Author Archives: Megahertz

Diverse Practices, Diverse Practitioners: Philosophy, Identity, and Practices of Resistance

This is a guest post by Natalie Cisneros.

As a part of the 53rd annual conference of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy in New Orleans, the SPEP Racial and Ethnic Diversity Committee hosted a panel on “Making Philosophy Uncomfortable: Diverse Theory and Practice.” Along with the other panelists, Dr. Cigdem Yazici, Dr. Chike Jeffers, and Dr. José Medina, I was invited to address critiques of diversity from a perspective generated by my current work on race, gender, and contemporary functions of power. I was honored to join this group of scholars, each of whom offered important and timely insights into the meaning and possibilities of engaging in diverse philosophical praxis.

In preparation for this conversation about diverse theory and practice—and about comfort and discomfort— within the culture of professional academic philosophy, I had the occasion to reread and reflect again on some of the vast and rich work that has been done by people of color inside and outside of the discipline of philosophy on this very topic— work by philosophers including Linda Alcoff, Anita Allen, Donna Dale Marcano, Kristie Dotson, Kathryn Gines, Eduardo Mendieta, Mariana Ortega, and many, many others. This work not only informs and grounds my reflections, but also makes them possible—and makes possible my own existence and work within the discipline of philosophy more generally.

With this in mind, I focused my brief comments and questions on the possibility of diverse philosophical practice, and what the precariousness of particular modes of philosophical praxis means for the survival of diverse practitioners within the spaces of professional philosophy. I am currently working on a project that draws on a variety of traditions, including Women of Color feminisms, to analyze what I am calling “normalizing racism,” a strategy of racism that operates in the contemporary context through the policing of specific norms. These include norms surrounding language, ethnicity, and culture (what language(s) we speak, how we speak them, and what kinds of cultural practices are socially acceptable, for example) as well as norms about what it means to be a good, productive, and virtuous citizen. On my account, as it functions in the contemporary context, normalizing racism is both productive and eliminative. That is, it produces ways of being and knowing at the same time that it silences, marginalizes, and violently eliminates others. I am particularly interested in how and why practices of producing and policing racist norms are in many cases not identified as functions of racism even as they enact violence on racialized bodies– how normalizing racism produces its own erasure. That is, I am concerned with how and why contemporary strategies of normalizing racism don’t appear or aren’t understood in the dominant discourse as racist at the very same time that they are mobilized in the symbolic or literal elimination of people of color.

My current projects focus on how this eliminative function of normalizing racism operates through practices surrounding immigration, criminalization, and mass incarceration in the U.S. Here, though, I want to focus on how the production and policing of norms surrounding philosophical practice are caught up in strategies of normalizing racism in ways that call into question the survival of diverse practices and diverse practitioners in the discipline. This theme of survival—both within spaces of white supremacy in general and within academic spaces specifically— has been taken up critically and productively for decades and in many different ways within Women of Color feminisms in particular. I can’t do justice to this long and rich tradition in my comments here, but I want to call our attention to two moments in this genealogy. By focusing on what I’m calling the eliminative function of normalizing racism, I hope that these two moments will help us to continue a critical conversation about how various kinds of philosophical practice function to threaten or support the survival of diverse practitioners within the discipline.

The first moment is from Gloría Anzaldúa’s 1992 essay “The New Mestiza Nation,” where she describes the painful and perilous experience of the faculty members of color as that of a “Trojan mula”:

It is hard to get through the gate, and many do not make it. But once she passes through that gate, she becomes a sort of Trojan horse, a Trojan mula who has infiltrated in order to subvert the system, bringing new ideas with her. But the academy starts chipping away at her walls as she rams the academy’s walls with her head to make room for others like herself; she ends up on the floor with a bloodied head as she comes up against classrooms where she and her communities are completely invisible.[1]

The second critical reflection on survival that I’d like to highlight comes from Kristie Dotson’s essay “Concrete Flowers: Contemplating the Profession of Philosophy,” published in Hypatia in 2011. In it, Dotson speaks to the issue of survival of Women of Color in the discipline of philosophy in particular, by employing the powerful metaphor of a concrete flower:

 They give the impression of being strong, survivors. After all, they, and often they alone, have managed to grow through concrete. On closer inspection, however, many concrete flowers are fragile and clearly starved for basic nutrients. In fact, a concrete flower grows in spite of its environment. Malnourished and threatened on all sides by the concrete that would indifferently snuff the life from them, concrete flowers exist on grisly ground. If they were to flourish, they would produce a different landscape.[2].

For both Anzaldúa and Dotson, what it means to be a person of color (and Woman of Color in particular) in traditional academic spaces is to exist amidst—and despite—the constant threat of elimination. What these metaphors show is that this threat of normalizing racism isn’t accidental or conditional, but is a foundational feature of the systems they critique; it is embedded in the very walls of the ivory tower that the Trojan mula infiltrates, and it constitutes the concrete ground in spite of which flowers attempt to survive. That is, the very structures and norms that ground and contain our philosophical practice function in silencing and visiting violence upon persons of Color.

I think it is important to emphasize here that, though white supremacy in this context operates in preventing particular bodies from entering these spaces, both Anzaldúa and Dotson powerfully call our attention to how violent elimination happens within the spaces themselves. That is, while as Anzaldúa notes,“it is hard to get through the gate and many do not make it,” the eliminative function of normalizing racism in the context of philosophical practice functions not only in terms of who is let in. Though, as the demographics of professional philosophy forcefully make clear, this is certainly the case, racist violence is also embedded in the norms of academic philosophy itself, even for those who do, in fact, make their way in. The Trojan mula’s head is “chipped away at” and “bloodied” even within the walls of the Ivory tower she has infiltrated. Similarly, after poking its head through the concrete, the flower must attempt to survive while starved of basic nutrients. The norms that animate the institutions to which the mula and flower have gained provisional admittance threaten their very survival. These norms determine what kinds of texts and discourses count as philosophy, what kind work, both in terms of style and content, counts as philosophical, and what among this work is seen as important and significant. And the norms that animate and are maintained by the structures of the discipline itself are can be found in the quotidian practices, politics, and spaces of academic philosophy– in the ways and languages in which we speak, and in our bodily practices. As George Yancy has pointed out, within the structures of the overwhelmingly white discipline of philosophy, “white bodies move with ease, they complement and complete eachother, they bond with eachother,” and many philosophers of color are thus made to feel ill at ease within philosophical spaces; at the same time that the norms of professional philosophy function in making white people–and, more precisely, white cisgendered men–feel safe, at-ease, and at home in professional philosophy, they function in making others feel alienated and unsafe. In this way, Yancy, Anzaldúa, Dotson, and others ask us to reflect critically on what we mean when we talk about and call for “diversity” in the context of academic philosophy. By focusing our attention on the theme of survival, these critiques center our reflection on the precarious positions of bodies of color in the spaces of academic philosophy, and in doing so on how particular conceptions of diversity can perpetuate rather than resist normalizing racism. Indeed, these accounts suggest that calling for and inserting “diverse” bodies into the various spaces of professional philosophy without calling into question—and transforming—the norms that ground and contain these spaces perpetuates a kind of violence that is itself a function of racist elimination.

But what is entailed in such a transformation? This is one of the questions at the center of the conversation about survival inside of the academy and within philosophy in particular. The transformative movements called for in–and enacted by–this conversation have shown how norms that we many not take to have anything to do with race, or in fact recognize as norms at all, function in excluding diverse practitioners from the discipline of philosophy. This means, of course, that policing what counts as philosophy is a function not only of silencing perspectives, but also of eliminating particular bodies from philosophical practice. This elimination also occurs through the politics of citation: who gets cited and who doesn’t get cited reinforces norms of white supremacy, and reproduces particular forms of philosophical praxis at the same time that it marginalizes others and threatens the survival of diverse practitioners. Understanding the functioning of normalizing racism in this context calls us to rethink what kinds of practices should count as philosophical work. Such a critique suggests that practices of survival, including activism, community building, and other modes of resisting racist institutional norms, should not be understood as extrinsic or even merely complementary to academic philosophy. Indeed, the function of normalizing racism within the academy means that practices of survival are themselves modes of transformative philosophical praxis.

[1] Gloria Anzaldua, The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader (Duke University Press, 2009), 207.

[2] Kristie Dotson, “Concrete Flowers: Contemplating the Profession of Philosophy,” Hypatia 26, no. 2 (May 1, 2011), 408.

 

Next week we will publish Chike Jeffers’s paper from this SPEP session. 

CFP Beyond Bars: The Future of Prisons

Here is the CFP for the University of Memphis’s upcoming conference on prisons, sponsored by the Philosophy Department and Philosophy Graduate Student Association. We’re posting it here because it is exactly the kind of work we here at XCP support.

Keynote Address: Andrew Dilts, Loyola Marymount University
Plenary Panel: Lisa Guenther, Vanderbilt University; Kym Maclaren, Ryerson University; Joshua Dohmen, University
of Memphis
Punishment has featured prominently in the development of Western political thought as a vital component of developing and maintaining a polity. Philosophers ranging from Aristotle to Mill to Foucault have engaged the use of disciplinary and punitive practices. In the public sphere, debates have been waged over the purpose of prisons, the morality of capital punishment, and the political status of incarcerated persons both during and after incarceration. Over the last decade, in particular, there has been an explosion in the number of discourses surrounding incarceration practices, capital punishment, and criminal law in the United States. Debates about the wars on drugs and terror, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the moral and legal status of capital punishment have featured prominently in the media and in the political landscape. Recent demonstrations in response to police violence have drawn attention to both the militarization of police forces and the disproportion of this violence directed at communities of color. In intellectual circles, solitary confinement practices, felony disenfranchisement, and the proliferation of the prison-industrial complex have all been scrutinized. This conference seeks to provide a forum for these discussions on the status and meaning of prisons, incarceration, and punishment. Particular questions of interest include but are not limited to:
• What do figures in the history of philosophy have to say about punishment and what can we learn from them?
•How does imprisonment, or any practice associated with the prison, affect our understanding of notions like
the self and subjectivity?
• What moral issues are raised by the prison or incarceration?
• What epistemological issues do practices relating to the prison raise?
• Does prison reform or prison abolition provide the more satisfactory or useful response to criticism surrounding prisons? What do these terms even mean?
• What broader historical trend might the rampant use of imprisonment as a means of punishing criminal behavior signify?
• Are there more just alternatives to current incarceration practices?
• What does imprisonment punish?
• Are the stated goals/ends of imprisonment aligned with its practices or effects?
• What responses to imprisonment practices can we get from critical race, feminist, queer or trans*, disability, or intersectional approaches?
• What do philosophical or theoretical treatments of these questions have to offer more practical pursuits like activism or prisoner’s rights advocacy?
• What value does the practice of philosophy have for incarcerated persons?
Location: University of Memphis (Memphis, TN)
Conference Dates: February 27-28, 2015
We welcome contributions from philosophers working from any orientation, as well as contributions from scholars in a variety of disciplines and contexts.
To submit, please prepare a proposal (500-700 words) for blind review in either .pdf or .rtf format. Send the file as an attachment to memphispgsa@gmail.com with a body containing the title and the author’s name, contact information, institutional affiliation and status (graduate student, faculty member, independent researcher, etc.) If accepted, final
papers need to be suitable for a presentation approximately 20 minutes in length (roughly 3000-3500 words).
The deadline for submissions is November 22, 2014.
This conference is sponsored by the Department of Philosophy, the Lillian and Morrie Moss Chair of Excellence, and the Philosophy Graduate Student Association at the University of Memphis.

Merit vs Justice, or why we shouldn’t rank philosophy programs

Should philosophy departments and graduate programs be ranked, and if so, how?

This has been the topic of intense debate this week. I would like to contribute an XCP perspective to the line of argumentation begun by Ed Kazarian and John Drabinski. Because in fact, we here at XCP have been arguing for quite some time that the discipline’s “demographic problem” intersects with (in the feminist sense of “intersection”) the analytic/continental divide (and it’s supposed overcoming/pluralization). Or, to use Kristie Dotson’s terms, “diverse practices” and “diverse practitioners” are not independent variables.

No matter how you measure it, philosophical “respectability” will always further marginalize the most marginal members of the discipline and profession. Different methods of measurement might slightly alter the composition of the groups thrown under the bus (valuing ethics and continental more centrally will, I bet, be better for white women), but somebody’s still gonna take the fall, and that somebody will be found at a node of intersecting oppressions.

The academic merit system is a means of reproducing the racist, classist, cis/heteropatriarchial, ableist distribution of resources, wealth, opportunities, and privilege. Assessments of philosophical merit are deeply tied to assessments of academic merit in general: citations, grant money, placement at elite institutions, etc.

What if, instead of revising our assement of merit, we reoriented our aims and centered justice, not merit? Sure, that’s not going to be helpful when we’ve gotta make a case to deans about why we still need philosophy programs…Justice is not something most academic institutions really care about, and caring about justice is not the route to producing high-merit outcomes. However, what if instead of trying to “save” philosophy as part of an incredibly oppressive institution, what if we practiced philosophy in a way that was intentionally transformative? (For what it’s worth, I know on the ground you’ve gotta speak out of both sides of your mouth at once, playing respectable enough to keep getting the resources to do your transformative work…)

The XCP Group Blog

The XCP Collective is excited to announce that beginning today, 1 September 2014, we are re-launching this space as a group blog. Bloggers include members of the collective and regular guests. We will feature consistent, on-going content that includes current philosophical work, analysis of current events, and the disciplinary/metaphilosophical reflection that we have been doing here for the past two years.

When you’re not the mainstream or the majority, mainstream institutions are not designed to support you.  As Sara Ahmed has said, privilege is “the benefit of not having to intend your own reproduction.” This blog is our intentional project to support our reproduction, the reproduction of the kind of ‘philosophy’ we do, the kind of philosophy we think is necessary for a more just world.
Posts will be rolling out over the course of the month, so please stay tuned!

Coming Soon

Beginning in September 2014, xcphilosophy will re-launch as a group blog featuring past and new contributors. Watch this space for exciting, cutting-edge work in philosophy!

Beyond Prisons, the Horizon of Natality: Rachel Jones Reading Kant

For part 2 of our series on philoSOPHIA 2014, we’re pleased to welcome Sarah Tyson.

I am still gathering together the little bits of my head from when it exploded at philoSOPHIA.[1] Here’s one shard I’ve been able to gather up: In “‘Born to Die’: Earthquakes, Materiality, Natality,” Rachel Jones previewed her new project that stages a conversation between Irigaray’s thought and the recent resurgence of materialist critiques in the social sciences and humanities via a reading of Kant’s essays about the Lisbon earthquake. Jones focused of her presentation was on one specific passage from Kant’s earthquake texts:

As men, who were born to die, we cannot bear it that some have died in the earthquake, and as those who are strangers here and possess nothing of our own, we are inconsolable, that goods have been lost which would soon have been left behind anyway in the general course of nature.[2]

Jones read the hell out of this passage. In fact, hearing her reading left me a little breathless in the way that good philosophy can. I will only respond to a small part of her reading here: Jones moved past the manifest Christian metaphysics behind the notion that we are born to die to consider how–in representations and responses to disasters–some are judged as more born to die than others.

Jones marked many complexities of proceeding with this reading against the grain, including resisting a redemptive logic of disaster and attending to the ways in which histories of racism, sexism, colonialism, and homophobia shape a disaster without also failing to attend to the way these events are not entirely under human control. With all this in mind, Jones asked: “What might it mean to displace Kant’s appeal to mortality, and to orient responses to disaster in relation to a horizon of natality and birth that takes into account both human beings’ maternal-material beginnings and their constitutive dependencies on a multiplicity of non-human materialities?”

I am still thinking through this question and the beautiful development Jones gave it. In particular, I wonder what such a reorientation looks like in relation to prisons. I often think of prisons in terms of disaster, as part of the long and enduring disaster of white supremacy in the US (and many other places shaped by colonialism). But prisons are also the main response to certain forms of violence, those we classify and prosecute as “crimes.” What does it look like to re-orient responses to acts of violence that are normally dealt with through imprisonment and sometimes execution in the manner that Jones suggests? To use Jones’s language, how could our responses to violence “foster the conditions that allow the initiatory movement of birth to be repeated and reaffirmed.”

It seems to me that people who are working to abolish prisons and redress violence in their communities are working to foster such conditions (generationFIVE, Communities Against Rape and Abuse, INCITE!, to name just a few). generationFIVE, an organization which seeks to end child sexual abuse in five generations, for instance, seeks to build the capacity of communities to respond effectively to abuse and assault. Through an analysis of how current dominant responses to child sexual abuse – criminalization and collusion – perpetuate harm to children, generationFIVE offers conceptual and practical resources for responding in ways that promote individual justice and collective liberation.[3] Their work acknowledges that our mutual interdependence, and hence, vulnerability, is not eliminable, while also acknowledging that we can change the way that vulnerability is currently organized for the benefit of some and the exploitation of others. I think to end the disaster of white supremacy, we are going to have to support, amplify, and creatively engage in such work. And I think Rachel Jones is developing vital theoretical resources to help us do it.

 

[1] Thanks to Andrew Dilts for helping me gather pieces into a blog.

[2] Kant, E2, p. 456; Kant, Natural Science, p. 360 ; trans modified.

[3] Sara Kershnar, Staci Haines, Gillian Harkins, Alan Greig, Cindy Wiesner, Mich Levy, Palak Shah, Mimi Kim and Jesse Carr, “Toward Transformative Justice: A Liberatory Approach to
Child Sexual Abuse and other forms of Intimate and Community Violence: A Call to Action for the Left and the Sexual and Domestic Violence Sectors,” (generationFIVE, 2007), 29

philoSOPHIA 2014: continuing the conversations, pt.1

We XCPers are huge fans of the work done at philoSOPHIA, so we were happy to host a series of posts reflecting on and continuing the conversations that happened at the 2014 meeting. 

Robin James (@doctaj) kicks it off:

philoSOPHIA is always such an amazing conference–it’s one of the places where the best philosophical work gets done–work that is both intensely philosophically engaged, and that deeply and immediately matters to real shit in the world. It’s also where I get to see many of my favorite philosophers ever. But now I want to think through some ideas that are really sticking with me, ideas that are important to my work, to the work of others, and to the broader philosophical-political project that some people call “XCPhilosophy,” or the kind of work that I talked about with the DePaul grad students this February, philosophy that’s also very directly about survival.

This is all a lot of thinking out loud, meant mainly to continue conversations rather than to arrive at any firm conclusions. So, if it feels unfinished, it is! But, let’s continue these conversations.

Into the Death

Lynn Huffer’s talk on “Foucault’s Fossils” overlaps with a lot of what I’ve been thinking about as either “death” or “melancholy.” Huffer reads the fossil as a “non-vitalist alternative to materialism’s vitalization of matter.” Or, a fossilized state is one where biopolitical rationality is suspended. Reading the figure of the fossil in Foucault’s late work, Huffer argues that the fossil “fractures the now that makes today intelligible as biological life.” Huffer used A TON of sonic language to describe fossils (and, the quoted lines are my best transcription of what Lynn said):

  • the “fossil emerges against constant background noise.”
  • “the fossil figures the emergence of intelligibility out of the murmur of the monstrous.”
  • “Reading the fossil record interrupts the rhythm of the human.”

This suggests to me that there’s something “sonic” about the intelligibility of (biopolitical) “life” as such. There are a few ways this sonic metaphor for biopolitical life can work:

  1. If we think of life as ‘vibrancy’ or ‘vibrant matter,’ then it’s pretty easy to understand these vibrations as radiation, as the “dynamic patterning through a medium” (Henriques, Sonic Bodies), as pressure waves, as mechanical waves, as longitudinal waves.
  2. Sound waves are basically intervals of more and less dense, more and less intense compression. Sound waves are, materially, patterns of intensity. If you follow a certain strain of Foucault scholarship (e.g., Nealon), then neoliberalism, or neoliberal market-thinking, is a logic of intensification. This doesn’t directly relate back to biopolitics and life, but, I need to do some more work here to make that connection, which I’m pretty certain can be made.
  3. Biopolitical life is statistically governed; statistics and algorithms are biopolitics’ medium of governmentality. Algorithms are also the medium of ‘governmentality’ of sound. We represent and manipulate sound’s patterns of intensification as algorithms, which we graphically represent as sine waves.
  4. All the ways Foucault talks about biopolitical governmentality–rates, patterns, etc.–as well as the ontology of dynamic emergence preferred by feminist new materialists, these are both better represented by sonic metaphors (which are 4D in the art historical sense, meaning temporal, meaning dynamically emergent) than visual ones (which are not dynamically emergent but re-presentational, governed by 2D logics of signifier/signified).
  5. Here’s where I want to think more about the shift from the beginning of The Order of Things, which is an analysis of a painting about the gaze, to the end, which Lynn discussed in her talk. This is the last line of the book: “one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.” Here, Foucault figures the end of the Classical Episteme, the episteme characterized by the gaze, as the erasure of a 2D pictorial representation (that of the face of ‘man,’ the object of that gaze) by waves. These waves are metaphors for the new episteme, that of biopolitics, in which “life” replaces “man.” I think it’s very important that biopolitics is represented here as waves.

But what does the sonic character of biopolitics have to do with death? Well, if death or ‘fossils’ “fracture the now that makes today intelligible as biological life,” it does this by breaking the pattern that makes waves intelligible as such. It breaks the algorithm, the thing that makes a bunch of otherwise incoherent vibrations coherent as a viable project (and by ‘viable project’ I mean something that supports/is intelligible to MRWaSP capitalism). Lynn argued that fossils exhibit an “out of synchness,” and it’s this out of synchness that does the work of fracturing. I propose that we think of this out of synchness as being out of phase with the dominant patterns of vibration. This out-of-phaseness is what we experience when we hear something (a) dissonant and/or (b) noisy.

I talk about “out-of-phaseness” here (in my 2013 SPEP talk). I argued there that:

 

If classical melancholy involves “hanging on” to what ought to be excluded (e.g., women’s art), neoliberal melancholy would manifest as insufficient resilience, incandescence that radiates at the wrong frequency, so, for example, we couldn’t hear or see it. Instead of turning silence into speech and writing, melancholic art would queer silences. Jonathan Katz’s essay “John Cage’s Queer Silences” begins with the line “John Cage never quite came out of the closet.”[16] He never positively claimed his identity as a formerly damaged (closeted) but now un-repressed sexual subject. In other words, he didn’t transpose his homosexuality into the terms that would interpolate him into resilient citizenship. Instead of openly proclaiming his gay identity, he remained queerly silent. His silence is “queer” because it doesn’t conform to the in/out or mute/vocal binaries that structure the closet’s epistemology. As Katz explains, “Cage himself, while never denying his sexuality, preferred instead to duck the question: when asked to characterize his relationship with Merce, he would say, “I cook and Merce does the dishes.” Cage answers the question, but in terms that aren’t directly and efficiently legible as a response—cooking and dishwashing seem to have little connection to sexuality.

Cage’s silences aren’t just a political response to sexual normativity; they’re also musical responses to increasingly deregulatory (read: neoliberal) compositional methods like “open works” and chance processes. For example, 4:33 can be read doubly, as both resilience and queer silence. Insofar as it recoups extraneous concert-hall noise and places it at the center of the musical work/performance, 4:33 is a paradigmatic example of what Ziarek calls modernist experimentation and what I call deregulatory resilience. However, as much as philosophers love to cite this work as an example of something, it’s hard to find examples of people enjoying the work. Nobody actually likes 4:33, in the sense of rocking out to it while exercising or driving down the highway. The affective surplus value we expect from resilience (e.g., glowing radiance) is absent here. The compositional practice of resilience fails to adequately perform the cultural/affective labor with which it is usually tasked. Instead of amplifying affective and aesthetic pleasure, 4:33 completely undercuts them by giving us the wrong kind of excess. Cage shows us that silence is full of sounds we can’t hear because they radiate at frequencies we can’t (or won’t) hear, that are queerly out of phase with our ability to perceive them. Steve Reich calls these the “irrational” moments in phase compositions like “It’s Gonna Rain” or “Violin Phase.”

The “irrationality” (again, this is Reich’s word for patterns that aren’t culturally/aesthetically intelligible) of out-of-phase sounds hearkens back to Lynn’s comment that “fossils are mad.”

So, this is all very preliminary and I have a ton more to think about with Lynn’s paper. But, I just wanted to begin to make the case for thinking sonically about biopolitics and biopolitical death. My JPMS article I linked at the beginning of this section also begins to articulate what can be queer about this out-of-synchness, as does the above discussion of Cage. The connection between queerness, biopolitical death, and being out of phase is something I need to think more about.

Beauvoirian Ambiguity

This concept appeared throughout the conference in papers on lots of different things: Christine Deigle used Beauoviran ambiguity (the idea that humans are both subjects and objects, and that the world is made, materially, by human interactions with it, so even objects are subjective) as an alternative to feminist new materialism’s absolute rejection of “the subject” in favor of “objects” or “matter.” I find that really productive move, in large part because Beauvorian ontology can account for “the subject” as a material reality or apparatus that has been made real (sort of in the same way that ‘race’ has been made real): for several centuries, the world has been organized as though subjects exist, as though races exist, so they have been made to exist. And just as it is politically imperative to account for the material reality of race (i.e., not make the “race isn’t real so we should just forget about it” colorblind move), I think it’s politically imperative to account for the material reality of ‘the subject.’ And Beauvoir’s concept of ambiguity might be one great way to do that.

Mairead Sullivaln also used Beauvoir’s concept of ambiguity to discuss “epistemological strangeness” or a “thinking that does not rely on oppositional logic.” Mairead’s paper aimed to complicate the bi-valence of “ambiguity,” and it did this with the concept of “strangeness,” which it defined as “unclear but not unknown or illegible.” I particularly liked the idea that “strangeness suspends the need to know,” as Mairead put it. I like this idea for a number of reasons, but mainly because I think the assumption of knowability, the entitlement to know, is one of the main ways privilege manifests itself: “I ought to know or be able to know.” I wonder about the relationship between suspending the need to know and a practice of what XCP has been calling “epistemic disobedience.”

 

Feminist Philosophy and Sports

Erin Tarver does some amazing work on sports and sports fan cultures (her work on mascotting and race, which she presented this year at UNCC, is really interesting. It has me thinking about the relationships between what she calls “mascotting” and blackface minstrelsy). I think there are lots of affinities between what she does with sports and what I do with music–for example, I think Erin is doing philosophy through pop culture (not ‘of’ it, applying philosophy in a top-down way to tell pop culture its truth, but through it, interpreting pop cultural phenomena as themselves philosophically rich sites of inquiry). But I also really value the differences between our projects–thinking about what is specific to sports helps me learn more about what is specific to pop music.

The talk she gave at philoSOPHIA focused on female sports fans. One of her claims was that “women sports fans have a different kind of knowledge than men sports fans do.” Or basically, women’s knowledge of both (a) the game, and (b) how, as a fan, to relate to the game (what maybe you could call the ‘practices of fandom’) are different of men’s knowledge of both a and b. This point about women’s knowledges, and Erin’s further claim that perhaps women’s fandom practices could have an affect on sports fandom practices more generally (or, that women’s sports fandom could reorient mainstream sports fandom) had me thinking of poptimism. Poptimism is, to be a bit reductive, a music fandom and/or critical practice that centers typically feminized values and fan practices. And, in the last decade or so, poptimism has been a significant influence in mainstream music criticism.

Elizabeth Keenan has an excellent overview of both poptimism and its gendered stakes here. (Seriously, feminist philosophers, you should read that post for its own sake. It’s sooo great.) There, she argues that the centrality of poptimism to mainstream music criticism goes hand-in-hand with a move past genre-specific fandom to “omnivorous consumption”:

It actually means that more forms of music are evaluated than before. “Poptimism” is just one aspect of omnivorous consumption; in terms of Pazz and Jop, it’s also meant that artists like Kanye West have landed in the number 1 spot (more than once).

Basically, ‘feminized’ listening practices and aesthetic values are centered/dominant in a context where genre doesn’t matter (i.e., where gendered high/low, rock/pop binaries are flattened). In music, the valuation of feminized music and women’s fan practices has coincided with a move that is both post-genre and post-gender. That is: there’s some sort of correlation between the centering of women’s knowledges and a move to a post-identity aesthetics.

With respect to Erin’s project, I think Elizabeth’s analysis of poptimism raises the following question: what’s the relationship, both theoretically and practically, between a mainstreaming of women’s sports fandom knowledges and practices and neoliberal post-identity-politics more generally? Can women’s sports fandom knowledges and practices be centered and valued in a way that doesn’t coincide with or require some sort of awful shift to post-gender, post-feminist MRWaSP? Are sports fandom and pop music fandom different enough so that what happened with poptimism won’t happen with the move Erin’s trying think through?

 

Resilience & Precarity

I was on a fabulous panel with Jana McAuliffe and Sina Kramer. Jana and I talked about resilience, and Sina talked about precarity and vulnerability in Butler’s work. I have so, so, SO much that I’m still thinking about from this panel and from the discussion (which was great! thanks EVERYONE!); I can only scratch the surface here. And, to try to impose some order on this sea of thoughts, I’m just going to make a list:

  1. Sina’s paper made me wonder: Why is vulnerability such a trendy concept in contemporary feminist philosophy? What’s the desire to begin from the claim (to naturalize the claim?) that humans/people/bodies are first and foremost vulnerable? Or that vulnerability is and ought to be the best ground for ethics, politics, ontology, and well philosophy generally? Is the continual incitement of vulnerability in feminist philosophy part of resilience discourse more generally, insofar as resilience discourse requires, as its first step, the positing of damage? If vulnerability-theory is just another branch of resilience discourse, wouldn’t that mean that vulnerability feminisms are actually not at all critical or revolutionary, but another mechanism for normalizing us all to neoliberal institutions?
    1. The other point here, and I think this is a point on which Sina might agree, is that it’s not the vulnerability it’s the distribution that’s the issue. Sure, sure, we’re all vulnerable, but institutions are set up so that some people’s vulnerability supports the health and, indeed, resilience of others.
  2. It’s not just vulnerability that’s distributed unevenly, it’s “resilience.” I want to clarify that I’m using “resilience” as a technical term to describe a particular manifestation of practices of resilience. Resilience in my technical sense means a very particular performance of therapeutic overcoming, one that takes three steps: (1) damage is incited and posited (“The media makes me hate my body”); (2) that damage is spectacularly overcome in a way that is legible to and consumable by others (“Look at me as I go on TV in my underwear in a Today Show segment called “Love My Selfie”); (3) that spectacular performance generates a profit, in human capital, that I can invest in myself, and that further vests hegemonic interests (i.e. MRWaSP capitalism). There are plenty of resilient practices that aren’t intelligible as “Resilience” because they (a) don’t generate profits that the performer can re-invest in themselves, and/or (b) they don’t generate sufficient surplus value for MRWaSP capitalism.
  3. I take one of the major points of Jana’s paper to be that only certain kinds of “good, rational, economic thinking” are rewarded as resilience. There are plenty of decisions that are pathologized as unhealthy, ignorant, and wasteful that are actually rock-solid at the level of economic rationality. Jana gave the example of someone gaming the EBT system’s rules; I often talk about buying lots of packaged and processed foods (which is seen as unhealthy, but when you have a limited food budget, some food is healthier than no food). While we work to reform and/or dismantle the institutions that pathologize these behaviors (like, say, white supremacist capitalism), how can we also build spaces where these otherwise pathological behaviors aren’t punished and quarantined? I take that to be one of the main questions of Jana’s paper, and it’s a hugely important one.

 

 

Philosophical Mutations: reflecting on our ongoing conversation

After this most recent round of posts, Educated Ice and I wanted to synthesize our ideas and identify remaining questions. In part we are doing this because we are presenting some of this work at an upcoming conference/workshop. Instead of presenting a paper for others to read, we are presenting our fellow participants with this blog. In part we are doing this as an attempt to disrupt some of the habits and implicit knowledges congealed in philosophy’s conventional material practices. In other words, we want to try to perform one of the strategies we discuss, conceptually, in our writing. So, philosophers, if this feels a bit inconvenient and discomforting, rest assured that this is not a bug but a feature (at least from our perspective).

Because the point of both this blogging and the workshop is developing and discussing ideas, we’ve chosen to focus our thought in the form of questions, not arguments. So, after listing the posts we’re referring to here, there is a list of open and ongoing questions that we would like to discuss, both here and at the conference.

Posts (in chronological order)

  1. Philosophical Love and Theft

  2. The Demographic Problem and the Divide

  3. Philosophical Exceptionalism and White Supremacy

  4. On Slice

  5. Style and Substance

  6. Dateless Wonder

  7. On Materiality and Medium

  8. Disjointed Responses to Educated Ice

  9. Notes on Style

  10. The “event of pluralism”

  11. Denken ist (Weiß)männersache

  12. Philosophical Exceptionalism and the Politics of Respectability (II)

  13. Epistemic Disobedience

  14. Respectability, Epistemic Disobedience, and Methodological Dereliction

Questions (in no particular order):

  1. Who can be trusted to reproduce philosophy faithfully? Who can be included without changing the terms, without radically redefining philosophy in either style or substance, either in theory or in practice? Who can we trust to use the hammer as a hammer, and not use it as a crowbar, or bring in other things – needle and thread, glue guns and sequins?”

  2. Why does “philosophy” (as in, the disciplinary mainstreams, on both sides of the A/C divide, in mainstream aesthetics, mainstream feminism, etc.) tend to choose respectability politics rather than, say, a more critical politics? In other words, why didn’t philosophy go with all the other humanities disciplines in the 80s and 90s and become more diverse, both in practitioners and practice? Why does philosophy seem to choose respectability time and time again?

  3. How do respectability politics structure current conversations and programs about:

    1. overcoming the analytic/continental divide?

    2. diversity?

  4. Or, to rephrase 3, how are old-school (i.e., liberal) politics of philosophical respectability upgraded to neoliberal politics of philosophical, well, “pluralism,” maybe? How, in the discipline of philosophy, does “respectability” (e.g., the old-school A/C divide, the philosophical exceptionalism that rejects the “theory wars”) mutate into “good mixing”?

    1. How is the biopolitically “healthy” discipline reproduced? How is this biopolitical health of philosophy purchased by the constitutive exclusion of, perhaps, disobedient feminists, and people of color? how do we theorize the idea that “the demographic problem is connected to the analytic/continental split, but that demographics are the central mechanism by which people distinguish between good and bad pluralism”?

      1. As EI argues: “Because we ought to remember that women have always been a part of philosophy, from Aspasia on down, although most frequently as its mirror – as again Irigaray might argue. Insofar as women can be trusted to faithfully reproduce philosophy, then they can be included. Inclusion then operates on a colonial or assimilationist model. The “health” of philosophy is then assured – in terms of both style and substance, in terms of representation and in terms of reproduction. Thus does philosophy maintain its exceptionalism with regard to the rest of the humanities, with proper deference to science, free of “scolds” and “charlatans,” of “boutique” courses and too much “theory.” Here, however, a strange confluence between style and substance, or between representation and practice, occurs: too many people of color, as you point out, is evidence of the unhealth of philosophy, of bad mixing [with or without respect to the kind of philosophy being practiced by these bodies?].”

  5. How do we reproduce ourselves? That is, how do we teach and practice philosophy in ways that transform “philosophy” rather than guarantee its stable continuity into the future?

    1. For an example of such transformative practice, read Robin D.G. Kelley’s discussion of Angela Davis’s philosophy lecture at UCLA.

    2. How do we make failure at “philosophy” legible to the university as “success”? How can we do this in ways that doesn’t further burden already overburdened minority philosophers (who do, for example, the service work building institutions that provide such legibility)?

  6. How do the material practices of “doing philosophy” naturalize specific implicit knowledges as transparently “philosophical”?

    1. What media? What knowledge?

    2. How can we use diverse media practices to disrupt these implicit knowledges? And how do we do so in ways that are legible to hiring and tenure committees?

  7. It seems like conversations about “diverse practices and practitioners” generally highlight (a) continental philosophy and (b) white women/white feminism.

    1. Why is it that “So far, however, philosophy seems less able to reproduce itself faithfully in the latter case [including philosophers of color] than in the former [including white women]”?

  8. To transform philosophy (i.e., to fail at “philosophy”) yet survive institutionally and personally (hey, I *need* my paycheck), we need to talk out of both sides of our mouth (that is, we say one thing to power so we survive, and another thing to ourselves, also so we survive). Or, like Beyonce, we need to play at the respectability game while simultaneously subverting it. As Regina Bradley argues in that linked article, Beyonce uses diverse material practices to perform that doubleness (visual respectability vs. sonic ratchet). Can Beyonce’s strategy translate to philosophy?

  9. What is ‘pluralism’? How is it currently understood, and how can we formulate an understanding of pluralism that forefronts the practice that feminist philosophers and critical philosophers of race have been doing across the ‘divide’ for many years now?

  10. In what ways can we turn the tools of philosophy on the discipline and the practice of philosophy itself? Which tools? Which practices?

Respectability, Epistemic Disobedience, & Methodological Dereliction

Ice, your series on respectability was amazing, and I have a lot of thoughts about it, some of which I will frame as questions in a subsequent post, and some of which I will address here. In this post I want to focus on (a) Ann Larson’s critique of the legitimation of Composition as an academic discipline, and (b) your discussion of epistemic disobedience and Jared Sexton’s concept of “methodological dereliction.”

First, Larson’s critique of “Composition’s push for institutional legitimacy” resonates in exciting and provocative ways with your analysis of philosophical respectability. Composition, unlike philosophy, is relatively new to the academy. It arose in the last few decades of the 20th century. Because of its newness, Comp scholars needed to argue for the legitimacy of the field as a “real” academic discipline. But they did this in a way that, to be blunt, threw its most vulnerable members (i.e., contingent faculty, which tend to be disproportionately white women and scholars of color) under the bus. According to Larson, the discipline has made a “category mistake” in which “adjuncts’ demands for fair pay and secure jobs in workplaces and elites’ demands for legitimacy and recognition in academic departments were [treated as] the same struggle.” The idea was that recognition of Composition as a legitimate academic discipline would solve its labor problems. Or, that academic respectability was a proper solution to what we might call a “demographic problem.” As Larson puts it:

Trimbur and Cambridge believed that demanding legitimacy and respect for a particular subject matter – in this case, the pedagogy of writing – would create better conditions for teachers of that subject matter. While not an unreasonable strategy, it turned out to be wrong. A less generous reading is that, in their framing, the “blatant exploitation” of workers was transformed into a symptom of the valuing of some kinds of scholarly interests above others, a problem arguably of less concern to those teaching in dead-end jobs for poverty-level wages than to an arriviste class focused on attaining professional legitimacy. (bold emphasis mine)

So instead of arguing for changed institutional conditions, mainstream Composition scholars argued for legibility to that institution in established terms: “We are a legit member of the academy,” was the line, not “the academy is the problem and must be changed.” Or, more, erm, philosophically, instead of offering the devaluation of Composition as evidence of the academy’s illegitimacy (i.e., offering that as a ‘wrong’ to process via disagreement), Composition scholars sought to demonstrate their ability to conform to the academy’s normative framework (i.e., its distribution of sensibility).

So, composition played a particular game of respectability, and, as Larson notes, “it is not surprising that the majority of writing classes are still taught by low-wage adjuncts. Not much has changed.” As you note, Ice, in your second post in the trilogy, respectability politics never solve “demographic problems,” they exacerbate them for the least advantaged members of whatever group(s) is seeking legitimation–adjuncts, black queers, etc.

Though the particular conditions of Compositional respectability and Philosophical respectability are different, I think Larson’s essay resonates, at a certain level of abstraction, with our project here (at minimum, it’s the same overarching academy that we’re addressing). For example, this portion of Larson’s essay might well be describing the kinds of Rosenbergian exceptionalism we’ve been critiquing:

the discipline’s intellectual work has often functioned to legitimize labor exploitation. This is where Composition’s decades-long fight for status in academia was always fated to lead. Any semblance of class struggle, not to mention old-fashioned liberal sympathy, has been reduced to the dictum: “those unemployed people should have been smart like us.”

Similarly, Larson’s claim “The problem is not that Compositionists lost that battle against disciplinary discrimination; the problem is that they won it” is equally valid for mainstream analytics and mainstream continentals. The problem isn’t that they lost the battle against disciplinary marginalization (in the academy in general, in the discipline itself), but that they won. Because even and especially in continental philosophy, this battle for respectability in the discipline generally comes at the cost of reinforcing philosophy’s demographic problems.

Larson’s proposed alternative to “respect” also resonates with your discussion of epistemic disobedience.

The task ahead is not to reclaim Composition within the social division of labor that exists. As public institutions are dismantled around us, those who identify as Compositionists should take the radical step of refusing to apply our knowledge and expertise in the corrupt institutions as they are. We may believe ourselves to be knowledgeable about literacy development and about the theory and practice of writing and learning, as we surely are. But the operative questions now must be: in whose interest is such knowledge deployed and in what contexts might it be made valuable again? The battle for respect and authority has proven to be ineffective and downright counterproductive to a goal truly worth fighting for: the end of the university as “bureaucratic corporation” and the creation of democratic sites of teaching and learning in which teachers and students might re-think what counts as knowledge in a world of deepening inequities and re-make their relationship to each other in the process.

Larson echoes your question “to whom is our thought faithful?” Pushing Larson a bit, we could say that being faithful to philosophy’s diverse practitioners means disrespecting a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal academy. And it requires re-making our relationships to one another as philosophers–which might include thinking of ourselves as workers first, lovers of wisdom second. In the last line of the quote above, Larson clearly ties a re-making of the discipline to a re-making of its, and the academy’s, politics. The substantive disciplinary question (what is philosophy?) is inextricable from the demographic and political question. Re-making philosophy means re-making our relationships to one another.

On the topic of epistemic disobedience, I want to contrast the respectable “pluralism” that we’ve been critiquing with a different kind of pluralism, what Jared Sexton calls “the ecumenical spirit of Fanon and Du Bois” which

pulls otherwise incompatible modes of inquiry into a common horizon of concern. Fanon, in particular, proves deft at moving between the fields of philosophy, literature, poetry, and history or psychiatry, psychoanalysis, political theory, and anthropology—often in the matter of a paragraph….His sense of intellectual freedom and professed methodological ‘dereliction’ licenses, I think, a certain shuttling back and forth between disciplines, in and out of entrenched disagreements among theorists and critics…cultural and political criticism that draws from the psychoanalytic archive, putting to work its concepts and operating within its broad intellectual sphere but guided by aims ‘beyond the couch’” (Amalgamation Schemes, 10-11).

Sexton puts “ecumenicalism” together with “dereliction”–this sort of pluralism doesn’t faithfully reproduce philosophy or psychoanalysis (or any method, really) because it “aims beyond” the universe in which it orbits. You might describe what I’m trying to do here is give a sort of queer genealogy of epistemic disobedience–to show which derelicts have sketched the lines of flight that sketch the orbit of our philosophical practices. Dereliction isn’t the erasure of influence, but the strategic misreading of the texts that ground us, misreading guided by disobedient loyalties, a faithfulness beyond the horizon of ‘philosophy’ proper.

The “event of pluralism”: good and bad mixing

Thanks for your awesome post, Ice. To pick up the tag-off I want to detour through (a) the recent discussions of “pluralism” you mentioned in your previous post, and read them through (b) Jared Sexton’s critique of the sexual and racial politics of neoliberal multiracialism/multiculturalism. This detour will put me in a better place to address two issues of central concern in your post: failure and respectability (which are of course related).

The most recent round in the ongoing analytic/continental sparring frames the issue of philosophical pluralism as a matter of advising students, of protecting “those most vulnerable in our profession” (as Spiros puts it), of, indeed the reproductive futurity of the discipline. The move from “pluralism” to “protecting the children” is already implicit in Brian Leiter’s original post, but it gets amplified in each reiteration. See (all emphasis mine):

Leiter writes:

The term ‘pluralism’ has, alas, been debased to the point that everyone now knows it is usually a code word for ‘crappy philosophy is welcome here.’…There are, fortunately, lots of good places in the U.S. these days for students interested in Kant and post-Kantian European philosophy–Columbia, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Brown, BU and, in many ways, Chicago–but UCR is as good as any of them, and may be the best.

Spiros writes:

In the context of a very nice post about an exceptional department, Professor Leiter claims: “The term ‘pluralism’ has, alas, been debased to the point that everyone now knows it is usually a code word for ‘crappy philosophy is welcome here’. That’s accurate, but a little too generous! For one thing, it understates the self-congratulation with which the term is deployed, and well as the ways in which it is wielded in order to deceive those most vulnerable in our profession.

Jon Cogburn summarizes, “But what about the children, whom it is our duty to save from cognitive depravity?”

What this discussion implies is that there is a proper pluralism that reproduces respectably, and there is “bad philosophy” that corrupts the children. Students must be guided to paths of proper philosophical mixing, and steered away from the kinds of philosophical pluralism that, as it were, breeds philosophical degeneracy (note de-gene-rac-y, racination, etc.), a.k.a. “crappy philosophy.”

At first seems odd to see philosophers using “corrupting the youth” as an accusation of philosophical incompetence. (Doesn’t the Apology pretty much codify that as our job description?) But, if you think of it as a matter of breeding philosophers with the right kind of “diversity,” the politics of this move become more clear. There is a respectable kind of mixing, a mixing that ensures the proper transfer of privilege and wealth, and a corrupt kind of mixing, a mixing that fails to ensure the reproductive futurity of a specific, dominant slice of the discipline.

It’s sort of like the racialized virgin/whore dichotomy applied to philosophical pluralism: there’s respectable and ratchet intercourse–the former produces ‘good’ healthy children, the latter just recycles intergenerational poverty (and can we please, please keep in mind the Symposium’s long discussion of philosophy as proper reproduction here?). Jared Sexon’s work on mixed race theory and neoliberal multiculturalism clarifies the connection between the valorization of pluralism or interracial mixing and a politics of hetero/cis-sexual respectability.

Sexton argues that our dominant understanding of mixed race “thinks of race mixture in heteronormative and reproductivist terms” (7), that is, as the effect of interracial sexual reproduction. “Multiracial exceptionalism,” he argues, is basically a “repackaged family values platform” (1). Heterosexual reproductive sex, the kind of sex that produces the ideal mixed-race subject, is treated as the telos (in the full philosophical sense of the term) of race mixture and multiculturalism. This mixed-race individual is the product that redeems and justifies multicultural social institutions and interracial sex. As long as this mixed-race baby is the outcome of proper heterosexual intercourse, ze will reaffirm rather than disrupt the transfer of wealth, property, status, privilege, and all the other things necessary for the ongoing reproduction of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism. Moreover, “our” (note the scare quotes–how does this claim define the boundaries of the “us”?) tolerance of and/or love for this mixed-race individual is evidence of “our” progress beyond older, obsolete forms of white supremacist heterosexism. The primary thing the respectable mixed baby/multicultural society does is insulate against blackness. Heterosexually respectable interracial sex produces a non-bastard child, a child who inherits property and privilege–the ‘whiteness’ that insulates one against the precarity of blackness (the lack of wealth, the lack of health, etc.). So, in Sexton’s account (which, for what it’s worth, I think is pretty much correct) sexual and reproductive propriety is tied directly to a racial politics of antiblackness.

So, neoliberal multiculturalism/multiracialism, insofar as it is respectable, is both anti-queer (it’s all about reproductive futurity) and anti-black. If we substitute “philosophical pluralism” for “multiracialism,” can Sexton’s framework help us connect the dots from discussions about “good” and “bad” pluralism to discussions about racist sexism/sexist racism in philosophy? I think it can. And one reason I think it can is because it requires us to put anti-blackness, hetero/homonormativity, and misogyny at the center of discussions of philosophical pluralism. Or, to use your terms, I think Sexton’s account helps us connect the dots between the demographic problem and the A/C divide, and it does so in a way that keeps discussions of “diverse practitioners” at the center of analyses of “diverse practices.”

Key to Sexton’s analysis is his concept of the “event of miscegenation.” From one angle, it’s a reworking of Foucault’s claim that the repressive hypothesis actually produces and incites the very “sexuality” it claims to suppress. What Sexton calls the “event of miscegenation” is basically the idea that the invocation of miscegenation or race mixing itself produces racial difference rather than confounds it. So, the event of miscegenation is ambivalent: black/white binaries both exist (as past mistakes) and do not exist (as having been overcome).

Because of this ambivalence, the event of miscegenation produces racial difference as both incoherent and absolutely coherent: for example, as Adrian Piper has argued, most nominally white Americans are, by the logic of the one-drop rule, actually black (most US whites have some black ancestry); at the same time, the black/white binary is pretty clear and distinct, and the ‘whiteness’ of these same nominally white Americans goes unquestioned all the time.

According to Sexton, antiblackness is what sutures or stabilizes this ambivalence into concrete, commonsense forms.

Antiblackness, as a matter of political ontology, materializes in the violent closure of the event of miscegenation, reifying it in a moment of conclusion that signifies miscegenation as concrete sex acts or forms of identity within a discursive chain that contributes to a frame of (particularly visual) intelligibility” (219)

The event of miscegenation is the constitutive exclusion of blackness from a white supremacist ontology (think about Fanon’s claim about blacks lacking ontological resistance in the eyes of the white gaze). Treating miscegenation/mixed race merely as a matter of identity or of multicultural pluralism naturalizes the structuring work of anti-blackness in miscegenation as event. Interracial sex and mixed-race identity treat blackness, in the form of the one-drop rule, as something that has been or ought to be overcome. It fixes blackness as a thing which we good multiracial pluralists are not. For example, as a feature of the ‘unhealthy’ type of mixing, “the black body” is treated “as the primary source of danger to planetary public health (where ‘public health’ is often enough shorthand or code word for ‘national security’ and ‘stable business environment’” (235-6). “Blackness” disables the mechanisms of social reproduction. This is why “black identity appears as an antiquated state of confinement from which the ‘multiracial imagined community’ must be delivered, the negative ideal against which ‘the browining of America’ measures its tenuous success” (6).

So hopefully here the parallels to discussions of philosophical pluralism are fairly clear:

  1. Just as mixed-race theory must constantly invoke the black/white binary as superseded or supercedable, philosophical “pluralists” must constantly invoke the analytic/continental divide as something “overcome” or surmountable.

  2. Just as the presence of black bodies signifies a threat to public health, the presence of black faculty (and students) can signal a philosophically ‘unhealthy’ department, as my earlier post argues.

  3. Blackness, especially insofar as blackness works in assemblages with queerness-as-non/disrespectable-reproduction, is what distinguishes respectable philosophical pluralism from ratchet philosophical pluralism. (I’m using this term ratchet specifically for its connotations of working-class blackness.) So it’s not just that the demographic problem is connected to the analytic/continental split, but that demographics are the central mechanism by which people distinguish between good and bad pluralism. What we’re witnessing when we see discussions like the one I cited above unfold is “the event of pluralism.”

  4. This is a question: Sexton argues that “blacks in this [pluralist] moment do not so much police the traditional boundary between blackness and whiteness as that which obtains between blackness and everything else” (13). Perhaps the analytic/continental division can be thought in terms of the old model of white supremacy, that “whiteness-vs-non-whiteness,” and these new discussions of pluralism are like the “blackness-vs-everything else”? And how does re-framing the discussion of philosophical pluralism in this way change our analysis of it? (I don’t know. That’s something I want to think/talk more about).

And with this idea of “bad” pluralism and its ties to unhealthy bodies (of practitioners, of text) in mind, I want to shift to the question of failure. Sexton, in discussing his method, centers what he calls Fanon’s “methodological dereliction” (10) and interdisciplinarity. Methodological dereliction is like “bad” pluralism, ratchet stream-crossing, disrespectable mixing. To practice methodological derelection is, from the perspective of good pluralists, “to take up residence in the camp of the unenlightened, the backward-looking, the narrow-minded, the plain and simple” (248). And it’s bad, ratchet, and disrespectable because it’s queerly black; it means queerly failing in ways associated with anti-black understandings of blackness.

Those failures read as queerly black because they fail to do what respectable mixing does–i.e., to ensure the the transfer of privilege and wealth, the reproductive futurity of philosophy as such. These failures make us precarious.

Diverse practices make diverse practitioners more precarious; they often amplify the philosophical capital of respectable practitioners. Otherwise respectable practitioners can be methodologically derelict and “appropriat[e] ‘everything but the burden,’ to borrow Greg Tate’s apt phrase” (233). Pluralism that still reads as “good philosophy” appropriates everything but the burden, everything but the burden of queer blackness, everything but the burden of failing to meet disciplinary standards for ‘success’ (TT employment, tenure, employment at a ‘top’ program,’ prestige and recognition for one’s philosophical work, etc.).

So how does one practice “methodologically derelict” philosophy that doesn’t just amplify the burden on the already burdened? Or, Ice, as you put it:

It’s a matter of navigating failure as wounding, as debilitating, and failure as fecund, as a means of resistance, or of imagining philosophy otherwise – with the caveat that the experience of this distinction, that is, who is made to undergo this experience, and who has the privilege of abstracting away from it or taking the long view, is also the work.

Failing in mainstream terms is survivable only with support from subcultural institutions. Sometimes those are within philosophy, sometimes those are outside philosophy, sometimes they are in the open-ended Lugones-style play you mentioned in your post. And I would suggest that this play is possible only if we stop caring about the ‘rules’ of the neoliberal university (things like ‘impact’ or rankings), at least some of the time. How can we make new rules, rules that we can communicate to our assessors as alternative rubrics of value? What if we measured the impact of our work on public discourse, about how it is taken up in ongoing conversations by the public instead of where it is placed in paywalled journals relatively few read? Or, how would we communicate the value of philosophical ‘dereliction’ in terms that our assessors understand? These won’t be terms of disciplinary excellence, per se (like publication, prestige in the field, and so on), but something else…what could these terms be? How can we show that philosophy matters beyond quote-unquote “philosophy”?

We may fail to be sufficiently philosophical, but there are also ways philosophy fails us. I’m thinking in particular of two recent students of mine, both black queer students who are extremely philosophically adept, who are questioning whether philosophy is and can do enough for them. Philosophy can be more than what it is (or, Ice, as you’ve put it previously: “philosophy is always more and other than what it is”), but are we in a situation in which we can positively realize philosophy’s non-being in projects that sustain us both intellectually and materially? (Beauvoir resonances intended here). And that sustenance will not sustain “philosophy” as it presently “is.” To sustain ourselves materially and intellectually we have to fail to reproduce “philosophy.” No future for you, as they say. Failing to reproduce philosophy is, I would argue, not the rejection or negation of philosophy, but the only way to authentically realize a philosophical project.

But as Beauvoir teaches us, freedom (positively realizing non-being) is an option only for those in situations that materially, socially, and ideologically facilitate our projects. Women of color philosophers have put this question at the center of their philosophical work: insofar as philosophical legibility (respectable reproduction) is needed to maintain a viable situation/practice, how do we both create sustaining situations in ‘philosophy’ and fail to sustain ‘philosophy’? How do those of us, like me, with access to some of those ‘situational’ necessities, redistribute these necessities to put others in better situations? (Which, I’m not gonna lie, is gonna hurt where it “counts,” e.g., in job evaluation terms. I’m not going to appear as ‘productive’ or ‘successful’ if I waste my resources on derelict projects, unreproductive philosophical intercourse, and so on.)  Because this is about the failure to respectably reproduce the discipline, the failure to transfer wealth, property, and prestige along white supremacist, patriarchal, cis/heterosexist, capitalist lines.