We continue to explore the possibility of agency (and therefore politics) in the face of mediated personhood – what we call celebrity, and wonder how it has come to pass that this is a place for everybody and nobody; to do this we embrace the Italian writers collective, Wu Ming. Wu Ming can be written in several ways, we explore two: 五名 “five names” which would described the five members of the collective, or 无名 “anonymous” not to be confused with the Anonymous that we’ve discussed previously. The latter wuming is commonly employed by Chinese dissidents, but also by those that would refuse the celebrity-making machinations of pop culture.
Zhuangzi (莊子) once wrote:
Nets are for catching fish; after one gets the fish, one forgets the net. Traps are for catching rabbits; after one gets the rabbit, one forgets the trap. Words are for getting meaning; after one gets the meaning, one forgets the words. Where can I find people who have forgotten words, and have a word with them?
According to the Dao De Jing, proper way-making cannot be spoken of. While the way of life seems somewhat straightforward – you’re born, you die – (to paraphrase our most postmodern politician, Donald Rumsfeld) the path between the two is the “known unknown” of living. While the Dao has largely been received as some sort of New Age-y invocation of “Abide” the Dao De Jing likely came into being as a political manual.
Composed during the aptly named Warring States Period (403-221 BCE), the “killing fields rose exponentially as the ‘art’ of warfare progressed….At every level of innovation, from the introduction of cavalry, to standard issue crossbows, to siege engines, these instruments of aggression made a folly of defense. […] For generation after generation, death became a way of life, so that mothers gave birth to sons with the expectation that they would never reach the age of majority” (from Ames and Hall, 2003). Indeed, these people continued to eke out an existence sometimes having to sow the fields fertilized with the blood of their neighbor’s young.
The parallels to our own time are hard to ignore. Not only because of the obvious violence that wracks our world, whether in the form of militarism, jihadism, political ambition, the slow-crush (like the movies that über-Libertarian, Bob Barr seems to defend) of poverty, and so on. We also share today a similar frustration in communicating how to get beyond the polarization of living – how do we teach a way of living that is free from galvanizing, a pedagogy that does not only result in binaries?
Thus the Dao employs a litany of wu (無, negative) forms to encourage the cultivation of a disposition that is unmediated by technical philosophy and its often concomitant flashiness — such as you might find in All Saints’ one word exam. The central focus of Daoist thinking is not to maintain an orthodoxy but instead, to cultivate deference in the establishment of our relations, expressed in terms like wuwei (無為, non-coercive action), wuzhi (無知, unprincipled knowing), and wuyu (無欲, objectless desire or deferential desire). These phrasings may sound familiar to the Post-Structuralists in the room, wuyu certainly evokes Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. And it’s in this deferential framework that we seek to understand the Crisis of Middlesex University.
“…the Middlesex story shows that to do philosophy nowadays becomes a very precarious activity, one requiring a kind of activism that we’ll have more and more to assume…”
For those not in the know: the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy and the entire Philosophy Department are being closed. Typically a department is closed because it costs the university too much money to operate the program – this is not the case at MDX. The Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy has consistently rated as one of the best research institutes in the world: the rare bird in philosophy that actually makes money for the university. The inexplicable closure of the department has brought worldwide condemnation of the university’s management from the most important thinkers of our time (Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, Slavoj Žižek, Jean-Luc Nancy, Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Peter Sloterdijk, among others), as well as tens of thousands of signatures from people across the globe and a Facebook group. The crisis got so real that Éric Alliez, the famed french philosopher, has begged the Pope to intervene. Alliez gives great quote:
The precariousness of philosophy to which Alliez speaks, it should be noted, is not the precariousness of being in danger, of being in the Resistance, some sort of philosophical partisan in a world of MBA seekers. The precariousness of this activity we call philosophy is found in the responsiveness that one cultivates in philosophical pursuit – what Ames and Hall term the ars contextualis, the art of contextualizing such that one maximizes one’s diversity of experiences. Philosophy as an activity (to those that would “do” philosophy), exposes us to the truth of what A.N. Whitehead stated: “mothers can ponder many things in their hearts that words cannot express.” That is to say, the opposition between cognition and affect is a false one. False because concrete feelings, the actual materiality of our knowing the world — Heidegger pointed us to the term befindlichkeit — these concrete expressions of our experience are the foundation of all human communication. It is this communicability that is so precarious in the activity we call philosophy.
Because this ability to communicate (to pay attention) is actively being hunted, like buffalo on the Plains, by venture capitalists, there will continue to be a flourishing of means of communication: Facebook will surely evaporate like Myspace or Friendster before it. In an age when communication is all-pervasive philosophy is precariously positioned because it is that singular activity that enhances our ability to mutually appreciate each other and our worlds. It is our capacity for mutual appreciation that is being mediated, and the rapidity of transmission garbles what we communicate. Why this drive for ubiquitous communication?
It is because mutual appreciation (possible in communication) does not end in the relationship itself, there is a spill-over. When we are well-met there is a convivial atmosphere, the party that is properly executed is lively, electric; we partner together because of the “value-added” in doing so. Our investment into understanding one another, into identifying the uniqueness of others, ascertaining the depth of the differences between us and working toward mutual goals in spite of this distance — this mutual appreciation is the raising of the value of the cosmos itself. Philosophy as an activity exposes the practitioner to the precariousness of this value. It is in this way that capitalism is the stark opposite, because while capital always seeks to exploit value, it has no way of finding value except in doing all it can to cloud over our awareness of the ubiquity of value: it is right here in front of us, waiting to be appreciated by our investment.