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Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

To the Point: A New E-book Series from Columbia University Press

To the Point

To the Point, Bruce HoffmanTo the Point, Julia KristevaTo the Point, Peter Piot                 To the Point, Joel SimonTo the Point, Evan Thompson

Columbia University Press is proud to announce the launch of To the Point an exciting new e-book series that extends the scholarship of our authors for a growing global and digital audience. We present standalone chapters from the press’s forthcoming fall season books, with original short-format works to come to the series in the future.

These works serve to introduce our authors’ provocative ideas to new readers in accessible, affordable formats. Featuring works by Bruce Hoffman, Julia Kristeva, Evan Thompson, and others in disciplines ranging from politics and philosophy to food science and social work.

To the Point titles are available for only $1.99 from your favorite e-book vendor.

The first five e-book shorts to be released for sale in the To the Point series are:

* The 7/7 London Underground Bombing: Not So Homegrown, by Bruce Hoffman
A selection from The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death

* Understanding Through Fiction, by Julia Kristeva
A selection from Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila

* AIDS as an International Political Issue, by Peter Piot
A selection from AIDS Between Science and Politics

* Informing the Global Citizen, by Joel Simon
A Selection from The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom

* Dying: What Happens When We Die?, by Evan Thompson
A Selection from Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Alain Badiou Performs a Scene from Ahmed the Philosopher

Known as one of the most important contemporary philosophers, Alain Badiou is perhaps less well-known for his abilities as an actor. However, in the video below, Badiou can be seen performing a scene from his play Ahmed the Philosopher: Thirty-Four Short Plays for Children and Everyone Else.

The following is a description of the scene from Open Culture:

Badiou as the “demon of the cities” spotlights the brute limitations imposed by violent, unjust police, who summarily execute innocent people in the streets. Taking perverse pleasure in describing such an occurrence, the demon leers, “I like to imagine that I’m hidden behind a curtain. I salivate!” before going on to describe with relish the even uglier scenario of a “bungled” shooting.

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

What Constitutes Compelling Evidence, and for Whom? — B. Alan Wallace

B. Alan WallaceThe following post is by B. Alan Wallace, most recently the author of Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice and Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity. For more, you can also read our recent interview with B. Alan Wallace:

“Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence” is presented as the heart of the scientific method, and a model for critical thinking, rational thought and skepticism everywhere. But it begs the questions, what constitutes an exceptional claim versus an ordinary claim, and who determines this distinction? When it comes to the relation between the body and mind, one might assume that contemporary scientists and philosophers have the authority to determine the difference between exceptional and ordinary claims. But that assumption is problematic for two reasons: (1) scientific and philosophical views vary widely in today’s society, and (2) contemporary Euro-centric views are not the indisputable arbiters of truth for humanity as a whole.

While the reductionist views of atheist, or materialist, scientists and philosophers dominate scientific discourse and the popular media, they by no means represent a consensus view within the two communities, let alone all educated people. According to a poll published in the Scientific American in 1914, 40% of scientists stated that they believed in God. A poll with the same set of questions was again conducted in 1997, also reported in the Scientific American, and it indicated that 40% of scientists still believe in God. So no one view—either materialist or non-materialist—can be said to represent the scientific community as a whole. Likewise, according to a survey done by the philosopher David Chalmers, 11% of contemporary philosophers are non-materialist, so they represent a significant minority. But more important is his finding that there was nothing of importance the “philosophical community” at large agrees upon. So when it comes to the mind-body problem, there is no consensus about what constitutes an exception versus an ordinary claim.

The same is true of hypotheses regarding unresolved issues in quantum mechanics, particularly the so-called “measurement problem.” As I write in Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic, “In his recent book entitled Quantum, science writer Manjit Kumar cites a poll about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, taken among physicists at a conference in 1999. Of the ninety respondents, only four said they accepted the standard interpretation taught in every undergraduate physics course in the world, thirty favored the ‘many-worlds interpretation’ formulated by the Princeton theoretician Hugh Everett III (1930–82), while fifty replied, ‘none of the above or undecided.’ The real implications of quantum physics seem to be hidden in a cloud of uncertainty.”


Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Analytic Philosophy’s Fire Alarm, by Santiago Zabala

Santiago Zabala

“I do not believe, as Gary Gutting (a philosopher whom I truly respect) recently pointed out, that the ‘continental-analytic gap will begin to be bridged only when seminal thinkers of the Continent begin to write more clearly,’ but rather that it will happen only when the imperialistic approach of analytic philosophy is left aside to allow other styles to emerge and educate without being attacked, dismissed, and, most of all, marginalized.” — Santiago Zabala, coauthor of Hermeneutic Communism and author of, among other works, The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy

Analytic Philosophy’s Fire Alarm
Santiago Zabala

Anyone who questions or raises doubts over analytic philosophy’s role or significance today indirectly pulls a fire alarm in our framed democracies, our culture, and our universities. The doubter will immediately be attacked theoretically, academically, and probably also personally. This has happened to me (and many other continental philosophers) on several occasions. It does not bother me at all. It’s just a pity things are this way. The books, essays, and articles that set off the alarm are not meant to dismiss analytic philosophy but simply to remind everyone it’s not the only way to philosophize. My concern is educational (given the prevalence of analytic programs in universities), political (given its imperialistic approach), and also professional (for the little space given to continental philosophers in academia). The point is that we are not even allowed to generalize or be ironic, an essential component of philosophy as Gianni Vattimo and Slavoj Zizek show in their practice.

The problem is not that John Searle was honored by George W. Bush in 2004 (with a National Humanities Medal) or that the research of other analytic philosophers is often funded by government grants but rather that these grants are not always distributed among other traditions. After all, philosophers are not supposed to simply analyze concepts in their university offices but also to engage with the political, economic, and cultural environments that surrounds them, as Judith Butler, Peter Sloterdijk, and Simon Critchley have done so well for years. (more…)

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Judith Butler and Rosi Braidotti Meet Pussy Riot

In the following video of an event sponsored by The First Supper Symposium, Rosi Braidotti and Judith Butler talk with members of Pussy Riot.

Among other issues, the participant discussed when does public protest’s transgress the limited range of permissible behaviurs in a society? What is the future of feminist performance art under times of censorship?

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Badiou and Roudinesco on Lacan’s Legacy

Jacques Lacan, Past and present

“[T]he contemporary world is haunted by uncertainty, disorientation, and the specter of permanent crisis. And Lacan is a great thinker of disorder.” – Alain Badiou

This week our featured book is Jacques Lacan, Past and Present: A Dialogue, by Alain Badiou and Élisabeth Roudinesco. Today, on the final day of our giveaway, we have excerpted Badiou and Roudinesco’s concluding remarks on Lacan’s legacy.

Enter our book giveaway by 1 PM TODAY for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

More from Badiou and Roudinesco

Jacques Lacan, Past and present

This week our featured book is Jacques Lacan, Past and Present: A Dialogue, by Alain Badiou and Élisabeth Roudinesco. Today, we are taking a look back at previous works by both Alain Badiou and Élisabeth Roudinesco. We have excerpts from Badiou’s Plato’s Republic: A Dialogue in 16 Chapters and Roudinesco’s Why Psychoanalysis?.

And don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Jacques Lacan, Past and Present!

“What Is a Philosopher?”
From Plato’s Republic: A Dialogue in 16 Chapters
Alain Badiou

Plato's Republic, by Alain Badiou by Columbia University Press

“The Defeat of the Subject”
FromWhy Psychoanalysis?
Élisabeth Roudinesco

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

“I Am Counting on the Tourbillon”: On the Late Lacan, by Jason E. Smith

Jacques Lacan, Past and present

“If Lacan’s rightly celebrated Seminar VII from 1959-60 elaborates a properly psychoanalytic ethics through the intransigent figure of Antigone and her refusal to give way on her desire, Badiou and Roudinesco emphasize instead a certain ethical and tragic dimension to Lacan’s late style.” – Jason E. Smith

This week our featured book is Jacques Lacan, Past and Present: A Dialogue, by Alain Badiou and Élisabeth Roudinesco. Today, we have an excerpt from translator Jason E. Smith’s foreword: “‘I Am Counting on the Tourbillon’: On the Late Lacan.”

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

One Master, Two Encounters, by Alain Badiou and Élisabeth Roudinesco

Jacques Lacan, Past and present

“Lacan always remained for me a thinker of the first order rather than a psychoanalytic master. Always the primacy of the written!” – Alain Badiou

This week our featured book is Jacques Lacan, Past and Present: A Dialogue, by Alain Badiou and Élisabeth Roudinesco. Today, we have an excerpt from the beginning of their discussion, in which Roudinesco and Badiou both describe their first encounters with Lacan’s work and Lacan himself.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Monday, May 5th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Jacques Lacan, Past and Present, by Alain Badiou and Élisabeth Roudinesco

Jacques Lacan, Past and present

This week our featured book is Jacques Lacan, Past and Present: A Dialogue, by Alain Badiou and Élisabeth Roudinesco. 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 Jacques Lacan, Past and Present. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, May 9nd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst Debate Tolerance

The Power of Tolerance: A Debate was inspired by a conversation between Wendy Brown and Rainer Forst. In the the debate the two discussed different discourses of tolerance, their normative premises, limits, and political implications. The main focus was on social and political conflicts over the recognition of differences in civil societies, national politics, and transnational relations.

Here are some clips from the event with Brown and Forst:

Wendy Brown on the power of tolerance:

Rainer Forst discusses the dialectics of tolerance:

Friday, March 14th, 2014

“Do you believe in fate, Neo?” Law, Freedom, Representation, and Identity in THE MATRIX

Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation, Paul W. Kahn

Happy Friday, everyone! But before we continue on with the University Press Roundup, we’d like to conclude our week-long feature of Paul W. Kahn’s Finding Ourselves at the Movies. In the except below, Kahn illuminates the underlying philosophies of the Wachowski siblings’ The Matrix. Drawing from Kant’s delineation of the noumenal and phenomenal worlds, Kahn examines the ways in which the matrix, as an absolute manifestation of representation through law and code, separates itself from identity. This act eradicates any opportunity to “freely give the law to ourselves,” prompting violence, here the sole remaining performance of human freedom.

And of course, don’t miss Morpheus’s explanation of the matrix–troubled with the same issues that disturbed Descartes almost four hundred years ago.

Here’s your last chance to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Finding Ourselves at the Movies!

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

LINCOLN: Sacrifice, Family, and Politics

Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation, Paul W. Kahn

As part of our ongoing feature of Paul W. Kahn’s Finding Ourselves at the Movies, we’re delighted to share a guest post from the author himself on Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film Lincoln. Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Finding Ourselves at the Movies!

Lincoln: Sacrifice, Family, and Politics

Had my writing of Finding Ourselves at the Movies extended over one more year, Steve Spielberg’s Lincoln would no doubt have had a central place in my discussion of the narrative of politics that we find in American films. I would have placed a discussion of the film alongside that of Gran Torino, which places an act of sacrificial love at the foundation of law. Lincoln too is about sacrifice and love at the foundation of the state. To see this, we must look past the film’s immediate focus on low politics. To secure House passage of the bill making way for the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery, Lincoln was not above trading patronage positions for votes. We also see that he could be less than honest, as in his representation of southern peace overtures. To be sure the use of political tactics to pursue principled ends raises interesting questions, but the meaning of the film does not lie in this direction.

Lincoln is a great example of the first rule of American film: There is no political movie that is not also a film about family. A disturbance in the political order is a disturbance in the familial order – and vice versa. We cannot say whether Lincoln is a film about family or state. The crossing of the familial and the political is the meaning of the White House – both family residence and office – a theme beautifully illustrated in Lincoln’s late night wanderings.

This theme is powerfully portrayed in the subplot involving the radical Republican, Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens, who had spent 30 years fighting for racial equality, must compromise his rhetoric to obtain passage of the bill. He restrains himself to the disappointment of his radical followers, but he succeeds politically. In the only truly surprising moment in the film, he returns home, bill in hand, to share the event with his black housekeeper, who is also his lover and companion. The political and the familial are inseparable.

Political and familial success should go hand in hand for Lincoln too. Instead, he is assassinated. We do see, after passage of the bill, a moment of domestic happiness, as President and wife dream of future travels. It never happens. There is no family recovery, but only endless pain at the death of husband, father, President.

Lincoln’s death represents the great unsettled moment in American history. Without family reconciliation, there is no political reconciliation. Reconstruction fails; we continue to live with many of the same divisions of race and region at issue in the War. Lincoln’s assassination is the rend in the fabric of American life.

The greatness of the film, and its deepest lesson, is in the portrayal of Lincoln as a figure of love. He is, in Thadeus Stevens’s words, “the purest man in American politics.” From the opening scene in which Lincoln speaks with black and white soldiers, to his constant companionship with his young son, to his conversations with an ex-slave, to his visit to a hospital, he is a figure of overwhelming compassion. He quite literally touches all those with whom he comes in contact. This man of amazing oratory is also a man of extraordinary love.

Lincoln is, of course, the American figure of Christ. He speaks in parables, loves the least among us, embraces the enemy, and takes on to himself the nation’s pain. Like Christ, he suffers the paradox that for his faith endless numbers will kill and be killed. Love makes sacrifice possible. Lincoln knows this as the unbearable pain of the war that he must bear for the sake of the nation. The Civil War marks American politics as tragedy; Lincoln personifies that tragedy of love and sacrifice.

Love is at the center of Lincoln, and it is here that we can truly learn something about ourselves. The film constantly moves between the familial and the political, between inner life and outer practice. The family is the site of an inner pain no less grievous than the pain of the battlefield. Lincoln and Mary bear the unspeakable pain of the loss of a child, just like every other family touched by this war. The message is unmistakable: there is no line to be drawn between the family and the polity for both are expressions of love. Every soldier who dies for his country is a loss to a family. We must love the state, if we are to bear the sacrifice our loved ones. The success of the film suggests that this is a story that Americans want to hear: Ours is a project that is worthy of sacrifice because it is a project of love. Lincoln is the face of that love.

We will miss this point if we think the 13th Amendment is about a theory of equality or that liberal politics is about keeping the government out of our private lives. Before we can have a government, we must have a state; before we can apply a theory, we must have a community. To have either, we must be bound to each other. Americans believe – or want to believe – that the ties that bind us are elements of our very being. Lincoln speaks to a common faith that these are ties of love, and that for this love we will give everything.

Can we translate love into a political program? Because the American love of nation is a sacrificial love, war has occupied much of our history. The narrative of sacrifice often comes easier than a political program of charity. Yet, the final words of the film – Lincoln’s words – are precisely on point: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Lincoln’s words call us still to heal the nation’s divisions. He left us no instruction book, and the film offers none. Lincoln shows us the stakes, but the burden of politics is our own.

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Philosophy as Narrative, Dialogue, Disruption: An Interview with Paul W. Kahn

Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation, Paul W. Kahn

Next up for our feature on Paul Kahn’s Finding Ourselves at the Movies, we highlight excerpts from the author’s recent interview with Critical Margins. Here, Kahn details some of the themes found in his book, as well as touches on some of the problems faced by philosophy today and how film can help to address them.

First of all, Paul, one of the first statements in your book is the following, “philosophy begins with narrative, not abstraction.” Could you give us some examples from both ancient times and our own day?

While there are fragments preserved from the pre-Socratics, Western philosophy begins its written tradition with Plato. Plato, however, wrote nothing that we would identify as a philosophical text. He wrote something that looked considerably more like drama. They were dialogues that addressed particular questions in a dramatic context.

The tradition of writing dialogues continued for some time in classical thought. Cicero and Seneca, for example, wrote dialogues. In modern philosophy, David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion may be the most famous. The narrative form of reflective inquiry is rooted for Westerners in Christ’s use of parables. Modern philosophers have sometimes used a narrative form – most famously in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In popular culture, I am reminded of the very successful work Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

You say, “Increasingly, what we have in common is the movies.” Is that mainly because so many movies now are of the blockbuster type that millions flock to whereas other forms of media that we once shared (e.g., the evening newscast) have declined?

It is true that the movies that we most share are the blockbusters, which link us to audiences around the world. There is nothing else quite like that, except perhaps some television series that endlessly rerun, and maybe the Oscars. Movies with less popular appeal than blockbusters often link the members of smaller groups. We share the viewing habits of those with whom we are likely to find ourselves. I suspect that whatever we see, we want to talk about with our friends, partners, coworkers, and associates.

One of the aims of your book is to discuss the relationship between film and philosophy. On that note, could you please tell us what films you think reflect this statement from your book, “To imagine the possible is to construct a narrative?”

Every movie imagines the possible through the construction of a narrative. An account of natural development does not include the possible. We don’t say that an earthquake was one of several possible events. We say it happened and it had to happen because of shifts in the tectonic plates that preceded it. A narrative does not work that way. A narrative always sets the actual against the possible. We are interested in human stories because of the choices made, but choice requires a belief that other possibilities were present – the choice could have been different.


Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Does Multiverse Theory Bring Theology Into Science? An interview with Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Worlds Without End

In a recent interview with Andrew Aghapour at Religion Dispatches, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, author of Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse discusses her inspiration for studying the history of the idea of the “multiverse,” the complex philosophical and religious underpinnings of the idea of many worlds, and how religious thought is present in modern scientific multiverse theories.

What initially inspired you to write Worlds Without End?

Five or six years ago, I was clamoring to find something to write for a conference on energy, a topic about which I knew nothing at all. One morning, I came across a feature in the New York Times Magazine on “dark energy”: the negative pressure that’s accelerating the expansion of the universe, causing galaxies to race away from one another faster and faster as time goes on.

I was struck not only by the metaphorics of this substance (it’s said to be “dark,” “mysterious,” “strange,” “creepy”) but by the psychological instability it seemed to be causing among the researchers who discovered it (“no one expected this,” “it’s like hell without the fire,” “we’ll never understand this thing but we can’t not study it”). This was my entry point: as someone who studies the history of philosophy and theology, I was fascinated by a group of scientists professing a freaked-out, studious devotion to an inscrutable darkness. (more…)

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation, by Paul W. Kahn

Finding Ourselves at the Movies

This week our featured book is Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation by Paul W. Kahn. 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 Finding Ourselves at the Movies. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, March 14th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Images from Recovering Place by Mark C. Taylor

We conclude our week-long focus on Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill, by Mark C. Taylor by featuring some of the book’s stunning photographs along with excerpts from the book.

Divided into short chapters focusing on a specific theme or idea (Modern, Abstraction, Shadows, Raking, Prayer, etc.), the book includes images of and around Stone Hill, which is located in the Berkshire Mountains, where Taylor writes and creates land art and sculpture. We’ve posted some of the photographs below along with short excerpts from the chapters. (For more on the book, you can also read the book’s introduction) :


Recovering Place, Mark C. Taylor

Craft can be fine art. Traditionally anonymous, craft, unlike so-called fine art, is more about the art than the artist. It is not the work of genius but the product of skill cultivated over many years of apprenticeship…. Although he never signs his art, the imprint of his hand is unmistakable.


Mark Taylor, Recovering Place

But this moment never lasts, for it appears only by disappearing…. But light is never merely light, for illumination creates a residual obscurity more impenetrable than the darkness it displaces but does not erase


Mark Taylor, Recovering Place

The Real is what remains when I do not and forever withdraws in my presence. Resisting my resistance without opposition, the real is the limit that makes creativity possible. Thinking is always after the real, which can never be properly comprehended, calculated, or controlled.


Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Designing Mark C. Taylor’s “Recovering Place”

The following post is by Lisa Hamm, a senior designer at Columbia University Press, who worked with Mark C. Taylor on his new book Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill:

I received an e-mail from Mark Taylor asking if we could talk about his new book Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill and work through some ideas. The book was a personal one for Taylor that would integrate text with photographs, both artistic and documentary, of a major land-art-sculpture project that he was developing on his property. It included stone, metal, and bone sculptures; ponds; streams; and marble outcroppings.

I wasn’t surprised to receive this e-mail. I had designed three books by Mark Taylor for the Press, and we had developed an easy way of working together that allowed for informal discussions of ideas like this. He wanted to know what was possible, and I asked to see the manuscript and the art. The text consisted of about 100-plus small chapters along with several of Taylor’s own, striking photographs.

From a design point-of-view, the book and its subject matter presented some intriguing challenges. The book’s combination of artistic photographs with thoughtful, philosophical discussion and meditations needed to be handled in such a way that both the visual and the textual elements achieved their own distinctiveness. We wanted to create a design in which the images played off and illuminated the text in ways both direct and subtle.

Again, having worked with Mark on other books, we had developed a relationship that allowed us to collaborate on the book’s design and elements and we eventually met and discussed trim sizes and use of color to fit the book’s aims. It’s rare to work with an author four times, but it’s very satisfying when it happens. In this case, it contributed to an openness and a fluid work relationship that I hope resulted in an attractive book.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Wendy Lochner on Mark C. Taylor

The following post is by Wendy Lochner, who is Mark Taylor’s editor at Columbia University Press:

Wendy Lochner on Mark C. TaylorI first worked with Mark Taylor on his book Field Notes from Elsewhere, his memoir describing his journey back from near-death over the course of a year. It is not a typical memoir, as any reader familiar with his work will expect. It is rather like a Book of Hours for the soul, reflections on how meanings of familiar concepts such as sacrifice, solitude, and mortality change, become paradoxical, in the face of death. It can be seen as a prelude to Mark’s remarkable trilogy, Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy, Rewiring the Real: In Conversation with William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo, and, now, Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill.

All are concerned, each in its own way, with place. In Refiguring the Spiritual, Taylor argues that contemporary art has lost its way; coopted by capitalism, it no longer reflects its spiritual core. He offers us an alternative vision, that of the artists Joseph Beuys, Matthew Barney, James Turrell, and Andy Goldsworthy, each of whom, in different ways, draws upon spiritual traditions and styles and combines them with material reality, real space rather than cyberspace.

Rewiring the Real, in contrast, reveals what might be described as the “reality” of virtual worlds, which have come to be where we live now. Here Taylor visits one novel by each of four contemporary writers, William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo, in the process uncovering the latent spiritual underpinnings and transformative potential of what some mistakenly see as an apocalyptic, secular posthumanism.

In Recovering Place, the culminating volume in the trilogy, Mark literally creates philosophy from the ground up, finding in earthworks as well as natural formations spiritual meanings both familiar and mysterious, often hiding in plain sight. His meditations bring us back, not full circle but spiraled, to Field Notes. We see that he has found renewed life and meaning in a return to place, a real, material, stone-filled, moonlight-graced place, Stone Hill. His insistent emphasis on this place, this art, this life, this craft, this practice is what we can know of spirit and value in this world.

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Mark Taylor on Recovering Place

“Paradoxically, the more pervasive and invasive Google Earth, GPS and customized apps become, the less we know where we are. And when we don’t know where we are, we don’t know who we are.”—Mark Taylor

Recovering Place, Mark C. TaylorThe following post is by Mark C. Taylor, most recently the author of Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill:

Place is disappearing. The accelerating intersection of globalization, virtualization and cellularization is transforming the world and human life at an unprecedented rate. The fascination with speed for speed’s sake is creating a culture of distraction in which thoughtful reflection and contemplation are all but impossible. These developments are driven by new information and networking technologies that have created a form of global capitalism in which, as Karl Marx predicted, “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.” As processes of globalization expand, localization contracts until place virtually disappears in a homogenous space that is subject to constant surveillance and regulation.

While science and technology are literally changing the face of the earth, it is rarely noted that modern and postmodern art prepared the way for this grand transformation. Modernism’s veneration of speed, mobility, abstraction and the new combines with postmodernism’s play with free-floating signs that are backed by nothing other than other signs to prefigure the virtualization of life that occurs when the tensions of temporality vanish in the apparent simultaneity of so-called “real time.” Paradoxically, the more pervasive and invasive Google Earth, GPS and customized apps become, the less we know where we are. And when we don’t know where we are, we don’t know who we are.

While new information, networking and media technologies have undeniable benefits, they also bring losses that should not be overlooked. The guiding thesis of Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill is that globalization, virtualization, and cellularization result in the disappearance of place and the eclipse of what once seemed real. While these processes appear liberating to many people, they are often profoundly destructive of human relationships as well as the natural world. My wager is that by pausing to dwell on and in a particular place we might once again know who we are by rediscovering where we are. This is not an exercise in nostalgia but rather a deliberate attempt to fathom various sedimentations surrounding us that might harbor alternative futures that would allow us to recover ourselves by recovering place. But what is place? Where is place? How does placing occur?

I have been exploring these questions in my teaching and writing for more than four decades. As the processes of dematerialization, virtualization, and globalization have accelerated, I have been drawn once again to the material, the real, and the local. Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill is the third work in a trilogy that includes Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy and Rewiring the Real: In Conversation with William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo. In these books, I return to what has been left behind but does not disappear to imagine the looming future, which harbors the prospect of either exceptional creativity or unprecedented destruction.