Tag Archive: meaning


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: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 1: Nietzsche as Myth and Mythmaker

Transcript:
This is kind of a modern myth I am about to spell out for you. In fact I may not read it, I may just gloss it. It’s a modern myth that I’d like to spell out for you that many of us believe. And lets see, after we have examined this myth if this is more or less comforting than the beautiful myth of redemption in say, for example, the Bible. Ah, the myth is something like this: “There are billions and billions of stars. The Earth’s is a tiny one. We crawl across it for a few seconds, and then we individually are gone, and billions and billions of eons of time before, and billions afterwards pass, and the earth eventually goes out like a cinder, and perhaps the whole universe collapses into itself. And after all that has happened, absolutely nothing will have been done.”

Now, that’s a very important myth, many of us believe that one too. But against that background, it becomes difficult as we chip away at our daily little lives… selling shoes, selling tyres, teaching class… to try to find any damn thing that means anything. So our search through Nietzsche will not be a search for dogmatic answers to that question, but to follow his quest and ours for a form of self creation under circumstances and with a background of myth that do not make it seem likely that we will have a happy result. So the end of my first lecture is that our interpretive efforts here too, are bound to fail.

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.

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 (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 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 »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 4: The Death of God.mov

Transcript: In this lecture I want to pick up on my discussion of “On the Genealogy of Morals” by Nietzsche and return our argument concerning the value of our values, the origins of our ethical judgements and so on, and look at the question of – as I stated in the opening lecture – the paradoxical situation that our morality may, oddly enough, have an immoral origin. And so this is the argument to which we will return. One of the points I didn’t make about the genealogical method in the last lecture, I want to make now and it’s very important. When we look genealogically at “The Greeks” as a type, or Christianity; Nietzsche uses a kind of typology where we don’t look for who speaks in a document, but for as it were, what motivates the speaker behind the document. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 1: Nietzsche as Myth and Mythmaker.mov

Transcript: The first lecture will be an introduction to Nietzsche that I have called “Myth and Mythmaker”. I’d like to say a little bit about his life because there is really not too much to say about it. It will only take a few minutes, I think, to summarise. He had a really unexciting life, and so we need to distinguish right away two things. One is what I like to call “The Nietzsche Effect”, and I am a child of the sixties, so I am very familiar with the so-called “Nietzsche Effect”, and that’s the effect that Nietzsche has on adolescent young males who read him for the first time [crowd laughter] and begin to name their cars “Ubermensch” wagons, ah, and begin to quote Nietzsche in order to date women who dress in black, as I am dressed today, and the Nietzsche fascination. That characterises one’s first encounter and certainly it characterised my first encounter with Nietzsche as well. View Full Article »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 8: Philosophy and Postmodern Culture.mov

Transcript: A brief recap of the whole journey we have taken here. We tried to as it were retrace, sort of, the history of the accounts of human values given in the Western philosophical tradition. That account seemed to dead end with some rather ordinary philosophical problems. In other words, we found out that most of our accounts wouldn’t work too well, until we got to Hegel’s account, which reminded us that human values and moral and ethical problems come up in historical circumstances, which then forced us to investigate society and history, which opened up immense topics that we have only been able to say suggestive things about. View Full Article »