Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Today’s Psychotic Academy: Risking the Pedagogy of “ŽIžek’s 180”

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Today’s Psychotic Academy: Risking the Pedagogy of “ŽIžek’s 180”

Article excerpt

At a 2011 Google Zeitgeist conference, Stephen Hawking boldly said, "philosophy is dead."1 And it is dead essentially because it's passé. Hawking's thinks that philosophy is like a guy who shows up at a cocktail party at dawn after the guests have left. But why would such a presumably intelligent professor say this? His reasons were made obvious: "Philosophers," Hawking says, "have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics" Philosophy is outmoded because Prometheus's inspiring torch has been stolen yet again, but this time not from Zeus, but from the philosophers: "Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge." So according to Hawking, it's as if the conversation about the truth of the world only rests in the hands of elite physics professors funded by multinational corporations and national governments. But why should we believe this? After all this new pronouncement comes from the literal mouthpiece of science's talking head that capaciously speaks for all of us. Could it be that some category mistake has been committed by the likes of Hawking who mistakes philosophy for theology?

It is becoming more and more clear that philosophy is not what people think it is, which according to Slavoj Žižek, is traditionally conceived of as "[S]ome crazy exercise in absolute truth. . . . No" Žižek continues, "I think philosophy is a very modest discipline." Philosophy does not solve problems: "The duty of philosophy is to show how what we experience as a problem is a false problem"2 Philosophers deal less with absolute truth claims, like Hawking thinks, and more with issues like the meaning of freedom and why something doesn't seem to make sense, like for example the crisis of learning and education endemic in our post-industrial society.

It is clear that there is a systemic phobia against philosophy reigning today, which is seen not only in the simpleton sentiments expressed by Hawking, but even on a mass cultural level. Think, for example, of the translation of J. K. Rowling's first novel in the Harry Potter series, which was originally published in England as The Philosopher's Stone but was innocuously changed to The Sorcerer's Stone in the United States and Canada. Once again we must ask why? And the reason is straightforward. The marketing executives were afraid the book sounded too much like a philosophy textbook and for this reason was surely not going to sell. But the fact is that this seemingly innocent title translation uncovers as much about the uneducated elite marketing executives on Madison Avenue as it does about the general Zeitgeist about how we refuse to think. Substituting the British title reveals this because the original one actually refers to a real historic object whose meaning is central to fully understanding the plot of the story itself. Is not this move indicative of a fear about the action of thinking today in its dialectical relationship to history?

In addition to this one need only observe the anemic history of philosophy in America, which is decisively geared to the pragmatist school concerned with "what works" while ignoring the radical nature of philosophy's ability to think and call into question how, for example, things in history have come to emerge in this way and not in another way. It is clear from these examples that America seems only concerned with questions that already have answers and thus puts philosophy and thinking into the tame existence, safely labeling it a "department" in a university or college. This phobia further illuminates something much more insidious about the cultural unconscious, namely that the practice of thinking is not only feared, but contains within itself the seeds of revolutionary possibilities which pose a direct threat to the ruling ideology of capitalism and its embodied materialist form as "State." And does this too not diagnose why America is obsessed with "what works," which only further accelerates a psychotic logic of economic growth at all costs (war, violence, stealing, colonializing etc. …

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