Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of posts about increasingly odd philosophy. Well, and Doctor Who reviews. But most of my posts are about odd philosophy.
The last few weeks of posts sort through ideas I had while reading Natural Right and History by Leo Strauss, Spectres of Marx by Jacques Derrida, and relating many of the ideas in Derrida's book to the philosophical meaning of the Arab Spring. This is all reading related to my Utopias manuscript, and this book is going to be weird.
Why I'm writing a book so weird has to do with my position as a writer right now. Since I no longer work in the academy, I have nothing to lose. No tenure & promotion committee to disappoint, no editors forcing my work to fit a dull style for publication in locked-access journals.
|My personal assistant Philthy
helps me write the blog.
I can do whatever I want. And I want to push philosophy as a writing style in new directions. There are two dominant styles of writing philosophy, generally speaking. 1) The academic style of the university-based research discipline. 2) The accessible but lightweight style of pop philosophy books.
If you see some of my work at the Review and Reply Collective, you can see that I'm working on a style that fits neither of these categories. Utopias is going to be a heavy book, dense with ideas. It’ll build those ideas from detailed arguments and illustrate them with allusions to historical events, political movements and events, works of philosophy, art, literature, television, cinema.
At the same time, it’ll be written in a tone that invites the reader along for a strange ride. In a style that any reasonably intelligent person can follow. Kind of what I try to do on the blog.*
* I know I don't always succeed. That's the nice thing about a blog. You can try one style, it doesn't work, and then move on to another.
So what will these ideas turn into once they end up in the Utopias manuscript? The third and final part of the book will apply the first two sections’ trippy ideas about time, progress, revolution, and political ideals to several major problems in Western thinking today.
A major task of this last third will be a critique of neoliberalism, liberal political philosophy more generally, modern Marxism, the injustices of capitalism, inequality, and libertarianism. And from that critique, it’ll build a positive program for social progrss. Needless to say, the style I’m working on for this book will do a lot of things at once.
For instance, here’s one chain of that critique of libertarianism that is springing from my reading these Derrida lectures.
Derrida often writes creative philosophy around interpretive riffs several layers deep. In chapter five of Spectres of Marx, he builds a philosophical engine around Marx’s critique in The German Ideology of Max Stirner’s masterwork The Ego and His Own. Stirner’s philosophy revolves around the power of self-assertion. The force of the individual’s egoistic influence on the world is the essence of the human.
Marx offers a political critique of this hardcore individualism, a twisted reflection of the modern libertarian’s individualism. The assertion of irreducible selfhood as the primary force of meaning in the universe isn’t enough to get rid of the ghosts.
Ghosts, spectres. These are the primary forces in political activity. This is how Derrida reads Marx.** They’re the ghosts of the dead, lingering traces of injustice. In societies that haven’t known political violence on a mass scale in a while, these traces may be hard to understand.
** One of the many spectres of Marx, and one which is important to what I want to write.
That’s where the Arab Spring comes in. Not because it’s the central people’s revolution of my generation of humans, though that’s one reason why I’m including it in the book.
The struggles of people rising up against their autocratic rulers. Those traces are the screams that will always escape the prison walls, that filter through cracks in the doors to become louder than ever.