Thursday, June 07, 2007

Looking for Heidegger

Some people make much of Heidegger's involvement with the Nazi Party. Some go so far as to draw some kind of sinister link between fascism and the supposed fathers of postmodernism, charting lines between Nietzsche, Heidegger and Paul de Man and others and their political involvement, use or misuse.

But the reality is much more ambiguous. Where do we go looking for these theorists? What links can we draw between their lives and their theories. Did they know what they were involving themselves in or to what uses their work might be put? It is something of the mystery of life, and the plumbing ground of history, in which it is as important to assert as much as what we cannot know, as much as what we do.

A very nicely written piece that captures these things quite well is this account of looking for Heidegger's hut, hidden in the Black Forest...

I stood on a steeply sloping hillside deep in the Black Forest, panting, bathed in sweat and covered in mud. A group of llamas had stopped grazing nearby to watch me. After disorientation and fatigue, flying, driving, walking, and running, after springing over an electrified fence and sliding down a wooded slope, after losing my phone, my wife, and my bearings, I had at last found Martin Heidegger’s hut.

See the rest of the (warning: it's quite long, but worth the read) article here.

Link thanks to the ever-so-useful Continental Philosophy bulletin board

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Atheism for beginners

I've been reading the book of Isaiah.

The what? That is, the book of the prophet Isaiah that is found in the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

It's a fascinating thing. And if you thought reading James Joyce or Derrida or Heidegger or Hegel or Levinas was hard, this is up there too. It's complex and clever, it's subtle, it changes pitch on you without telling you, leaving you to figure out retrospectively what's happening.

As I've been reading it, I've been thinking about atheism. Get this: Isaiah is an atheist. How's that go down for a prophet? His book is constantly on about how the gods of the nations of the world are just blocks of wood and carved metal. How can something a man has made control history, create the world, etc. Of course, it's absurd.

Which makes you think, why then is Isaiah claiming to be relaying the word of God (the God who says he is the only God, that is, an atheist God)? Would Isaiah not be inconceivably stoopid to be making up a dialogue where God talks about how the gods are not gods at all, and that only he is the one true God?

It gets better. Isaiah's book - or rather, the God in Isaiah's book - predicts events that happen over 100 years after Isaiah dies. With startling accuracy. He even names names. In fact, Isaiah's atheist God even cites this as a proof test for the fact that he is the only God, and that all the blocks of woods are, well, blocks of wood. Aaah, you say, but it probably wasn't Isaiah writing it. It was probably someone else, a couple of hundred years later. OK, but would then this second person also be inconceivably stoopid for proposing a test of predicting the future and making it come about, all the while knowing that they were actually simply retrofitting their narrative? Would they not be laughed out of the house?

So what is one supposed to do with this book? Do you suppose that the whole thing - one of the greatest acts and foundational moments of literature in the Judeo-Christian history - was drummed up by a bunch of idiots, or do you have to accept the suggestion that something weird is going on here? Are there any other alternatives?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Climate change politics

Check out John Quiggin's blog for some great posts on climate change and Australian and US politics... here, here and here.

In particular:

The main implication of the [PM's taskforce on climate change] Report is that we should have got started on all this ten years ago (or at least, back in 2003 when Howard killed the idea), and that we’ll now have a more costly adjustment path than if we had acted sooner.

And Howard is the one saying Labor will cost us more on climate change?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Onfray & Sarkozy

Michel Onfray has his own radio program. Here's a transcript of parts of an interview that Onfray conducted with Nicolas Sarkozy (France's new President), translated here in New Statesman.

Thirst of the people

I went to see Michel Onfray at the Sydney Writers' Festival on Sunday. An interesting time. One of Onfray's books - The Atheist Manifesto - has recently been translated into and published in English. The queue for the 'conversation' between Onfray and Stephen Crittenden stretched a long way, and the venue was changed to accommodate the large numbers.

It was a very interesting event, with Onfray speaking on a wide range of topics; from atheism and the concept of atheology, concepts of the Enlightenment, Nicholas Sarkozy, through to a new vision of the (French) Republic and a new Europe. Unfortunately though, Onfray (who spoke through a translator) was not really pushed to explain his ideas more fully. It did seem evident, however, that his concern about 'religion', and in particular the monotheisms of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, (although he said pretty much nothing on Judaism), was largely with the perceived political outcomes of these. This noticeably pushes ones toward negative images - after all, a man helping his neighbour is not news, is it?

Moreover, the discussion did not evidence that Onfray had engaged much with what these monotheisms might actually hold to be true. In trying to build his concept of atheology, it seemed that much of what he was proposing, 'a discipline which would deconstruct understandings of God, of Jesus', was very similar to much contemporary theology in any case.

When the crowd was asked if they would like to pose questions, several people shouted for Onfray to continue without questions. One person shouted 'More atheism, less politics'. It seemed to me that Onfray's book, and others like it, sate a need that people feel at the moment, hence their popularity. There was a desire to keep listening to him, but not to enquire further into his ideas. Almost as if Onfray were a priest, absolving the fears of the masses.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

He looks good with a moustache....

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Brevity is the soul of wit

It seems to me that brevity of expression while saying what you mean, with subtleties, nuances and deep thinking left intact, is a hard won skill. If so, I want to win it. How then to do this? And I wonder if a blog helps or impedes this training?

Obviously you need to think first. Perhaps write down what you think. Think through what you have written, and try and write it better still. Then scribble it out and start again. Perhaps at the third instance I might have worded a thought that might be worth saying to someone else. This seems a much slower pace of life than my current experience... and has this post failed in precisely this? Should I post each post several times?

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.


'"You feel that it is not your home that is in your mind, that it's somewhere else," Bei Dao said. "It belongs to a strange world to which you don't belong."'

This is poet Bei Dao, talking about his relationship with China. He is in Sydney this week for the Sydney Writers' Festival.