Category: 1993 The Self Under Siege


From: Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 4: Marcuse And One-Dimensional Man

Transcript:
I didn’t want these lectures to turn into some kind of funky… kind of Tony Robbins course in self development. Like “now I know who I really am” kind of crap. Because when we are through, we won’t know! I don’t know. If I had known who I was, I probably wouldn’t have shown up. Now, I mean, you know this is not… I mean, it’s an important part. It’s not a cynical thing to say. But it’s an important part of finding out about the self in this part of history, that we don’t have all the answers, that we have not even formulated all the questions correctly. In fact, Tony Robbins and people like him are part of the problem themselves. They are banalisation. I love it when I hear someone say: “I’ve listened to Tony’s tapes, and now… I used to be fat and unhappy, and now… I am skinny and happy” It just makes me want to cut someone up with a chainsaw. I mean, that’s ridiculous. I mean, you know, that’s not why humans think. They because they have to think. It’s a felt necessity. It’s the weight of the world, the complexity of it. And you can avoid it, I admit, with drugs. But at some point in your life, you are going to come across the need to think.

Marcuse comes from a period; and its back in style, back in fashion I have to admit that the 60s are back in style. They will probably be out of style by the time these tapes are out. But people are back, listening to Jimi Hendrix, wearing bell-bottoms and tie-dyes. I suppose you have noticed that. Of course this would have nothing to do with banalisation. Well, of course it would. But anything that is a threat to the system can be banalised. I’ll give you two examples in the sphere of politics. The way they turned Jesse Jackson from a serious social actor, into sort of a banal caricature of himself in the media. They have banalised a real threat to the system, which was the Rainbow Coalition. A real threat – populist threat to the system – banalised into a joke. It’s even sicker to realise this: that if, ah, something tragic happened to Jesse Jackson, there would be a picture of him up next to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King in all of our schools, ten years from now. No-one doubts it, see. But now, while he is alive, he has to be banalised. This is… it’s obviously a form of control. This is social control I am talking about. It’s not a conspiracy, I mean; it’s just something that happens in the process of a society working out its own internal logics, in systems of incredible complexity.

Banalisation is a way to reduce complexity. It’s also a systematic way to be an idiot. And I have to say this, many of our complaints about the educational system fall under the critique of Marcuse as well. Where we produce student after student in this condition I have described. Which is not really despair, because it’s beneath that level. In other words they would have to be more excited to be in despair. They’d have to be like more thrilled to be forlorn. Like they’d have to be in love with something before they could have their heart broken, to make a more simple example out of it. No, it’s beneath that level. It’s frighteningly beneath it. It cannot be defended. Herbert Marcuse, while he lived, made these arguments, and as I say, looking back on them from this point in history from this point in time it’s hard not to feel a little nostalgic for them. But I have a feeling they’ll come back, along with tie-dyes, Jimi Hendrix, and who knows. They may even have someone like me tour, and denounce the system as the warm up act for a rock and roll band. I mean, who the hell knows.

From: Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 1: The Masters of Suspicion

Transcript:
After these three are through with our intellectual culture: Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, no-one can believe. No-one. It’s like childhood’s end for our culture. You follow me. It’s childhood’s end. You know how you can believe something when you are a child… and it’s not like you can’t come to believe it again when you are sixty… you may be cynical about it again until you are sixty… but these critiques mark childhood’s end in regard to finding meaning within that religious framework. I mean, Paul Ricouer has a beautiful phrase for it. He says, ah, the positive significance of these, ah, criticisms I have mentioned is what they have in common… and that’s their iconoclasm. The fight against the gods of men. That’s very interesting. In other words, their iconoclasm is their fight against the gods we have created so far. And that is what they have in common.

He goes on to say: this atheism that we have just discussed… this attack on the god, or the gods of men… is not of the kind that some contemporary philosopher is going to get up and dispute. Because this has to do with the very things that form the consciousness of the person would be willing to dispute it. In other words, you’ll never know, after Marx and Nietzsche and Freud whether your argument is an argument or a symptom. You follow me? We won’t know whether you have got a good argument or a bad symptom. You just… there’s no way… that’s the problem of finding your, you know, real self here.

And ah, Ricouer himself is a Christian, and so he says the following: “A Marxist critique of ideology, a Nietzschean critique of ressentiment and a Freudian critique of infantile distress, are hereafter the views through which any kind of mediation of faith must pass”. Now, does that mean that every ordinary religious person has to know these writers and stuff? No… these suspicions have become widespread in our culture. We don’t need anymore, in a way, to be instructed in them, because they permeate our culture. This is what conservatives complain about, in a way, they go: “Well, you know, every time you see a Christian on TV; he is either out for money, or he really hates people, or it’s some sexual thing.” Where does that come from? See, the cultural critique of these people has insinuated itself everywhere.

So, the first thing you think when someone comes on a little too strong with religion, is you start running through the “Masters of Suspicion”, going: “What does he want? My billfold? What kind of… is he on some bizarre sexual trip? Is this another Jimmy Swaggart thing? What kind of power trip is it for him?”. You know… I mean, we have got guys some of these guys in Dallas now who just get on TV and say “Give me money because God says for you to give me money. You give me money, and you’ll get some money back. Not from me, but from God.” He’ll keep God’s money. And You’ll get money from God. And that’s a nice… deal… between him and… God. It’s a wonderful… advantage.

Okay, now, the reason I have spent so much time on these “Masters of Suspicion” – the title of the first lecture – “Masters of Suspicion”… these were critiques that were developed in 19th and end of the 20th century. They have become a common possession of our culture, and they have cut off one of the reservoirs within we might find a coherent meaning for our life. One of the reservoirs being religious faith. Not entirely. It’s not like we can’t go back and have it. It’s that we must have under the mark of complexity… follow me? Under the mark of insecurity. Under the mark of confusion about it. It’s not that you can’t… it’s just under those… marks.

From: Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 4: Marcuse and One-Dimensional Man

Transcript:
…now, that’s the method within which Marcuse criticises capitalist society. Not with external norms drawn from some utopian situation, but by its own terms, with its own terms. I also think that’s not only a good strategy as a style of critique, but its utterly fair. I mean, in a way, it’s like demanding of yourself that you do what you say… which you want to demand at least of your friends… that they do most of the time what they say they’ll do. But it’s certainly a good demand to place upon, ah, your society, its leaders, and so on. The trouble is – just as I have stated before – we are blocked. We are blocked in a way by an unprecedented structure of what I have called here… sort of… cynical, sceptical reason. To me it’s historically unmatched. I have never read or heard of a period like this one.

Now, I have read about many historical periods. But not one in which you can talk to young people the way you can at the college level today, and find out that they believe… nothing. Want… nothing. Hope… nothing. Expect… nothing. Dream… nothing. Desire… nothing. Push ’em far enough and they’ll say: “Yeah, I gotta get a job. Spent a lot of money at Duke.” That’s not what I am talking about. They hope nothing. Expect nothing. Dream nothing. Desire nothing.

And it is a fair question to ask whether a society that produces this reaction in its young is worthy of existence at all. It really is. It’s worth asking that. Whether it’s worth being here at all. And my criticism of this society couldn’t get more bitter than it is in that case. It couldn’t possibly be. Remember, I am talking about the young I have encountered at Duke. These are privileged youth. At an elite southern school. Mostly white, mostly upper-middle to upper class. Now, imagine what the attitudes are like on the streets of DC, for another race or another social class. We have outlived in the 20th century the responses that Marcuse would have given to this.

I still admire in his book, the argument concerning enlightenment. I still admire his vicious attack on bureaucracy, both here and in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, and his attack on the world in which money comes before human beings. That to me is the, sort of, one line essence of the critique of Marx… I mean of Marxist critique… where money is placed ahead of human needs. Or just money is placed ahead of them.

Marcuse still tries to defend ah, as I say; freedom, happiness, creativity. He still believes in the truth. He still believes the human race has a happy destiny. I mean, I think that we have to look back at Marcuse who at the time we looked at as a vicious radical; I think we have to look back at him as a kind of Norman Vincent Peale of the 60’s. I mean, Marcuse wasn’t radical at all by the standards of this world into which we have slipped by the late 20th century. No, he really does sound like Norman Vincent Peale at times. It’s… it’s, ah, it’s almost, ah… quaint, if it wasn’t so… horrifying.

From: Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 5: Habermas and the Fragile Dignity of Humanity

Transcript:
I mean, in a certain way, one of the characteristics of what the self is, and one of the reasons it’s under siege, is we are interpretative beings. And now, by the late 20th century, we are in a situation where interpretation has never been more difficult. Never been more difficult. One can… I mean, I can name artefacts that we have developed technologically that are almost completely closed to interpretation, and I’ll name one – although we attempt to interpret it – Television.

Television tries to interpret itself to us, bypassing the upper brain functions and directly feeding into our minds. This is why I said – off camera between classes – that Orwell was a pie-eyed optimist. 1984 arrived in sort of the early 70’s, and ah, Orwell’s vision of a horrible future which was a boot stomping on a human face forever is a utopian image because he assumes there would be resistance and human faces; both of which may turn out to be false. So, I mean, 1984 is not a book that scares me… anymore. I mean, again, last time I outrageously said that Herbert Marcuse was the Norman Vincent Peale of the 60’s, and now this time I have been forced to say that Orwell was an optimist… you know… it’s sort of my corollary to his little cautionary tale.

From: Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 7: Derrida and the Ends of Man

Transcript:
…and ah, I think that is not at all a bad effect that Derrida has had. The fact that he has a sense of humour I don’t hold against him. I wish more academics did. I think it’s pedagogically useful not to be a damn bore all the time… and just, you know, put people to sleep… is pedagogically useful. After all, you know, professors and lecturers have to compete with MTV, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jurassic Park. So, I hardly think it’s in our interest to be boring. And eh, that’s one thing Derrida certainly is not. And, it’s nice to encounter in the dark days that lay ahead as I eh, trudge through what a self can be, it’s nice to encounter a playful spirit. Derrida is very troubled about what the self might even be. But, he is troubled in that playful way that Nietzsche is troubled when he is at his best. And eh, so, ah, I hope that I could at least interest you in ah, looking at something of Derrida’s. In fact, I will leave you with one last little joke of Derrida’s.

So much work has been spent, and so much time has been spent interpreting Nietzsche, and now of course paradoxically Derrida, because these things go on and on. Ah, he wrote a little book called “Spurs: Nietzsche’s Style” and in it, he imagines that Nietzsche left behind, among his many papers a little scrap of paper that says: “I forgot my umbrella”. Then Derrida goes through a long, complex way that an academic interpreter would try to fit this brilliant aphorism of Nietzsche’s into the body of his work. I mean, after all, it might just mean “I forgot my umbrella”, but on the other hand… And, of course, by the time – and this is a short little book I think you could enjoy – by the time that Derrida’s finished, I think that one has at least learned to be an interpreter with more grace, and with a little bit more poetry, and perhaps it would free us for richer, more multicultural, more diverse, and more humane interpretations… if we would free ourselves from the myth. The invidious myth that there is a right way to read a book – one. A right civilization to belong to, as though we chose it. A right gender to be, as though we could pick it. A right class to belong to, as though we chose those things. A right race to be. A certain mythology preferable to others, as in White. Which according to some African-American scholars today – insofar as it’s Greek – was stolen from the Africans in the first place. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s certainly an interesting conjecture, and it’s one in which the readings and the battles of interpretation, as Derrida points out, will not stop. There won’t be a last book, and I am afraid that also warns you that in this class as in many others, there will not be a last word. Thank you very much.

From: Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 1: The Masters of Suspicion

Transcript:
…and I would like to argue in a strong sense that every one of us has some kind of theory of what we are as a person. Now, by that I don’t mean a really highly developed theory like in quantum mechanics or anything like that. I may only mean a narrative story. Something that connects – or attempts to connect – the various disconnected episodes of our lives. Something that gives us a reason to think that we are the same person we were yesterday in some important sense, even if that only means you still have the same drivers’ license. In some way we want to have a narrative about ourselves. We want them to mean something, in short.

From: Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 1: The Masters of Suspicion

Transcript:
…and I don’t want to go off in this first lecture on a long, ah, exegetical set of remarks on this new phrase, which I am afraid is going to be just a part of pop psychology: “the politics of meaning”. I don’t have any idea what they are talking about, okay. I don’t know. This is not what I am talking about. What I am talking about is much more immediate, and it may in fact have political implications. By that I mean… it may mean, that people can have refrigerators, nice cars, nice homes, nice children, and nice degrees, and you know… nice friends… and have absolutely no sense of who the hell they are… and be in utter despair. In fact, ah, that condition, on the account I will be giving will be structurally common. This is not a slam on any people who are personally in the audience today, or any people viewing me. It’s not a personal remark. It’s a structural condition. And so, therefore the title: “The Self Under Siege”.

And, ah, whether philosophy is the right discipline to look at this problem or not is unimportant to me, because in looking at it myself I have been guided more by the problem than by the discipline that I started out working in. I mean, when I look at a college curriculum and see how its divided; and we have committees that redivide them once a week, or once a month, once a year… I mean, I don’t give a damn what studies this or who talks about it, but that it’s part of the ongoing conversation of our species about itself… you know… who we are, seems to me to be very important, even if it is taught in the curriculum under the heading “Basket Weaving”. It’s an utterly, crucially important topic in my view.

The Self Under Siege: Philosophy in the 20th Century (1993)
Rick Roderick, Ph. D.

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Transcript: In the final lecture on the The Self Under Siege, we will discuss the work of Jean Baudrillard, a French social theorist… actually that is now a misnomer since one of Baudrillard’s theses is the disappearance of the social. Baudrillard is perhaps the most important theorist that can be characterised as “post-modern”. I have spent a lot of time, in fact, in a previous lecture series discussing the postmodern. I am going to give a very brief characterisation of it and then discuss Baudrillard’s relationship to it. The self under siege in modernity has always presumed that there was a self to be under siege, but in the view of Baudrillard society has reached a point at which it has literally been overcome by its technology and the new and important issues aren’t about things like the non-believer or the non-offender, but about the non-person. View Full Article »

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Transcript: In this lecture we are going to do something that from the viewpoint of many people is just simply outrageous. We are going to move from two figures who at least have some things in common, and that’s Foucault and Habermas, both of whom deal with the problems of what I call modernity, and I hope that word hasn’t thrown you too bad, its not such an abstract word. It means the processes by which factories were instituted based on the division of labour and the processes by which institutions came to be rationalised, rule governed across the whole terrain of our social life with few exceptions. That’s the process I have been referring to as modernity, and far from being abstract it’s a part of our everyday life. View Full Article »

Download: The Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 6: Foucault and the Disappearance of the Human.avi

Transcript: In our last lecture we discussed Habermas and I think that we left out at least one thing I need to begin with before I proceed with Foucault and that’s Habermas’ view of the self as a thoroughly social being, that is; the interaction of the natural world, the social world and the inner world of human, as it were, suffering, sympathy; a subject entwined in desire. Those are the three dimensions to subjectivity that Habermas discusses and he sees each one as challenged in the late 20th Century; so I wanted to add that to maintain our subject under siege theme. View Full Article »

Download: The Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 5: Habermas and the Fragile Dignity of Humanity.avi

Transcript: In this lecture I want to discuss one of the most important philosophers who is still working, still alive, his work ranges over many areas in social theory, it ranges in areas of philosophy, linguistics and so on, and that’s Jurgen Habermas. Habermas is one of the last great defenders of rationalism in a period in philosophy in which rationalism is not held in very high esteem. In many ways Habermas is an outgrowth of one of the figures that we discussed last time, namely Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School; that would include Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Habermas was in fact Adorno’s graduate assistant and so the original project that Jurgen Habermas set himself was to reformulate the kinds of theories being worked on by Marcuse, by Horkheimer and by Adorno. In particular his first venture was to reformulate their distinction between traditional theory – understood as both philosophy and science, both – as opposed to what they called “critical theory”; a theory whose interest was in the emancipation of human beings. View Full Article »

Download: The Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 4: Marcuse and One-Dimensional Man.avi

Transcript: Okay, this is the fourth lecture and we are going to pick things up a little bit here because we have a philosopher who I came in contact with in college through pamphlets and so this is someone I really enjoy, and I hope that you will get something out of this lecture. I am going to talk about Herbert Marcuse. Again, like Sartre, we are talking about an intellectual who becomes a pop cultural figure. I mean this is a very rare thing for a German philosopher to have their picture on the cover of Life magazine, but this happens with Herbert Marcuse in the sixties. The reason it does… and this time I will go into the theory. In the case of Sartre there are so many periods and stuff to follow out that it’s difficult, but with Marcuse there are a series of guiding themes that we can follow that I think will explain why Marcuse was the philosopher of the 1960’s, and I also want to explain more than that. View Full Article »

Download: The Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 3: Sartre and the Roads to Freedom (CAS).mp3

[No video available for this take. Transcribed from the cassette version of the lecture.]

Transcript: In this third lecture I would like to discuss a figure that is in one sense a paradigmatic intellectual of the 20th Century – certainly one of the most famous intellectuals; a person who many of you know not only as a philosopher but also as a writer and a dramatist – and that’s Sartre, the famous French philosopher. Sartre is best known I suppose in the United States for his literary works and I can recommend them. They are, as it were, foundational in our culture for the, sort of, existential experience and I have in mind his novel “Nausea” which is a nice existential phrase; it gets you off in the right direction. View Full Article »

Download: The Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 3: Sartre and the Roads to Freedom (VHS).avi

Transcript: In this third lecture I want to discuss one of the most famous intellectuals of the 20th Century, one of the few intellectuals to actually become a kind of international star, and that’s Jean Paul Sartre, a French philosopher from my decade, my period, the sixties, but whose career lasted longer than that and started before that and in many ways whose journey as both an intellectual and an activist marks out a certain search for meaning in the 20th Century in his own life. In other words, his own life story is interesting in that regard apart from the works that he wrote. View Full Article »

Download: The Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 2: Heidegger and the Rejection of Humanism.avi

Transcript: Our second lecture will be on Heidegger and the Rejection of Humanism. Many of you may know Heidegger by reputation and I think that it’s always nice in a course in the self in the 20th Century to present at least one lecture by a thinker who is extremely profound and raises the issue of the self in the modern era and also happens to be a Fascist. And again – I always have to put in these disclaimers – this is not an endorsement of Fascism, but… but in a way I almost regret that I had to start with that snotty remark, because Heidegger’s account of finding meaning in the 20th Century is one of the most profound and powerful that we get in the 20th Century. Before I proceed to it, I’d like to say a few brief summary remarks about the rather scattered out first lecture. View Full Article »

Download: The Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 1: The Masters of Suspicion.avi

Transcript: The course that I am about to present: “Philosophy in the 20th Century – The Self Under Siege” has been a difficult course for me to develop over the years, and it’s been a difficult subject matter for me because I have been trained in the classic tradition of philosophy, studied ancient philosophy, know many of the methods and taken all the required logic courses and so on. I have also done a lot of work in Continental Philosophy as well. It seems to me that the late 20th Century presents us with one great and overriding problem and that will be the focus of this course; and I had second thoughts about even calling it a course in philosophy because the most current philosophical attempts to understand both the self, society – our place in it and so on – have been what I will call “deflationary”. View Full Article »