Catherine Malabou: “Plato Reader of Agamben From Homo Sacer to the Myth of Er”

Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 5 – 7 pm Catherine Malabou will deliver a talk entitled “Plato Reader of Agamben From Homo Sacer to the Myth of Er”

Event held at UC San Diego – Structural Materials Engineering (SME) Rm. 149

Talk sponsored by: Visual Arts; Communication; De Certeau Reading Group; Philosophy; German Studies; Literature; Research Group Politics, Ethics, Ontology; Science Studies.

Catherine Malabou is a French philosopher. She is a professor of philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS and professor of modern European philosophy at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) at Kingston University, London. She is known for her work on plasticity, a concept she culled from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which has proved fertile within contemporary economic, political, and social discourses. Widely regarded as one of the most exciting figures in what has been called “The New French Philosophy,” Malabou’s research and writing covers a range of figures and issues, including the work of Hegel, Freud, Heidegger, and Derrida; the relationship between philosophy, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis; and concepts of essence and difference within feminism.

Catherine Malabou’s philosophical work forges new connections and intellectual networks that imaginatively leap across existing synaptic gaps between, for example, continental philosophy and neuroscience; the philosophy of neuroscience and the critique of capitalism; neuroscience and psychoanalysis; and continental and analytic philosophy (notably Kant). As well, her work is explosive and iconoclastic, shattering perceived understandings of Hegel, feminism and gender, and the implications of post-structuralism.

 

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MIND OVER METAL: METAL MUSIC AND CULTURE FROM A CROSS-DISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVE (CALL FOR PAPERS)

Note: Pathways in Music is going to go ahead and vehemently endorse this conference. 

CALL FOR PAPERS – DEADLINE: October 20, 2015 12 noon GMT

METAL MUSIC AND CULTURE FROM A CROSS-DISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVE

December 3-4, 2015 • Odense, Denmark

The Performances of Everyday Living Dept. for the Study of Culture, University of Southern Denmark (SDU) at Odense with the support of The Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities

Keynote speakers: Rikke Platz Cortsen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark • Theodore Gracyk, Minnesota State University Moorhead, USA • Keith Kahn-Harris, Birkbeck College and Leo Baeck College, UK • Imke von Helden, University of KoblenzLandau, Germany • Florian Heesch, University of Siegen, Germany • Toni-Matti Karjalainen, Aalto University, Finland • Tore Tvarnø Lind, University of Copenhagen, Denmark • Karl Spracklen, Leeds Beckett University, UK.

The research program The Performances of Everyday Living at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) at Odense is pleased to invite paper submissions for presentation at MIND OVER METAL: METAL MUSIC AND CULTURE FROM A CROSS-DISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVE, December 3-4, 2015 at SDU in Odense, Denmark. We welcome research presentations that examine metal music and culture from the perspectives of philosophy, musicology, marketing, media studies, medicine, acoustics, theology, literary studies, music pedagogy, semiotics, sociology, linguistics, religious studies, anthropology, psychology, biology, education studies, music therapy, performance studies and culture studies. Exemplification by means of audio-visual material is most welcome. The time allotted per paper will be 30 minutes for presentation and 15 minute for discussion; each speaker will thus be accorded 45 minutes including discussion. An abstract of minimum 350 words/maximum 400 words should be submitted to cmgrund@sdu.dk with “Paper submission for Mind over Metal” on the subject line no later than 12 noon GMT on October 20, 2015. Each abstract submitted will receive double-blind peer review, and you will receive notification of whether or not your paper has been accepted for presentation by 12 noon GMT on October 27, 2015. Papers presented at the conference will be afforded the opportunity for publication in a special issue of JMM: The Journal of Music and Meaning http://www.musicandmeaning.net, provided they pass the double-blind peer review process employed by JMM. JMM is an international peer-reviewed academic online journal published from the Study of Culture at SDU with the support of The Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities. Portions – perhaps all – of the conference – will be streamed live online. Attendance at the conference is free; there is no conference fee. All who receive notice that their papers have been accepted for presentation are asked to confirm participation no later than November 1.

We request that all who wish to come to SDU on December 3 and 4 simply to attend the conference (without presenting a paper) register no later than November 19, 2015 by sending an email marked “Registration” to cmgrund@sdu.dk. Information about lodgings, eating establishments and other practical facilities in Odense, as well as updates regarding the conference in general will be available at http://www.soundmusicresearch.org/mom/updates.pdf.


A poster is available at http://www.soundmusicresearch.org/mom/PLAKAT_280915.pdf

Springfest 2015: UCSD Music Festival Premiers Live Performance Art, Synthesizer Petting Zoo, Music Psychology Panel and More

SF

Springfest 2015 is the annual showcase of UC San Diego Department of Music’s emerging composers, instrumentalists, and electronic musicians. From April 7-11, concerts will take place every afternoon and night at the Conrad Prebys Music Center and on April 7th and 9th at The Loft (UCSD). On April 19th, Springfest travels to the Birch Aquarium for their annual Immersion event.

Since its founding in the late 1960s, the UCSD Department of Music has been a world leader in experimental music of all stripes, boldly charting the future of jazz, classical, multimedia, and electronic music genres.

SpringFest 2015 begins April 7th at 7:30pm at The Loft (UCSD) with improvisations and new compositions and innovative jazz works. From April 8th through April 11th, there will be two to four performances daily at the Conrad Prebys Music Center featuring masterworks of the late 20th century concert repertoire by Kurtag, Lang, Reich, Scelsi, and Stockhausen, music by UC San Diego’s very own alums Nicholas Deyoe and Edward Hamel, small group improvisation at the aggressive fringe of jazz and popular music, and unprecedented alloys of performance art, sound and media, including investigations of music of the speaking voice (4/9), the experience of motion through music (4/10) and the collision of music and theater (4/11). On April 11th, Springfest hosts an interactive “synthesizer petting zoo,” where audiences can get their hands on the Audio Electronics Club’s handmade music hardware and software, synthesizers, and effects processors.

Reprising last year’s spotlight event, an immersive walk-through concert/installation at Birch Aquarium in La Jolla on April 19th, will feature live performances spread throughout the aquarium including Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic, a Gamelan Ensemble, sound installations by Tina Tallon, Nicolee Kuester, Jon Forshee, and Tommy Babin, and SEA SOAR and short films by Lyndsay Ellis Bloom with sound design by Caroline Louise Miller. $10 Discounted admission ($8 for UCSD students) for the entire aquarium.

New this year, Springfest will host its first ever panel discussion on the culture of music and affect, From Fragile to Plastique: Confronting the Culture of Music and Affect, curated by Diana Hereld. Additionally, this event includes exploring alternate models for sound presentation, Celeste Oram’s Microventions, 60 second mini-concerts, and Curt Miller and Nichole Speciale presenting two viewings of their sound installation, Polyester.

Admission to all Springfest events on campus are free of charge.

For full event calendar, visit http://ucsdmusic.blogspot.com/

diaspora

Call for Papers – Harvard Graduate Music Forum Conference 2015

poster-draft

 

Call for Proposals

 This interdisciplinary conference takes as its premise that  music is inseparable from the economic conditions of its production and consumption. Through presentations, lecture-recitals and composers’ colloquia,  we seek to explore the intersections of music and economics from a diverse array of perspectives including labor, practice, material culture, and capital.

Questions include but are not limited to:

  • How do musicians and their employers understand musical labor, and how does this  impinge on issues of amateurism, professionalism, and institutionalization?
  • How have shifting economic systems — for instance, from patronage to mass consumption, or from liberalism to neoliberalism — altered the place of music in society?
  • How have issues such as postcolonialism, the North-South economic divide, and globalization, intersected with various musical practices to forge divergent models of economies of music?
  • Where does music succeed and where does it fail in transforming economic relations?
  • What are the economic consequences of the material means of musics’ dissemination, such as manuscripts, published scores, phonograph recordings, streaming and live performance?
  • How do questions of cultural and economic capital combine in appraisals and contestations of musical value?
  • How has music symbolically represented economics and status? What is music’s role in this endeavour today?

Submissions

We welcome submissions from current graduate students on these and related topics. We seek proposals on all repertoires, musical practices and historical periods, and representing a broad set of methodologies. Formats for presentation include:

  • 20-minute papers, audiovisual presentations, or exploratory text works, with 10 minutes for discussion
    Please submit abstracts of a maximum of 350 words and, where appropriate, up to 4 additional pages for figures. Please add a short statement regarding AV requirements.
  • 30-minute composer colloquia, performances, or lecture-recitals, with 15 minutes for discussion
    Please submit details of the work to be presented in a maximum of 350 words and, where appropriate, links to relevant sound recordings and/or scores or supplementary documentation.

Deadline for proposals: 5 December 2014

Please e-mail submissions to: harvardgmf2015@gmail.com

Damasio on The Origins of Creativity (A Philosophy of Art, Part II).

damasio

On Saturday, the Society for Neuroscience presented the Fred Kavli Public Symposium on Creativity. Chaired by Antonio Damasio, presenters included composer Bruce Adolphe, clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind) and Damasio himself. Each speaker depicted a unique portrait in examples of creations, collaborations and the psyche behind it – Jamison through beautiful insight into the correlation of madness to creativity; Adolphe via imagination in his portrayal of a musical composition in alliance to mental illness.

It was Damasio, however, that really caught my attention in the vein he chose to depict what it is to create. He began, “Creativity is largely human – it is entirely a product of the mind, a product of mind-making brains. It assists life regulation (homeostasis).”[i] Long before there was even the option of achieving a balance of survival, there were simply eukaryotic cells, operating unconsciously. From there came the brain, then the mind, and from there, the self. For Damasio, to construct consciousness, the brain uses the mind (the basic component) and the self (where consciousness comes to light). “Creations are original products of the mind. Creativity is the engendering of such projects – ideas, objects, activities, etc. The self engenders a concern for the life proceedings, and it allows individuals to seek well-being, a state far more complex and difficult to obtain than mere survival. It is only then that the game of life changes radically, and we move from blind biology to the rebellious determination that brings on complex social behavior and eventually culture and civilizations…Art can only emerge then, and it becomes a critical component of that cultural evolution.”[ii]

Before creating a discourse in cultural necessity, let us briefly consider the biological. The cognitive and neural substrates shown between the processes of existing on the creating end, and those on the end of perceiving the created, reveal undeniable similarities. Although the means and neural activations certainly reveal a contrast (for example, portrait painting might activate the fusiform gyrus behind facial recognition, while recognizing expression in the portrait may illuminate the occipital lobe or the amygdala). Much of their motive and affect illustrate many parallels. In creating art, one basic but essential component is being able to utilize skills drawn from learning and memory recall. The creator need use their procedural memory, such as memories storing unconscious learnt skills (such as riding a bike or laying one’s fingers to the piano keys), and declarative memory, in the means of episodic memories (evoked from personal experiences) or semantic (the recall of facts, such as adhering to the accidentals of F minor).

In addition to memories summoned on behalf of the creator, Damasio further explains many of the same tools used in processing and affect are utilized on the opposing end. For the observer, the fluid interplay of remembrance, recalled emotions and feelings oft lead to analysis and reflection (be it superficial or profound). Prior experience with the particular art form (connoisseurship) shapes the observer’s ability to evaluate and enjoy what they have either sought or been presented. Individual preference determines distinctions in imagination and the breakdown/composition of elements in much the same way the creator embarks in posing the question “How novel is it, and how much does it fit the original goal defined?” As Damasio states, “On the mind-brain side of it, you have the importance for imagination, and of memory recall (the ability to display working memory’s faces and realize what it imagined). All of this needs to be modulated by affective experience. The moment you think about this in pure, non-affective cognitive terms, you very simply throw away the baby with the bathwater. It is the guidance that comes from the affective process from the emotional drive and the feeling that is going to make it work, or not.”[iii]

In circling back to the evolutionary underpinnings and origins of art in the physical, musical or visual realms, we retain that both the creator and receiver’s pursuit of art responding to their conscious (or unconscious) recognition of problems and needs. Humanity requires a method of processing, reasoning and making decisions, which the object theoretically should fulfill in its obligation of response. One could easily draw the conclusion that there existed a need (and therefore objective) to communicate with others. Damasio describes threats and opportunities, varying social behaviors, or conveying one’s own sorrow or joy as the probable key intents of communiqué. When these conversations were successful, and were found to be of positive effect, there came to being a compensatory balance. He arrives at a notable point in the seemingly obvious: How would the arts have prevailed otherwise?

Art responds to a need. Art fulfills the wont for intellectual enrichment, satisfies an otherwise empty void for many social contexts and institutions, lends much to the progress of science and technology, and realizes the desire for a more purposeful life existentially. The epic poems of Homer or Ovid are a significant example of a transaction for interaction of information. Prior to the enormous maturity and proliferation of science, literature was a vital method of imparting knowledge and fundamental means of exploration. We observed this heavily is the rise of psychoanalysis at the turn of the century, later by film, and now by neuroscience.

In addition to the evolutionary value of being able to communicate general information, Damasio posits the second largest catalyst for creativity was not only a mechanism of bonding and attachment (i.e. parent to offspring or in reproduction, male to female) but a means to induce nourishing emotions and feelings of varied kinds and importance, such as fear, anger, joy, sadness, indignation, revenge, pride, contempt, shame, loyalty and love. Damasio submits that music does this most of all-most importantly and most universally. The discovery of pleasure in reaction to varying timbres, pitches, rhythms and their relationship to each other surely contributed to the indispensable invention and persistence of this art form – relationships which were discovered in a setting of play, and of repetition.

The foundations of creativity and constructions of art were crucial to the formation of society and to the evolution of humanity in not only the aesthetic sense, but also one of ethics. They promoted a sense of communal organization, and directly provided a mode of exercising moral judgment and moral action. The arts had a candid survival value in forming communication for calls of alarm or opportunity, and they contributed to the notion of well-being. The arts fortified social groups, and social groups in turn fortified creativity. The impulse to create and as a result embrace new and adaptive behaviors possibly even helped humans transcend the Paleolithic era.[iv] They contributed to an exchange of ideas and compensated for emotional imbalances caused by fear, anger, desire, sadness and loss, and catalyzed the sustained process of establishing social and cultural institutions. Because art is so heavily founded in biology, thus homeostasis, and can take us to the highest realms of thought and of feeling, art is an authentic means into the refinement humanity most desires.

 Three years later, much has changed in my life. Three years ago, my father, a singer and profound example of an artist’s command of control and heavenly motive, was still alive. So was a dear friend, who gave me my first book on Jackson Pollock to “stretch my artistic enjoyment.” Much has changed. Much has been found, and lost. Through all the things I have learned and gained, what propels me the most in intellectual, academic and moral pursuits remain: the search for beauty, knowledge, hope, and resilience. I have more than one jealous muse – neuroscience, poetry, dance, psychology, affection, seeking the coveted childlike wonder of the sky’s blanket before dawn – and music most of all. These things are all meaningless, all futile, however, devoid of passion for the refinement and rediscovery of buoyancy, integrity, compassion and love. There are a great many things in art and life that I do not understand, and will never understand. It is the greatest comedy, the most schizophrenic irony of all to be human, in a constant pursuit of perfection that will never be obtained. The alternative is contentment, dormant satisfaction, apathy. This, I reject. If time will not pause while I find my way, it stands to reason that by inertia I will keep going, keep attempting, regardless. If I am to undergo this fallen, fleeting existence of tragic loss and immeasurable joy in the means most true to my human nature, I will do so with art.

After all, in the words of Damasio, when we undergo art, we change for the better.

cupid and psyche


[i] Damasio, Antonio. (November 9, 2013). Fred Kavli Public Symposium on Creativity. Neuroscience 2013. Society for Neuroscience, San Diego.

[ii] Damasio, Antonio. (June 11, 2009).Evolutionary Origins of Art and Aesthetics: Art and Emotions. CARTA (Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny). Salk Institute, La Jolla.

[iii] Damasio, Antonio. (November 9, 2013). Fred Kavli Public Symposium on Creativity. Neuroscience 2013. Society for Neuroscience, San Diego.

[iv] ibid

what should we do with our brain – a metaphorical critique

“The brain has always been described by means of technological metaphors.” [1]  neural pathways

One of the first handlings of this idiom occurred in Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics: “Metaphor is the transference of a name from the object to which it has a natural application…” (Aristotle, Poetics, 21). More recently, individuals such as I.A. Richards, Kenneth Burke, and Max Black have made consequential advances in the field of metaphorical criticism, enabling its use to aid heavily in ornamentation and decoration, as structuring principle and discovery and description of the truth.[2]

According to Richards, all thought is metaphoric because when individuals attribute meaning, they are “simply seeing in one context an aspect similar to one [they] encountered in an earlier context.”[3] Though the work of theorists including Michael Osborn and Robert L. Ivie, we have a better understanding of how language relates us to reality, and how we as humans constitute reality through our use of symbols. When we process symbols to better understand reality, we are often using the metaphor. Phenomenological anomalies become accessible to us through the development of a physical materialism that often comes to life via symbols. When we attribute names or symbols to these phenomena, we are using the metaphor.

Along with the above, a number of others have stressed the importance of the metaphor. Nietzsche argued that it is simply the way in which we encounter the world: “A nerve-stimulus, first transformed into percept! First metaphor! The percept again copied into a sound! Second metaphor! And each time he leaps completely out of one sphere right into the midst of an entirely different one.”[4] In these viewpoints, metaphor occurs prior to and generates the discovery of ideas.

Foss explains a great example of this usage in Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice via the metaphor that “time is money.” By using terminology such as “I’ve invested a lot of time in someone,” “You need to budget your time” and “this gadget will save you time” we begin to equate time through a financial viewpoint; it now shares its level of worth with money. In metaphoric criticism, Max Black has developed an influential method known as interaction theory which juxtaposes two terms in the metaphor generally regarded to belong to two differing classes of experience. The first term is called the tenor, principal subject, or focus, while the second term is called the vehicle, secondary subject, or frame. For example, “The brain is a machine” is a metaphor for which brain is the tenor, and machine is the frame. The process from there then is to discriminate what traits are commonplace by the tenor and vehicle, and form a type of discerning argument. As the associated characteristics of the tenor and vehicle interact, some are accentuated while others are contained. As one goes through this progression of deconstructing tenor and vehicle of the metaphor, it becomes apparent that the metaphor serves an argumentative purpose: metaphor constitutes argument.[5]

To choose a common metaphor and artifact to further describe this process, the human brain has been the target of metaphoric assignments for quite some time: mirror, projector, computer, economy. (Tabbi, 1998) Others have termed the brain central telephone exchange, machine, and even government. While some illustrations appear more accurate than others, there are those who feel as a society that we’ve sorely missed the mark. In Catherine Malabou’s innovative work What Should We Do with Our Brain? (2008) she issues the challenge of deconstructing what we’ve always thought of our brains, and bestows an even greater one: what should we use it for?

Malabou begins the work by repetitiously stating “Our brain is plastic, and we do not know it.” The concept of consciousness is paramount to her: she not only calls attention to the many cities at work neurologically, but the fact that we do not know it. From “know thyself” forward, awareness has been the crux of academic and technological progress. Malabou’s critique of our neuronal dogma is an attempt not only to break away from the ideological presuppositions the field of neuroscience currently includes, but a call to become conscious of them-and of ourselves.

The first method of metaphoric criticism we may employ includes simply dissecting the metaphor. How does it function? In which way is Malabou trying to shake the current opinion of its role? Previously (as mentioned above) common symbols used for the brain include computer, central telephone exchange and machine. However, with Malabou’s concept of plasticity, the rigidity of these allegories will no longer suffice. Machines, computers and central telephone exchanges have a control center; an unyielding and stiff method of prescribing action and processing information. Plasticity is rigidity’s direct anonym, and as we have seen that metaphor not only tells a story but constitutes an argument, new metaphors must come into play. Our brains are no longer known to be entirely genetically determined, static or even simply flexible. “Plasticity, in effect, is not flexibility. Let us not forget that plasticity is a mechanism for adapting, while flexibility is a mechanism for submitting.”[6]  We must ascertain a new meaning, and this is Malabou’s challenge. She must use a metaphoric criticism to tear down the current views and instill the new.

We have now seen how the tenor and vehicle of “brain as machine” will no longer suffice. Let’s take a look at what Malabou uses as alternative: brain as plastic. Taken from the Greek plassein, to mold, plasticity has two basic definitions: one is to receive form, and one is to give form. “Plasticity in the nervous system means an alteration in structure or function brought about by development, experience or injury.”[7]Instead of mindlessly accumulating new metaphors for our brain, Malabou relies on the fact that we are the minds who make the metaphors, and sets out to explain just why the old metaphoric arguments won’t work. She offers perspective and a choice to the audience, just as Foss speaks of in Rhetorical Criticism, “If the audience finds the associated characteristics acceptable and sees the appropriateness of linking the two systems of characteristics, the audience accepts the argument.” In the context of modern day capitalism, Malabou creates a fantastic charge and call to consciousness, taking aide from European metaphysics, political engagement and neuroscience. By changing the terms (linguistically, semantically and literally) of the game, Malabou effectively provides a metaphoric critique to the prevailing comprehension of the function of the human brain.

In conclusion, a metaphoric criticism is best employed here simply because it is what the author employs herself. As Foss further states in Rhetorical Criticism, “Whatever metaphor is used to label and experience a phenomenon, then, suggests evaluations of it and appropriate behavior in response.” The old metaphors used suggest a worldview of a time passed, before the age of functional and real-time neurological imaging. The new formation of the model of our brain must be in line with the modern self: dynamic, transforming and revolutionary. We can no longer think of our brains, our neuronal selves, as but flexible and anonymous; as machine. We must affirm our capacity for change and confess our plasticity: evolutionary, adaptive, explosive. We must no longer consent to depression via disaffiliation; to be “blind to our own cinema.” Our brains tell us a story-whether we choose to listen or not. Karl Marx once stated “Humans make their own history, but they do not know that they make it.” As Malabou so eloquently proves throughout her work that a simple metaphor does not suffice and thus hinders a proper understanding for the plastic brain, she relies on concepts such as ecological, self-creating and emancipatory instead. Plasticity cannot be domesticated. The brain is ever-changing; so then must our conception of it be also.

“…At bottom, neuronal man has not known how to speak of himself. It is time to free his speech.”

-Catherine Malabou


[1] (Jeannerod, 2004).

[2] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, 2nd Ed. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996., p. 359

[3] Ibid, p. 359

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Falsity in their Ultramoral Sense,” in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Oscar Levy, trans. Maximilian A. Mugge, II. New York: Macmillan, 1911., p. 178

[5] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, 2nd Ed. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996., p. 361

[6] Marc Jeannerod, 2004.

[7] See the entry “Plasticity in the Nervous System,” in The Oxford Companion to the Mind, ed. Richard L. Gregory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 623.

Philosophy in the Present

Diana and Zizek

The following is a few scattered and collected thoughts I had after finally reading Philosophy in the Present. The text is a short work of conversations between Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek. After having the privilege of finally seeing him speak,  I thought I share my brief reaction.

            Because the philosopher constructs his own problems, he is an inventor of  problems, which is to say he is not someone who can be asked on television, night after night, what he thinks about what’s going on. A genuine philosopher is someone who decides on his own account what the important problems are, someone who proposes new problems for everyone. Philosophy is first and foremost this: the invention of new problems.[1]

Should philosophy intervene in the world? Although this question has probed our minds and cultures for centuries, there is something about the present time, the 21st century that makes this question even more interesting. With revolt seemingly coming from every crevice of our existence, in many societies, chaos would seem to reign. Therefore the question need be posed, possibly now more than ever under the current reign of the age of information: should philosophy intervene?

Before we attempt to answer this question, I would like to provide a method of critique-that of ideology. According to Foss, an ideology is a pattern or set of ideas, assumptions, beliefs, values or interpretations of the world by which a culture or group operates.[2] An ideology of any given group typically includes their religious inclinations, predilections toward a governing body, motives, desires, and various psychological stances. Ideologies may be widely spread over a number of cultures (i.e. women need be thin and should esteem to be sexually attractive to men) or may be less direct and slightly ambiguous. An example of a somewhat prevailing and yet subvert ideology would be that men are superior to women in the workforce. Many scholars have lent to the concept of ideological criticism, including Philip C. Wander, Michael Calvin McGee, Janice Hocker Rushing, Thomas S. Frentz, Celeste M. Condit; I would like to focus on the more structuralist approach of Claude Levi-Strauss. Structuralism is the theoretical paradigm which states that the smaller fragments of a culture need be understood in relation to their overarching system. In ideological criticism, it is more a series of projects in which linguistics is used as a model for attempts to develop the ‘grammars’ of systems such as myths, novels, or genres.[3] By constructing these grammars, structuralists may gain insight to the varying ideologies of a given artifact.

Other studies that also inform the process of ideological critique are Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Pierce’s work in semiotics, Terry Eagleton and Luis Althusser’s work on materialism in Marxist thought, Paul de Man’s deconstructionism and postmodern theory of alienation and destabilization. The postmodern method is useful to ideological critics in that it suggests deeper examination into the context surrounding an artifact. Another method particularly obliging to the field is that of cultural studies, in this context, cultural studies are the “interdisciplinary project directed at uncovering oppressive relations and discovering available forces with the potential to lead to liberation or emancipation.”[4] One basic assumption of cultural studies, whether they stem from Jung, Marx, feminist or postmodern perspectives, is that culture consists of everyday discursive practices, and those practices both embody and construct one’s ideology. By studying elements in popular culture such as novels, music and film, one may obtain a distinct picture of a civilization’s ideology. A primary task of the ideological critic is to discern which of these ideologies are being made to prevail, and which have been forced into silence.

In Philosophy in the Present, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek endeavor to record a series of conversations as an invitation to philosophy. They at once agree and disagree on the outcome of the question of philosophy’s role in society. According to Badiou, the dominating ideology of the day is one of a democratic materialism which would deny the existence of truth and distinguish only “bodies” and “languages.” What Badiou would propose is the complete shift in the current model toward a “materialist dialectic,” a component of Marxism which synthesizes Hegel’s dialectics and acknowledges there are these “bodies” and “languages” but also truths. In this stance, truth goes unnoticed unless there is a break in the laws of being and appearance and a truth may become accessible only for a moment. This is what Badiou sees as the ‘event.’ If we seek to find the prevailing ideologies embodied in his portion of the artifact, we may also find the implications: what human efforts are being thwarted by oppressive existing ideologies? Who is representing these ideologies, and are these representatives fit to occupy the position of the intellectual?

The work begins with Badiou, who will be our main focus in this dialogue. Through a series of historical examples, he defines the ‘philosophical situation,’ and we come to our first revelation via Badiou: in the end, power is violence.  There must be a clarity between first the choice and the decision, and second, the distance between power and truths. “These are the three great tasks of philosophy: to deal with choice, with distance and with exception – at least if philosophy is to count for something in life to be something other than an academic discipline” (Badiou, 12). In Badiou’s eyes, for life to have meaning, one must accept the event; one must remain at a distance from power, and one must always be firm in their decision. They must be in the exception, and must at all costs live with the consequences of their decisions. In this sense, it is safe to assume the first author in this work feels it best to abstain from the rise to power-to abstain corruption and tyranny of the highest classes. What ideology is not being represented here is therefore that of the ruler. To Badiou, elections of standard parliamentarianism are often decided by the decision of the undecided, and because of this, he believes it best the philosopher refrain from constant electoral choices altogether. With all of the above information, then, we may deduce that for better or worse, the ideology represented is not just leaving out the beliefs of the supreme rulers, it is also often excluding the views of the masses. As the electoral process is typically limited to few options, it leaves no space for the radical exception, or an exception at all. Neither does it allow radical choice, or the distance aforementioned. Due to this, it does not constitute a ‘philosophical situation’ and the role of the philosopher is best left to be minimal. With this in mind, drawing back to our ideological critique, ideologies of the masses are both represented and not, and the ideology of the philosopher is both represented and not.

If one digs a bit deeper into Badiou, the above concepts are obviously not near as cut and dry as they may seem. He may believe at one time that the philosopher should refrain from participating in electoral processes in one vein, and yet he would advocate philosophy as ethical and political intervention in another. In one sense, Badiou would as a whole disagree with the ruling power, yet he seems to transfer it to the philosopher all the while- a type of subversive philosopher-king. As philosophy must be absolutely distinguished from politics, this necessarily creates a gulf of ideologies not represented in the work. The dominant ideology here is obviously the words and world of the philosopher and the intellectually elite. Regardless of the seemingly all-inclusive “power to the people” attitude that lies in the heart of many leftist philosophers, it would seem this ideology leaves much to be desired. By separating and/or elevating the thoughts of the philosopher, many are left out. In the words of Badiou, “Politics aims at the transformation of collective situations, while philosophy seeks to propose new problems for everyone.” From here, Badiou goes on to explain his eight theses of universality, and ends his section on philosophy of the present.

In conclusion, an ideological critique of Badiou’s dialogue in Philosophy in the Present is most suited because of the way it uniquely illuminates the subversive and dominant beliefs of the author’s system. In using rhetorical strategies to convince the reader that, for example, in the electoral process the vast majority of voters must be uneducated and unaware of potential implications of their choices, a mass is excluded from ideological representation due to the rationale of an inferior intellect. Who may question the philosopher? In implementing a rhetorical criticism, we may utilize the artifact as the basis for proposing new ideologies that allow other ideologies and interests to be more visible. Ironically enough, in the end, this has remained the ultimate goal of the philosopher all along: to pursue and encourage a love of wisdom and knowledge. As Badiou has said, there is a hidden agenda behind every ideology. It is in the critique and deconstruction of a text and ultimately ideal that we see what human potential is being thwarted by existing ideologies, and esteem to better understand ourselves and the world around us.


[1] Žižek, Slavoj and Badiou, Alain. Philosophy in the Present.New York: Polity Press, 2010.

[2] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, 2nd Ed. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996., p. 291

[3] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, 2nd Ed. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996., p. 292

[4] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, 2nd Ed. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996., p. 293