessons of rationalism. I'm hoping there's a kind of 'evolving consistency' in what I've done; certain positions do get abandoned or repudiated (sometimes implicitly, for sure). As it happens, I think I have tried to offer a couple of stories about my intellectual history recently; in my reply to Geeta and in my exchange with Simon about CR. I suppose that in the latter especially I (strategically?) emphasised the continuities; this to avoid the idea that what is at stake is a kind of faddish cyclicity. I'm interested in any perceived discontinuites (partly to resolve the issue of whether they really are discontinuities or not) but it may not always be obvious to me where those discontinuities lie!
mark k-p

9:29 am  

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