Wednesday, November 9, 2011


So I'm taking a POCO class: postcolonial theory. And it's weird. Really weird.

And here's why. When I was busy reading Heidegger and trying to figure out the world, I had no deeper motive. I simply wanted to figure out, to the best of my ability, the muck I was in. The same with Merleau-Ponty, Camus, Nietzsche, and recently Deleuze. But in this POCO class everything feels different. It seems that we're reading about oppression in all it's global-capital forms in order to do something about it. Except we're not. And that's what's so weird.

All of these "theorists" keep arguing back and forth with each other, trying to establish ethos by all kinds of means - the most famous of the group establish ethos by way of geography. People like Spivak and Bhabba and Said for example get to be outside (sort of) of the American system because they were born in places like India. So they understand oppression first hand. But they get to be first-world academics also, clearly inside the American academic system and deservedly so. They're really fucking smart. I particularly like Said because he seems to care the most about what actually happens to the people he mentions.

However, what most of what I've read does is attempt to define what it is they're talking about. Nobody seems to agree on what Postcolonial Theory is, means, or is supposed to do. Jesus. What I love about English Departments is also what I hate about them. They are so big and unsure of their project. It means I get to slide in as an imposter, which I love. I mean only in English can you write about everything from Southpark to David Cronenberg to Technology and Boredom - the last one is me.

So what's so weird to me is the implication that theory is supposed to do something. I mean, sure, it sounds nice. But I just don't think theory really leads to action very often. To be clear, I have no problem with that; in fact, I think Literature should be its own end. I don't read novels so I can learn things about imaginary people or so I can learn to be a better person. I read novels so I can enjoy the pleasure of the text. I look at art for the same reason. I listen to music for the same reason.

This idea of what theory and academia in general - especially at higher levels - is supposed to do is starting to sprawl in my head, so I'm going to stop for now, take a breath, and try to meditate on it. But seriously - if anybody has a take on this - should theory lead to action? And if so, why does it rarely do this? And in particular, in terms of POCO, did we need a theory to understand oppression?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

More on Heidegger

Okay so let me see if I can make Heidegger's Metaphysical issues more clear.

Imagine someone asks "What is the essence of a tree?" It would make no sense to say "pine" or "oak." In the same manner, imagine someone saying "What is the essence of a human being?" And someone replied "Bob." Again, nonsense.

What this means is that the essence of something cannot be an example of the something. An essence must be that which traverses all somethings, i.e., what makes all trees trees - what Heidegger would call "tree-ness."

Following this same logic BEING (reality) cannot be explained in terms of an example of A BEING. This to Heidegger is what basically all explanations of reality from Plato to Nietzsche had in common - they had misunderstood the distinction between Being and beings, again what he calls ontological difference. (When Heidegger uses the term "Nothing" he usually means this difference, I think, which makes it confusing, to say the least.)

While this sounds really complicated - and it is - it's also pretty digestible if one can think that the essence of something cannot be an example of that something. Bob cannot be the essence of humans and oaks can't be what is essential about trees.

So what is the essence of Being for Heidegger? Care. Heidegger thinks that the being who questions his own Being (us) is constituted by Care. We engage in this or that - we are bored with this or that, but we care. Hopefully, this Care manifests itself as a project whereby one makes one life one's own. If not we're back in the land of despair.

(The whole notion of "essence" is problematic for other reasons - but that's for a later time.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Heidegger and OntoTheology

The title of my M.A. is one of the more pretentious I've came up with: Samuel Beckett and the Onto-Theo-Logic Constitution of Metaphysics. I love it. I pretend I don't . But I do.

So in my thesis I trace a kind of god-figure in three works by Beckett: Watt, Godot, Endgame. In Watt there is a supernatural figure that pops up, barely making his presence felt, but the presence is actualized. In Godot the presence appears as absence. Godot is the presence of an absence. And in Endgame - well, there's just absence.

I was interested in this move because I thought Beckett was interested in a similar question as Heidegger. Heidegger argues that metaphysics is by definition Onto-theo-logical. Well what does that mean? It means that thinkers have located Being in a being and that being has been elevated to the status of Being.

Okay what does that mean? Well it means for Marx Being is Capital. For Freud Being is the Psyche. It means for Plato Being is The Forms. What they all have in common is that they have located Being as A Being. The difference between Being and being (I'm totally making this more confusing by my use of capital letters. Sorry.) is what Heidegger calls ontological difference. This, to Heidegger, is ultimately what Western Metaphysics gets stumped on: it can only explain Being in terms of A BEING. (A GOD, A FORM, A PSYCHE, An ECONOMICS)

So what Beckett does that's so interesting to me, or at least it was when I was thinking about it a few years ago is that he goes from Being being a presence to a presence defined by an absence to total absence - in Endgame Beckett sees Negation, the nullity, as total absence - which is where he splits from Heidegger.

Heidegger, in his later writings, writes Being under erasure - he crosses out the word Being with a slash. I personally think that Derrida gets credit for a lot of ideas that start with Heidegger, but that's a different post altogether.

Okay - so Being is not A Being. This means that it's not "thingly" and cannot be understood as such. Being is a constant flux - a coming together of the four-fold and the hiddenness of the divine element to the four-fold all at once.

The four-fold is what Heidegger means by the term "appropriation," I think. So what does that mean? Well the four-fold is the earth, sky, gods, and mortals. Heidegger explains this through an example of a jug. A jug comes to be a jug because of the clay which is made clay by the sky and rain and what not. Then the mortal must shape the clay into a jug. Okay, so at this point most people are on board. But it gets complicated with the last part: the gods. For Heidegger the gods come into play when we sit at a table, pour wine out of the jug and toast. This to Heidegger is what makes a thing a thing and what helps us dwell authentically.

While this might sound overly poetic, I think Heidegger's point is seen well if we think about this example: could one possible pray over a microwaveable meal? No. Of course not. But can one pray over Thanksgiving dinner, cooked by Grandma, from food that was harvested. Of course. Does this have anything to do with believing in GOD? I don't think so. Not in the way most people use the word God. What I see Heidegger saying is that the God's have fled because the sacredness has been removed from the world.

Now why has that happened? Well that's happened because technology has enframed (com-placed) everything in the world as a standing-reserve, something ready-at-hand, ready to be used and used up. The forest because lumber - the soil becomes an oil-container - and the news becomes an opinion-container. Humans become resources (human-resource departments.)

For Heidegger our metaphysical maladies have had consequences that have led us to dwell in a way that makes us feel homeless, bored, and living with moments of fleeting authenticity. Now, this does not have to be the case, but the way out isn't easy or fulfilling. More to come.