September 21, 2012

Summer reading projects, briefly noted

The Politics of Friendship by Jacques Derrida
My encounter with Derrida's meditation on the Western secret of friendship and the limits of fraternity was short-lived. Our study group only met a couple times, and only managed to get through the first four chapters; but those chapters provided much to talk about and did a perfect job of articulating one of the fundamental tensions running through the third chapter of my thesis. I managed to work the insight into one of my footnotes. It takes up Derrida's aphorism, "The friends of the perhaps are the friends of truth": 
Derrida’s reference to the “friends of truth” is taken from Nietzsche’s projections of a future audience in Beyond Good and Evil. In Politics of Friendship, Derrida reads Nietzsche’s faith in the “coming philosophers” in terms of the German philosopher’s qualifying “perhaps,” and explores the conditions of impossibility that Nietzsche identifies with the “common good.” Following England’s Restoration, Milton may have shared some Nietzsche’s sentiments, at least with respect to his audience. Derrida’s attempt to engage Nietzsche on friendship (which, for the philosopher depends on the “I” and, occasionally, a “we”—what amounts to a contradictory community of solitudes) is an attempt to “honour (faire droit) what appears impossible” in Nietzsche’s anticipations (36). This chapter addresses a similar impossibility in the audience of readers anticipated by Milton’s 1671 poems.
What's going on here, in other words, is a revaluation of the Western tradition of friendship, an attempt to demarcate the limits of this tradition, and the conditions that define friendship for philosophers like Aristotle, Carl Schmitt, and the aforementioned Nietzsche. While the politics of friendship might suggest otherwise (and this "otherwise" is what Derrida is trying to get at by emphasizing "perhaps" of friendship: it's openness to the impossible, to who or what is "to come"), our idea of friendship emerges from an old boys club, a collection of citations from men who are singled out by the philosophical tradition, and at best resembles an oligarchy. 

Middlemarch by George Eliot
I'm two thirds of the way through what many consider to be the quintessential Victorian novel and I'm actually enjoying most of it. I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty of allusions to Milton in the figure of Casauban, the sterile scholar and clergyman whose intellectual pursuit of the "highest things" has lured the young Dorothea into a miserable marriage. Eliot's prose is full of wit and insight. It's not odd for me to laugh out loud while I'm reading on my daily bus ride to campus. Dorothea, the first of our protagonists, begins by treating every inconsistency or hindrance with joyful acceptance and even compares her supportive relation to her dry-as-dust-husband, Casauban, to that of Milton's daughters to their father, reading aloud texts they don't understand solely for benefit of the blind poet. Luckily, the irony that Dorothea lacks in her own life is provided by the narrator, whose constant refrain "poor, poor Dorthea" is enough to keep the reader mindful of her naive brand of saintliness. Of course, Dorothea doesn't suffer in isolation. As one would expect, Middlemarch boasts a typically large cast of characters, but the novel weaves through their various threads at a pretty manageable pace. (In other words, I'm much less confused that I thought I'd be.) In Eliot's hands, they're all brilliantly flawed, from the vain artist (Will Ladislaw) and the amoral doctor (Lydgate) to the pathetic student (Fred Vincy), who finds it nearly impossible to do anything on his own. I'll probably follow up on this one when I'm finally finished all 800 of its pages.

Marxist Feminism (reading group)
Orchestrated under the auspices of the Edmonton Free School, this group has been at work reading through texts that can be loosely grouped by their approach to the topic of gender and sexual relations more broadly. We began with Engels' Origin of the Family, and moved to some more recent interventions, such as Nina Power's One Dimensional Woman, Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch, and, most recently, a pair of essays from the 2011 anthology Communization and its Discontents (Ed. Benjamin Noys). Each text marks an attempt to engage sexual relations, not as a stable arrangement or simple binary, but from the vantage point of historical materialism; that is, as a site of social and economic reproduction. The theme of reproduction is obviously central to any understanding of sex and economics, and is reflected in the double sense of the term: as a biological effect--to reproduce the labouring class--and as the social function of the domestic realm--to sustain/care for such workers, such that they can continue to labour. For Della Costa and James, class exploitation is built upon the exploitation of women and their respective emancipation must therefore be thought together--thus, the famous call of "wages for housework" is, as Federici argues, a demand that must be made so that it can be rejected along with the role of the housewife.
We want and have to say that we are all housewives, we are all prostitutes and we are all gay, because until we recognise our slavery we cannot recognise our struggle against it, because as long as we think we are something better, something different than a housewife, we accept the logic of the master, which is a logic of division, and for us the logic of slavery. We are all housewives because no matter where we are they can always count on more work from us, more fear on our side to put forward our demands, and less pressure on them for money, since hopefully our minds are directed elsewhere, to that man in our present or our future who will “take care of us” (from "Wages Against Housework").

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I am from Australia.
    This reference contains a reference to both Derrida and similar philosophers who attempted to break through the mind-forged walls (manacles) of the Western literary and philosophical tradition.