Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Philosophy should not seek converts, but rather should aim at the proliferation of differences

Of Cranks and Olives from Larval Subjects . by larvalsubjects
Recent discussion surrounding trolls, minotaurs, gray vampires and the whole growing bestiary have gotten me thinking about a post I wrote my first year blogging entitled “In Praise of Irritation” later published in Reconstruction. [...]

The measure of a successful philosophy, in my view, is not whether or not it manages to earn converts. In this respect, the very thesis of the grey vampire as the subject that always seems just about ready to agree or endorse a position is deeply, in my view, mistaken. The true measure of a successful philosophy, I think, is whether or not it becomes a difference engine. As I understand it, a difference engine is an entity that is perpetually adept at producing differences. This is not an egalitarian, happy go lucky free for all. There will be antagonisms, conflicts, wars, and so on. But nonetheless differences are produced. The differences that a difference engine produces can be unexpected projects that a philosophy manages to spawn. I have been surprised as a somewhat militant atheist, for example, at the manner in which my onticology has been picked up and sent in very different directions by certain theologians. This is something that I would have never expected.

However, a difference engine is not simply the production of sympathetic projects. It is also to be found at the level of antagonistic projects. If a philosophy can generate antagonisms, alternative thoughts, opposing thoughts, and so on, it has been successful as a difference engine. This might be a painful admission or observation as none of us like existing in a state of warfare and conflict or witnessing our painstakingly developed thoughts trod upon. However, not only has a philosophy made a contribution to the symbolic world in functioning as a stimulus of creating antagonisms and therefore shifting the frame of discourse, but also I think philosophies benefit self-reflexively from the others or the antonyms they generate insofar as they’re forced to generate new concepts, lines of argument, and applications.

In this regard, I cannot agree with the sortal of “grey vampires”, no matter how much I sympathize with and admire those who are formulating it. In my view, the evangelical model of philosophy is a monstrosity. Philosophy should not seek converts, but rather should aim at the proliferation of differences. The difficult issue is how to distinguish between the verb of trollery where the aim is to shut down any and all discourse through shouting and wearing guns on ones hip, and the verb of grey vampirism where it is possible to produce some productive differences.

However, in this medium, in this strange universe of the blogosphere, I think it is above all important to remember that from the perspective of the academy, we’re all cranks, trolls, and gray vampires despite any philosophical and theoretical difference we might have. Our very mode of engagement, from an institutional perspective, is illegitimate and lacking in seriousness or productivity. We are cranks, trolls, strange new minotaurs of an electronic world. There is no division here. We’re all selected in one and exactly the same way. The real question is not whether these judgments are true, but whether or not we identify with those who make those judgments.

Further, it should never be forgotten that those of us who have attained some success in this medium are outsiders and marginalized figures in an entire institutionalized setting. They are folks who got sick of submitting materials to shriveled and tired dusty figures functioning as the real minotaurs at the gates of journals, conferences, and presses, submitting their work to a scrutiny by these minotaurs to decide whether or not they were worthy of their gate (to be read as worthy of being submitted to their university discourse or established habitus), and who preferred to accept their minor, marginalized status and do what they really wanted to do anyway: think, invent, and talk to other interesting cranks.

The real test is whether or not one identifies with those minotaurs guarding the gate [...] Sometimes its better simply to collect sea glass and talk about turtles and mothmen. Although we have quasi-minotaurs that appear here in the blogosphere, that’s not where the real minotaurs are to be found.

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