Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Selling T-Shirts at SPEP: The Unexamined Ego of Continental Philosophy; Response to Wendling and Lee

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Selling T-Shirts at SPEP: The Unexamined Ego of Continental Philosophy; Response to Wendling and Lee

Article excerpt

When I was about a junior in college, a good friend and I came up with a brilliant plan to manage socializing. In what was clearly a burgeoning elitist paradigm of intellectualism, we decided that parties should require a simple kind of "identification tag" for all attendees. The basic idea is that, in order to expedite the process of socializing, all party-goers should don a small "tag" (something like a 3 x 5 index card) that lists the top five or so topics they enjoy discussing. This would allow fellow party-goers simply to walk about and find others with their topics listed, politely but expeditiously refusing to talk to others. It would go something like this: "Bowie? Check" "Dylan? Check" "Foreigner? Eagles?? Keep walking" Little did I know this would become a metaphor for my intellectual trajectory from philosophy, with its obsessively figure-centered manner of inquiry, to queer theory and its full-blown embrace of the anti-social as a mode of living.

Flash forward approximately twenty years, somewhere around 2007-2008 or so. Cindy Willett and I are sitting somewhere at a SPEP conference, reflecting on the state of continental philosophy as a discipline. I tell her this little story and the joke rolls out ever so easily from there. In Cindy's rendition, we could all just skip the tags and don T-shirts with simple last names on the back: Foucault. Heidegger. Deleuze. Levinas. Maybe Irigaray or Kristeva, although more likely that misnamed group, "French Feminism" Hegel. Aristotle. And, of course, Marx. With our T-shirts on, we could just avoid all kinds of unwanted contact-or, as it too often seems to be, we could also seek easy targets for well-honed diatribes about the superiority of our T-shirt over others'. It would be raucously funny, if it weren't so true. As a non-philosophy colleague observed many years ago (when I was still in a philosophy department), she couldn't think of any academic tribe other than philosophers that constantly speaks in the shorthand of European last names.

Following Rick Lee's opening comments on symptoms, I suggest the sportswear of European last names continues to be a symptom of continental philosophy's deepest commitments and occlusions.

I am extremely grateful to my two readers, Amy Wendling and Rick Lee, for spending such careful time and energy with this crazy book. It's not easy to demand that a reader engage a broad range of theoretical discussions and historical objects of analysis, much less that she or he or they even undergo the schemas of Lacan, but each of these scholars took up that task and wrangled with this book in intense and interesting manners. I now see how the book demands a kind of reading that is animated by an ethics of generosity (and perhaps even trust) and I thank both of these scholars for bringing that kind of spirit to it, whether willingly or consciously. I'll circle back to this matter of reading ethics towards the end of my remarks.

I especially appreciate the ways both Wendling and Lee have laid out what they take to be the core interventions of Way Too Cool-namely, that something strange and slippery is afoot in neoliberalism that has altered our cultural abilities, especially but not only in the US, to wrestle ethically with social difference, especially race. Yes, I mean "wrestle"-as in grapple, grab and be grabbed by, get sweaty with, get knocked off one's feet by the psycho-historically complex phenomena of social difference. As the argument of the book unfolds (and as it unfolded for me in writing it), this diagnosis of the inability to wrestle ethically with social difference began to focus on a specific aspect of such a psycho-somatic process-cathexis-and a very specific category of social difference-race. Folding this into my overarching concern that these aspects sharpen a specifically ethical aporia, we can thus reduce the book to a simplistic question: how has neoliberalism altered our cathexes to race and thereby landed us in a profound ethical aporia? …

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