Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Drive-By Parentheticals

Kenneth Rufo over at Ghost in the Wire has coined a perfect phrase for one of my pet peeves:

Baudrillard is one of those people who routinely suffer from what I call “drive-by parentheticals,” wherein an article wants to assert some commonly “assumed” fact that Baudrillard might commonly be “assumed” to provide, and so randomly inserts Baudrillard into a footnote or parenthetical citation. In effect, we see comments like, “given the proliferation of simulacra (Baudrillard 1994), yada yada.” That’s the drive-by – academic style.

I’ve tended to refer to this on the blog as the “we all know” phenomenon – I’m not sure if this allows me to claim joint credit for what Ken is proposing we call Rufo’s Law:

When it comes to theoretical work of any type, the more widely “assumed” a certain argument, concept, or thinker is, the less that argument, concept, or thinker is actually understood.

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10 responses to “Drive-By Parentheticals

  1. rob July 27, 2007 at 9:59 am

    I’ve got a whole theory about this phenomenon, and I see it as relevant to problem of addressing plagiarism. I won’t go into details, but I think you’ll find this “drive-by” citation is less an exceptional form of engagement than it is an extreme form of an utterly conventional form of citation practice: the indirect reference.

    The indirect reference, as a practice, is of course caught up in (and conditioned by) a whole set of disciplinary apparatuses, and I find that it’s favoured more in particular kinds of disciplines. Psychology loves the indirect reference, and it’s pretty prevalent in large parts of sociology and cultural studies too.

    I see the practice as complicit with a certain species of idealism, even when it’s reproduced by those disciplines that would otherwise claim to be materialist. This form of indirect reference — and the related techniques of summary/synopsis and paraphrase — is effectively premised on the notion that ideas (e.g. the ideas “presented in” a specific article) are not bound to the materiality of writing, i.e. of the syntax, lexicon, order of information, modality, etc., etc. of the discussion. In short, the words (signifiers) of an article are seen as more or less transparent and incidental to the ideas which they “express” or “represent”. Consequently, one can explain Baudrillard (say) without engaging with or citing what he has written.

    Of course, ideas are to some extent detachable from the materiality of the word. If they weren’t, then it would not be possible to provide summaries of arguments or to explain them in other words (in the form of an introductory text, say) — indeed, translation of any kind would be impossible. But one could also say that, in a sense, the ideas are necessarily transformed in and by the act of translation, and so the summary, for instance, does not actually present “the ideas” of the original piece. (And even this account of the materiality of the word is too simple, since it ascribes a completeness and propriety to the “original”, and a prior unity of signifier and signified, which perhaps ought not be assumed.)

    At the risk of making sweeping statements, I would say that those branches of literary studies that take contemporary (literary) theory seriously (esp., say, Derrida) tend to privilege direct citation over indirect reference and paraphrase. This is partly because readers of Derrida are regularly confronted with his demonstrations of and reflections on the materiality of writing and textuality. But I think it’s also because literary studies is already premised on that notion, insofar as its enabling concept of literature and the kinds of analytical practices that that concept demands are centred on an understanding of the concreteness and peculiarity of (literary) language use. Thus the technique of citation-and-commentary is already well established in that discipline.

    And — who would’ve guessed it? — I’ve gone into detail after all…

  2. N Pepperell July 28, 2007 at 9:40 am

    LOL! Well, just a bit of detail…

    I have to admit, though, in spite of my peevishness above, I’m struggling with something somewhat related in some writing I’m trying to do at the moment – maybe in an inverted sense. When we’ve spoken of deconstruction occasionally here, you’ve sometimes mentioned having a sense of what deconstruction “does” – what sorts of moves or analytical strategies are involved – that are not necessarily localisable, at this point, to specific sentences in specific texts. I’m in a similar position in relation to some of the traditions with which I’ve worked for a long time, and I’m trying to figure out how much this is a problem for some writing I’m trying to do now – how necessary it is for me to pin specific points down to particular lines in an identifiable text when – and this is the tricky part for me – I am not trying to generalise about an author (so, I’m not planning on writing “Adorno says…”), but I have been enormously influenced by specific authors in developing my own ideas – but often in deeply idiosyncratic ways, and, I suspect, often in ways of which I’m simply no longer fully aware… Not sure if I’m making any sense, talking about this abstractly – maybe some details of my own…

    So: I have a very specific conception of something I tend to run around describing by terms like “immanent, self-reflexive social critique”. I developed this conception largely from reading various Frankfurt School material over the years, combined with a fair admixture of other sociological and anthropological theory, and some bits and pieces from my own historical work, but – here’s my problem – whenever I go back through some of the Frankfurt School material in detail, I’m damned if I can see anyone actually doing anything close enough to what I’m trying to do, that it makes sense to present them in any simple way as a “source”. An “inspiration” would probably be a more accurate description than a “source” – but how does one express that sort of intellectual debt when writing? And, in a sense, why would any reader care, given that explaining the nature of the “inspiration”, and how this has worked its way through into the sorts of things I currently think, is essentially aleatory and autobiographical: I’m not clear to what use a reader could put the information…

    So I’m sort of oddly torn at the moment between feeling that I never would have developed the concepts I am deploying without interaction with a particular tradition, and yet also feeling that my concepts don’t particularly “belong” to that tradition – that they could just as easily have been developed, I now feel, through interactions with a number of other traditions, and are sort of equidistantly related to many traditions… It’s not… er… authentic to write as though I sat in an armchair and made this stuff up – but it also feels wrong to… blame a tradition for coming up with me :-)

    At any rate – somewhat off the point of your comment. I don’t think it’s this kind of dilemma that leads most people to engage in the “Baudrillard says” strategy. It just occurred to me that I’ve been spending a lot of time recently trying to figure out how to deal with the issue of intellectual debt and the complex lineage of concepts in my own writing. So far, that has meant spending a lot of time tracking specific concepts back to the texts that, as far as I can remember, either led me to the ideas, or expressed them in a particularly crystalline way. But I keep getting feedback that I spend much too much time linking what I think to other thinkers – that it would be clearer and more succinct for me to drop the intellectual history or genealogy of my concepts, and just “say what you want to say”… And I keep resisting this, I think, because it somehow feels dishonest to me… But it also sometimes feels dishonest to imply, as I worry my writing sometimes also does, that there is some kind of straight line connection between what I’m doing, and what other people have written…

    Any worked through ethical opinion on this? ;-)

  3. rob July 30, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Yeah, I know what you mean. Everything I write now is pretty much haunted by the ghosts of Foucault and Derrida, yet I find it harder and harder to find cause to cite either one of them. And, interestingly or predictably enough, I find Derrida’s Specters of Marx to have much to say about this question of an intellectual debt, the lineage of concepts, etc.

    Although there’s an ethical dimension to the problem, I don’t think it’s straightforwardly, or purely ethical (and I’m sure you realise this too). The problem you’re faced with is that the current prevalent concepts or frameworks of “research” understand that activity as a matter of identifying, commenting on and contributing to existing “research” (i.e. publications), and this means that you can’t just “say what you want to say” because you need to demonstrate how “what you want to say” emerges from — and can therefore be legitimated in terms of — an existing body of knowledge. This means that its a political/institutional problem (re: questions of authority, convention, etc.) too.

    And, of course, it’s a pragmatic problem in the sense that you’ve got a thesis to write (? you’re doing a PhD, no?), papers to publish, etc., if you’re going to continue and succeed in your chosen profession.

    As is often the answer for me, how you work with and through the problem largely depends on the nature of the specific academic activity. If it’s a thesis, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to outline, more or less as you have above, the peculiar nature of the “origins” of the concepts you’re proposing, refining, etc. in a Preface or an Introduction. If you wanted to be really clever (i.e. self-reflexive) you could also come back to the problem in a final chapter and analyse how it might relate to historically constituted forms of (theoretical) subjectivity, a là the approach you’ve put forward in the preceding chapters.

  4. N Pepperell July 30, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Yes – the political/institutional issue has also been troubling to me – and is actually why I’ve been surprised to find people advising that I cut discussions of the “pedigree” of certain concepts, since I would generally take this as one of the ways of demonstrating that you’ve gone through the socialisation process required for a degree (and, yes, I’m doing a PhD).

    I’m probably a bit more internally torn over the ethical issue – I have this constant feeling that nothing I’m doing quite captures the nature of the intellectual relationship: my concepts all derive from the work of other theorists – so on one level, there’s nothing “original” (and this lack of originality is not itself a concern for me, as I think this is how concepts arise, from these kinds of reconfigurations of the materials we have to hand…). But on the other hand, it’s simply not accurate to write as though my concepts in the form in which I deploy them are sitting ready in the works of identifiable theorists – this claim does the original works an injustice and, in a sense, holds them responsible for what might often be somewhat of a reduction of their works, as I repurpose their concepts in other contexts.

    I was favouring the option of some kind of preface or appendix (and I always tend to have a vast cloud of footnotes and meta-commentary, which also clarifies some of this sort of thing). But of course the main body of the text – to meet the political/institutional requirements you mention – also needs to revolve, I think, around a discussion of the theorists most central to my work, and I’m currently buried in trying to figure out how to do this, without doing what seems to be irritating some readers – without getting too caught in the minutiae of my own intellectual relationships with the theorists I’m describing…

    Fairly common thesis dilemma, I suppose… ;-P

  5. rob July 30, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    I can see and appreciate the dilemma facing you, and I doubt that there’s any general points I could make that you wouldn’t already be well aware of.

    Without an understanding of the specifics of your project, it’s hard to make any concrete suggestions. Not that you’re necessarily asking for such, but I’m more than happy to offer what scraps of advice I’m capable of articulating if you think you’d find them helpful.

    At any rate, I’d be interested to hear a bit more about the project, so if you’d find it at all cathartic or otherwise beneficial to elaborate, please do tell me more. How many and how diverse are the sources of (the original versions) of your concepts? How much of the thesis have you already written? What sort of structure are you writing to at the moment? Is there still space and time to incorporate some discussion of key figures/texts/ideas in the intellectual traditions you’re inhabiting/leaving?

    I’ve seen you on a number of occasions on this blog quote a slab from X philosopher and comment away; it’s entirely possible that a variation on that strategy could work for the thesis, providing it is structured in a certain way and has set itself a particular objective.

  6. N Pepperell July 30, 2007 at 9:22 pm

    I’m not sure whether I’ll find it cathartic, or just terrifying… ;-) Talking about my work directly (rather than lobbing bits and pieces of it out in response to situational events) has this tendency to make me feel simultaneously over-reaching and stupid… ;-P

    I’m not completely sure how much I’ve written, because I’m still trying to make some fairly fundamental decisions. The short version is that there was an unexpected but rather complete change of course a few months back. For various reasons, I hadn’t been expecting to be allowed to structure a thesis around a primarily theoretical argument, and so I was basically working on a thesis on an empirical research topic completely unrelated to my theoretical interests, and in the meantime spending my “free” time on a theoretical project, which I had vague intentions of turning into a book once the thesis was submitted. That side project has now become the thesis, and I’m still trying to get my head around what that means, and how much of what I have written can be repurposed for the thesis.

    My main interest lies in exploring the possibilities for immanent social critique today – in a context in which older visions of immanent social theory (with critical standpoints grounded, for example, in the movement of history, in the notion of a social contradiction between existent social institutions, or in some kind of world-historical subject) have been rejected, and in which many prominent contemporary visions of social critique have either explicitly or tacitly abandoned the attempt to identify critical standpoints that are immanent to the society being criticised. (It’s very easy to muddy this over-simplistic version of the narrative: there are traditions that regard themselves as socially immanent, that I don’t regard as such, and traditions that aren’t trying to engage in this kind of critique at all, that nevertheless from my point of view provide pretty good models of how you could go about it – these sorts of issues are some of what I would want to draw out in more detail.)

    There are some key decisions I haven’t made: I can tell this story, for example, solely with reference to the Frankfurt School tradition with which I’m most familiar, and on which I’ve written a reasonable amount. Ideally, though, I would like to discuss parallel developments in at least some other traditions – I likely won’t make a final decision on this until much later this year, when I’ve completed a great deal of additional reading (and, in the meantime, I’ll pull together the material I’ve written on the Frankfurt School into something like a final form).

    In terms of whether I have the time and flexibility to make significant alterations: I’m actually on leave this year (which is the only reason it’s been viable to entertain the sort of wholesale shift in the thesis topic I’ve been undertaking the past few months), and have another couple of years to finish once I return, so there is time. In terms of how much I’ve already written, it depends to some degree on whether this is a thesis on the Frankfurt School, or whether I broaden things out. If I end up limiting the discussion to the Frankfurt School, I have drafted versions (although sometimes quite rough, and in need of a much more serious engagement with the secondary literature) of most of the main sections that would probably be required in the thesis; if I broaden things out, and scale the Frankfurt School material back, I have a lot more work to do – but I don’t necessarily mind this.

    In terms of structure, I tend “naturally” to organise things historically – it’s how I tend to make sense of things, and it’s therefore how what I’ve already written is structured. I have a small dilemma here, though, in that the earliest theorists I’d like to discuss – Hegel and Marx – have “better” concepts (in terms of their usefulness for what I want to argue) than many of the people who come later – and I haven’t made up my mind how to handle this.

    My current impulse is to set the stage with a discussion of the concept of immanent social critique (so that it’s clear what I mean by this term, why the concept arose, and what would be required to “pull off” such a critique), and then to jump past Hegel and Marx, in order briefly and in extremely broad strokes to discuss conventional forms of early 20th century Marxism – aiming only for the level of detail required to make sense of what subsequent theoretical approaches were reacting to – then move to the first generation Frankfurt School critique and the pessimistic turn, then on to Habermas and Honneth (from my point of view, non-immanent theorists).

    To set up for the sort of argument I’m trying to make, the analysis of these theorists needs to foreground the categories used to define capitalism and modernity, mainly in order to set up an argument that these categories were always too transhistorical to grasp what an immanent theory would need to grasp – that these theories, even at their best, were never quite socially immanent. (I’ve written versions of this argument for publications or formal presentations for all of these theorists except Honneth, so this is familiar ground, even if it sounds a bit vague and hand-wavy when condensed in this way – I’m not specifically worried about being able to successfully make this argument, in relation to these theorists, in a way that sets up for the alternative vision of critique I’d like to introduce. So most of this is a subject for revision, rather than writing from scratch – extensive revision, in some cases, but there is little completely new ground to cover here, in terms of either research or writing.)

    If I decide to bring in other traditions, then the sections above will need to be condensed considerably, and I’ll be looking at fairly extensive new research and writing – which, as I’ve said, I don’t mind. Whether I do this will come down more to whether I feel I can wrap a coherent narrative around a discussion of multiple traditions. My main concern is that it might feel random, what I have included and excluded…

    Regardless of which traditions I discuss to set up the problematic of an immanent social critique, the main “original” task of the thesis (since much of the Frankfurt School narrative, at least, is reasonably standard in the literature) is to use this discussion of other traditions to outline a set of issues an alternative theoretical approach would need to address – and then to begin at least to sketch the contours of such an alternative (retaining the self-reflexive aspect of the analysis and keeping in the frame the issue of why different theoretical approaches have become plausible when they have). Voicing this alternative is particularly difficult for me – this is where I draw heavily on Marx, for example, but not on a Marx that most people would recognise, etc.

    And it may be that the entire structure concept is misguided (and it’s certainly not too late to rethink the structure on a fundamental level). The feedback I’ve gotten on some of the existing writing boils down to: “why do you need to take the reader through all of this intellectual history? Why not just provide a definition of immanent social critique, then explain how you define capitalism, and then talk about the sorts of theoretical or practical problems your approach can resolve?” My main reaction to this, aside from sheer terror at the prospect, is that I’m unsure how a reader will make sense of what I’m saying without some sense of the historical development of this kind of theory – particularly when part of my argument is that I think my own alternatives are themselves historically emergent… At the same time, this feedback may be on the mark: in a sense, I’m recapitulating at least some of the trajectory I followed to arrive at certain concepts – and therefore dragging readers along through my own intellectual baggage. The “point” isn’t really the intellectual history (which, in any event, I think is a fairly well-worn narrative) – I’m just using the intellectual history as a means for opening up a particular problem. Perhaps that problem would be more clearly opened up in a very different way…

    At any rate… Not sure this makes any sense – I’ve managed both to drag on, and to be too condensed to give much useful sense of the form and content of the argument – there have probably been blog entries that are clearer… That, and I’ve probably made myself sound like I don’t have any idea what I’m doing… Apologies if this discussion makes me seem particularly disorganised… If it helps, I have a long-standing tendency to dither on structure (and, for that matter, in past theses I’ve tended to write complete drafts in a particular structure, and then ditch that structure entirely for the final rewrite), so in a sense this all feels a little too familiar to me… ;-P

  7. rob August 1, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Hey NP

    Just a quick post to say thanks for the details. The project sounds very interesting and I hope to post my thoughts soon, but I’ve got a busy few days.

  8. N Pepperell August 1, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    I doubt the thesis will be finished before then :-) I appreciate any comments you have time to offer – but please don’t feel obligated. It’s an evolving thing and, now that my teaching schedule is much lighter, I’ll likely be putting things up on the blog fairly regularly for whatever feedback you and others would like to offer. I sympathise with busy days – and appreciate your letting me know – but want to stress that it’s nothing that won’t wait.

  9. rob August 21, 2007 at 11:24 am

    Hi NP

    Sorry to take so long to get back to this. I’ve been wanting very much to respond, but my workload this semester is about double what it should be. Sadly (or happily, depending on your preferred form of comment), that means my response will not be as finely and elegantly crafted as usual :P

    Basically, I think all your “impulses” are worth listening to. The project sounds great, and it looks like you’ve actually got a much stronger sense of what you’re doing than you are prepared to admit to yourself. There’s actually not much at all that I would suggest that differs from what you’re already leaning towards. Take the following two passages, for instance:

    My main interest lies in exploring the possibilities for immanent social critique today – in a context in which older visions of immanent social theory … have been rejected, and in which many prominent contemporary visions of social critique have either explicitly or tacitly abandoned the attempt to identify critical standpoints that are immanent to the society being criticised.// I can tell this story, for example, solely with reference to the Frankfurt School tradition with which I’m most familiar, and on which I’ve written a reasonable amount. Ideally, though, I would like to discuss parallel developments in at least some other traditions.

    I have a small dilemma here, though, in that the earliest theorists I’d like to discuss – Hegel and Marx – have “better” concepts (in terms of their usefulness for what I want to argue) than many of the people who come later – and I haven’t made up my mind how to handle this.

    To those I would respectively make the following suggestions, both of which you’ve already acknowledged as the paths you’re likely to go down:

    — Perhaps an early chapter discussing the contemporary situation, including an account of the state of affairs in these other traditions and how those traditions may suggest a return to the question of immanence in the context of critical theory? Subsequent chapters could then do a history of the emergence of your isomorphic argument out of the tradition of critical theory.

    — insofar as the later theorists work with or on Hegel and Marx, the dilemma can be solved by beginning with the Hegel and Marx received (or produced) by those theorists before going on to discuss the key moments in the traditions of marxism/critical theory and then presenting the “new” Hegel and Marx that inform your argument.

    Beyond saying things you already know, there are only really two points I’d want to stress against (perhaps) your current inclinations and against advice you’ve received from elsewhere.

    First, I think you should keep your excursions into other traditions limited. Such excursions come, I think, from a desire to assimilate into your project everything you’ve come across, thought about, written, etc. — a desire which not only creates for you unnecessary work, but which runs counter to recommendations made by your own theoretical position. You can do what you need to do without engaging every influential or cognate tradition that happens to exist. I can see how it could be useful to use such traditions as a springboard for revisiting immanence, etc., against what you see as a move away from immanence, but there’s no need to go any further than that. Moreover, by moving back into a genealogy of the current situation you can also present the investigation as an alternative to the contemporary theoretical imperative of “application”: i.e. you’re not seeking to “apply” Deleuze (e.g.) to the concerns of contemporary critical theory in order to recuperate a “new” self-reflexive and immanent critical theory; rather, you’re showing how such a position/theory is already “immanent” within critical theory’s ambivalent relation to or with such a position, all the while historicising the emergence of that position. (Does that make sense? Keep in mind here that I’m no authority on critical theory, so I’m possibly saying completely false things about it; I’ve just been trying to extrapolate from what you’ve written).

    Second, don’t take the advice you’ve received so far as gospel; e.g. “why do you need to take the reader through all of this intellectual history? Why not just provide a definition of immanent social critique, then explain how you define capitalism, and then talk about the sorts of theoretical or practical problems your approach can resolve?”. The answer to those questions is simply that you are not (or are no longer) doing a sociology thesis, nor even, strictly speaking, a social theory thesis. You are now doing a philosophy thesis — a very specific kind of speculative-genealogical philosophy thesis at that — and the kind of moves suggested by that feedback are just not appropriate for a philosophy thesis. Keeping in mind that I have no idea about your supervision and about the disciplinary expertise, etc., of your supervisors and so on, you might want to think about whether your supervision needs are being met by the current arrangement now that your project has significantly changed from its original form. I don’t mean to suggest that you should confront your supervisors at the next meeting and demand that you have someone else brought in, etc. But if your supervisors cannot see that the above questions aren’t really appropriate for your revised project, then it’s possible that they’re too locked into a particular conception of what a thesis is, what it may do, how it should be structured, etc.

    Again, all of the above is based on absolutely no knowledge of your particular arrangements, etc., and on a very superficial understanding of what you’ve done so far and where you want to go, so it goes without saying that you shouldn’t put too much stock in it.

    One final remark, though, is that I see your thesis as doing something similar to Judith Butler’s Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France. That’s not at all to say that you’re arguing similar things, etc., but rather to stress that project is more philosophy-cum-intellectual genealogy than social theory. To that extent, her book, which is actually a revision of her PhD thesis, might be worth looking at (and showing to your supervisors), not so much as a model for your own work, but rather as a repository of writing/structuring/argumentative strategies for dealing with the various dilemmas that continue to emerge both from your “unconventional” approach to the task at hand and from your need to engage idiosyncratically with the philosophical resources of the critical theory tradition.

    Hope that helps/makes sense.

    Cheers

  10. N Pepperell August 21, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    rob – Many, many, many thanks for all of this – absolutely no need to apologise for any delay – it’s extremely generous to offer such such feedback, particularly given your schedule. I appreciate this greatly.

    The Butler recommendation makes a great deal sense – this is one of the major issues I’m struggling with: how to get the thesis to make sense to other people, given that it’s neither an application nor a test of a theory, and yet still finds its motive force in an exploration of other forms of theoretical work. (I note with some poignancy that the keynote address for our current internal school conference is a celebration of “midrange” theory in the applied social sciences… I have no problem with midrange theory, but the decision to keynote the conference with this argument made me quite relieved that I had decided not to present this time around… I’m already having to print out materials after hours to avoid having what I’m reading and writing passed around for commentary on how “intellectual” it is – I’m already pushing a bit on tolerance, I think… ;-P)

    I suspect you’re right on excursions to other traditions – I just feel guilty about it… ;-P I’ve learned a great deal, and consolidated a great deal of what I think, from these sorts of forays – it’s often only when turning ideas around to try to figure out how they map and don’t map on very different sets of concerns, that I figure out what I’m actually trying to say. But this is, in a sense, my own process, which needs to be distinct from the clear presentation of an argument for a reader – and, as well, I’m just not sure I can do other traditions justice at this point, in the space and time constraints of the thesis.

    I’ve been toying a bit with the idea of brief interspersed excursions to reach out to other traditions – interstitial micro-chapters or some similar concept – that would at least allow some gestures to the ways in which similar issues emerge in unexpected locations, without having to attempt the same level of depth genealogical work in all directions at once… To some degree, this kind of decision can be made once the cornerstone chapters are in a state where I’m reasonably happy with them.

    On one level, I have a great deal of freedom in what I do. Although there are occasional bouts of low-grade hassling, these aren’t coming from anyone with any formal supervisory role. More formal feedback seems to find it… bemusing? – maybe it comes across as a bit arrogant, I think? – that I am not intending to apply a particular existing thinker. I’ve had conversations where someone will say, “Okay, so let’s say I’m [pick a theorist]. Are you going to tell me, that you can do better than my work?” If I say “yes”, in however qualified or “immanent” a manner, apparently this is “cheeky”… ;-P I don’t mind this reaction on a personal level, but I am confused by it on a theoretical one – where, in this model, would theorists ever come from? Wouldn’t it have been equally “cheeky” for earlier rounds of theorists to create their own work? And, of course, since my theoretical position is that theoretical shifts are strongly enabled by largely unintentional historical ones, I’m not really trying to say something about my personal insight, but rather about the insights available within a shared moment in time…

    At any rate… Basically, my local arrangements leave me with a great deal of freedom, but with the explicit understanding that I need myself to seek out the feedback required to ensure that thesis will meet the standards it needs to meet. I’ve been given a very long rope, and it’s up to me whether I climb it, or end up dangling somewhere at the end… ;-P

    The concept of threading through a narrative on Hegel and Marx, unfolding different appropriations of these theorists, is something I’m working on very heavily at the moment. I suspect I’ll be able to thread something through – if I’m focussing on the Frankfurt School focus as an organising narrative, it may actually make sense, after introducing the general concept of what an immanent social critique was, and the movement away from this concept, to then discuss Hegel briefly, and then to trace the vagaries of what people think Marx was up to, as a “materialist inversion” of Hegel – this allows the thematisation of different understandings of capitalism, and the critical sensibilities that different understandings bring into, and out of, view… At any rate, I don’t mean to drag you through my ever-evolving chapter reconfigurations… ;-) It feels slowly like it’s falling into place – it’s basically a process of deciding what not to talk about, what can safely be left aside – and then looking at what remains and figuring how to tell a cohesive story around that…

    And please don’t worry that I’ll take your suggestions to be intended as advice in the strong sense – I work with a lot of students trying to put thesis proposals together, and I understand the element of trying to get your head into someone else’s project based on what they’re telling you – and that there’s always the potential that there would be some looming issue that a specialist would immediately see, that will be overlooked in this context. I’m slowly finding people who might be able to offer that level of specialist feedback, as a safety check, but I’m reasonably comfortable with my background, and am just basically thinking through how to get this thing done – how to make the argument I want to make. Again, I appreciate enormously the time you’ve taken to respond to this. Many thanks for this – if there is any way I can reciprocate, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

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