"Don’t forget as you watch the TV that the fires of Belsen burn in the TV tubes every night. Don’t forget that the structural principles of our society are as barbaric in their structure as they ever were. Perhaps more so... perhaps more so. We have to remember we are talking at a historical moment when most folks want to nuke somebody again and why not!"
- Rick Roderick, 108 Philosophy and Post-Modern Culture
Transcript: You know, how many novels begin with sentences describing the sky and the landscape. There are so many. It’s a standard novelistic beginning. Gibson begins his novel Neuromancer with the following sentence, and I consider it the best first sentence in 20th century American literature. I hate to use the word literature about this stuff. Neuromancer being a work of what I call “near future fiction”. A work that projects, as does the movie Blade Runner, the near future of possible social development based on very close analysis of current trends. In any case, the first sentence of the novel goes like this: “The sky above the port was the colour of television tuned to a dead channel”. Marvellous. Sets the tone for an incredible book. Short. Tough. Interesting. Brilliant.
That sentence frames for me a description of the postmodern trajectory… and to distance that sentence… and there is a massive distance… you could distance it from the sentences of Zarathustra, from The Gay Science. You could distance it from the first sentences of novels such as… “Call me Ishmael”… Moby Dick. That’s a pretty well known first sentence in a novel. “Call me Ishmael”. Referring all the way backward to a biblical text, and all the way forward to a new adventure. A new American adventure. In living a life that would allow for difference and community, it would allow for freedom, and the recognition of necessity. That project ends, in my view… or at least the dawning of the end, in Gibson. In that wonderful first sentence. “The sky above the port was the colour of television tuned to a dead channel”.
The fights that remain… the living antagonisms and our possibilities to construct ourselves in anything like free and autonomous ways will have to be fought across that barren, strange landscape… that unthinkable cultural future of deferred and indifferent pseudo experience. And across that terrain, the struggles for even moments of authentic lived experience… “authentic” in quotes – who knows… of lived experience… to feel something for god’s sakes… anything… will be the locus of struggle one would hope.
Here I will call to your mind a scene from Blade Runner, where before the replicant dies (Roy Batty), he slams his hand on a nail (and many of you may not know this), but when Batty does that in the film, it’s a reference to an action that Sartre has a character perform in “Roads to Freedom”. In “Roads to Freedom”, the Sartre character slams his hand onto a nail to prove that he is free. Because he chose to do it. It hurt like hell, but he chose it. I put my hand on that nail, and that shows I am free, because just as a calculus of deterministic pleasure I would never have done it. It’s a philosophical demonstration… a painful and stupid one in my opinion… but by the time we get to Blade Runner, the replicant slams his hand onto a nail just to feel anything. Just to feel anything. So don’t worry about the communists or the capitalists. Fight to live and feel anything. Thankyou I have enjoyed it very much. Thankyou.
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 »
Transcript: The last lecture on Nietzsche is quite a challenge since one of Nietzsche’s arguments are there are no “lasts”. There are no last interpretations, there are no last desperate moments, in fact it’s a little remark about history that I might begin this so-called last lecture with. It’s that the spirit of danger and catastrophe we may feel ourselves in today is in a sense profoundly ahistorical. I have a feeling that in a certain way perhaps every moment of history has seemed at least to some of its participants to be a profound moment of danger, and certainly if one looks back over the trail of history it’s much easier to see its barbaric ruin than its rational progress. View Full Article »
Transcript: Okay, ah, last time I may have dropped out of my West Texas mode for a moment and become a little too philosophical, so I am going to try to restate a few things from Nietzsche in a simple way, quickly, before I move on to some remarks about Kierkegaard. Ah, what I was trying to evoke in you was more the spirit of Nietzsche than the specific text. The spirit of Nietzsche is one of deep suspicion, and that suspicion is that power is intertwined with things that we normally like to think of, even today, as not being dependent on power, for example; truth, goodness, and so on. Nietzsche says they are. View Full Article »
Transcript: Okay, we ended the last lecture by discussing the Utilitarian ethical theory which is that we should always act as though to bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and Kant’s ethical theory that we should always act so that the rule of our action could be willed by us to be universal law, and then we raised objections to both those. Now, a further reminder is in order, and it’s very important. View Full Article »
Transcript: Well in the last lecture I tried to just make a few suggestive remarks in order to get us off the ground about what might be called the Greek way of life, and different forms of human conduct of which only one I suggested and discussed, and that was the Socratic life of enquiry. And I didn’t mean by that life of enquiry an inactive life, an apolitical life or one unconcerned with the state or with other humans. But, in fact, I wanted to present it not as some academic debate, but as a life deeply immersed in your social situation, and to understand who you are and who your fellow citizens are. View Full Article »