Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

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Blogging Cheers and Fears

Joseph Kugelmass has posted his reflections on the best and worst of intellectual blogs from this past year over at The Valve and The Kugelmass Episodes. Rough Theory gets a nod for its revamped appearance and for the recent illustrated reflections on Hegel’s Phenomenology. Since those reflections pertained to Hegel’s argument that essence arises from appearance, I’ll conclude that this is a recognition of the high quaility of the content, in the guise of recognising the form… ;-P

Among the blogs Joe recognises on the positive side of the spectrum, he draws special attention to a number of newer blogs, including Alexei’s Now-Times, Wildly Parenthetical, and the folks over at Perverse Egalitarianism.

On the more negative side, Joe worries about a certain ebbing of more intense debate as the year has gone on, and is critical of what he sees as a growing concern to mobilise blogging for career purposes, of parodies in search of a punch line, and of posts with many sequels (not sure I’ve seen any of those), which Joe regards as an abjuration of the ideal that “each piece must be its own revolution”.

Joe’s wish for the coming year:

Tiny Tim on Bob's shouldersSo, what’s ahead for 2008? I can’t predict trends, but I can say what I hope for, and that’s a renaissance of words in their essential loneliness. Intellectual blogging is a medium that thrives because it captures the quietude of those moments when we seal ourselves off from our surroundings in order to consider the printed words of another person. The tremulousness of the word, the expectation of an answer, the abjection and shamelessness of writing for self-publication: in order to be honest, a blogger has to be vulnerable, more so even than the author of a book. What she is writing apparently had to be blogged to be written at all. Given the voluntarism of the blogosphere, polish is merely comic; risk is the only thing worth admiring. The risk of saying too much, the risk of being unread, the risk of being misread—intellectual blogging must change from an indifferent exercise of dignified exposition into the willing practice of risk.

Random Hegel

The other day, I was looking through Andy Blunden’s “The Meaning of Hegel’s Logic”, which I gather Andy prepared for the first Hegel Summer School back in 1997. I laughed at this comment, which Andy makes in his introduction:

Following Lenin’s advice, we recommend a “materialist reading” of the Logic. That is, where Hegel talks of a “spirit” which expresses or “posits” itself in Nature or human affairs, we read a law or process manifested or expressed by Nature or human activity; when Hegel starts talking about God, we skip to the next paragraph.

I meant to toss the comment up on the blog at the time, but got distracted and forgot. What reminded me was the following comment, from Hegel’s discussion in the Science of Logic of “With What Must Science Begin”:

If, therefore, in the expression of the absolute, or eternal, or God (and God has the absolutely undisputed right that the beginning be made with him) — if in the intuition or thought of these there is implied more than pure being — then this more must make its appearance in our knowing only as something thought, not as something imagined or figurately conceived; let what is present in intuition or figurate conception be as rich as it may, the determination which first emerges in knowing is simple, for only in what is simple is there nothing more than the pure beginning; only the immediate is simple, for only in the immediate has no advance yet been made from a one to an other. Consequently, whatever is intended to be expressed or implied beyond being, in the richer forms of representing the absolute or God, this is in the beginning only an empty word and only being; this simple determination which has no other meaning of any kind, this emptiness, is therefore simply as such the beginning of philosophy. (121)

Something about Hegel’s “and God has the absolutely undisputed right that the beginning be made with him” just kills me (you’ll have to forgive me – I frequently – and sympathetically, as a matter of sheer enjoyment in what he’s doing in the text – think Hegel is hilarious – I realise this reaction is highly idiosyncratic, but I still can’t seem to keep myself from sharing…). And the whole passage reminded me of Andy’s advice.

For those who haven’t seen it yet, the Hegel-by-Hypertext site, part of the ever-useful, has online versions of a number of Hegel’s texts, and links to commentaries and other resources. As long as I’m assembling links, other useful sites for links to Hegel’s works and commentaries are J. Carl Mickelsen’s University of Idaho site (hat tip Self and World), and

Impure Thought

Wildly Parenthetical has posted an evocative brief reflection, taking up initially from a comment about writing, from Phaedrus, but leading to a set of questions about memory – and the relational possibilities for forms of subjectivity:

Memory is thus presented as authentic, self-sufficient and almost a way of investing the thought within oneself rather than in an elsewhere place. The self-contained subject must not permit thought to pass to elsewhere, and certainly must not allow the thought to circulate to another, much less another inanimate object—pen, paper, ink upon page, pixels on screen—before returning for it will never be the same… and nor will you.

Never let there be another to show you who you are, to let you be who you are; heaven forbid. And if there is such another, destroy him, destroy her, burn the paper, smash the liquid crystal, until there is nothing but you left, you and a lonely, isolated knowledge. As if no other form of relation were ever possible…!

My associations on reading this – which may significantly overliteralise Wildly’s intent in writing it – went immediately to the ways in which my “own” work has been influenced in profound ways by my connections and contacts with others. I’ve so often been struck by the disjoint between the notion of academic production as an “original” and “individual” effort, and my experience of “my” work as always refracting interactions with others, perpetually deflected by the shock of interaction. So much of my current writing is shaped by the problems that condense and crystallise only from dialogue, the dislocated insights made possible by sliding into perspectives of whose existence I would never have learned, except through others. I view intellectual work – not as necessarily collective, in the sense of a consciously-shared joint project (although it might under certain circumstances be that, as well) – but as transcendent of individuals who generate, not a lonely, isolated knowledge, but a unique refraction of a shared experience that each can only partially and incompletely express.

Do You Believe in Me?

Via Acephalous: my author function has been analysed! Critical Theory and the Academy, a course blog that provides the nucleus for several student blogs that explore major themes in critical theory, has assigned the following task this week:

First, you will discuss a specific point in Barthes’s “The Death of the Author” or Foucault’s “What is an Author?”. Second, you will venture out into blogworld, find a post on an academic/theory blog that discusses authorship (the author function in literature, blog authorship, pseudonymity, etc.) in some way, link to the post in your post, and offer commentary on the linked-to post. You may handle this in one long post or in two separate posts.

Ozzman5150 finds inspiration for this assignment at Rough Theory. After an extended discussion of the concept of the “author function”, Ozzman suggests:

The second part of the assignment for this week was to find a blog from the internet on the idea of what an author is or what makes an author. I did some research and I think that I found one right from the main page of Dr. Mcguire’s blog. The blog is titled Rough Theory and I think that it provides some good insight on the idea of what an author is. I think that this blog makes some assumptions as to the ideas of what an author is and how it helps to shape our understanding of the “author function” and texts. This blog seems to hint through various posts that the author is more a work of fiction rather than acting as a function from which we can better understand the texts that we come across.

Over at Acephalous, Scott Eric Kaufman concurs:

One student insists N. Pepperell’s fictional, and I’m inclined to agree. No actual person could write that much that quickly and remain sane.

So, now I really must know: how many of my readers truly believe that “N. Pepperell” is, as Ryan/Aless might put it, “a real (material, historical) person”?

Read more of this post


A few days late, as this was posted while I was away at the conference, but I wanted to draw attention to a fantastic post from Nick at the accursed share, which explores the complexities of grasping potentials for political change within a philosophy of immanence. The full post covers a great deal of ground, and is worth reading in full. A few brief selections will give some sense of the whole:

One of the first and most important questions facing any immanent ontology of politics that aims at being revolutionary is the question of how to discern the potentials that exist immanently within a given situation. Such an analysis precludes all the teleological and transcendent determinations of social movement, since they exist precisely as overarching logics that determine immanence from a distance (remaining themselves untransformed by the vagaries of time). For much of contemporary philosophy, such a transcendent conception is a reversal into traditional metaphysics. Following John Mullarkey’s Post-Continental Philosophy, we can describe Deleuze, Badiou, Henry and Laruelle as thinkers of immanence. To this list we could add Žižek, who, like Badiou, seeks to discern the gaps within immanence. The problem faced by all these thinkers, on a political level, is how to determine the possibility of true revolution without, however, falling into what Daniel Bensaid has called “the miracle of the event” (TA 94).

Nick goes on to contrast approaches that confront this problem through what he terms “negative immanence” – that seek “to proclaim the inauguration of the New as a complete break with the past” – an approach that he sees in the work of Žižek and (in a more qualified sense) Badiou:

In both Badiou and Žižek, therefore, there seems to be a sense that the only way to account for a truly revolutionary and immanent politics is to put forth some conception of a radical rupture at the heart of being (for Badiou, the event that breaks with the situation; for Žižek, the subject as void being the foundation of any positive order). The problem with such a radical rupture is twofold: one, it can lead to political apathy by avoiding any question of fostering the conditions for a new order to arise. By this I mean that the rupture is determined as essentially aleatory and unpredictable, and therefore incapable of being prepared for. Secondly, it tends to avoid the question of actual politics.

With a more Deleuzian alternative, which Nick describes as “positive immanence”, that:

strips negativity of any foundational status. Rather, ontology is immediately a becoming, a constant individuation premised upon intensive systems composed of a continually changing set of heterogeneous elements that differentially determine each other. Beyond the actualized, identifiable elements of our situation there exists unactualized, yet real potentials exerting force on the dynamics of the actual. The problem of revolutionary change becomes not a matter of seeking evental sites and immanent ruptures, but rather of discerning the productivity of the potentials immanent to the real sociohistorical situation we live in.

Nick moves next to Marx – and to Negri and Hardt – repositioning common critiques of Negri and Hardt’s work in order to set up for the concluding challenge:

The question is, and I’m left without an answer for the moment, can there be a rigorous method of seeking potentials? It is necessarily an immanent and hence constantly rejuvenated method, but when Deleuze and Guattari speak of ‘indices’ in Anti-Oedipus (e.g. A-O 350-3), it seems that they have in mind precisely such a method. Similarly, Deleuze’s work on Nietzsche brings up the question of a “symptomatology” which sees that a “phenomenon is not an appearance or even an apparition but a [non-representational] sign, a symptom which finds its meaning in an existing force” (N 3). It is such a science of symptoms that seems to me to be key to working out a revolutionary politics that truly faces up to immanence.

Good stuff – go read the original.

Summer Philosophy in Melbourne

I am utterly wiped out at the moment – head full of static and completely unable to write anything serious (or, for that matter, even to respond to Claude’s meme [Claude, I found myself looking at it, and literally going, “fantasy… what’s the title of a piece of fantasy I liked… hmm… maybe the next question will be better… sexy songs… hmm… can I remember any sexy songs? Any songs, of any kind?” My memory is producing absolutely nothing at the moment – regardless of the genre… Will try again later, when recall wants to work for me again…]).

So now that I’ve no doubt instilled great confidence in my intellectual capacities, I wanted to put in a quick plug for the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy, which is an “independent teaching and research school dedicated to Continental thought”. Based at the University of Melbourne, the MSCP offers a wide range of week-long seminars over the university term breaks, covering a diverse set of theorists and themes in continental philosophy. I was able to attend a series on Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, as well as a series on topics in 20th century German philosophy, during the winter break, and found the sessions excellent. They’ve just now released their schedule for the coming summer session, which includes the following sessions:

Week 1: Jan 28 – Feb 1
History of Philosophy I: The Pre-Socratics (David Rathbone)
Nietzsche & The Birth of Tragedy: Music, Science & Philosophy (Paul Daniels)

Week 2: February 4 – 8
History of Philosophy II: Plato and His Contemporaries (Cameron Shingleton and James Garrett)
Women in Dark Times (Matthew Sharpe, Lucy Ward and Sergio Mariscal)

Week 3: February 11 – 15
Emmanual Lévinas: Philosophy of Radical Alterity (Andrea León-Montero)
Thinking the Analytical/Continental Divide (George Duke and Jack Reynolds)

Week 4: February 18 – 22
The Pleasures: of Political Philosophy and Other Interruptions (Bryan Cooke)
Alain Badiou’s Being and Event (Jon Roffe)

The sessions labelled “History of Philosophy” are the first sequences in a series that will continue to unfold over the next three term breaks, intended to provide a broad orientation to the history of philosophy. Detailed descriptions of each session, as well as a registration form, can be found here.

The Hegel Summer School, in which I’m involved, will also take place at the University of Melbourne during the coming term break: 15-16 February. This unfortunately means that we will overlap the final day of the Week 3 MSCP sessions – but you guys know which session you’d rather attend, right? ;-P


I unfortunately don’t have time today to write this up properly, but I wanted to post a quick pointer to the wonderful new blog proximities, whose early posts range across Deleuze and Guattari, Lacan, Badiou, Zizek, and others, to explore a set of questions related to reflexive theory and immanent potentials for transformation. Its inaugural post builds to a tantalising question, which hopefully this blog will continue to explore as it unfolds:

What is really at stake here is the content of the set of potentials available for actualization in a Lacanian critical jurisprudence. The courts and the legal institution in sum play a distinctive part in the perpetuation of a particular symbolic order or regime of signs. Given this, we are required to follow up: Is there a potential for liberation in the virtual sphere of a Lacanian approach? Psychoanalysis may run up against its limit here, or, for more sympathetic folks, may force the realization upon us that there is no such thing as liberation. Schopenhauerian as it sounds, we may be condemned to the particular brands of oppression brought out by our representational-democratic (i.e., pseudo-democratic) regime of signs. All we can hope for is to “traverse the fantasy,” to become docile with respect to the order of things through acceptance. But if this is the case, why did we bother with a psychoanalytical critique of law in the first place? (Zizek has some interesting things to say on this question, but I can’t discuss them now – certainly, I will return to Zizek’s role in developing a psychoanalytic critique of law, revisiting this question with a new immediacy; Zizek is able to discern in the law, in an institutional as well as cultural sense, a sort of de-limitation, a restriction that nevertheless enables, and so the possibility of a truly constructive psychoanalysis of law becomes real.) For my part, here is where I think the possibility of a Deleuzian, not to say “schizoanalytical,” approach to law becomes necessary. I’ll merely light the path here but will return in a series of future posts to begin actually following it, as I work out some details.

A central theme of the Anti-Oedipus is that social formations generate their own lines of escape, that laissez-faire capitalism, for instance, breeds marginal subjects that sense the means of egress, the “leaky spots,” made available by the functioning of the system itself. And this is its “proper” functioning: Deleuze & Guattari continually note, in that text, that capitalism “works,” there is no reason for it not to work; in “working,” however, variegated flows of labor (minor sciences, war machines of various types, and so on) come into being as a sort of remainder, in the form of a hold-over – and then it becomes a matter of seizing this liberatory potential in some constructive way, or, as Deleuze will say, “to be carried off elsewhere, the beyond, on a crazy vector, a tangent of deterritorialization” (”Two Regimes of Madness” in Two Regimes of Madness, 15). Does it become possible to follow such a tangent in a Deleuzian mode?

Of course, perhaps I would see this as tantalising, as it resonates with so much recent discussion here… 🙂

The current post, which picks up on recent discussions of reflexivity at Larval Subjects, is a brilliant read that I’m tempted to quote in full – but instead, I’ll just provide a teaser, and suggest you read the original in its own space:

Recall that Deleuze, for instance, celebrates the suspension of individuation we witness in the close-up in cinema – suspension here in the sense of prolongation, moving to the edge of the void without allowing the schizophrenizing-intensifying processes to bring about a collapse of cognizance, but rather to cause an excess of cognizance, a hyper-perception. This would be freedom. Philosophy requires a perpetuality of movement, an utterly ceaseless subjectification/desubjectification circuit. This is not a “leap out” of the dominant symbolic-ideological discourse. This is a productive reconfiguration of the symbolically determined structures of subjectivity, a discernment (hence “hyper-perception”) of the virtualities / potentialities available for actualization in any given social formation. “Leaping out” is impossible – it is a negation. Freedom must be produced, and produced through adjustments to the assemblage – hence my blog’s subtitle.

Running back to the conference now…

Points Off for Hypocrisy

I can’t resist pointing to the student plagiarism story over at ZaPaper’s Chicago Beijing. While ZaPaper focusses the entry on a teacher’s intervention gone awry, the true beauty of this case lies in the topic and argument of the plagiarised piece:

And get this, the paper was on copyright and intellectual property (specifically with respect to music sampling, U2 and Negativeland). And GET THIS: Cheater is arguing in her paper that U2 was right, Negativeland was wrong, and sampling music is cheating.

Kewpie Doll: Never do this again. Some teachers would throw you right out of the course for this.
Cheater: I know, I know. All I was thinking was “length, length, length.”

Maybe that’s what Negativeland was thinking too. Points off for hypocrisy.

Or maybe it wasn’t really plagiarism, but a sophisticated self-referential critique that chose to make its point by using stylistic strategies that directly contradict the expressed content and overt argument. (I’ve been writing way too much on Marx lately…)

Daily Keynes

I wanted to put up a pointer to the series on Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money that Mike Beggs has begun blogging over at Scandalum Magnatum. Mike currently has posts up on the first two chapters, with more (much more!!) planned:

Where are the lefty economics blogs? I find myself haunting the philosophy and cultural studies segments of the blogosphere, which is possibly more fun than economics, especially when I need to divert myself from an economics thesis. The web is full of humming radical philosophy and cultural studies blogs, but a radical political economy community just isn’t there. Or maybe I’m just not aware of it?

Anyway, a reading group I’ve been part of in real life is about to turn to Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. I’ve read tons of the secondary literature but never read it right through. It seems important to do so for my thesis at some point, too, so that’s a bonus. So I thought I’d use this spot as a place to work through it, and if anybody wants to join me, great. It’s about 400 pages including the index, and I’ve got a month to get through it for the reading group. So the plan is to do a chapter each working day, starting Thursday. The chapters are not too long – hell, the first one is half a page. But it is dense in places.

(Keynes’ text is available online from MIA.)

Your Future Is Our Future

I’ve been seeing this Westpac ad recently on billboards along my tram route. I gather the intention is to express that Westpac has made commitments to environmentally and socially responsible lending practices. This isn’t, though, my immediate association on seeing the ad… In many ways, in fact, this might make an excellent model for one of the demotivational posters at

Westpac ad showing penguin on melting ice shelf, captioned Your Future Is Our Future