"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 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 »
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 »
[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 »
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 »
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 »
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: This lecture is on a very troubling thesis of Nietzsche’s: The Eternal Recurrence. Before I discuss Nietzsche’s idea of The Eternal Recurrence I want to do a little bit of what I promised that I would do last time when I recounted the parable of The Death of God, and that’s to interpret it a little bit more. One of the nice things about parables – and I am going to compare that parable to some other parables. One of the nice things about parables is that in a certain sense if one is to read them at all – engage in reading them at all – parables demand, require interpretation. They quite literally can’t mean what they say, quite literally. And if you notice in many traditions, the attempt to communicate through a parable is the attempt to communicate a truth that, as it were, could not possibly be communicated in another, sort of, more linear form without, as it were, the aid of a story. View Full Article »