September 18, 2008

What is this blog?

Being a reader of George Pelecanos’ fiction, I once subscribed to his on-line newsletter and was surprised to find that the best part of the newsletter wasn’t personal promotional material on his latest productions, but rather his lists of what he was reading and the music that he liked to listen to. I immediately thought that making these kinds of public lists was a very cool thing.  Since our days in elementary school, many of us have enjoyed sharing our likes (and maybe dislikes) publicly with others, even if in many cases that sharing came down to a sort of anonymous intervention in some public forum. Few of us have the notoriety that the literary pedigree of an author of the reputation of Pelecanos confirms, but the internet allows us to make public musings and comments which were previously almost always forcibly private.  Maybe this is not a good thing. There’s enough opinion and personal commentary out there now without adding to it.

I can now turn to that standard rhetorical trick of the “Yes, but on the other hand…”. There is indeed too much bavardage out there and I am, in fact, shamelessly adding to it.  What is there to say?  My only defense is to remark that it is unlikely that anything I write will be read by very many people, so I will probably not be adding to literary pollution.  I am certainly willing to accept the idea that I am actually writing for myself.  In essence, rather than simply  picking out a classy pen,  purchasing a brightly colored Clairefontaine and writing a few thoughts in a cahier  (following a relatively clichéd image that I would like to refer to, if not actually entertain), I will use this blog to do an analogous thing.  Maybe doing this is simply following the advice of my Ph.D. supervisor in the days when computer use started to become popular among non-science academics: simply open the computer and write down that thought, reference, etc. that you might use in your thesis.  Or it may be that I am trying to claim a piece of cyberspace that I can show to my friend, the poet Bobby Lietz, who has claimed a more than modest amount of that space with his poetry (and now with his photo albums).  Or it may be that I’ve tried the cahier route and been frustrated by the tearing out of pages and the unhappiness of always trying to find that unique pen that I am supposed to be using in order to ensure that the writing has that look that we see in the vintage notebooks of famous writers.

But, to now invoke an expression which I often used when faced with surprising ardor, unusual intelligence or unexpected comportment on the part of my students , this blog already makes me nervous.  Despite the fact that blogs are supposed to be personal, I am embarrassed by the overuse of the first person.  Almost all of my writing, either in philosophy or in mathematics, has tried to avoid the first person singular. In mathematics, that is not surprising. In philosophy, I always tried to maintain a certain authorial distance . Distance is necessary to let ideas organize themselves and then to push them rhetorically in the direction that they need to take.  When we read philosophy, we criticize the rhetoric (which, in fact, stands in for the author) as much as concepts. In this blog, there will be a place for both types of writing.

The other reason for avoiding the first person in academic writing is a certain type of modesty. It is annoying (to not use a stronger word) to read authors who lay out very uninteresting and and banal ideas with great feigned enthusiasm, not recognizing that these ideas are often superficial and/or du réchauffé. Academic journals are full of that type of writing.  But modesty demands that a writer respect the tradition from which he/she comes and that he/she acknowledge that it is unlikely (although not impossible) that anything he/she produces will really be all that inspiring, unique or profound compared to the founders of that tradition.

Even though this blog may combine both types of writing, it has no formal academic pretension. It is commentary liberated from the constraints of formal academic writing. There will be sections involving politics and culture, which will be more pop oriented, along the lines of the Pelecnaos lists. But there will also be more formally oriented entries that relate to philosophical topics.  For many of my teaching years I exchanged written comments with my office partner, Herr deBruyn.  There were semesters in which our schedules had minimal intersection and it was a way of amusing ourselves by communicating fairly random thoughts on politics, mathematics, philosophy and literature. Of course,  the usual unkind observations about colleagues, work relations, etc. were not excluded. After having read Wittgenstein one semester, we stocked up on discarded paper from the college print shop. This paper was often cut into little rectangles about the size of standard index cards and was meant to serve as notepaper . We immediately realized the value of these Zettel and our comments were often restricted to what would fit on one of them. Now that I no longer share an office with this distinguished colleague and friend, I would like to think of this blog as my new collection of Zettel.

Why métacritique?

To anyone vaguely familiar with European thought, critique is most often used with a Kantain overtone. Subsequently, métacritique is used to refer to the questioning of the ground on which critique is founded, to the epistemological status of presuppositions, the “positioning” of the critical instance with respect to critique. If we relate métacritique to the tradition of the Frankfort School,  we can say that it seeks to render  the social dimension of critique less opaque. ( For appropriate details, see Garbis Kortian, Métacritique, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1979) This blog does not have the pretension of operating in the elevated domain of this métacritique,  but it does operate with the inspiration that the concept provides.

Who is the author?

I am a native of Syracuse, New York, and a graduate of LeMoyne College. After studying mathematics at the Ph.D level in the U.S and Canada, I obtained a M.A. in études littéraires (UQAM) and a Ph.D in littérature comparée at l’université de Montréal. I taught mathematics at Vanier Cégep (Saint-Laurent, Québec) until January of this year.