fear of reading

March 31, 2011

Tomorrow I am going to a reading group on The Production of Space, a book I haven’t looked at since my (frighteningly unsuccessful) dissertation and which I remember (frighteningly) little of. Fear.

Maybe this will be the thing that finally gets me to peek at the comments on said dissertation. Something needs to happen. (I nearly burned it on the fire at the sacrifice party the other weekend, but that seemed a little rude to those poor souls who spent time marking it.)

Reading Arendt’s The Human Condition for our urbanism reading group tonight. We’re going to play it safe and have the group indoors, at Jay’s house, rather than anything more adventurous this time – the last couple of adventures escalated quite enough.

Initial thoughts:

– she’s thoroughly misreading Marx if she thinks the withering away of the state is in terms of a private/public distinction

– privacy isn’t opposed to the social, it is a part of the social – controlling who gets access to what information about you is a fundamentally socially-material process. This gets to the heart of the mistakenness of the phenomenological attitude when considering politics – Arendt’s phenomenological approach concentrates on poetic qualities such as ‘hiddenness’, rather than considering how privacy operates socially.


Vice-Chancellor of the University, Michael Driscoll, m.driscoll@mdx.ac.uk;

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise, Waqar Ahmad, w.ahmad@mdx.ac.uk;

Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic, Margaret House, m.house@mdx.ac.uk;

Dean of the School of Arts & Education, Ed Esche, e.esche@mdx.ac.uk.

Philosophy at Middlesex University

I write to you to today concerning the decision not to continue all programmes in Philosophy at Middlesex University. As a former student of the undergraduate programme and a current MA student I feel strongly that this decision is a mistake.

The department has performed consistently well in student satisfaction surveys and QAA assessments, as well as having an internationally renowned research department (rated highly by the RAE).

I wonder if you can explain to me the reason behind cutting the department? From what I’ve read, Philosophy is close to the target for contributing 55% of its income to the university, and with its growing international reputation could only be likely to grow in the coming years. Whether this economic contribution is considered significant, there is also the question of prestige (which may be difficult to measure, but is very real). It is important that academic disciplines such as Philosophy remain represented in universities, particularly new universities. A university that doesn’t care about academic excellence is no university at all.

Lastly, I should also let you know that I amongst others will be writing to the press to publicise the plight of Philosophy at Middlesex and to gather support from similarly affected and concerned parties should we not reach a satisfactory resolution to this problem.

Philosophy at Middlesex is too rich a resource to lose, and I hope you and the rest of the university management will reconsider your decision.

Yours sincerely,

Alice Moss

Despite it being the top RAE-rated department in the university, and despite its successful programmes (for MA, possibly the most successful in the UK), Middlesex University management have decided to cut all Philosophy programmes.  Despicable.  If you think what the market offers you is choice, think again.  A university that runs only programmes that make the maximum profit to the detriment of its academic standing is no university at all.

Republished e-mail:

Dear colleagues,

Late on Monday 26 April, the Dean of the School of Arts & Humanities, Ed Esche,
informed staff in Philosophy that the University executive had ‘accepted his
recommendation’ to close all Philosophy programmes: undergraduate, postgraduate and

Philosophy is the highest research-rated subject in the University. Building on its
grade 5 rating in RAE2001, it was awarded a score of 2.8 on the new RAE scale in
2008, with 65% of its research activity judged ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally
excellent’. It is now widely recognised as one of the most important centres for the
study of modern European philosophy anywhere in the English-speaking world.

The MA programmes in Philosophy at Middlesex have grown in recent years to become
the largest in the UK, with 42 new students admitted in September 2009.

The Dean explained that the decision to terminate recruitment and close the
programmes was ’simply financial’, and based on the fact that the University
believes that it may be able to generate more revenue if it shifts its resources to
other subjects – from ‘Band D’ to ‘Band C’ students.

As you may know, the University currently expects each academic unit to contribute
55% of its gross income to the central administration. As it stands (by the credit
count method of calculation), Philosophy and Religious Studies contributes 53%,
after the deduction of School admin costs. According to the figures for projected
recruitment from admissions (with Philosophy undergraduate applications up 118% for
2010-11), if programmes had remained open, the contribution from Philosophy and
Religious Studies would have risen to 59% (with Philosophy’s contribution,
considered on its own, at 53%).

In a meeting with Philosophy staff, the Dean acknowledged the excellent research
reputation of Philosophy at Middlesex, but said that it made no ‘measurable’
contribution to the University.

Needless to say, we very much regret this decision to terminate Philosophy, and its
likely consequences for the School and our University and for the teaching of our
subject in the UK.

· Professor Peter Hallward, Programme Leader for the MA programmes in

· Professor Peter Osborne, Director, Centre for Research in Modern European

· Dr. Stella Sandford, Director of Programmes, Philosophy”

and in further ranting

April 21, 2010

I’m actually really offended by the notion of The Delicious Miss Dahl. I mean, Nigella is after all a food journalist as well as being a bit saucy; it’s plausible you might watch it for the food; it’s not completely gratuitous. Sophie Dahl is a model, famous for being on an extremely sexually-charged perfume advert. …This kind of pornified programming has no place on the BBC. It also has an eye-hurtingly twee opening sequence necessitating switching it off without even getting to the recipes.

(When I calmed down a bit after the twee assault I skipped forward to try to look at her cooking, fearing I was being unfair if she is actually a good presenter – but she doesn’t look like she knows how to chop vegetables! Her movements are all incredibly tentative, as if afraid of the food, and make me wonder if she only learned to cook for the show).

a troubling incident

April 21, 2010

Buoyed by a tutorial full of lovely praise and encouragement, I had a splendid time at the Rochester Castle for M.’s birthday last night. The bell rang for closing time, and we cheerfully ignored it, as we always do. There were a contingent of Irish traveller folk in the pub, having a wake for one of their number. The atmosphere was fairly sombre, quiet chat and one lass was singing mournful songs. And the next thing we see is five police officers walking into the pub, to remove the travellers. I’ve been at the Rochester Castle several times at closing time and no police officer has ever asked me to leave, and in fact, was there last night and still wasn’t asked to leave – in fact, the police officers seemed apologetic that they were there, shame about the travellers ruining closing time for us nice, respectable folk.
I understand that removing forty travellers when you only have five bar staff is a bit daunting, and I’m not so naive as to think there is no reason to suppose there might have been bother, but the elision between ‘might be trouble’ and ‘treat them as if they’re trouble, even if there hasn’t been any trouble’ perpetuates the state of affairs, and makes change impossible.

Stella Sandford – ‘Sex’

Sandford considers ‘sex’ to be somewhat of a wild card in the set of concepts, the founding instance of which is in Le Deuxieme Sexe.  Afterwards this concept crosses the channel, and at this point we have to ask if ‘sexe’ translates as ‘sex’, and what do we do with the English interloper ‘gender’.

Stoller proposed a theory of ‘gender’, which was adopted by feminists because of its immediate political advantage.  This also had echoes of Wollstonecraft and Mill – the falsity of the proposition that state of woman is determined by nature.

When the English language operates, sex operates in opposition to gender.  For the French, and the different linguistic background, ‘sexe’ is not ‘sex’.  ‘Sexe’ has the connotation of la vie sexuelle, difference sexuelle, la difference des sexes; none of which exactly equate with gender.

In the Dictionary of Untranslatables, Fraise puns that ‘sexe’ is a ‘cache-sexe’ (lit., hides sex, but also a colloquial term for a g-string!)

‘Sexualité’ is to do with drives, pulsionelle, phantasmatic; neither physiological nor psychological.  There is an inability to think sex.  This may lead the philosophical concept of sex to become cut off from everyday usage.

To return to The Second Sex, Beauvoir doesn’t theorise sex so much as define it as the site of a problem.  The book deals with man and woman, more than male and female – which is to say, it is an existential problem.  Not biologically, but existentially determined (which shows that a ‘sex’ assumption operated in French thought).

‘Sexe’ has no purely descriptive function, it is empircally inadequate.  The duality of it is in fact normative, prescriptive.

Sociological concepts of sex – Delphi, social relations in groups, material and ideological; Wittig, the political concept doesn’t overwrite the natural.

Any construction of a concept of sex must acknowledge social reality.  A single, transdisciplinary concept of sex would be anamorphic; containing the popular concept and its criticism.

The failure of Butler’s Gender Trouble was its dismissal of sex.  The source of this was a mistaken belief that the natural basis couldn’t be explained coupled with an inappropriate epistemological belief sex couldn’t be ‘known’ (in the sense of a Kantian thing-in-itself).

The discourse of sex has a transcendental subreption: substituting an illusion (which doesn’t refer to anything) for a real structure.  This can be understood in the sense of a ‘regulative idea’.

The possibility of a transdisciplinary concept of sex is already a homology – not a dispute to be settled, but part of the definition (a reflexive structure).

Guillaume Collett – ‘objet a’

Collett discusses objet a in two contexts – in the notion of the ‘gaze’ (from Lacan’s Seminar XI and XIII), and in Deleuze’s Logic of Sense.

The concept of objet a has an asymmetric transdisciplinarity, in that it imports its structure to the contexts it operates in.  It connects subject to structure.

In Lacan subject is constituted by structure, whereas for Deleuze it’s a self-causing univocity.

For Lacan, objet a comes to take the place of the phallus in his earlier work.  The phallus belongs to language, whereas objet a is a subjective object.  It inject subject into structure (and this structure is not opposed to physical reality).  In fact, it makes the real into reality; phallus was a point of lack, whereas objet a injects excess.  2 objects: 1. as cause and 2. as effect (phallus).  This cycle generates spatial reality, as you are lured and then rejected into space; it extends Cartesian space.  Its topological structure causes the non-extensive to become extensive through the Other’s gaze, as an included-exclusion.

The asymmetric transdisciplinarity operates in art history, in dialogue with Foucault, in Ruger’s ideas (space is immanently unified, then self-consciousness becomes excluded as a phallic stain and acts as a Kantian schematism).

Could structure generate space without a subject?  No, only humans have this understanding of space.  For most animals, space is composed by point-to-point parallel planes, organised by ‘bijection’.  Space is structure (Seminar XIII).

There is a semi-independent space on the part of the other (even though subject is constituted by space) – the figure-plane horizon depends on perspective, but it is the big Other’s gaze that structures it.  [There were diagrams from Seminars XI and XIII to guide this part of the talk]

For Foucault, structure is a structure of representation.  For Lacan, it’s ahistorical, an ahistorical subject of a drive.  Lacan uses various strategies throughout his work to distance subject from structure – linguistics, logic and topology, maths (knots).  As he progresses, abandons structure towards a theory of the subject.

In Deleuze’s Difference and Reptition and Logic of Sense the themes are genesis and structure, and laws of displacement (replacing univocity for the Cartesian subject).  In this schema 1. cause = nonsense and 2. effect = the event.

Nonsense is word = x to object = x (Kantian transcendental object).  Nonsense is only nonsensical when it becomes unified under the notion.

Libidinal entities are singularities – Deleuze’s theory never returns to the phenomenological subject.  Phantasms suture the acts of singularities on aeonic surfaces.  Sense = jouissance (as meaning travels in one direction).   Structure is naturally generated, the language of the stoics and physics.

Peter Osborne remark:  Psychoanalysis isn’t a discipline per se, it’s the science of a subject, not an object-domain.