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Quick Thoughts on Critical Race Theory and Political Correctness

Some of you might know that I spent part of my winter semester studying critical race theory (CRT). Actually, this was my first time engaging with the sub-discipline, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts along with the issues of political correctness. I actually wrote most of this post several weeks ago and decided to share it because I don’t have any big posts coming up in the next few weeks. I apologize if this post seems like I am mad (I’m not), I just don’t have time to edit.

One of the essays that I wrote in the class was on Fred Moten and how he challenges European thinkers such as Jacques Derrida. Despite that the paper turned into a mess, I really enjoyed writing it because it helped me understand bits and pieces on what Moten’s ideas are all about (i.e. challenging existing hegemonic systems via Black rhetoric). I think Moten is a very interesting writer who applies his ideas back into his own writing, which is what makes him so hard to read (it is a resistance). Moten’s interpretation of Derrida and other European scholars consists of a form of free play by combining them together (i.e. “improvisation”, like jazz music). He achieves this through his own Black rhetorical tradition and produces some very interesting results.

I think one of the reasons why my essay turned into a mess was because I was restricting myself to cite as much as marginalized scholars and people of color as possible because it makes my prof happy (yeah, since when did Bobby become a people pleaser?—like uh, never). Of course, I ended up not complying. It was an event where I made a decision and I was ready to fail the class (Lol—I didn’t fail, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I did). I must confess that part of me leaned towards Moten’s ideas in the paper because of peer pressure for being “politically correct”. In fact, I was already called “Eurocentrtic” by citing Derrida in my essay; even if you know, Derrida was against Eurocentrism. I was told that my essay was “right wing”.

Before I continue, people really need to understand that I am only after one thing in my intellectual / academic endeavor: how do humans produce truths? It just so happened that along the way, I ran into Derrida and really liked what he wrote because I spent two years close reading Of Grammatology and four more years close reading his other works (Voice and Phenomenon, Margins of Philosophy, his lectures on Heidegger, etc.). Bottom line: I am an idea person. I acknowledge great ideas regardless of the person’s skin color, gender, etc. But I don’t like lying for the sake of being politically correct. Am I going to list the top 5 hockey players of all time and go like “Wayne Gretzky… oh wait, I can’t list white dudes”, and randomly list some marginalized person? In the same way, what if I went to list the top 5 basketball players and go like “oh hey, I can’t list black guys” and list a white guy? What is the difference between this and saying “I can’t cite great ideas in XYZ discipline because they are privileged European dudes, therefore I must cite ABC person”?

I understand that there are structural injustices in the system which prevents marginalized people from succeeding in society (and academia, etc.) [there could be other reasons on why they are not succeeding that they have not recognized]. I also understand that their voices, perspectives and ideas needs to be heard and recognized (and I think they should). Finally, I also understand that when we cite marginalized voices, we are trying to expose their ideas through our own works. But I also think we shouldn’t take this opportunity to downplay important ideas which had left a huge impact in our society. Why? Because ironically, a lot of CRT scholarship were inspired by deconstruction. I am generalizing quite a bit here, and I apologize for that.

With all this said, it is not my intention to offend anyone in this post because I know I can be quite honest, blunt and unyielding (I also don’t hold any grudges or hate anyone). You see, I am secretly practicing Michel Foucault’s “parrhesia” (to tell the truth regardless of consequences). I am just trying to assess whether or not citing “privileged” people in my paper makes any sense, and whether Ideas should be defined through “particularities” (thinking about Badiou). Following the same logic, can I make a reading of Black rhetorical tradition as a Chinese-Canadian? If I somehow publish this crappy essay, then does this mean that some other person in the world can’t cite me because I am a yellow dude interpreting Black rhetorical tradition? (in the same way that I can’t cite some white dude interpreting a black dude?).

Before people throw any political labels at me, I would like to say that I am very neutral in my “political spectrum”—even if I think Marx was right about the problems of capitalism; and that in a world where the political left and right are secretly right wingers in disguise (both are capitalists), we should take the risk to reconsider the Idea of communism (I am speaking in Badiou’s language here). I understand, once we factor in history and “human nature”, communism is quite difficult and risky to achieve (the Idea of communism is too perfect—even in my eyes), capitalism is probably the best thing we have for now (yet, it is actually far from the best—maybe if it was less “crony”). Regardless, this takes us into classic debates on human nature that I won’t get into here. For example, are we all super greedy, violent and exploitative ass hats without wanting to admit it? I mean, at least I admit I’m an asshole. I am pretty guilty of filling my car up with gas and polluting the air. I even unwillingly support the exploitation of workers when I buy things in the grocery store. As Zizek would say, if I was not myself, I would probably arrest myself.

I understand that CRT tries to show how laws undermine certain minority groups. I agree there are problems in the legal system and I definitely think that CRT does a really good job in highlighting a lot of these issues (i.e. race and gender inequality, indigenous rights, etc.). Many great authors writes stories to express these injustices and that is fine with me because exposing these issues and how others experiences these problems is a good thing. But whether this “truth” is communicated to the reader is another a very difficult story. If you follow my blog, you should know by now that one of the main problems Derrida talks about is the problem of communication. This is why there are infinite interpretations to any texts and events. You can find this idea come up in many 20th century discourses via different forms from Heidegger, Lacan, Deleuze, Badiou, all the way to Wittgenstein.

In general, I only found certain strands of CRT to be interesting. In fact, they are either very interesting or very uncritical. But to be fair, this is found in nearly all disciplines. I know for a fact that there are many great CRT works out there. For example, I think Fred Moten and Jodi Byrd both writes very interesting scholarship. It is unfortunate that while Byrd has some great ideas which builds and moves away from Judith Butler and Derrida, our seminar on her turned into some naive interpretation of her works. To be sure, I refer certain aspects of CRT to be uncritical because they are uncritical of their own interpretations and ideas. They are not asking what allows them to produce such “truth” (but maybe I am leveling this criticism because I am someone who chases after truth). While I think that their findings are often enlightening (i.e. relationship between law and minorities, immigrants, etc.). I also think that their lack of self-assessment can be quite dangerous, where one might end up going like “hey, my truth is the only truth, and if you don’t agree with me, then you are a XYZ!”. But once again, this can happen anywhere. Not just in academia or in CRT.

This is why, despite the fact that I disagree with Jordan Peterson’s naive readings of Derrida, he makes a very good point in regards to political correctness (a similar point Zizek makes). I also think that Peterson made a good point on how people turned Derrida’s “dichotomies” into some form of political weapon by talking about the “oppressor and oppressed”. I will admit, I was a bit too harsh on Peterson in my first few posts on him. While I don’t agree with him on many things, I think he offers some very interesting insights when he stops pretending to know anything about Derrida.

Anyone who studied Derrida long enough will know that his “dichotomies” or “binary oppositions” are hardly “oppositions” because one is melded into the other as paradoxes (i.e. the outside is the inside, nature is culture, speech is writing, signified is signifier, life is death, etc.). In other words, people turned Derrida’s ideas into some kind of political weapon by talking about the oppressor and the oppressed in some mutually exclusive way—even when they aren’t. This reading was something that I don’t think Derrida had intended in his works (he definitely never anticipated this from the future to come). For example, what happens at the end of The Hunger Games? The oppressed becomes the oppressor. The idea that people had turned Derrida into a political weapon was something that Jean Baudrillard and many Derridean scholars had pointed out.

Regardless, there are are other philosophical problems that I can see in CRT, such as essentialism. But I don’t have time to talk about this right now. I am in a spring course that is jam packed with readings. I am sure there are already scholars talking about this. Currently, my positions holds firm in the idea that time is one of the fundamental constitutions of subjectivity, identities, and truths. All in all, I don’t really have too much beef with CRT because the problems they have is also found everywhere. I just have a problem with political correctness. I guess what I am really trying to say is that we should be respectful of other’s ideas and maybe we will learn a thing or two. Otherness is the key to truth.

Ciao
(this is the only word I know in Spanish other than “Hola”).

 

 

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Confessions: Impossible Thoughts and the Margins of Love

Today, I will share some of my personal journal entries written from 2015 to 2018. I tried to reproduce some of my handwriting into this post as close to the original as possible. Each entry / fragment is separated by asterisks and are intentionally placed out of chronological order. All of them carries many philosophical allusions and are inspired by real events. In this post, you are no longer reading my usual intellectual musings. You are engaged with my analysis of personal affairs that were written true to my heart. This post has been sitting around as a blog draft for the past 10 months. I am sharing these because I most likely won’t have time to write anything new for a while due to a busy schedule, and a much needed break.

Throughout my endeavors in philosophy, my intentions weren’t always directed towards the pursue for truth, but for my love of everything around me. Despite my lack of expressiveness, love is the driving force in everything that I do in my life. I am fascinated by how the world works, including why I think or feel the way I do. Love has been one of the few experiences that continues to intrigue me, since I cannot seem to completely understand it. As a person, I am often seen as aloof, unsympathetic, and emotionally resilient, even when I feel much deeper than what most people expect. There are days where I cannot control these feelings. On these rare days, I bare the weight of the universe, where I confront the abounding despair of my emotions, unfathomably, and uncontrollably. These small pieces of writings are not only the shadows of my feelings, they are what I believe as love’s impossibility to be defined, written or spoken. Thus, the exigency of history is called upon me. Through time, its impossibility must be written. As I utter what was once, and still so close to me; recalling its temporal movements by interrupting, and reaffirm it. Behold my weirdness, and enjoy my endless ramblings, confessions, and musings on love and time.


There are infinite arrangements of time that multiplies, ruptures and wounds us through its repetition. I can recall a specific time into the now, the here as I write, where the past and present over determines each other to create the future. I can even recall someone who lives far away in the corners of my mind and hold them close by. This nearness of the distance always re-transfigures itself into this text as future tense. To live in the contemporary is to live in the past of the future, and in the future of the past. Every fragment of time is infinite, every moment is forever.

* * *

My love for philosophy began with my love for loving, and my contradictions of loving the other. What motivates this text comes from my interrogation of my love for you, my love. You are reborn as someone who I must not name except through translation. After having been written, repeated, transformed, and uttered to infinity, it is this repetition that turns you into a phantom who constitutes my worldliness, and my encounter of the impossible. 

* * *

Love by itself is inconceivable. It is not an object that can be found, nor does it arrive before us. Love never arrives at its destination because it is the movement of the human heart which pulses through time.

* * *

Saying “I love you” is not enough because language is never enough. In love, one must resign themselves from language and surrender to the other.

* * *

The greatest forms of art begins with a crime—a trauma that the artist endures in their life which cannot be experienced by anyone but themselves. Art becomes a worldly expression of this impenetrable experience. They are the scars of our greatest sufferings.

* * *

We cannot speak of the One without splitting it into two.

* * *

I had on several occasions, wrote vanishing letters that had never been read by anyone. I took to calling them love letters because it was where I profoundly confessed to my future self. […]

* * *

The most difficult and unconditional task: to love those who despises us, those who hurts us and hurls us into the abyss. […]

* * *

x2, xx, xxxx—in the Margins.
The older I get, the more I can see my own fate. But there always comes a time when I must defy it with all my strength—to escape my own destiny only so I can walk towards it. […]

* * *

The heart knows no eyes. Can we allow ourselves to believe in the frivolity of love at first sight? Love is blind, they say. We hear this from Shakespeare all the way to Nietzsche and Sartre. In love, the essence of sight does not consist of you, but that of blindness. It is not the sight of you that I love, but the love you embody which I love. What our sight does not see is that, love is blind.

* * *

[…] I cannot sleep. Even in my dreams, I remain awake.

* * *

10, xx, 201x —In the Margins-
I want to tell you so, so much! Yet nothing speaks, nothing writes. Stunned in time, lost in space. I know you, I do not know you. There is only you in the world—everything else is secondary. —I missed you—dearly. […]

* * *

There is no philosophy here, only the vanishing thoughts of a young man. […]

* * *

Sometimes, our heart falls so fast, its own destruction becomes impossible. If only it would hit the ground, all our sufferings would shatter and cease to exist. As it turns out, there is no bottom to the abyss, and it is this endless fall that either hurts us most, or gives us the momentum to move forward. When one falls, one falls forever. —This is the gravity of love.

* * *

Love is the madness amongst the impossible because love is the impossible.
—Impossible to write, impossible to speak, impossible to be impossible.

* * *

The worst of all confusions: am I staring at you or at infinity? Certainly, I would like to think I am staring at you and not through you. From this distance, I cannot tell if you are reflecting my gaze, or letting me look past you as if you were an invisible force subliming mine. Perhaps this is where the problem lies, for I am only a finite being—and you, you are my infinity. […]

* * *

11, xx, 201x—In the Marg..
Another confession: Whenever I appear to be paying attention to my work at hand, and time is passing by faster than I can measure, it is the opposite that happens. I try to bore myself just to make time pass by slower. I do this so I can look at you for a fraction longer. […]

* * *

Have you ever longed to set up your own trap just so you can unknowingly fall into it, and lead your heart astray? This is seduction at its highest order. […]

* * *

The ambiguity of ignorance is that ignorance does not know itself. He who is ignorant will ignore ignorance. Therefore, the ignorant man will never know that he is the most ignorant of all. […]

* * *

Love ruins our lives. One should never underestimate the wound that the other can cause, even if it is a stranger who you are destined to collide with from the most familiar unfamiliar places. For, it is this wound that obliterates and conjures you into worldly existence. The fatal encounter happens when our life is no longer about ourselves, but the sole happiness of the other.

* * *

She is here, she is not here. You are a ghost, but so am I.

* * *

                                                                                                                            —Yours

[…] P.S. You must think I am crazy. How strange it is to write letters! Yet, we write letters all the time through our phones and computers. We even write as we speak; and as we read and think.

The postscript is longer than the letter. I have so much to tell you, even if I am only writing out the exigency of time. […] Look up to the stars, they take us through strange orbits! The light of each star in the night sky took thousands of light years to reach our eyes. These stars are history—some might even be dead. Yet, they appear before us as if they are living in the present. My writings for you are exactly like this. They will always be present as you reread it one week from now, of tomorrow, and of yesteryear. Every time you read this would be as if I wrote it to you for the first time, again, again—and again.

* * *

It is either I commit, or I don’t at all. Somehow, I always find myself caught in this difference. There are no situations where I am in between.

* * *

—(In the Margins)
I know very little of the lover’s language. To write is to have nothing to say. My mind deprives itself from thought. Perhaps love is mute and the secret to this voiceless voice is a twofold paradox: that nothing is to be heard. If all I speak is nothing, I would have nothing to lose. Nothing is important because nothing mattersthis is the secret. […]

* * *

I never keep secrets. In fact, I write down all my secrets and let others keep them for me. If one day, I had forgotten what I wrote; I had forgotten my secret to the point that this secret becomes a secret to myself, I would know that at least it is through my own dwelling of being where I was most transparent and honest.

* * *

I must have been speaking to myself all this time, making up fictitious characters and names? Everyone who I write to disappears. To communicate is to wrestle with the ghosts of the past from the future.

* * *

Do we desire for love or have love for our desires? One can certainly love their own desire. But we can also desire for love so much that desire convinces itself as love. Thus, it is not uncommon that we mistake desire as love, and love as desire. To say, “I love you” is never the same as saying, “I want you”. In my case, both instances apply, and all of it gets lost within the background noise of language. You are to me Felice was to Kafka: the quiet and the confusion of my heart.

* * *

x–In the Margins (of Time)
I do not know who I will become tomorrow, but one thing is certain: my memories of you are reborn as time continues to unfold. We move on, even if we do not move. What does moving on mean? It means to forget you only to remember you again in the future to come. We are only ghosts who haunts ourselves into the brightest and darkest corners of our time. 

But the problem still pertains: having perished, you keep repeating yourself before me. I still wonder why I keep recalling you back as, “what if…” a future to come? Alas, you are reborn! You live up to your name—even in Latin, English and French translations. I dare not to write you as a person, but as the movement of time who takes position as my unnamable affection. —For, all I can endure is, Renee,… Renee,… Renee, . . . ad infinitum. 

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Commentaries, Contemplation, Uncategorized

On Slavoj Zizek and Jordan Peterson: Nature, Culture, and the Displacement of Time

Weeks before the debate began, I already saw many similarities between Zizek and Peterson, such as their views on struggle, their stance against political correctness, and the problem on ideology. Then once you factor in the notion that much of Marxism is actually situated within capitalism, there wasn’t much left to debate other than the problems of capitalism and their differences within it. I also anticipated how Peterson would not understand Zizek’s Hegelian / Lacanian moves on Marx.

But some may wonder, who won the debate? I don’t think either won, but Peterson definitely learnt a few things from Zizek despite the latter, who appeared to be quite passive in the debate (Zizek wasn’t as argumentative as usual). Before we get critical about Peterson—someone who made great insights regardless of his mediocre readings of Marx (like his poor readings of Derrida), we should respect him for his expertise in his own field, open-mindedness, interest towards Zizek, and his responsibility on trying to solve worldly issues.

The reason why I think the debate went well was because of a purely psychoanalytic perspective. Many people complained about Zizek’s passivity on not tearing apart Peterson’s readings of Marx (i.e. his ten points against Marx—someone already did this here). For me, Zizek’s entire gesture of passivityintentional or not, has to do with situating himself within Lacan’s psychoanalytic concepts known as the Hysterics Discourse in relationship with the University Discourse. But I will not talk about Lacan today. Instead, I would like to share some of my thoughts on the overall debate and discuss nature, culture and time, which will take us away from Zizek and Peterson. If you are interested in the four discourses of psychoanalysis (University, Master, Hysteric, and Analyst), I invite you to read Lacan’s Seminar XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (it is quite a difficult read). Lacan also adds a fifth discourse later on, known as the Capitalist discourse. Basically, the “other side” of psychoanalysis is just more psychoanalysis.

I think Peterson’s decision to talk about The Communist Manifesto was a bad choice. This is because the book is basically an intro text to Marx. Much of Marxism is not about communism, but the criticism of capitalism. Zizek did a good job in pointing out that Marx and Engel’s best work lies within their famous text called, Capital (Das Kapital)a huge book (four volumes; the first volume is over 1000 pages) that critiques capitalism and introduces some of the key components of “ideology”—with the most famous ones being the fetish commodityand the relationship between forces of production. Such ideas were important for thinkers that later expanded on them such as Raymond Williams, Terry Eagleton, and Louis Althusser who all had an influence on Zizek in various ways.

Marxist ideas, which are known as “dialectical materialism“, came from reversing the philosophy of German Idealist philosopher named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (i.e. Marxist ideas such as class struggle came from Hegel’s master-slave dialectics). Marx turned Hegel’s idealist views of the real world into a materialism. Zizek is known for turning Marxist materialism back into Hegelian idealism. Materialism and idealism are opposites in philosophy—I am not going to explain why, you can look up the famous “mind-body” or “mind-matter” problem that was popularized by Rene Descartes. In order for Zizek to return Marx to Hegel, he also goes through Lacanian psychoanalysis (Zizek studied his PhD in psychoanalysis under Jacques-Alain Miller—a famed student of Lacan, and the sole editor of his seminars). This has to do with the fact that Lacanian psychoanalysis consists of a heavy influence from Hegel which talks about how we perceive materialist reality through language and objects through our imagination. Lacan studied Hegel under Alexandre Kojeve before he “Returned to Freud” (i.e. Lacan read Freud as a philosopher of Hegel). This is one of the reasons why reading Lacan may remind people of reading Hegel.

One of the themes that interested me most in the debate was Peterson’s take on the hierarchical aspects of nature in relationship with society. This point is interesting because it is one of the core aspects of political philosophy (i.e. the debate between Nature vs Culture / Society). Peterson takes on a position where the lack of resources and the competition for them in nature mirrors capitalism and most of the systems before it—something that apparently does not exist in Marx’s domain, which is not surprising if you have studied a little bit of political philosophy. Now, before I go over why I think this scarcity of resource is not apparent within Marx, I would like to quickly skim over Zizek’s response.

Zizek responded to Peterson by saying that nature is not hierarchical. Rather, nature is full of improvisations and contingency which I think is true (a similar argument that Quentin Meillassoux made). Zizek goes on and uses a random example of some French person inventing some type of food by accident. Here, Zizek is alluding to Freud and Lacan, where they think life on earth is an “accident”. It is through “error” (chance) where life and intelligence on earth is born and we invent things through this same notion of contingency and improvisation. The two ideas that I have just introduced (contingency and improvisation) will be the underlying themes that I will address later on in regards to nature and culture.

Now, let us try and reconceive Peterson’s problem under a different light. Just because nature consists of a scarcity of resources and a hierarchy which predates capitalism and human existence, does not mean that societies would follow a similar path. What if society was created out of the necessity of an attempt to radicalize and transgress itself away from nature? Here, we confront the paradox of destination. On one hand, humans intentionally moves away from nature to create society and culture. Yet, on the other hand, humans looks back into their natural origins “as if” it was nature’s destination for humans to transgress beyond nature into the unnatural.

This is what Jean-Jacques Rousseau famously refers as “Nature denaturing itself”. Things that nature cannot provide us with (i.e. warmth in the winter), humans supplement it with their own intervention (i.e. by making fire—think of the movie, The Jungle Book where the animals are afraid of the “red flower” since they can’t create fire, but humans can). Nature cannot provide us a path across the river, we build a bridge. Nature lacks the resources of X, we supplement it with something unnatural (i.e. think of things like genetic engineering of agriculture). Yet, this non-natural—this denaturing originates from nature when we look back through the displacement of our time.

In this sense, it is not surprising that societies were formed due to the necessity to create an environment that supplements what nature cannot consistently provide humans with. Society is an “attempt” to guarantee resources as long as we meet its “conditions”, where we have to be good citizens and follow its laws, etc.—even if for Marx, much of these laws are exploitativeOf course, by joining together as a society, one also gives up their “natural freedom” so to obey instituted laws. Here we are getting into Kantian territories of politics such as the notions of “guaranteed peace” within the State versus ideas like “natural peace”—where the former, just like resources, are never absolutely guaranteed since it is always in the position of transgression. 

Humans recognizes their natural origins only in so far that they move away from nature to create a society by supplementing its resources. At the same time, humans also recognize that it is nature’s goal for them to denature nature. In our time, it is easy for us to make the claim that society is always already in the process of leaving nature because many of us are already living in a society with a history that is technologically advancing rapidly in an attempt to, let us suppose, “make the world a better place” (i.e. to supplement this lack of resources, inequality perpetuated by nature through hierarchy, to make the poor wealthier, etc.). Therefore, our system of hierarchy which has been the “hi(story)” of society, allows Peterson to look back into the “origins” of nature and see a hierarchy, even when it is such hierarchy that humans have not yet overcome in our time. However, from Peterson’s point of view, we can make a counter argument by saying that it is as if human’s notion of hierarchy was nature’s goal, which lead humans to create a society with a hierarchy as such. But if we consider that humans are to transgress nature by pushing beyond its boundaries and supplement what it lacks, social hierarchies would imply that nature began as a balanced ecological system without hierarchy—a theory that is rejected by most ecologists and scientists.

Nevertheless, what I have proposed is reminiscent to the idea Marx tried to conceive: within a possible future that is to come, civilization would overcome the scarcity of resources and the hierarchies of nature—which is part of what communism consists of. Peterson thinks Marx did not account for the struggles of nature, even when Marx did factor in such problem. Peterson is not aware of the people who influenced Marx, such as Rousseau, who was one of the first philosophers to attack the concept of private property.

But why the paradox of destination? Society mirrors nature only insofar that nature reflects society—a society that is always-in-“progress” of supplementing nature through this double bind, transgressing the boundaries of nature and culture (whatever “progress” could mean in relation to temporality and its history). The displacement of time is juxtaposed with history. We are always living in a today viewing backwards of yesterday into history. Every today becomes yesterday. The historian’s fatal mistake is to claim that everything had already been conceived, even when they have to first interpret contemporary ideas in order to look back into history to make such claim. We can see this in the history of psychoanalysis. Freud before Lacan: everything Lacan said, Freud had already said because he lived before Lacan (hence Lacan had to “Return to Freud”). It is easy to see Lacan within Freud only if we read Lacan before Freud—even when Freud would have never thought what Lacan would say and how he expanded and departed from his ideas in the future after his death. This historical reading of Freud through Lacan, along with whatever else history demands, is the arrival which takes itself away from ever arriving at Freud. 

In the exact same way, we have nature before culture. It is easy to find nature within culture after-the-fact of humans living in culture (its society and history) before nature. Even when nature would have never “thought” what its “goals” were until humans reached such point in culture through pure contingency and improvisation of nature. Thus, nature is anterior to our culture which is at once, within the process of denaturing and supplementing itself as culture (this is what Rousseau calls, “the dangerous supplement”)We never arrive at the destination of nature that denatures itself because such denaturing and supplementing is always in progress as culture continues to unfold through time. Thus, to arrive is to fail at arriving—to arrive without ever arriving. One never arrives at their destination—this is the secret.

The point I wish to make is the problem of intentionality driven by the force of history: of what appears to be present which moves forward in time as it looks backwards—namely, our experience of the infinite deferral of time. This is perhaps, the most classic of all Derridean “problems” exemplified through his famous structure called, “Trace” (the unity of past and future) and “Differance”—which is to say that it is not a problem, but a fundamental experience of ek-sistence (I hyperlink my Derrida posts all the time to accommodate new readers, here it is again). The presence of our contemporary moment is always displaced in time through a force of history and a future to come. We originate from nature, yet we live in a time away from nature, where we rediscover the nature of yesterday within the unnatural society of today. And it is also this today which becomes the becoming of yesterday, and the becoming of tomorrow as today. We are never “here” but elsewhere in time. We are always living in between time—where the future is always to come.

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The Evolution of My Handwriting

To show you how much I have changed over the years, I will share with you the dramatic evolution of my handwriting. I am not going to put much effort on analyzing my own writing. But just in case you want to analyze it, I am left handed (not sure if it matters).


2012: Early Photography Years; Sociology, History and Psychology of Fashion

 

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-I began to write with thicker pen tips which obscures my lower case letters.
-Slight left slant already apparent.
-Certain letters already connects with each other.
-Capitals has some vertical height.

 

2013: Late Photography Years; First Critical Theory Book

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-Not have much have changed from previous year.

2014-2015: Media Studies, Jean Baudrillard and Cultural Criticism

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-Notice the inconsistent horizontal spacing and the cramping of words.
-Inconsistent writing between words in general.
-Letters begins to connect with each other more.
-Lower case letters gets smaller.
-Upper and lower zones becomes larger.
-The beginning of skipping unimportant letters of words.

2015-Present: Deconstruction and Critical Film Theory

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By now, I have written nearly (probably over) one thousand pages of notes. Obviously, my handwriting became a lot more “explosive” with a noticeable left slant, exaggerated upper / lower zones, long “t” crosses, etc. You might think this is illegible, but I can actually read it very well (except for a few weird / unique words). I did not write these notes with the intention for others to read – but this is how I write. In a situation where my handwriting needs to be read by others, I will try to write in a legible way (lol).

I think a lot faster than I can write. Therefore, writing “legibly” in the conventional sense restricts me from unleashing my fluid chain of thoughts. I often think so quick that I will forget what I was thinking about moments after. Some says my writing became more sloppy, lazy and unreadable (like a doctor’s handwriting), others think it shows more character. One thing for sure: my handwriting draws a lot of attention in classrooms and cafes. 

My relentless passion for asking dumb questions allowed me to go from general fashion theories to something as obscure and difficult as deconstruction. Nothing is simple once you realize that one plus one equals to at least three.

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On Continental Philosophy

I think what comes down to measuring the difficulty of a text is the method used and the way that it is written. When I say this, many would be thinking about the split between analytical and continental philosophy and their methods. This split is usually an academic one. I mostly read continental works and therefore I will be somewhat bias here. I don’t necessary hate on analytical thoughts, but it seems inevitable that if you put a continental and an analytical thinker in the same room, they will eventually end up in a debate (like John Searle and Jacques Derrida).

Most of my philosophical journeys are made on my own (though I have taken philosophy courses on ethics, film theory, history, etc). And over the year, I feel like I have made a significant progress in understanding Jacques Derrida (I read Derrida without secondary commentary sources). My interest in philosophy mostly lies within media (photography, film, etc), aesthetics, phenomenology and language. This is probably because of my photography background.

The Analytical tradition

Although I am no expert at it, analytical philosophy in general are written in crisp clear arguments. After all, clear logical arguments written in ordinary language is what they are consistently proud of. But their entire scope of the argument might be huge (say, linguistics), which would make their writings difficult to understand. Analytical methods often strives on logic, clarity and mathematics. They consider their own work as parallel to natural sciences. In short, analytical philosophers writes philosophy with little to no regard about its relevance to history most of the time. They are ideas that can stand on its own through pure logic and reasoning.

I can’t really give insight on how to read these because I am not a fan of how they write.

Continental tradition

Continental tradition came from mainland Europe. My experience with continental thinkers is that they tend to include and consider the history of philosophy along with their own ideas (think about Hegel or Kant). Thus, there are no simple way of addressing philosophy because everything is connected. For continentals, it is naive to write about philosophy and not consider historical discourses. Hence, continental philosopher’s works will tend to be written in response to other philosophers works (ie. Derrida responding to Heidegger, Saussure, Husserl, Hegel, Plato, Aristotle etc). Therefore, to understand one philosopher, you must also understand the previous, where such philosopher also writes according to another, etc. This would ultimately turn continental philosophy into a highly technical text, loading it with a very complex prose which will often frustrate the reader, causing misreadings or a complete disregard of their ideas. Not to mention that the history of philosophy is over two thousand years old.

Furthermore, continental thinkers rejects natural science as the most accurate way of interpreting our everyday phenomena. There are several reasons for this, but one being the idea how natural sciences are based on a certain phenomenon. A phenomenon which is pre-logical, and pre-theoretical (experiences that comes before a theory or language is created). It is only after one interprets such phenomenological experience (via an articulation through a language, or an episteme of sorts) where it becomes a science of something.

Reading Continental Philosophy

The best way to learn continental works is to keep reading them. The more you read it, the easier it gets. Sometimes, even if you don’t understand something, you should just keep going because they might explain it in a different way 200 pages later. Keep in mind that you don’t always have to read entire books of major works (there are exceptions). You have to learn when you can just encyclopedia some of the philosophers that so and so are talking about, or find secondary sources. Yes, by reading a secondary source, you will miss out many important detailed information, but as long as the secondary source is reliable, then you should be “okay” for now.

There are a lot of reputable secondary sources that are quite readable. But if that is still too hard, you can try writers like Alain de Botton, he seems pretty easy (maybe a bit too easy). Reading original works in original language is preferred. The next best thing are translations from well known translators (for example, scholars who translates Derrida are esteemed Derridean thinkers; ie. Geoffrey BenningtonGayatri Chakravorty Spivak, or Leonard Lawlor). Again, secondary sources are acceptable in certain situations (ie. Christopher Norris is also a world leading Derridean intellectual who writes commentary on Derrida, but not a translator of Derrida’s works). Most of the time, you also want to make sure that you are reading books from reputable university publishers like Cambridge, Chicago, Oxford, Stanford, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, etc (though this is not always true).

Many continental works are written in a non-linear format. Each chapter somewhat functions simultaneously to its former and latter chapters / sections. So it is up to you on how you can synthesize these concepts at once (Lacanian psychoanalysis is a good example). This takes practice, and it is also arguably one of the most important skills in reading such books. It gets easier over time.

Continental philosophy are the type of philosophy where you have to reread in a few years down the road. Especially after you have read other continental books. As one of my teachers like to say, these books leaves crumbs that you pick up and piece back together from the crumbs of other books. Not to mention that it is often such crumbs which will get you to read other continental books or lead you into sculpting a new idea. It will help you learn about the different discourses that so and so might be talking about.

In general, I would say that continental philosophy requires an acquired taste (knowledge) from past experience to enjoy.

…and More

Continental writing takes many different forms, some appears with a more poetic prose (Nietzsche, Kierkegaard), while others appears as different forms of art (Pollock, Godard, Beckett, who were all known for being a part of the existential movement), mathematics (Badiou), or other highly technical apparatuses. I personally think that continental thoughts are closer to real life than analytical. There are of course, other philosophers before the continental and analytical split (or pre-Kantian) that were amazing. For example, Jean Jacques Rousseau (the father of romanticism), and Renes Descartes.

Not all continental works are as hard as the Critique of Pure Reason, Phenomenology of the Spirit, Of Grammatology, Ecrits or Being and Time. For example, some of the writings from Roland Barthes are easier than to understand than others. Even when his ideas are actually quite complex when you analyze it. In his narcissistic book,  A Lover’s Discourse, Barthes consistently speaks about the “Other”. This concept of the Other is made famous by several prominent continental scholars such as Lacan, Hegel, Levinas and Derrida. In general, Barthes had a huge influence on post-structuralist thinkers like Jean Baudrillard whose later works are not written academically, but in a rather “romantically pessimistic” tone (not surprising, since Baudrillard was Barthes’ student). Baudrillard is famed for practicing a certain type of writing called pataphysics (one should not be surprised that pataphysics is recognized as pseudoscience).

If phenomenological experiences are pre-logical and pre-theoretical, then some of these thinkers will be obscure. This is because what comes before our interpretation of such experience will always remain uncertain. This obscurity is where this famous “gap” lies – between phenomenon and our interpretation (or in a Derridean sense, our articulation) of it. Another words, we can never fully interpret the phenomenon that we experience in front of us through the production of meaning and languages. Most importantly, for thinkers like Baudrillard (and even more so for Derrida), we tend to interpret / produce only the things we desire to see out of a particular phenomenon.

From personal experience, if you start reading late 20th century continental (post-structural) works, you will begin to recognize that often times, the reason why you don’t understand something is because you are still thinking within the structure of language (to be fair, that is all we can really do…but not really, say for example: love, spirit, and grace). Understanding post-structural continental works don’t just require good reading comprehension and vocabulary (which I am terrible at), but also a large capacity for imagination. You must think with an open mind and beyond the structure.

Existentialism and Phenomenology

I don’t have much experience with reading existentialism. But from reading Derrida and Baudrillard who were both heavily influenced by Nietzsche, I can tell you that existentialism is quite a different breed of continental philosophy. 20th century philosophy and “postmodern philosophy” has been incredibly influenced by existentialism. It is like what Derrida has said about Nietzsche, he “has written that writing”. Where as Martin Heidegger is often known for combining existentialism and phenomenology called existential phenomenology. The same goes for Jean-Paul Sartre who famously and very influentially writes in between philosophy and literature. Sartre was also known for declining the Nobel Prize in 1964. Other incredible existentialists includes, Soren Kierkegaard, Simone De Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Furthermore, existentialism can also be seen as a cultural movement. As already mentioned, renown novelists like Samuel Beckett, artist Jackson Pollock, or French New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard are often associated with it.

Phenomenology on the other hand, while being quite slippery, was an incredibly influential discipline. It is as the study of phenomena from a conscious first person point of view, such as the way you are reading this text, and how you hear yourself speak in your head (auto-affection); or how we experience our everyday phenomenon of reality, signs, time, our body, touching, feeling, seeing, hearing, etc. It was invented by Edmund Husserl who furthered the split between analytical and continental philosophies. His book Logical Investigations  influenced many 20th century continental works including Heidegger, Derrida, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty. 20th century was the century of phenomenology.

Reading and Learning with Passion

Given its technical sophistication, is there even such a thing as casually reading continental philosophy? I’m not sure. I would say that continental philosophy (and even analytical, but again I have no experience in that regards) requires a huge amount of determination. You really need to love it in order to understand it. And when you teach it to someone else, your passion will really show. Most importantly, don’t give up. You will always run into people that think you are insane or accusing you of making things up because you are thinking the unthinkable.

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