Monday, April 25, 2005

Fahrenheit 451 meme

John has pledged to do my Badiou meme if I will do the Fahrenheit 451 meme that was circulating a month ago. Indeed, it was a month ago that John dared me to do it: "why have a blog if you can't do these charmingly vulgar things?"

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

(John’s clarification: "this refers to the end of the book where people have to constantly speak their favorite books in order to preserve the texts since they are gone or endangered.")

Since I’m not bringing the Critique of Pure Reason with me to the desert island, I guess that’s what I’d choose to be. It’s always seemed to me that one could rewrite it simply by reflecting carefully on one’s experience in the world.

In my old age I would hope to become the Critique of Judgment.

Mark at Charlotte Street has written well about two ways of growing old as a thinker: riding comfortably along the intellectual tracks one laid in one’s better days vs. continuing to struggle to wrest from the phenomena forms of expression adequate to them.

In the Critique of Judgment, Kant shows us (ahem) a third way to get old: develop a theoretical vocabulary so architectonically hyperdeveloped that its voice overpowers your own, so overly expressive that everything you had previously attempted to exclude—the human, the local, the communal, the imaginative—returns as the true and beautifully incoherent meaning of your project. What seemed like a system ends up a poem of everything there is.

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

No. But I have fled the embrace of Walt Whitman, a fictional character who seemed to have a crush on me.

3. The last book you bought is:

I guess I should have waited to do this meme until I bought a cooler book, but it was Philosophy in a Time of Terror, in which Giovanna Borradori, the famous interviewer of philosophers, interviews Habermas and Derrida in the months after 9/11.

I intend to write a little summary of the Habermas interview, which I found illuminating.

I’m not usually one to put Derrida down—I love "Ulysses Gramophone" like I love Ulysses—but the only insight I took away from the interview is that his response to 9/11—that we must take up again the "language of English empiricism"—is somehow parallel to Hitchens'.

4. The last book you read:

The last book I read that I hadn’t already read was A Study in Scarlet.

Sadly, the best line in the book is one you already know:
There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.
(Could this have come from Derrida? Doesn’t he somewhere speak of basting—a sort of guiding stitch that one uses to hold together provisionally the cloth one wishes to sew—as another supposed non-concept that does the same sort of thing as gram or supplement or trace? No, it’s from Kant: the logical forms of judgment are the "guiding thread" that leads us to the pure concepts of the understanding.)

5. What are you currently reading?

The Europeans, by Henry James. My curiosity was piqued by Leo Bersani’s suggestion that "Eugenia’s lack of a self may be the most morally interesting thing about her."

6. Five books you would take to a deserted island.

Plato was popular with many bloggers, but I must go instead with Aristotle. I trust Aristotle more than I do Plato to reward careful and imaginative reading, and he might help to identify some of the local life. (I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at The History of Animals or Parts of Animals, but their catalogs of animal life are pretty exhaustive.)

Besides, Plato’s doctrine of recollection is more plausibly and enjoyably articulated by Proust. If I ever despair of being a political animal cut loose from the polis, I will visit with my old friends Saint-Loup, Bloch, Bergotte, Oriane, Marie & Céleste, Charlus, and—most of all—Swann.

I greatly enjoyed Jonathan Franzen’s collection of essays How to Be Alone, but it is Wallace Stevens who can truly claim to be the author of such a manual:
If there must be a god in the house, let him be one/That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness,/A vermillioned nothingness, any stick of the mass/Of which we are too distantly a part.
I’ve never made time to read The Magic Mountain, which I’ve probably started a dozen times, but for my yet-unread gamble I select instead Bleak House.

I had intended to bring an OED, but I’m down to my last pick, and it must be Moby-Dick, the text which, more than any other I’ve read, allows reading to be what it is. I joked about Kant above, but it’s Melville I’d really want to be.

7. Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

I pass it to three of my non-blogging readers: Chris, Hilary, and Luke.


Blogger lucio de capio de luci said...

> 1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451,
> which book do you want to be?

My first instinct is to go with the classic to which i am possibly closest -
the brothers karamazov. the novel has it all. murder, lust, passion, saintliness,
political theology, depravity, hope. i might reconsider.

> 2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

between austen (the women are sillies and the men are squares... but that
doesn't mean Jane isn't a wonderful read) and doestoevski (everyone is, well,
dostoevskian... poor use of language there, but think of a few characters...
katerina, dmitri, lise and ivan from brothers, the underground man, anyone in
demons or the gambler, and there is this sort of character... i can't think of
a good adjective to cover them all. victims of compulsion, perhaps), who is
there to have a crush on?

> 3. The last book you bought is:

Emma, by Jane Austen, but the second to last book i bought is (if i recall
correctly) The House of the Dead by Doestoevski. I mention it because i don't want to cheat the reader of an answer (see 4.)

> 4. The last book you read:

Emma, by Jane Austen. Not my favorite of hers, but i still enjoyed it once i
got a bit of the way into it.

carl wrote:
> The last book I read that I hadn’t
> already read was A Study in Scarlet.
> Sadly, the best line in the book is one
> you already know:
> "There’s the scarlet thread of
> murder running through the colourless
> skein of life, and our duty is t
> unravel it, and isolate it, and expose
> every inch of it."

a.c. doyle is quoted at the start of each chapter of the textbook in my
statistical inference course (perhaps a cliche). looking them over, most are not that interesting, and the best one (a wholesome aphorism) follows:

"It is a mistake to confound strangeness with mystery"

this is one of the two quotations from A Study in Scarlet

> 5. What are you currently reading?

Julia Kristeva's Strangers Among Us. I'm not far into it, and don't know if it
will finished before i start something else.

> 6. Five books you would take to a deserted island.

i've always found such lists very hard to compile. what i would include changes
with my whims fairly easily. i must be too whimsical of a person. ask me next
week for a different answer.

for whimsy: someone funny. perhaps Neitzsche or Derrida. i recall some bit of Derrida i read being funny.

for silence: if i were allowed to claim it as one two-volume book, perhaps *The
Chosen and The Promise* by Chaim Potok. Not great classics of literature, but
i've enjoyed reading them multiple times. But then again, i've already read
them multiple times...

i think i'd feel safe with dostoevski here, so *Brothers Karamazov* at least on
the island, if not the book i'd be.

> I had intended to bring an OED, but I’m
> down to my last pick, and it must be
> Moby-Dick, the text which, more than
> any other I’ve read, allows reading to
> be what it is.

after a recommendation like this from my brother, how can i exclude it (as my
unread-gamble... or perhaps as an unread "sure thing")? I'll include *Moby-Dick*

a second unread gamble would be some book of real analysis, or perhaps some
massive tome of both real and complex analysis. it might be the perfect
opportunity to finally understand what numbers are. it might fail the Kant-test
carl mentioned (that it contains nothing that couldn't be reconstructed from
logical thought), but it could be worthwhile. or i could start with newton or leibniz (i'd be inclined towards leibniz, for notational reasons as well as the non-physics starting point) and see if i couldn't work my way up to one of the bernoulli's through my own efforts. However, the more i think about it, *Euclid* might be the best pick. coincidentally, monday (the date of the post) was the 85th anniversary of the death of Ramanujin...

7. Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

college friends martha, leah, and ari.

4/28/2005 11:28 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

"...the famous interviewer of philosophers..."

I had her (G.B.) for a seminar or two...needless to say, no substitute for Derrida (who I think shows up Habermas pretty well in that book, despite attempts otherwise).

Her opinion of herself is a tad inflated, to say the least. But she gave straight A's (perhaps pining for a favorable review or two on Amazon), which helped to compensate for the whole otherwise unbearable arrogance, pseudo-Sartrian thing.

Just out of curiosity, what on earth struck you as Hitchens-like about Derrida's argument?

5/04/2005 11:23 PM  
Blogger Carl said...

>what on earth struck you as Hitchens-like about Derrida's argument?

"Argument" might be a stretch--and believe me, I recognize a lot of things as arguments--but all I had in mind was Derrida sitting up bolt upright the morning of Sept. 12 and recognizing that we live in a new world, namely, one in which we must take seriously the idiom of English empiricism. Of course, while this response, like Hitchens', seems as though it would surprise and alienate those who had followed his thought over the years (though maybe not--for all I know, Derrida might have awakened to empiricism sooner), his response is basically the opposite of Hitchens'. Hitchens is through with philosophy and ready for the most rude action, while the spirit of Derrida's response is nicely glossed by the Village Voice reviewer's blurb on the back: "Philosophy in a Time of Terror" reminds us that the most constructive response to 9/11 may simply be to recognize the event as an opportunity to ask the decisive questions about ourselves and our place in the world."--as if the most appropriate response would be an act of philosophical reflection. I think Habermas offers a richer response than this, and that Derrida doesn't. I'm reporting mostly on my experience as a reader; I was interested in reading some novel, articulable theses that could be deployed in a number of different kinds of political conversation--which I think Habermas provides--and I didn't have the willpower to sustain the charitable assumption that Derrida must be saying something important, without which assumption one is sunk as a reader of Derrida. I guess I thought it was a neat insight to say that "Bush" and "bin Laden" are metonymies.

5/05/2005 5:54 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

But in that interview Derrida specifically resists the frame that Borradori seeks to impose re: an earth-shattering 'event.' He directly refutes it, and talks about the concept of 'event' itself in some detail. And we are still citing "9/11" without having any idea what the hell we actually mean. Anyway I wrote a little ditty about this, perhaps of interest, I don't know, maybe not. I think it's here:

5/07/2005 9:25 PM  
Blogger Carl said...

I'm not sure that Derrida refutes anything, or is even interested in refutations, since an act of refutation seems to me to imply recognition of its object as an object, and as coherent and possibly true. But to consider the bit on the "event," if Derrida asks us to reflect before deploying that concept--and I mean "reflect" in the sense of a Kantian reflective judgment that considers the suitability of an intuition for our kind of cognition, as opposed to a determinative judgment that refers an intuition to a concept--it is because for him, the referent in question--if one were able to refer to it (which I think we can, though I don't know whether Derrida thinks we can)--is not less than an event, but rather more than one. A sort of political sublime. But whatever. I think there are many questions to ask about what is called "9/11," though I don't see the urgency of challenging what would seem to be a comparatively neutral ontological category. "Event" is one of those words that for speakers of language is more like bedrock than something sitting atop a scaffold of derived sense.

5/07/2005 10:25 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Fair enough, I suppose. Still, I think he refuses, or resists, if that is an ok word, the frame that G.B. (more of a Kantian than Derrida, to be sure!) not so subtly suggests at the beginning of that interview.

Surely a conception of 'the event' is at stake in suggesting, as B. does, that 9/11 "gave the impression of being one of the most important historical events we will witness in our lifetime"...

In the end, I think it's accurate to say that D. believes this to be a signal for a "new kind of war"--one where the enemies are invisible, nationalities are no longer relevant, etc. But his reservations about saying this are significant, and to some degree I think he does resist the larger narrative in which B. attempts to place him vis. a vis. the Enlightenment, etc.

5/07/2005 11:37 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

As for Habermas...

some interesting thoughts here:

5/07/2005 11:38 PM  
Blogger Carl said...


Thanks for your many suggestions. I will follow those links, and--importantly--give the Derrida interview another shot; it's obvious that my first reading was incomplete and uncharitable.


5/08/2005 11:20 AM  
Blogger Matt said...


no sweat. I'm trying to grow out of being a Derrida vigilante, really!

Of course I'd be interested in any further reactions you might have, specifically to his reading of Kant, if you're ever so inclined. Sadly my direct knowledge of Kant is pretty minimal.

5/09/2005 1:13 AM  

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