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19 March 2012


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John Protevi

Hello Eric, very interesting reflections, as always! I know you and Grunberg are not using "society of the spectacle" in a strictly Debordian sense (I doubt you think the immediacy of a situation is the answer!), but I thought I'd include this link to my course notes on Debord's book:

Secondly, I'd like to connect Grunberg's concern with censorship with your critique of philosophy as normal science preventing our aspiration to philosophy as totalizing view.

Foucault is also wary of the claims to scientific status on the part of a discourse, but it's not because it would prevent totalization, but because of the "power-effects" that accompany the claim of scientific status. In "Society Must Be Defended" he writes:

Even before we know to what extent something like Marxism or psychoanalysis is analogous to a scientific practice in its day-to-day operations ... we should be asking ... about the aspiration to power that is inherent in the claim to being a science ... "What types of knowledge are you trying to disqualify when you say that you are a science? What speaking subject, what discursive subject, what subject of experience and knowledge are you trying to minorize ... ?" (10)

(He's of course not saying that qualified physicists shouldn't be able to use Wolfgang Pauli-like dismissals. He's just saying that we should be wary of the desire on the part of other disciplines whose scientific standing is not as solid as that of physics to be able to use Pauli-like dismissals.) In any case, the section is summed up in one of my favorite lines of his:

"All this is very well. But the fact remains that Soviet psychiatry is the best in the world." My answer to that is: "Yes, of course, you're right. Soviet psychiatry is the best in the world. That's just what I hold against it." (12)
Eric Schliesser

What is a Wolfgang Pauli-like dismissal?
I think it quite likely that Grunberg (who reads widely) is using "society of the spectacle" in Debord's sense. (I have to admit that I was thinking of Nicole Kidman's "Moulin Rouge!")
Anyway, we should distinguish among claims to be science in order a) to get political power or financial privileges in society from it; b) to ensure survival in the modern university; c) to silence disciplinary critics. I think most of such claims in contemporary philosophy are about b&c, although one can imagine that bio-ethics moves toward a.

John Protevi

Pauli is the one who said "this is not only not right, it's not even wrong." That is, it's not even bad science; it's not science at all.

I like the distinctions among a-c, and c) is clearly what Foucault was after.

There's a relation here between Pauli's bon mot and Dotson's analysis of the question "how is this philosophy?": "whatever this is, it's not even bad philosophy!" is the implication behind a hostile posing of the question.

Eric Schliesser

Yeah, and the analysis of art has become a taming of art and philosophy.

Anna Johnson

What do you mean by this?

"We can understand the impenetrability of avant-garde art and of a few Continental philosophers as an attempt to prevent such dependence. But they never figured out what the appropriate accompanying political economy should be."

Eric Schliesser

I meant that the 'difficulty' of avantgarde artists and 'unclarity' of so-called continental philosophy can be understood, in part, as a response to trying to avoid some of the pit-falls of appealing to a mass audience. But that only works if one has an inheritance (which presuppose property rights), a private or public benefactor (which often tend to demand not-so-subtle return favors), or a university appointment.


...or you could be a clerk during the daytime and write the Metamorphosis at night...

Eric Schliesser

Yep. Or be an executive at a Connecticut insurance company.

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