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Archive for December, 2009

Xmas Greetings

With less than a week to go, I wish everyone a happy X-mas.

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Philosophical parlour can be delicious, erotic even, sending shivers down the philosopher’s spine. Philosophy, proper philosophy anyway, is lived actually; thereby, it is deeply sensual.

I began to wonder about this sensuality in a more comprehensive way in the past few months, picking up a trail of thought I had been forced to abandon a few years prior, when the German forces of discipline were engaged in the effort of killing off the last abodes of my curiosity. Obviously, twelve years among the bureaucratic administrators of the progressive decline of Germany’s higher education and their purity law for the in- brewing of academic offspring eventually failed to make me into their image – nationalised, disciplined-bound and methodologically close-minded, on an anti-septic diet for the senses.  Despite, not in spite of, their best efforts, I am certainly an outcast among German academe, for I am transdisciplinary, transnationally, and transsensually minded.  It is good that I cast out a long shadow when shadow-boxing, for them to hide in and cry no-son-of-mine.

My new-found freedom led me back to my senses. And recently, I began to rethink the genealogy of communication, biology,  philosophy, sociology and psychology, I spent the past few years working on, from a deeply sensual perspective. My redirected interested began, once I discovered that at its very birth, in Kantianism lies a psychosomatic experiment in dietetic that comprehends the authorship that we have come to know under the designation or network address Immanuel Kant. 

As we all know or should know, the primacy of interpretation and research in the past two centuries was optico-logical, primed by the epistemes of the word (logos) and the visual (optics).   A concept, such as attention for example, which is a central concept in philosophy, sociology and psychology for the past century, is studied mostly in the form of attention to visual input and logos of thought. Thus, this affects  the industrial human condition and its major disturbance it hopes to eradicate; this defining pathology was, at first, fatigue. Now, it is attention deficifit.

However, a comprehensive study of the nineteenth century developments and a thorough reading of Kant, the early Kantians, and the pre-Kantian Kantians or proto-Kantians (Yes, such exist), will reveal that this optico-logical primacy is a reductive selection based on early twentieth century developments, which are too complex to give a full account of here. But in short, around and before and for a while after Kant, philosophy was in a state of mutual embeddedness with medicine, science, social problems, politics on the one hand, and on the other, it was more sensual – transsensual – by far.

This heritage was not entirely lost but subdued, transmuted, and codified. Lotze, Simmel, Jaspers and some others retained this knowledge. And now after a century of optics and logics – after the linguistic and the iconic turn, we have the medial turn -, first, the non-linguistic properties of sound have begun to re-enter our  intellectual deliberations – one might guess, that it is because the noises had to grown loud finally to be heard and became a disturbance of these deliberations and could no longer be avoided. Recently, the body has returned. No wonder, our lifestyle diseases, back pain, obesity, etc. have begun to really hurt and make deliberations often physically unbearable. Sitting – as Joe Dumit recently discussed in a wonderful little note – is an underrated aspect of academic production. My friend Donald Levine, a learned Simmel expert and Aikido practitioner, is accredited with a “dialogical sociology”. In truth, the is no dia-logos in his philosophy, but dia-physis. Levine’s sociology is full-bodied and fully sensual. Let us, therefore, name him the first diaphysical sociologist. Sociology, philosophy, psychology have to become physical, have to become sensual again.

Slightly we begin to re-include into our theoretical thinking, let us sum it all up as or embed it in philosophy, the tactile dimensions and our organisms (not to mention the environments). Two of our senses are still missing. Taste and smell. First, let me remind you that most of what we taste is actually smell. Our sense of taste knows only bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and umami. Much what we supposedly taste are the fumes that hit our sense of smell, but once the object that we smell is in our mouths, we experience the smells as taste, even if they are still smelled.

Surprisingly, there seems to be no serious philosophy of taste or  philosophy of smell. At least I know of none. In this regard, I recently suggested to another philosopher that he may write a new history of philosophy, one that stinks, for the history of philosophy must, I sometimes feel, be written as a history of the stench of philosophy.

And even for the logophiles among the philosophers, a philosophy of taste inhabits some potential to get down to the meanings and truths of our words of mouth. The German language, for example, knows that we “carry words in our mouths” ; in German the words are inside mouths (Das Wort im Munde). Therefore, we can ask, what if a word tastes bitter? But even the English langauge knows such a metaphor, when “you put words into my mouth”. Between these two aspects of words, if we grant just for the entertainment of that thought that their meaning is taste, we find that they, or rather that truth itself, tastes bitter-sweet. If we disagree on the meaning of what I said, than the “words you put into my mouth” taste bitter, whereas when I said them, they tasted sweet. The truth, thus, is not negated but conjoined to be bitter-sweet. This is, by the way, not Hegelian dialectic for that is no simple synthesis of thesis and antithesis. The bitter-sweet experience is radically different from adding the analytical product sweet and bitter together. Every reader of William James, every good chef, and every connoiseur of good food knows as much.  We need a new dietary regime for philosophy (and its “embeds”). A regime that involves all the senses. We must study, teach, and research based on this new diet, which requires us to move (to keep fit), to eat well and well-tasting, and fill the air with pleasant smells on top of our words and visuals.  

No national higher education seems to me farther away from accomplishing this than Germany’s. I must say that in Germany, in regard not only to class-rooms and lecture halls, but also the offices of lecturers and professors, one does find only one of two versions: either anti-septic, clean, whitewashed offices or roomswith chairs that were designed for utility not for human beings to sit and learn and work in; or very old rooms with worn-out, creaky chairs that are too small for grown-ups and uncomfortable, and they reek with the stench of mould. These two sensual dispositifs cast the possibilities for learning and research in Germany between either mouldy or anti-septic. Cast out, I find myself in a truly delicate situation, of relearning to smell and taste good thought.

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In 1764, Immanuel Kant wrote and published, back to back, the Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime  and a short essay on the Maladies of the Head. Monique David-Menard has argued that these two essays must be viewed in relation with one another.  This position does not only find my sympathy and agreement. Moreover, it presents additional force for my own ideas of an “opening interpretation” of Kant, or a “hyperbolic reading” (Graham Harman).

In this interpretation, I make the claim that Kant’s whole work and life must be viewed as a comprehensive philosophical effort that includes, at its very heart, a philosophy of medicine. This philosophy of medicine and, therefore, his philosophy in general, was, beginning in 1764 at the very latest, his personal, psychosomatic experiment in dietetic. Therefore it was also a practice in care of the self, based on his understanding of the human condition – the corollary problem derived from the three famous questions.

The central concept in his dietetics is, from 1764 forward, the concept “Gemueth”, which can be translated as mind. The “corruptions” of the mind have physical effects aka maladies. This makes Kant ascribe to psychosomatic medicine, or better yet, the opening of Kant’s thoughtscape problematizes the psychosomatic question. His care of self regime (aka dietetics) was a constant experiment of practices comprised by remedies, exercises, and diets. the supposed “hypochondriac” admitted in a letter to Hufeland 30 years after writing the Maladies that he has been spared from serious illnesses and therefore wanted to provide Hufeland with a report on his experiments in dietetic, which Hufeland, in turn, wanted to publish in a medical journal. Kant’s famous critical works are, after all, an elucidation of the “Powers of the Mind” (including the “Gemueth” aka mind) which is the source for illnesses and health. The powerful mind or empowered mind is a cared for mind, which resides, enlightened, in the present (“Geistesgegenwart”). Immanuel Kant was, therefore, not just the philosopher of psychosomatic medicine, he was also the philosopher of mindfulness.

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30 Euros. That is how much a friend of mine recently had to pay for a parking ticket. And it is scandalous. Scandalous for therein lies entailed a story that is one of many isolated examples that cumulate to the cascade tsunami  that kills the German entrepreneurial spirit, autonomous economic agency for small businesses, and, eventually, the free market.

My friend owns a small restaurant, which he opened this summer. He rented a nice store in a fairly good area for business; a store that was left unoccupied for  nearly a year, hardly a surprise in current economic times. He invested quite a lot of money to turn the former apothecary into a restaurant and built and painted as much as he could all by himself. German building regulations and policies for “gastronomic” businesses and their local derivates did their part in causing him his first losses before he even opened by demand of several minute changes that he had to undertake in the last few days before opening.  But he was lucky, it wasnt as bad as the nightmare another friend of mine had to go through years ago, who invested a total of 300,000 Euro (ca.  $420,000) into a huge  posh-and-noble restaurant with a grand opening party planned for a nice day in August. The city inspectors could not be bothered to show up for weeks on end, and finally managed to show up two days before the opening party. When they left, they handed this other friend of mine a list as long as a human arm with changes that were required before a single customer was allowed to enter, which pretty much meant the end for the opening party, since details such as the increase of the door-frame of the men’s rest-room by two inches would have required heavy machinery work, and this was by far not the most complicated of the tasks to be accomplished, nor the most ridiculous. HOwever, this friend managed to ake the city inspector agree to come back on the day of the opening and in a miracle that required a lot of money, man-power and 48-hours straight work without sleep, all but two items on the list – a full-metal door with special sealant that would guarantee that the kitchen which was – by a meter and a half – too close to the restrooms within the restaurant and a additional hot-water connection upstairs – were ticked off. With a smirk and the quip “Didn’t think that anybody could actually accomplish what we set out” , the city inspector granted my friend a temporary permit to open, given the two remaining problems were fixed within ten days.

So, what of my friend with the parking ticket. In short, the city he has his business in charges new restaurants for virtual parking space. the idea is that restaurant customers occupy city-parking spaces, taking away parking spaces other people could use – it should be mentioned that there are parking fees collected in the same area, too. Therefore, restaurant owners who file for a licence have to pay a fee for these parking spaces that their customers virtually occupy. The number of parking spaces they have to buy is calculated by the spatial dimensions of the restaurant, rather than the number of seats. My friend, whose restaurant has only twelve tables, mixed between two person and four person tables – it is a small restaurant – ended up paying for five such parking spaces, which he doesn’t even get to use himself or reserve for his customers, since they are, literally, virtual. He had to pay a total 0f 32,000 Euros (ca, $44,000) for, well, air, empty air. And all of that before even having had a single customer.  Now, the other day, he could not find a parking space near his own restaurant – it is a busy area and there are never any parking spaces for potential customers available. However, he had to deliver supplies and was parking in second row just to unload. In this regard, getting a ticket seems rather scandalous to me in the face of owning five virtual parking spots worth 32,000 Euros. However, this example is very typical of how German bureaucrazy actually does kill the entrepreneurial spirit.

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Recently, I have been rereading the foreword to Andre Kieserling’s German book (Suhrkamp, 2004) on escription from the perspective of the self and by others. It is a book that situates itself within the discourse of the sociology of knowledge, Wissensoziologe. Kieserling starts with the notice that sociology of knowledge has not attained the status of a “special sociology”. The spezielle Soziologie contrary to General Sociology (Allgemeine Soziologie) is a very important status designation within the highly bureaucraticed structures of German higher education and research funding. German’s are used to create airtight boxes wherein they classify life’s messiness away, and lovingly have come to call this “thinking in drawers” (Schubladendenken). It is close to impossible to be outside of one those boxes and the practice is the worst kind of black-boxing strategy one could think of, for it a result of a generation-spanning mass-hysteria in panic of error that has led to the inhibition of error by prohibition of falling outside of the world of drawers. Unfortunately, it has also led to an end of true progress, as if nobody in Germany has ever really read Whitehead – although, it stands to reason that the few who have read Whitehead have not understood a word of him (which is actually my experience with most sociologists I met who have claimed to have read Whitehead and, incidentally, Foucault, almost any one of them has admitted that they think either unbearable and cannot use their works, for they find them utterly unintelligible).

As far as thinking in drawers goes, the problem with German sociology is that it is stuck between two drawers in general sociology, which explains why knowledge has not been elevated into the ranks of the special sociologies |(as, for example, religion has been). While Kieserling claims, in a foreword-owing gloss, that, following the effect of Max Weber, “action” has become the guiding concept of sociology, I think he has failed to see the bigger problem: The oscillation between action and knowledge is the biggest problem, introduced with Karl Mannheim, or maybe Alfred Weber. Indeed, would it not be a fascinating irony, if the whole of German sociology has never left the pre-fascist era and was stuck in a fight between the brotherly minds?

Well, perhaps it is not so pathetic a narrative, for the state of German sociology today is pathetic enough (certain individuals excluded, of course, which will probably not be those who think of themselves to count as such exclusions nor those who are now already mad with anger over my harsh judgment, which is meant to serve as a kind of a rude litmus test for my German readers, who will now have fallen into my trap of locking themselves, by  accident, into a drawer).

However, if we look at the last  theoretical debate in German sociology, the debate between Luhmann and Habermas, we find that the debate was very much about the primacy of action versus the primacy of knowledge. And Luhmann, in a very creative glossing and lucid misunderstanding of Max Weber and Husserl, came out on the side of the primacy of knowledge with little taste for action, whereas Habermas, bending Weber to the breaking point quite intentionally, was set for the primacy of action. Both men used the concept of communication as their unit point of reference, which for Luhmann was an autoselection within knowledge (which he denoted to be systems), and for Habermas it was the unit act itself. By the way, the knowledge/action divide can be shown to be the plague of the other sociological theories, including the quantitative and the rational choice school (which are no more objective than any other) 

Two sides of the same coin, poised never to see one another, they were yet part of the same body enacting their theoretical premises, holding knowledge and action together: Talcott Parsons. Parsons was taught by Alfred Weber and well-versed in Max Weber’s work, a student of Karl Jaspers and a whole line of Kantians, as well as being trained in zoology and embryology (he wanted to become a biologist or medical doctor). For him, the divisions and limitations that plague German sociology never existed – whatever else one might think of his sociological contributions. Which is why I suggest to German sociologist to try an open-minded rereading of Kant, Jaspers, Parsons to learn how to open the drawer from inside and breath some fresh air. Out, out, my friends, outside of the box we go.

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Oh dear, Annette Schavan.

I spent many years defending you, when you were ridiculed by those leftists among my friends. And now, you turn out to be a lefty yourself. Shame on you. Just another one of those structural conservatives – which lefties generally are – who claim that all the others are structurally conservative and afraid of change (see: Die Zeit Nr.51, Dec.10, 2009:6).

Let us not dwell on the fact that, asked about the flip-flopping of her party in the different states, she evades into cliché: Our party emphasizes holistic education and the willingness to perform (“…ganzheitliche Bildung und Leistungsbereitschaft”) A note on the translation: Leistung can be translated as either “achievement” or “performance”, repectively education is correlated with achievement, training is correlated with performance. the traditional German concept of Bildung which is translated as “education”, did have contain, basically, both aspects. With regard to education and knowledge, it was Bildung in general, with regard to job-performance it was used as Aus-bildung, which means a kind of training that entails a finitude. Bildung enables lifelong-learningAusbildung reaches an end, when a set of practices is conditioned in the individual. 

One of the biggest problems is the long-running trend, for at least 30 years or so,to forsake education for training. Training, however, does not enable an individual for further learning. At the same time, training is, generally, oriented to satisfy the needs of the moment, which in case of todays schools and universities is the contemporary job-market. Those students thus educated, apologies: trained, are fit for today’s job world, and utterly disabled to participate in any future job-market. Since this development has been long in the making and given birth to its own structures in the job-market but also in the world of education and even science and research. It has, therefore, led to stagnation. The job-markets have not really evolved nor has technological research. The internet was “invented” decades ago, its public application only a natural development. The many grand innovations of the past decade amount to what? Oh yes, we can store more ring-tones on our cell-phones than we could five years ago. Lovely. And yet we are still travelling into orbit with the same junky space-crafts we did twenty years ago. I can see the accomplishment (another possible translation for  Leistung). Sarcasm aside, Schavan’s concept of education is, after the cliché and a noble vision, bordering a ridiculous confusion of the categories. Does she have a noble vision? Oh yes, she does.  With a supposed stab at the lefties – despite her insistence on the idea of holism (ganzheitlich), Schavan says: We understand education policy not as  social policies, instead, we want to enable each individual to develop his talents and lead his own life autonomously and with self-confidence. (“Wir verstehen Bildungspolitk nicht als Sozialpolitik, sondern wollen denn einzelnene befaehigen, slebstbewusst und selbstbestimmt sein Leben zu fuehren udn seine Talente zu entwickeln.”) Nice speech. I sense value and I sense Humboldt. In short, I sense a sense for civics in her.

If only she wasn’t the secretary of education. In her job, she is close to powerless towards  the realization of any vision or even a minute practical policy, for all the real  power lies with conference of the education secretaries of the states (Kultusministerkonferenz [KMK]). So she has to defend the so-called Bologna reforms, which were a European reform that was supposed to create standards and improve education. Well, German students are not too happy with the results and they took to the streets. But Schavan defends the reform. Our question, however, should be: If the reform is Europe-wide, how come that especially the Germans really suck at its implementation? I venture a thesis: Germany’s inherent structural conservatism. It is impossible in the German political system to follow a value or create and discuss new values or goals.

If the reform had a real goal and been executed in accordance with a true value in mind, Humboldtian or civics, it would not have been such a disaster. Instead, the old structures have just been forced into a tighter corset (Bologna (TM)). Schavan, asked whether Humboldt has no value, answer that Humboldt is “but the club that is carried by the structural-conservatives who want nothing changed.” Indeed, her short admission, “we must think of him in new ways”, is a nice phrase, but the definite destruction in her sentence prior kills of any such discussion. Well, if only she hadn’t misunderstood the fact that structural conservatism is what she is defending. The problem of the Bologna process German style is that  it is same old same old: Same ideas, same structures, same trend towards training for the job, same lack of funding for education and research, same catastrophic student-professor ratio, same lack of funding for genuine research, same hyperbureaucrazy, same hyperspecialization of disciplines, same hyperuniversalization of the concept of the student, same lack of open-ended and constructive discussion as to what education should be and what a future-oriented German system of education should achieve.

Schavan’s initial vision of civics is a good start, but she does not go through with it nor could she, technically. At the same time, the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt is reputed to have said that if somebody has visions, he should go see a doctor. Well, maybe not with the doctors (whether Dr.med. or Dr.phil.) emerging from this German university system. (See also my German essays in the Reform of Education stream in the Journal Pompeii)

Incidentally, the same issue of Die Zeit had a front-page commentary on Angela Merkel and her lack of authority in forging the current government into a functioning government. A philosophically and sociologically literate person would be less puzzled by Merkel’s lack of authority and the failing of the Bologna reform. The famous theory of authority, legitimacy and government that Max Weber created was once reformed into a complex media theory by Talcott Parsons. Whatever else one may think of Parsons, the distinction between influence and power was wonderfully precise and offers an incredible source  for understanding the failures of the political caste of our days. Power refers to the ability to set goals and influence to promote them. In the last few decades, politicians have amassed so much influence and created so many channels for it, that their ability to set goals (power) has nearly evaporated.  Angela Merkel is the most influential politician in Germany and her allies, such as Schavan, thrive on that. At the same time, at the height of her influence, Merkel is also the most powerless politician in Europe.

The current political caste is incredibly well trained in the navigation of the cascading amount of today\s channels of influence, perhaps it is time for a little education and a – Weberian or Parsonian – lesson in power.

 

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Sometimes all you ever wanted is not what you needed. And sometimes what you need is just behind you. So close your eyes, trust in life. In the end, it’s gonna be good. So turn around, open your eyes and just walk down the road that’s before you. The way is the goal, the goal is the way, if you learn to leave behind the idea of a goal and the idea of a way. Just float into the center of your life, that is the process of becoming, for in the end the only thing you can do is care, care about yourself, that is what you need. It may not be what you want, but all your roads will always lead back to you yourself eventually. So close your eyes and hear your own blood rushing. Turn around and open your eyes, and you see where you have come from that is where you must go, to yourself. Care is to accept where you have come from and go forward from there. So just go back to where you have been careless and that is where you start life anew.

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