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Bourdieu on Blogging: Where to Find Symbolic Capital?

Living Beyond Your Means, On Credit

I don’t have time to summarize in depth, but some may be interested in this discussion over at the Latourian blog We Have Never Been Blogging: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. In our back and forth I quote from Bourdieu, from his Homo Academicus, a passage meant to describe the avenues of academic respect hoped to be achieved through “journalism”. The passage has of course interest for the kinds of Symbolic Capital some are, or have been trying to accumulate through blogging and other heterodox philosophical publishing. Worthy of note, Bourdieu uses an analogy of credit quite similar to one that I employed recently, although I did not have this passage or even Bourdieu in mind:

The heretical traditions of an institution based on a break with academic routine, and structurally inclined towards pedagogical and academic innovation, lead its members to become the most vigorous defenders of all the values of research, of openness to abroad and of academic modernity; but it is also true that they can encourage to the same extent work based on bogus, fictitious and verbal homage to these values, and that they can encourage members to give prestigious values for a minimum of real cost…The structural ambiguity of the position of the institution reinforces the dispositions of those who are attracted to this very ambiguity, by offering them the possibility and the freedom to live beyond their intellectual means, on credit, so to speak. To all the impatient claimants who, against the long production cycle and longterm investment…have chosen the short production cycle, whose ultimate example is the article in the daily or weekly press, and have given priority to marketing rather than production, journalism offers both a way out and a short cut. It enables them to overcome rapidly and cheaply the gap between aspirations and opportunities by ensuring them a minor form of the renown granted to great scholars and intellectuals; and it can even, at a certain stage in the evolution of the institution towards heteronomy, become a path to promotion within the institution itself.

There is even more coincidence for those interested in the local goings on in the blogged philosophical community, as Levi Bryant actually holds related parts of Bourdieu’s book as authentication for why he turned down a future at four year colleges and universities:

“Why did I choose a position at a two year school? “There”, I told Fink, “I will have academic freedom. I will be able to explore my interest in all styles of philosophy, psychoanalysis, biology, physics, history, literature, and so on without being required to be anything. No one will care what or where I publish, so I will be free to do what I want.” In his characteristic manner he said “hmmmm!!!”, making a honking sound like one of the squash horns my grandfather used to make for me as a young boy. At the time I thought that was a rationalization. Often I still do. I took myself out of the prestige game, though I still yearn for it sometimes. But what I was doing ultimately, I think, was giving myself the freedom to speculate. What a relief it was to read Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus years later! Perhaps, above all, what that seventh chapter gave me was the authorization to speculate without bowing before the obsessional alter of “Continental rigor” [editorial note: defense]. However, the fact that I would undermine my own work in this way must indicate that here there’s still something unresolved. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel embarrassment whenever anyone wants to discuss the work or wants insight into it.” here

No longer did Levi have to bow down and kiss the rings of the “prestige game”. We might assume that much of the thinking that leads one to the freedoms of speculation, that draw one away from university pursuits, would also be integral to the pursuits of blogging where even more freedom and speculation can occur.

Monk-Mind and Speculative Thinking: Playing Seriously

But in another sense, if we are going to appreciate Bourdieu on this front, we should keep our eye upon all the Symbolic Capital accumulations (not just where and how they have been cashed in within the Institution), and see that Speculation is an interesting game, one that aims at kind of heretical prestige runaround, but also one that participates in the general game of the scholè, the reasoned preoccupations that only can occur within a hermeticism against practical, worldly pressures. The generation of the “scholastic point of view”:

I believe indeed that we should take Plato’s (1973) reflections on skhole very seriously and even his famous expression, so often commented upon, spoudaios paizein, “to play seriously.” The scholastic point of view of which Austin speaks cannot be separated from the scholastic situation, a socially instituted situation in which one can play seriously and take ludic things seriously. Homo scholasticus or homo academicus is someone who is paid to play seriously; placed outside the urgency of a practical situation and oblivious to the ends which are immanent in it, he or she earnestly busies herself with problems that serious people ignore-actively or passively. To produce practices or utterances that are context-free, one must dispose of time, of skhole and also have this disposition to play gratuitous games which is acquired and reinforced by situations of skhole such as the inclination and the ability to raise speculative problems for the sole pleasure of resolving them, and not because they are posed, often quite urgently, by the necessities of life, to treat language not as an instrument but as an object of contemplation or speculation.

Thus what philosophers, sociologists, historians, and all those whose profession it is to think and/or speak about the world have the most chance of overlooking are the social presuppositions that are inscribed in the scholastic point of view, what, to awaken philosophers from their slumber, I shall call by the name of scholastic doxa or, better, by the oxymoron of epistemic doxa: thinkers leave in a state of unthought (impense’, doxa) the presuppositions of their thought, that is, the social conditions of possibility of the scholastic point of view and the unconscious dispositions, productive of unconscious theses, which are acquired through an academic or scholastic experience, often inscribed in prolongation of an originary (bourgeois) experience of distance from the world and from the urgency of necessity.

“The Scholastic Point of View”

For those that follow Harman’s preoccupations, the forgotten Scholastics are principle among them. These now ill-respected thinkers for Harman form a whole portfolio of philosophical stock that can be purchased at bargain basement prices. Mix one of these thinkers into your paper and one suddenly produces a sense of weight and historical richness, we know. If you embrace one fully enough you’ve resurrected a lost soul locked in the catacombs of philosophical history, and have engendered a sense of personal originality, going against the tide of the Institution. But as well we might see that the connection between Scholasticism and Speculativism comes out of a certain kind of inherent idealization of what academic thinking is. Cocooned from practical concerns and pressures, the monk-mind is free to speculate and achieve a kind of non-worldly perspective. The isolation into institutions, and then, when run from, into blogged privacies is a participation in privilege to which the thought produce may very well be blind. There is real, Bourdieuian advisement that “the scholastic point of view” must be epistemologically leavened with an awareness of the structures which have produced it, and thus made aware of the unconscious investments that govern its own quietude.  If we may be monks, the conditions that allow our speculation are brought along with it, and if we really are pursuing, not just speculation for its pleasures of freedom and imagination, not just some kind of run-around of Institutional restraint, searching for cheaper prestige, but true ideas and ideas that inherently should matter to the world, the consequence of our ideas (politically, ethically, socially) must be embraced. In this way there is an epistemological mandate for our ontological speculation which immediately connects ethics to metaphysics. By way of example: Speculating that the world is essentially an Oriental condition of mediated cause as Harman does, should be related to the real world Orientalization which produces the cocoon of one’s own speculation, possibly to detrimental effect. To put it another way, the more our Symbolic Capital increases, especially in the field of philosophy, the more our ethical responsibility of our ideas to the world does as well.

Just as men out of prisons into holy sancturaries are fleeing, so these joyous men out from technical arts are leaping into Philosophy, as if those being most intricate would hit upon the little art of themselves. For in comparison with the other arts the honor of philosophy even though foresaken is more magnificent. This is the flight of the many unaccomplished by nature, who from the technical arts and even workmanship, their bodies have been mutilated and their souls envined and even crushed through the mechanical arts.

Plato, Republic [495d]

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The Coming Medieval Scholasticism of SR

A Debate “Worth Having”

Responding to Splintering Bone Ashes prediction that there will rise up an eliminativist (materialist) branch in the Speculative Realism debate, Graham dreams of waking up in a world where the Scholastic Realism vs. Nominalism debate had been permanently revived (part of his love for irreducible tensions):

What if I could wake up every morning and the big debate was between the eliminativist and non-eliminativist wings of the post-SR landscape?

And not only “every morning” but a debate confined to the wings of a post-SR landscape. It is a wonder when a “school” of thought [σχολαστικός (scholastikos)] dreams of the ideal intellectual activity as an internal split between the wings of its own party (a desire seen in Graham’s humorous title for a new talk, “Realism Good, Materialism Bad“). Perhaps it is notable that this confessed fantasy is that Graham himself could wake up to such an endless debate, and not that “we” a community of collective thinkers could. Apart from the self-revelry aspect, we might say, yes, this debate was one worth having, in fact they had it for nearly a thousand years, so why not have it within the SR landscape. But when it becomes so intrasquad and arbitrary to SR, will it not simply exhibit the worst aspects of Scholastism, with angels on heads of pins being “count[ed] as one”?

There is one interesting part of this nouvelle Scholasticism, Graham Harman seems to find himself a bit on both sides of the traditional Realism/Nominalism divide. As an Idealist of the Aristotlean tradition he favors the “intentional objects” of reductive Nominalism, but as Old World Latourian he wants perceived wholes, any collection of objects, to be considered as Real and actorly. As such he positions himself as something of a conceptualist, but wherein all objects hold conceptions, each one a little Kantian Copernican sun (collapsing into red giants, as Graham would have it). I have yet to be able to make sense of this claim except as the most poetic of appeals: what does it mean for my bank account and rusted lawn mower to both be continuously making metaphors about the world? Huh? But one could see how happy an environment this would make for such a claim. Never mind if this position is completely cogent or coherent, let it take its place in opposition to something that is also incoherent. Let me be oriented in opposition. In my view, quite apart from Graham’s love for irreducible and tensioned pairs, when two halves of a characterization perpetuate continous dispute and even sub-divisions, there is very likely something wrong with the initial binarization itself. Fixing it does not involve taking a little from each side. The answer just isn’t found there. (As much fun as we might have looking.) Each side brings about the other. A self-perpetuation machine.

Perhaps it is better to not be so Scholastic. 

Graham Harman’s “Evil Twin”, The Quality-Loving Positor

Shadow Jumping

Graham Harman’s embrace of what he takes to be a coin-flip reading of his project begins,

No one can jump over their own shadow, but it’s a feasible reading of me as my own “evil twin” (without the value judgment, of course).

I say, this impossibilty of jumping over one’s shadow notion may point the way forward, for one really can jump over one’s shadow if one simply moves in relation to a new light source (vocabulary set). One may then have a differently oriented shadow, but then understands the solution to such shadow-staring is keeping an eye upon a multiplicity of light sources, and the nature of their varying strengths.

I’m glad that Graham sees the possibilities of this redescription of his work, and love the notion of a philosophy Federation of “Evil Kirks and Spocks.” I say that we embrace somthing of this, but in fine Nietzschean fashion retain the value judgment, the BGE evil of it (if I recall, Evil Spock was able to think himself out of his evil universe, finding common ground with Good Kirk). What I hope is that if indeed Graham is only attempting to save Qualities, and is merely presenting an OOP as a means for a QOP intention, something more is being achieved than flipping a coin around by pointing out this fact. What Nietzsche wants us to know is that the thing that is evil, that seems like the dark side of something, is really its potentiality masked. Without Hegelian pretension, if indeed Graham is seeking to save qualities, and not objects, we can stop asking questions about the exact metaphysical nature of objects, and start asking questions about what is the best way to save, or as I say, ennoble, qualities. It may well be that positing empty, regressing objects IS the best way, that it does more for the stature of qualities than molten postmodern/post-structuralist fantasy, or even another approach, but until we get to the program itself, we can never properly frame the question.

In this way, I am saying more than the common place that makes of everything a coin. Rather, it is if we get to the real, or at least determinative motivation of a philosophical project, its “evil-twin” underside, we can then open up the project to possibilities that a blindness to that underside undershadows. In Graham’s philosophy this limit, as he admits, comes down the occasionalism-like collaspe of objects which fails to account for the nature of their change. What I would say is that it is of the very nature of the armature that Graham has passionately and insightfully constructed, so as to save qualities, that limits the force of their salvation. If he, I and others come to agree, if we make a value judgment that what we are really after is the esteem of qualities, then we can discuss more precisely the failures of esteem in others’ approaches, and invent better strategies for that esteem, rather than simply looking to shore-up and solve what we thought was the central focus of our attention.

Instead of making a nice pair of things, a doppleganger of inseperable concepts, such as those seen in Graham’s wonderfully titled Count Magnus Effect, one proposes a means for satisfying discourse, for finding agreement. There may be some fun in pointing out to others that they are accomplishing one thing when then thought they were accomplishing something else; Nietzsche had tremendous pleasure in this, and modern day Zizek just loves this game. Such a reversal is not really all that valuable unless one returns it to the question of valuation itself. Do we value the same things and just have different projects on how to achieve it? This is not to say that agreement is guaranteed, but at least the nature of disagreement changes.

Campanella: Knowing is Being

The essentializing dyads that Graham expresses himself in, come from a strong Heideggerian genus, retain a certain human-centric heritage which Graham is pushing against. But I suspect that it is the nobility of the quality that keeps Graham on this  side the panpsychist Gate. As I dig like a Latourian engineer attempting to meet up with the tunnel that Graham has dug in the same Ontological mountain, and trace out each of my excavation, and to the best that I can, his own, it is on the question of the salvation of the quality that I think we can find a common ground. What I will propose that instead of instantiating the rights of qualities upon the nothingness of a retreating and empty object, a consideration of Tommaso Campanella’s proto-Cartesian “Cognoscere est esse,” to know is to be. This a core, quality-directed principle which undercuts in history and object some of the founding theoretical dyads which inform a human-centered picture of consciousness. Much akin to the objects of Graham’s fascination with Late Scholasticism, and Late Renaissance theory (Bruno, Suarez), Campanella’s rationalization of Natural Magic, which is the attempt to synthesize the lived (Quality) emphasis of Telesio’s empiricism to the metaphysics of immanent and unified Being (Augustine), provides the substance of the rescue of Quality without the collapse into molten origins. Campanella’s metaphysics are rough-hewn, though voluminously written, and appear to modern commentators often as a hodgepodge of irreconsilable positions and influences. Campanella comes off as a pre-modern fantasticist, as confused by astrology as he was by the Political situation of which he was a victim. But rather, it is Campanella’s love for the world, its embodied, animal-like quality, its magic of effect, which produced the theoretical possibility for a contemporary salvation of qualites, of the sort that I think that Graham pursues. It is not so much that qualities are granted their rightful power because they are in a tension with Substance Objects which invariably retreat from all investigation, a mark of characterized experiences of human consciousness. It is rather, in surpass of any categorical reduction of human consciousness, that qualities has their own nobility and powers. Campanella wanted us to know that when I come to know something (an entity), I literally am transformed into it (an interesting pre-sage of Latour’s Principle of Translation). When I know a cold thing, I literally become cold. Or, if we want to postmodernize it, when I know Capitalism, I literally become Capitalism, I am transformed into that entity. How exactly to read this transformation I think comes from the notion of assemblage, of bodily (and therefore following Spinoza, ideational) combination, under a figure of power.

What I suggest is that once we identify the hidden, as Graham says, evil valuation behind his project, it is towards a panpsychism that qualitative embrace leads. That is, one needs not rent out high-priced object Real Estate on which Qualities are then permitted to live. Instead, qualities become the very mechanism for embodied agreement and power-assemblage, no more warring in tension with the landlord.