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Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

Friday, January 29th, 2016

What Is the Common Good?

What Kind of Creatures Are We?

“[H]umans are social beings, and the kind of creatures we become depends crucially on the social, cultural, and institutional circumstances of our lives. We are therefore led to inquire into the social arrangements that are conducive to the rights and welfare of people, to fulfilling their just aspirations—in brief, the common good.”
— Noam Chomsky

This week, our featured book is What Kind of Creatures Are We?, by Noam Chomsky. For the final post of the week, we have an excerpt from the third chapter of the book: “What Is the Common Good?”:

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

What Kind of Creatures Are We?

What Kind of Creatures Are We?

“The reality, however, is otherwise, for it is becoming increasingly clear that the acquisition of the uniquely modern [human] sensibility was instead an abrupt and recent event…. And the expression of this new sensibility was almost certainly crucially abetted by the invention of what is perhaps the single most remarkable thing about our modern selves: language.” If so, then an answer to the question “What is language?” matters greatly to anyone concerned with understanding our modern selves.” — Noam Chomsky

This week, our featured book is What Kind of Creatures Are We?, by Noam Chomsky. In today’s post, we have an excerpt from the opening chapter of What Kind of Creatures Are We?.

The general question I would like to address in these lectures is an ancient one: What kind of creatures are we? I am not deluded enough to think I can provide a satisfactory answer, but it seems reasonable to believe that in some domains at least, particularly with regard to our cognitive nature, there are insights of some interest and significance, some new, and that it should be possible to clear away some of the obstacles that hamper further inquiry, including some widely accepted doctrines with foundations that are much less stable than often assumed.

I will consider three specific questions, increasingly obscure: What is language? What are the limits of human understanding (if any)? And what is the common good to which we should strive? I will begin today with the first, and will try to show how what may seem at first to be rather narrow and technical questions, if pursued carefully, can lead to some far-reaching conclusions that are significant in themselves, and differ sharply from what is generally believed – and often regarded as fundamental – in the relevant disciplines: cognitive science in a broad sense, including linguistics, and philosophy of language and mind.

Throughout, I will be discussing what seem to me virtual truisms, but of an odd kind. They are generally rejected. That poses a dilemma, for me at least. And perhaps you too will be interested in resolving it. (more…)

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Part 2 of Akeel Bilgrami’s foreword to What Kind of Creatures Are We?, by Noam Chomsky

What Kind of Creatures Are We?

“Given the fundamental starting point in human creativity and the importance of its unhindered flowering, Chomsky’s leaning toward anarchism is not surprising, and his way of putting the point has always been to declare, as he does in this lecture again: any form of coercion that hinders it can never be taken for granted.” — Akeel Bilgrami

This week, our featured book is What Kind of Creatures Are We?, by Noam Chomsky. To start the week, we are excerpting Akeel Bilgrami’s excellent foreword in two parts. In this second half, Bilgrami goes through the other three chapters of What Kind of Creatures Are We? and looks at Chomsky’s work on the limits of human cognition and on humans as social creatures.

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Part 1 of Akeel Bilgrami’s foreword to What Kind of Creatures Are We?, by Noam Chomsky

What Kind of Creatures Are We?

“If one firmly understands that language is not designed by human beings but is part of their biological endowment, then, taking language as an object of study, whether scientific or philosophical, there might have to be considerable shift in our methodological approaches.” — Akeel Bilgrami

This week, our featured book is What Kind of Creatures Are We?, by Noam Chomsky. To start the week, we are excerpting Akeel Bilgrami’s excellent foreword in two parts. In the first half, Bilgrami breaks down the first chapter of What Kind of Creatures Are We?, and uses his explanation to delve into Chomsky’s basic ideas in linguistics and cognitive science.

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Book Giveaway! What Kind of Creatures Are We?, by Noam Chomsky

What Kind of Creatures Are We?

“It’s always spring in Mr. Chomsky’s garden. Like John Ashbery, Noam Chomsky seems to come up with thoughts that are always fresh, unaffected by the polluting cliches that most of us inhale and exhale all day and night. To read his sentences is a life-giving elixir.” — Wallace Shawn

This week, our featured book is What Kind of Creatures Are We?, by Noam Chomsky. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of What Kind of Creatures Are We?. Due to overwhelming participation in the giveaway, we have upped our offer to TWENTY free copies of the book! To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, January 29th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thanks to all those who participated! The giveaway is now closed. We have randomly selected our twenty winners and notified them by email.

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

Colin Dayan’s Ethics Without Reason

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

Simon Waxman of the Boston Review recently wrote an excellent reaction/review to With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan, “Colin Dayan’s Ethics Without Reason.” We have a short excerpt from his article here, and we can’t recommend the full article highly enough.

Colin Dayan’s Ethics Without Reason
By Simon Waxman

Dayan, a longtime friend of Boston Review and valued contributor to the magazine, has explored related matters in our pages before. Her discussions and conclusions are often unsettling, questioning “the pretense of humane treatment” promoted by organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and humane societies, which routinely and systematically kills the animals of whom they market themselves as protectors. Dayan also is not a supporter of animal rights, which, like the human equivalents that inspire them, can foster in their bearers the quality most desired by the elites who seek to control and exploit them: docility. Meanwhile, the rights paradigm legalizes punishment of those animals that must be lived with, as opposed to above. In essence, the animal rights agenda has enshrined in law the social acceptability of the dumb, pocket-sized accessory who can only breathe and eat—and, then, only with a human hand to feed it—while subjecting to suspicion and penalty any animal of vigor, independence, intelligence, and, yes, capacity for danger.

Alongside her perhaps-surprising misgivings about rights, Dayan harbors sympathies that many abhor. One chapter of With Dogs at the Edge of Life traces the life, legal struggle, and philosophy of Bob Stevens. A downhome pit bull breeder, Stevens has been prosecuted by the state of Louisiana for distributing dogfighting films and earned the enmity of preening urban pet owners who like to dress up their twelve-pound toys and parade them at parties. These owners lack something that Stevens, for all his hard edges, does not: “admiration and respect for an animal’s sheer bodily strength, fierce intelligence, and courage,” which “promise a reciprocal engagement that has been lost in most human experience.”

Dayan’s goal is not just to scrutinize the pieties of animal rights activists, however. Doing so is an element of a larger project in which the boundary between human and non-, between reason and simply being together with other beings, becomes unstable. Following displaced and disdained dogs, purged from increasingly genteel cities everywhere, Dayan pursues a critique of enlightenment itself, particularly that version on which capitalism is founded. “Through the dogs’ eyes, we sense a world devoid of spirit, ravaged of communion,” she writes, inspired by films shot from the standpoint of dogs. These animals who once owned the city alongside human residents are no longer welcome among “the high-rise developments, the spruced-up neighborhoods of the neo-Western globalized citizen.”

There are no answers, easy or hard, in With Dogs at the Edge of Life, and this, finally, may be the point. “The bold enmeshing of humans and dogs—and the seagulls, pigeons, chickens, and cats in their midst—requires that we suspend our beliefs and put aside our craving for final answers.” The answers are themselves the problem. We have—by force, persuasion, and trickery—been drawn to a single answer: money and the comforts it buys. Call it progress in the capitalist mode. The issue of this progress is visible everywhere, from the comfort of killing law never seen in action, to the comfort of gleaming cities devoid of untamed life, to the comfort of faith in a human reason that eradicates all ambiguity and mystery. Indeed, one of the starkest, most material visions of this progress is the puny, slavish body of the dog lived above rather than with.

The full article can be read at the Boston Review website.

Monday, January 18th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Chaos Imagined: Literature, Art, Science, by Martin Meisel

Chaos Imagined

“Martin Meisel’s magnum opus is a heroic act of defiance against its own subject matter: an enlightening, judicious, cohesive history of three millennia of thought about the terrors and attractions of chaos. The book moves with steady confidence through literature, science, art, and philosophy, illuminating many varieties of darkness, finding convincing and original connections across centuries and continents. With authority and energy, it creates a whole new field of study.” — Edward Mendelson, Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University

This week, our featured book is Chaos Imagined: Literature, Art, Science, by Martin Meisel. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Chaos Imagined. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, January 8th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word! Below the giveaway form, you can also read an excerpt from the first chapter, “Shaping Chaos.”

Shaping Chaos

Friday, January 8th, 2016

Pariah Dogs

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“Something about death and dogs makes us think and teaches us about how we come to know and when we ought to care.” — Colin Dayan

This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. For the final post of the week’s feature, we have an excerpt from the introduction to “Pariah Dogs,” part three of With Dogs at the Edge of Life. In this excerpt, Dayan examines how the suffering of dogs has been represented in literature from the Odyssey to Coetzee’s Disgrace.

Friday, January 8th, 2016

An Interview with Colin Dayan

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“It’s the relation between humans and dogs that matters to me, and what that tells us over time about what we have become as a society.” — Colin Dayan

This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. In the first of two posts today, we are happy to present an interview with Colin Dayan recorded by Vanderbilt University, along with an excerpt from the article posted with the video.

Professor offers unsettling look at humanity with study of people and their dogs
By Ann Marie Deer Owens

A Vanderbilt University professor has researched true stories of people and their dogs—some tender and some disturbing—to make a compelling case for re-thinking our treatment of both of them.

Colin Dayan, the Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities and professor of American studies in the College of Arts and Science, is the author of With Dogs at the Edge of Life (Columbia University Press, 2016).

Dayan, who is also a professor of law, emphasized that it’s the relationship between dogs and humans that is important to her research. The actions surrounding that relationship provide tremendous insight into what we have become as a society.

“The book is making a plea for us to think differently about our relationships because this is a time, as I see it, of extinctions,” Dayan said. “Certain groups of people and certain kinds of dogs are labeled and easily disposed of.”

(more…)

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

Dead Dogs

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“Though they were friendly and vigorous, though there was in most cases no proof of actual fighting, the dogs were deemed “threats to the public” and could therefore be killed summarily. According to Louisiana law, “fighting dogs are declared to be contraband.” An arbitrary label put an end to their lives, without any recourse or appeal, without even notice to their owners. Not only were the dogs no longer personal property, but, once seized from their owners, they had become legally disposable too.” — Colin Dayan

Happy New Year! This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. Today’s post, excerpted from the fourth chapter of With Dogs at the Edge of Life, lays out a 2005 case where fifty-seven pit bulls were confiscated, deemed “too aggressive to live,” and killed by the authorities.

Dead Dogs
By Colin Dayan

Early on Friday morning, March 11, 2005, a caravan of vehicles drove from New Orleans down Louisiana Highway 89 to a home outside the city of Lafayette, where the highway meets La Neuville Road in the heart of Cajun country. State police, a SWAT team, U.S. customs officials, and other federal agents, with the aid of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LA/SPCA), the Louisiana Humane Society, and the Humane
Society of the United States (HSUS), raided the home of Floyd Boudreaux. They confiscated fifty-seven American pit bull terriers and charged Boudreaux and his son Guy with fifty-seven counts of dog fighting and fifty-seven counts of animal cruelty. Arrested and handcuffed, they were read their Miranda rights and locked up in Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. The dogs were loaded in a truck and driven back to New Orleans. That night the LA/SPCA began killing the dogs by injection. They did not stop until the next day. By the time the Boudreauxs were released on bail on Monday morning, their dogs had already been cremated.

The dogs were not crippled, maimed, or blind. Some had scars. Some had calluses. Most were healthy, described as “normal” on the LA/SPCA’s intake forms. Nineteen of the pit bulls were puppies, less than one year old. One of them would have whelped that weekend. Wendy Wolfson, at the time a veterinarian and medical director for the LA/SPCA, is now an assistant professor in shelter medicine at Louisiana State University, a program of study heavily funded by the HSUS. She testified that she conducted a hands-on exam of each animal: “We did a whole barrage of things to each dog,” she said. She later testified that she found evidence of dogfighting injuries in one or two cases so all the animals were labeled “fighting dogs.”

Once categorized as such, all the pit bulls were assumed to be inherently dangerous—too aggressive to live. Though they were friendly and vigorous, though there was in most cases no proof of actual fighting, the dogs were deemed “threats to the public” and could therefore be killed summarily. According to Louisiana law, “fighting dogs are declared to be contraband.” An arbitrary label put an end to their lives, without any recourse or appeal, without even notice to their owners. Not only were the dogs no longer personal property, but, once seized from their owners, they had become legally disposable too.

Three and a half years after the raid, in October 2008, the Boudreauxs were acquitted of all charges. If convicted, they might have faced ten years of imprisonment with or without hard labor for each count. Judge Kristian Earles found no evidence of any crime. The state’s case against them was so weak that he ruled without even asking the defense to call its witnesses. Floyd Boudreaux, a legendary dog man who had bred these dogs for most of his life, cried when the verdict was read. During the proceedings, the Boudreauxs’ lawyer, Jason Robideaux, condemned the LA/SPCA. “The State’s purpose in this case was to seize those dogs, the Boudreauxs’ dogs, and kill them, and thus, end the bloodline,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate as to the reasons.”

Boudreaux’s dogs were the product of two famous bloodlines: the generations-old Boudreaux line—his family hallmark since the 1930s—and the more recent “Eli Dogs,” named after Eli, a two-time pit winner, bred to Boudreaux’s Spook. Boudreaux had not pitted a dog in a fight since the late 1970s, when dog fighting was banned. Instead, his dogs appeared all over the United States in conformation shows and weight-pulling contests. The federal government enacted the federal dog-fighting law as part of the Animal Welfare Act in 1976, and Louisiana banned dog fighting in 1982. In an interview just before the raid, a year before his seventieth birthday, Boudreaux said he had “been working with the breed for over half a century. . . . My dad had ’em before I did, and then I had ’em before I went to grade school. My son too. It’s always been a family affair.”

Not until September 11, 2011, almost three years after the acquittal, did the LA/SPCA agree to a settlement, though it declined to comment on the terms. Father and son had sought damages for mental distress and loss of income they would have received from the sale of the dogs. They asked for about $300,000. “There’s no more Boudreaux/Eli breed,” Floyd said. “The mom and pop direct descendants that would not have been sold are dead. That’s 100
years of breeding that’s gone.”

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

In Touch and Feeling with Dogs

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“Can we engage our feelings without appropriation? Can we think through human and non-human mutuality without abstracting animals into what can be packaged and consumed—either as objects of moral concern or as literary device? Can we really think with dogs?” — Colin Dayan

Happy New Year! This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. In today’s post, Dayan discusses the difficulty and the value of thinking and feeling with dogs.

In Touch and Feeling with Dogs
By Colin Dayan

     It is myself,
            Not the poor beast lying there

                    yelping with pain

     that brings me to myself with a start—

–William Carlos Williams, “To a Dog Injured in the Street”

Our greatest poets struggle with their response to and feeling with dogs. Elizabeth Bishop calls a stray, crippled, “depilated dog” to carnival as she laments a world that disallows and disposes of “anyone who begs, drugged, drunk, or sober, with or without legs,” in “Pink Dog.” John Berryman in the great ennui of “Dream Song 14” finds his tedium interrupted by a dog:

And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Out of the wear and tear of life comes the surprise. Something as ordinary as the wagging tail of a dog generates a miracle of transubstantiation. The dog and its tail take flight into “mountains or sea or sky,” while the poet remains. He inhabits and takes on what is left behind. The self turns into what a tail does. A nonhuman subjectivity is born in the conflation of the poetic I with the lilting, uplifting swish, sway, and shake of the canine hindquarters.

The vicissitudes, gaps, and blurring that these poets find in the sentience of dogs promise a renewal of self, as well as of language. To be “sensible” is to make meaning in its materiality: to think with the body. Yet it is a fine line between feeling for or with dogs and turning the non-human into source of inspiration or grist for academic argumentation—nothing less than yet another prompt to our poetic or moral thought or inquiry.

Can we engage our feelings without appropriation? Can we think through human and non-human mutuality without abstracting animals into what can be packaged and consumed—either as objects of moral concern or as literary device? Can we really think with dogs? This terrain of mutual adaptability puts us in the thick of what we are not. It asks that we step back and ask how we can know feeling that is not tied to our assumptions. Such a transforming regard also changes how we treat our fellow humans.

As our world becomes obscene in its greed and violence, I wonder if through the route of the dog we might find a practical and embodied way of being with others that doesn’t entail dominance and subordination. I do not advise that we lose sight of how brutality in the non-human world is part and parcel of the disregard and harm so pronounced in the human. But rather through a minded and felt—as well as “attentive” — empathy in all relations, I want to consider how we might dismantle individual preferment.

The route is not easy. Again, animality is what I want us to think about, not claims for humanity. The knowledge that matters has everything to do with perception, an attentiveness that might unleash another kind of intelligibility. Facing what is not our own or what we cannot know, in this bafflement we might relate most fully to what lies within, beside, and beyond ourselves.

Can we live in a world of contestation and entanglement? Such intimacy promises to lead us out of thought and into a feeling that renews another sense of the political. When William Carlos Williams died in 1963, Kenneth Burke wrote a moving reminiscence in The New York Review of Books.

Burke recalled that a few years after Williams, crippled with ailments, had stopped treating patients, they both walked “slowly on a beach in Florida.” Burke’s recollection affirms the meaning of empathy: a sentience that draws together two beings in a manner of experience that heals. It is tactile. It is a demanding reciprocity, a being together in a pain that can be healed if shared. In becoming acquainted with what lies outside the self, we enter into another kind of knowing.

For Burke, who felt sympathy for the dog—a feeling that did not help—this exchange captures what Williams called “contact.” The impetus for both his medical and poetic technique, this practice of discernment is not the precondition for uniqueness but rather an imperative to seek a more voracious if always provisional communion.

A neighbor’s dog decided to accompany us, but was limping. I leaned down, aimlessly hoping to help the dog (which became suddenly frightened, and nearly bit me). Then Williams took the paw in his left hand (the right was now less agile) and started probing for the source of the trouble. It was a gesture at once expert and imaginative, something in which to have perfect confidence, as both the cur and I saw in a flash. Feeling between the toes lightly, quickly, and above all surely, he spotted a burr, removed it without the slightest cringe on the dog’s part—and the three of us were again on our way along the beach.

Such contact demands a radical change in perspective. Not only does it complicate our understanding of the political, but it also escapes humanistic or morality-based assumptions.

Questioning the prescriptive force of morality—and its familiar companions, civility and reason, is crucial, it seems to me, in these times of exclusion and disposal. The radical inclusivity of such an appeal matters now more than ever. At the edge of a cherished humanism, what if we summoned instead a remote and uncertain reservoir on which all creatures might draw but from which most humans have learned to cut themselves off completely?

Early one morning last week I walked my dog Stella down the main street of the neighborhood. A white pick-up truck was waiting in a drive to enter the street. The dog ran up, as she sometimes does when white men in trucks, those I grew up knowing as “crackers” or “red necks,” look out at her. This is an inclination that I’m still trying to understand. She jumped, one paw on the seat of the man’s car, and another on his leg, and began to greet him powerfully with licks and nudges. He welcomed her and said in answer to my wonder: “She knows I’m sick, and that’s why she’s trying to help me. I’m dying.” Then he gently beat his chest, adding, “She can smell it. She wants to give me some relief.”

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

By Way of Beginning

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“How can I seize on dog life in words? Dogs live on the track between the mental and the physical and sometimes seem to tease out a near-mystical disintegration of the bounds between them. What would it mean to become more like a dog? How might we come up against life as a sensory but not sensible experience?” — Colin Dayan

This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. To begin the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Dayan’s first chapter, “By Way of Beginning,” in which she tells the moving story of Leon Rosby’s Rottweiler, Max, and explains what she hopes to accomplish in her book.

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Book Giveaway! With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan

With Dogs at the Edge of Life

“In three lively and beautifully written movements, Colin Dayan offers a memorable tour de force that threads together memoir and an analysis of the deprivations of life, human and nonhuman and human with nonhuman, that so pervasively characterize our neoliberal world-historical moment. Intelligent and moving, With Dogs at the Edge of Life is an extraordinary book, a courageous and compelling intermingling of arresting cultural critique and autobiographical reflections of a life lived in the company of canines.” — David L. Clark, McMaster University

This week, our featured book is With Dogs at the Edge of Life, by Colin Dayan. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of With Dogs at the Edge of Life. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, January 8th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, November 20th, 2015

A Psychopathology of Art

A Hedonist Manifesto

“Today’s consumer item plays a role previously held by primitive religions’ statues, church paintings, and portraits of monarchs in castles. We organize idol cults around them, and they rule us. We venerate the very things that make life impossible for us; we give thanks to the ironhanded masters that control our bodies and souls.” — Michel Onfray

This week, our second featured book is A Hedonist Manifesto: The Power to Exist, by Michel Onfray, translated by Joseph McClellan. In our final post of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from “A Psychopathology of Art,” the eleventh chapter of Onfray’s manifesto.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of A Hedonist Manifest!

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

A Philosophical Side Path

A Hedonist Manifesto

“Putting one thing into the light entails putting another into obscurity. Nevertheless, important, unexploited material is left in the shadows. The purpose of my course at the Université Populaire de Caen (see La Communauté philosophique) is to exhume that alternative historiography.” — Michel Onfray

This week, our second featured book is A Hedonist Manifesto: The Power to Exist, by Michel Onfray, translated by Joseph McClellan. In our first post, we are happy to present an excerpt from “A Philosophical Side Path,” the first chapter of Onfray’s manifesto.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of A Hedonist Manifest!

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

́́́Étienne Balibar on the Paris attacks: “In War”

Étienne Balibar, author of Violence and Civility, is a visiting professor at Columbia University and emeritus professor of philosophy at Paris X Nanterre. We share his recent article for openDemocracy in the wake of the Paris attacks.

In War
By Étienne Balibar

Yes, we are at war. Or rather, henceforth, we are all in war. We deal blows, and we take blows in turn. We are in mourning, suffering the consequences of these terrible events, in the sad knowledge that others will occur. Each person killed is irreplaceable.

But which war are we talking about? It is not an easy war to define because it is formed of various types which have been pushed together over time and which today appear inextricable. Wars between states (even a pseudo state like ‘ISIS’). National and international civil wars. Wars of ‘civilisation’ (or something that sees itself as such). Wars of interest and of imperialist patronage. Wars of religions and sects (or justified as such). This is the great stasis or ‘split city’ of the twenty first century, which we will one day compare to its distant parallels (if indeed we escape intact): the Peloponnesian War; the Thirty Years War; or, more recently, the “European civil war” that raged from 1914 to 1945…

In part an outcome of the US offensive in the Middle East (both before and after 9/11), the war has intensified following the offensives in which Russia and France are now playing a major role, each with their own objectives. The war is also rooted in the ferocious rivalry between those states who all aspire to regional hegemony: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, even Egypt, and in some ways Israel – the only nuclear power of the group at the moment. In a violent collective abreaction, it speeds up all the unsettled affairs of colonisation and empire: oppressed minorities, the creation of arbitrary borders, expropriated mineral resources, disputed areas of influence, gigantic arms contracts. As we just saw, the war seeks, and occasionally finds, support among populations of the ‘other side’. (more…)

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Book Giveaway! A Hedonist Manifesto: The Power to Exist, by Michel Onfray

A Hedonist Manifesto

“The strength of this book, along with its moving personal style, can be found in its reassertion of philosophy as an art of living and not just written doctrine. Whether or not you agree with Onfray’s brand of Enlightenment hedonism, this book will stimulate parts of your mind that may have lain fallow for awhile.” — Graham Harman

This week, our second featured book is A Hedonist Manifesto: The Power to Exist, by Michel Onfray, translated by Joseph McClellan. Throughout the rest of the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of A Hedonist Manifesto. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, November 20th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Becoming Way Too Cool: How Neoliberalism Alters How We Feel

Way Too Cool

The following is a guest post by Shannon Winnubst, author of Way Too Cool: Selling Out Race and Ethics.

Becoming Way Too Cool
(How Neoliberalism Alters How We Feel)
Shannon Winnubst

I remember when my grandmother learned to use the word “cool.” It must have been about 1982 and, at 83 years old, she spryly pronounced my new shirt was “cool.” Stopped short, I caught the twinkle in her eye and proudly agreed. Little did we both know that we were in the grips of the rapidly ascendant neoliberal marketing machine.

“Cool” has been big business for a long time now. Pilfered from black culture by the men’s clothing advertising industry in the late 1970s, “cool” has packaged just about every commodity on the market at one time or another—and still continues to do so. Youth culture, especially, seems never to lose its connection with this heartbeat of energy. “Cool” has become a kind of naturalized constant in 21st century marketing cultures: we are so drawn to it that we cannot imagine otherwise. The quest to be “so cool” seems never to die.

But “cool” didn’t always refer to the latest, hippest thing. In the U.S., “cool” was born in post-World War II aesthetics of black culture, especially jazz. It captured and galvanized the kind of ironic detachment that enabled black folks to persevere in the face of systematic, persistent racism and its everyday violence. It energized black folks not only to survive, but to create and believe in something better. When Miles Davis stood up to racist cops and bigoted television show hosts, he was enacting the essence of cool: the kind of strong, determined detachment from racist mainstream culture that enabled intense creativity and the strength to flourish. This kind of “cool” is what bell hooks identifies in black leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. as the strength to “alchemically change pain into gold.” The birth of “cool” was the birth of an ethical detachment from the hostility and violence of a racist world that carved the space for a better, more just world. (more…)

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Nietzsche’s Birthday Gift to Us — What Is So Terribly Wrong about Love

Friedrich Nietzsche | Love and War

“This kind of love in which men are dominant and women are subordinate, Nietzsche says, results in antagonism between men and women. Unabated and unthwarted, that dynamic leads to an all-too-familiar pattern of tragedy in heterosexual love.”—Tom Digby

The following post, in honor of Friedrich Nietzsche’s birthday, is by Tom Digby, author of Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance:

When philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s name is mentioned, often the word “controversial” is attached. But today is his birthday, and we tend to say nice things about a person on their birthday, so I want to discuss one of Nietzsche’s most wonderfully useful insights. It is about love, and it plays a fundamentally important role in my new book, Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance.

Nietzsche wrote about love toward the end of the nineteenth century, at a time when the notion of women’s equality was getting a lot of attention—and a lot of men were getting scared! In other words, it was a time like today. But Nietzsche was braver than many men, and he dove headfirst into the topic of the relationship between gender equality and heterosexual love.

One of the biggest obstacles to gender equality, according to Nietzsche, is precisely the different but complementary ways that our culture programs women and men to understand love. Through literature, music, and religion (and today, movies) the idea gets promulgated that for women love means devotion, even complete surrender. Hence, says Nietzsche, for women love is supposed to be a kind of faIth.

It is different for men, says Nietzsche. In fact, men want that kind of love from women, but they are expected not to manifest it themselves. For a man to surrender to a woman, or to be completely devoted to her, is downright unmanly, according to our culture. “A man who loves like a woman becomes thereby a slave; a woman, however, who loves like a woman becomes thereby a more perfect woman.” Nietzsche leaves for us the task of articulating the tacit conclusion: The most perfect woman is a slave.

Is Nietzsche’s description of the cultural programming of heterosexual love quaint and out of touch in the twenty-first century? To assess that, we can start with cueing the Britney Spears song, “I’m a Slave 4 U.” Then we can consider how guys who seem devoted to, or even just minimally considerate of, a girlfriend are often described as “whipped.” That pejorative connotes enslavement, and in the full version, “pussy whipped,” it is clear that the enslavement is specifically to a woman. As Nietzsche points out, such a subordinate status is culturally understood to be entirely inconsistent with being a “real man.”

(more…)

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

American Individualism Challenged

Beyond Individualism

“The individualism that Americans embrace is all-too-often seen as an attack on the core values of more traditional societies. In such contexts, individualism is all too easily characterized as uncontrolled materialism and hedonism aimed at undermining the long-established commitments and practices of communities opposed to outside intervention.” — George Rupp

This week, our second featured book is Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities, by George Rupp. Today, on the final day of the week’s features, we are happy to present an essay by Rupp, in which he argues that the individualism embraced by both liberals and conservatives in American politics has a deleterious effect on both American domestic and foreign policy.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

American Individualism Challenged
By George Rupp

Especially in this campaign season, the cause of individualism is claimed across the conservative-liberal spectrum of contemporary U.S. politics. Conservatives affirm individual initiatives and embrace the liberty of individuals, often grounded in religious convictions. Liberals insist on the freedom of individual expression and action and view social order as the result of agreements among consenting individuals.

Yet this apparent agreement as to the merits of individualism has led, not to shared positive outcomes, but rather to a catastrophic under-investment in public goods.

Government funding for education at all levels has declined. The same is true for investments in the research that has undergirded global competitiveness. Similarly, the infrastructure for transportation requires massive attention. Less immediately evident but even more compelling for the long term is the imperative of care for environmental sustainability. In all such areas, the United States faces a tragedy of the commons even as private interests dominate in all sectors.

The under-investment in social goods is accentuated by the increasing spread between the income and wealth of the very top stratum of society and all other strata—not only the poor but also the middle class and even significant segments of what used to be the well-to-do. This increasingly unequal distribution of income and wealth is in any case troubling. But it is especially challenging when it includes reduced upward mobility not only in comparison with past American patterns but also compared to other Western societies that have significantly better recent records of movement from lower to higher income levels.

The challenges in domestic patterns have international ramifications as well. The most basic ones result from what will be an increasingly evident lack of international competitiveness over the long term. Reduced upward mobility, declining educational attainments, and smaller investments in infrastructure and research will all over time have powerfully negative consequences.

There are also current effects on international relations. The fact that the United States devotes proportionately less of its resources to global development than virtually all other wealthy countries is one measure of under-investment. But an even more direct impact of American individualism is evident in conflict areas around the world.

The individualism that Americans embrace is all-too-often seen as an attack on the core values of more traditional societies. In such contexts, individualism is all too easily characterized as uncontrolled materialism and hedonism aimed at undermining the long-established commitments and practices of communities opposed to outside intervention. Instances of these antagonistic positions are inescapable in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq among many other conflicts.

In confronting the appeal of such characterizations, responses can and should highlight the myriad ways in which individualism is not antagonistic to the traditional values of community. There will unavoidably be areas of tension and disagreement—for example, in regard to the role of women or the prerogatives of elders. But what is crucial is to affirm the value of traditional communities and acknowledge that there are limits to the entitlement of individuals.

One point of conflict that is potentially an area of collaboration is religion. Religious allegiances can easily become a source of mutual antagonism. Indeed, inter-religious contention and distrust have at quite a few times—regrettably including the present—been drivers of hostility. Yet there is remarkable agreement across the entire range of religious traditions that individual attainment need not be opposed to affirming the value of community. Put positively, the faith, the insight, and the conviction of the individual presupposes a nourishing and supportive community.

While this mutual support is affirmed in Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and other initially Asian communities and also in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, it is not immediately evident in some of the more strident forms of modern secular individualism. This fact renders alleged American imperialism the more plausible as a target for attack. It is therefore incumbent on the U.S. for both principled and pragmatic reasons to embrace and commend the values of communities as fundamentally compatible with the core principles of individualism.

Both liberal and conservative traditions have contributions to offer. The individualism of conservatives includes explicit recognition of the role of the community in shaping the identities of its members. Religious communities figure prominently in this process, but voluntary associations of all kinds are also included. Similarly, the individualism of liberals includes the aspiration for community as well. In this case, the community is much more likely to be secular and at its most ambitious is universal in scope, seeking in principle to include all individuals everywhere, albeit often with little focus on particular local communities.

The challenge for both conservative and liberal advocates of individualism is to allow their shared albeit not identical commitment to community to gain enough traction to overcome the under-investment in public goods that is impoverishing our common life.