How Many Ways Are There to Read Someone? Composing, 03/04/2018

Since I was 25, I’ve worked in different capacities – and different pay as well – as a researcher in the humanities. My orientation was always through philosophy, which has been a solid set of frameworks to guide a trip through material from a lot of different domains of human knowledge.

My work has always had that trans-disciplinary, practical orientation from the first time I got seriously serious about it. When I was a much younger person,* I had my problems that interested me most, yes. But it was only ten years ago that I started thinking about philosophical writing as a vocation as well as part of my career.

* And my early 20s feels like I was a very, very much younger person. Not always in a good way, either.

A while ago, I was talking about starting a YouTube project with a
friend of mine whose philosophical perspective is solidly rooted
in the concepts of Georg Hegel, and I know after five years of
friendship that he isn't going to budge. No matter how much I might
try. I haven't been able to put much energy into it because I'm in
the middle of moving apartments, and it's a bit of a mess right now.
I think that orientation, which I found really productive for my creative sensibilities, caused me some problems in the search for work in universities. It was difficult to fit my work in established labels and sub-disciplines.

I’ve seen friends with more conventional research orientations land tenure-track positions that are secure, prestigious, and pretty well-paid. Granted, I’ve also seen those friends find those positions in smaller or more homogeneous cities and towns where I would have been uncomfortable.

My strangeness would have made me very lonely in some of the places where my friends found work.
• • •
These days, I can pretty easily say that most of my philosophical work is in political theory and political economy. My research and concepts stretch across different domains, but that’s their locus.

Bringing different theories and thinkers into a philosophical project means figuring out how the central concepts fit the trajectory of your thinking, and where they stand in the territory of relations among all the other concepts, influences, and empirical research material that make up your own project.

That was a long sentence, but I’m not sure how to split it up just yet to make it more readable. Maybe just read it slowly again if you find it weird. This is a Composing post, so I’m experimenting a little bit more.

Another of the books I read to mine for concepts in the territory of thinkers around Gilles Deleuze was Deleuze’s Philosophical Apprenticeship. Michael Hardt wrote it. While I like his work with Antonio Negri, there’s a reason I never tag him in my posts on the books they wrote together.

Hardt is a keen thinker and a solid writer. But his ideas are too normal. Negri is the strange one, and Hardt keeps him grounded. That’s great for a big, messy project like their Empire quadrilogy, because it needs to stay connected to the gritty reality of political economy.

Just because I think many fundamental elements of the way
we each think are utterly incompatible, that doesn't mean I can't
run a good YouTube show with him. See, I disagree with the
premise of Hardt's book pretty clearly. Yes, you can engage
with a dominant thinker as an antagonist, try to find a model
for your own thinking that doesn't even coincidentally touch
on concepts that are even like his. I'm pretty sure he's right
that Deleuze actually did think this way about Hegel. But I
don't think that "the primary antagonism" is the necessary
seed of great philosophical work.
But he also needs Negri if his work is going to fly in a direction more creative than fairly straightforward scholarship or investigative fact-gathering.

Let me put it to you this way. Hardt opens the book with a description of how he’s going to interpret Deleuze’s development as a philosopher – “recognize the object and terms of the primary antagonism.”

An original thinker develops creatively by starting from reaction – there’s a mainstream set of presumptions or damn-near-omnipresent influence that she rebels against. In Deleuze’s case, so says Hardt, that philosophical enemy is Hegel.

He spends the book exploring many different directions Deleuze tried out in his early career to overcome the pervasive influence of Hegel-inspired thinking in France’s intellectual scene.

While that is one of the many things Deleuze was doing in his earlier, difficult years, that’s only one thing. Yeah, it’s a really important trajectory of Deleuze’s thinking. But it wasn’t the only thing going on. When I read Hardt’s book, it felt reductive – like he was pulling back the curtain to say, “This is what’s been going on all along!”

I'm always hesitant about that method. It smacks of intellectual territorial pissing, of Hardt claiming that this is what the thought of Gilles Deleuze is really all about.

But one of Deleuze’s main messages to philosophers was he wanted his work to contain multiplicities – that there were many, many different strands to analyze and directions to explore along with him, with the concepts he worked on for us. Don’t try to fit his ideas in one definition. Stay strange.

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