Tag Archive: Philosophy

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

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 8: Nietzsche’s Progeny

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.

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

Transcript: …again, this word “Nihilism” I’ll… I’ll say a bit more about. In a context where the threat was Nihilism. A culture where there was no fabric from which to construct meaning. Now, Nihilism, in a certain way won’t be used by me to describe a philosophical position. Because to the extent it does, it’s supposed to be some silly position like this: “Nihilists are people who believe in nothing”. Well, if that’s what Nihilists were, there wouldn’t be any, and that’s not what we are diagnosing.

We are diagnosing a Nihilistic culture, where no enduring beliefs can provide meaning for the overwhelming majority of members of that culture. That’s the problem that Nietzsche identifies coming along with modern life. And also, not coming along as a mystification, but coming along as part of the insight of modern life. Comes along with Darwin… in other words, being demystified about our origins. It comes along with a new view of the cosmos. Being demystified about the importance of the Earth. You know, where it is, how big it is, and in the centre of what. Being demystified concerning a whole series of things, about which earlier there were powerful, important, meaning giving myths.

Part of the work of the enlightenment was this destructive work of destroying myth. That was the work carried out by the bourgeois class and its ideologues. You know, it’s not bad… you remember, they said you won’t have a decent world to live in until the last priest is hung on the guts of the last king and stuff. Those are the mottos of the great revolutions. This is Washington DC, right? These are the great bourgeois revolutions. We love them, and they may be in fact a world of historic destiny.

Nietzsche’s worry was that this kind of demystification… without creating new festivals, new games, new myths… would lead to a situation in which human beings willed only not to will any longer. Who wanted, sort of, only not to want any longer. And Nietzsche saw this emerging culture as one that would be inimical to human life… about which… as I said, he doesn’t have a lot of consoling things to say.

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 6: Nietzsche – Knowledge and Belief

Transcript: First, what’s supposed to be so scandalous about Nietzsche. Nietzsche is supposed to hold the scandalous view that knowledge is a form of power. Now that is scandalous because knowledge is knowledge. It’s objective. You know, like journalism. And it would be scandalous to show that wherever we find knowledge, we will find it structured and constructed around a system (or systems) of power. Won’t find one without the other. Now, one can think of this along the simplest pedagogical models. By that I mean the classroom models. I mean, I ought to know this from teaching the university. I know how to pass along knowledge.

To get someone to believe me in the last analysis, I give them an “A”, which I could replace with a “happy face”. They are used to that, it’s from kindergarten. They are both just symbols, right, of achievement. They’re not getting paid for this stuff. Just give them a little “A”, they smile. That same system starts in kindergarten: “happy face”… “A”… runs through to “F”. “F”, no face… blank. The same thing would work in kindergarten. That form I used looks fair. I mean, I am grading objectively. But the point is deeper. That what the knowledge is based on is my spot of power as the teacher. That’s what it’s based on. Now, you would go: “oh no – it’s based on what’s really true!” Yeah, but… but… how does that get meted out and parsed out? Who decides that? Well the blunt and ugly answer is: we do. The teachers do. We decide.

Now there are clear counter examples to Nietzsche’s argument. In mathematics at its simplest levels, I will grant you, that if we are doing a mathematics course, I could grade objectively. But I will also grant you that nothing of great importance to human values hangs on truths that everyone can accept. That two plus two equals four, that A is A, are all acceptable, and they are acceptable precisely because nothing of very great human importance hangs on them. The moment you go a little beyond that in any direction, even in math class, when you discuss for example the philosophy of mathematics, then the disputes start, and then power at some point has to insert itself and decide.

So, an important part of Nietzsche’s investigation is in the interconnection between the forms of knowledge and power. Forms of… and for the purposes of our course… forms of ethical behaviour and power, ah, are the subject of his most important book. Well, maybe not his most important, but certainly the one that is the most coherent: “On the Genealogy of Morals”, by Nietzsche.

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 6: Nietzsche – Knowledge and Belief

Transcript: …so that the process of a world becoming bureaucratically more complex and more intrusive at the level of the state is a world phenomenon. It’s not localisable. The process of an economy becoming ever more diverse – commodifying ever more sections of our lives… until we’ve replaced the “Sunday stroll”, to use another example… I mean, I’m old enough to remember that… when I’d go with my grandad, and we’d go for a stroll on Sunday. Well that can’t be done now without a relation to the commodity. Well it could be, but rarely is. We are socialised to go for a stroll someplace else on Sunday now. The mall is open in the afternoon. Even in North Carolina, after church, they open it up… after church. You can stroll through the mall. So that you can both stroll, and shop. The strolling aspect is still important, I mean I’m not saying it’s not kind of kinky to walk around and watch people buy things. It’s amusing.

So, I don’t want you to think that Marx has a critique of capitalism only, and that’s all I am interested in. The critique of the state and state bureaucracy is also important. And I have mentioned the name of Max Weber, but I didn’t bring in any of his books. They are real thick, real boring, and I have suggested that a sense for what a modern bureaucracy is like can be evoked from reading the novels of Franz Kafka. Things like “Before the Law” and “The Trial” will give you more of a sense of being caught in a modern bureaucracy. And all of you have that sense anyway. If you’ve, you know, moved to a new city and tried to hook up a telephone, and they say: “Go to room 238”. You go to room 238, and they say “Where did you come from? Who did you talk to?” You go “I forgot”. They go, “Oh no, you’ll have to go back to room 104”. You go to 104, 104 says “You’ve been to 232? Well, you can’t come to room 104”. And we all know this. I mean that’s what modern bureaucracies look and feel like, you know. So for that go to Kafka. So, what I was trying to develop last time was a criticism of the state, and of the economy. Of a new arising global order… that I guess has become popular enough to deserve the moniker “New World Order”. A new order. I am always suspicious of new orders.

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 8: Philosophy and Postmodern Culture

Transcript: Freud compares the conscious mind, in the book I have – I am talking about now, he compares the conscious mind to a garrison. A captured, tiny garrison in an immense city. The city of Rome. With all its layers of history. All its archaic barbarisms. All its hidden avenues. Covered over by civilization after civilization. That’s our mind. That whole thing. But the conscious part of it is that one garrison that’s clear, that holds out in this captured city.

A magnificent metaphor for all the surrounding motives, motivations, motifs, desires, that drive us… that are not philosophical… that cannot, even if we talk to our therapist a long time, all be brought up at once.

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 8: Philosophy and Postmodern Culture

The goal of a mass telecommunication culture is psychoanalysis in reverse. It’s that the little, last remaining parts of that garrison become unconscious. It’s precisely to reverse that process of enlightenment. Mass culture is enlightenment in reverse gear. Precisely to wipe out that last little garrison of autonomy. It is a constant assault upon it.

That was why the last time I was out here, I approached it from this religious angle of Kierkegaard’s, and characterised the assault as one that caused despair. Where despair was not a mood, but a structure that belongs to a captured garrison. Not an accidental feature of a captured garrison, but part of it. A structure of it. Fundamental to it.

From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 8: Philosophy and Postmodern Culture

…but in a culture so overloaded, where we already suspect – if we don’t know – that it’s goal is psychoanalysis in reverse: to make the parts of us that think into ones that don’t; just react, follow, or replicate.

One thing that we can do, is tune out. So, many of us do that in one form or another. We take the culture and simply try to tune out as much as we can. But there is a flaw in the strategy. And that’s that no culture ever was so pervasive. Even this word [culture] may be bothering you. There was a time when culture meant going to things created by us folks, as opposed to nature. Where is nature now?

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

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

…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

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

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

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: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 1: Socrates and the Life of Inquiry

…and then that makes knowing yourself a crucially important part of knowledge. Now I’ll make this as simple as I can. I love to use references to movies, I mean not many of us read any more, but a lot of us go to movies.

In Superman ONE okay… lets get down to a real case okay… in Superman I, little baby superman is flying from the very sophisticated planet to earth, and there are all these knowledge crystals… and I didn’t like the series that much okay, so don’t frown at me. It’s not that great a movie, I am just illustrating here. These knowledge crystals tell him all the known physics of this advanced civilisation… but the last and the most precious crystal is symbolically important. Because now that you know all this – you know, all these things – you may want to know what is most important… and that’s who you are. And so the last crystal is supposed to give him the Socratic style of knowledge.

So Socrates believed… I mean this is a nice illustration, because Socrates believed that one could have ALL the other kinds of knowledge, and be totally lost – totally aimless – if one didn’t have the other kind of knowledge, which was knowledge of one’s self. And eh, this is nice to remember today, I think. It’s a cautionary tale, because today we live in a society saturated with information. Just… information… which I would want to radically distinguish from wisdom or knowledge… but just saturated with information. But I think in our society, the Socratic question is not only difficult to answer, but even a sense for its importance is being lost. Just saturated with information. We are told so frequently who we are, or given a certain set of roles that are pre-arranged, pre-established, and which in a free society one is able to vary slightly. In other words, to give an example, we all know what a yuppie is, but we know that within that category that there is some variation possible. You could be sandy haired or red haired. You could wear black Reeboks or white ones. I mean there is a little variation possible. But I am trying to give you a sense for the strange distance between… historical distance… between the Socratic search for wisdom, and this kind of way of finding out who you are. It’s very different. It’s a very different thing.

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

…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

…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.


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: 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 »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 8: Nietzsche’s Progeny.mov

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 »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 7: Nietzsche as Artist.mov

Transcript: In this lecture I’d like to discuss Nietzsche as artist, and also – I don’t know if it’s on what we might call the course syllabus, but – Nietzsche and his political uses, and the two are deeply interconnected. I have said that I don’t want to treat Nietzsche as a mere literary figure, and when I say “Nietzsche as Artist”, I have in mind this strong project of self creation, which is to make one’s own life a work of art. A very difficult thing is to sculpt oneself; it’s much easier to sculpt in stone than to sculpt in that invisible mysterious material of the self. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 6: The Will to Power.mov

Transcript: I’d like to wrap up my remarks about self creation, self invention, and the challenge of The Eternal Recurrence by saying that we need to remember that this has to do… that this has to do with what I mentioned later in the lecture: the love of fate. Loving the place you have found yourself in history. And sometimes that’s a difficult thing to do, and for me that’s a quite personal remark that has to do with my own self invention. To try to love the place I have found myself in history, like many other people now is… I find that difficult. Nietzsche on the other hand thought it might be difficult, but it was a challenge that we should attempt to meet. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 5: The Eternal Recurrence.mov

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 »

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 3: Nietzsche as Master of Suspicion and Immoralist.mov

Transcript: Lecture three will be on a topic I richly enjoy, because I have in a way made suggestive remarks about Nietzsche, but I hope they have also been substantive at least in this regard. I understand that there is much debate on these contentious positions concerning the rather untruthful origins of truth; by that I mean its origin within the human community. Ah, and the contentious contention that relativism and so-called “perspectivism” are not threats, but rather challenges to our creative and interpretative imaginations and powers. Also I have tried to make the brief but substantive case that facts do not occur independent of their interpretations; that facts are implicated in interpretations. 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 »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 7: Kierkegaard and the Contemporary Spirit.mov

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 »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 6: Nietzsche – Knowledge and Belief.mov

Transcript: Last time, in our last lecture we were screaming about the United States government and its many failings. I want to make clear something, and its… unfortunately in the current context… ah, I must tell you that many of you who came here to hear a course on “Philosophy and Human Values” probably expected more “Philosophy” and less on the “Human Values” side. Well, I hope some of you were here yesterday when I ran through a series of ethical theories; and I think I gave some arguments. That was my “professionalising” work. In other words, that was the display of my rough credentials to do this. View Full Article »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 5: Hegel and Modern Life.mov

Transcript: Okay, in our last lecture, ah, I ended the history of ethics in a way – what would be a usual introduction to an ethics course – by discussing Hegel’s view of ethics with its ah… one might call it… super concept of freedom; the very large concept of freedom as formulating those goals and desires of individuals in whatever given historical period. And the idea that freedom represents is to see those goals and obstacles and their overcoming in that period, and to name that activity and those sets of practices “freedom”. View Full Article »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 4: Mill on Liberty.mov

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 »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 3: Kant and the Path to Enlightenment.mov

Transcript: I have the daunting task of summarising 2000 years in two sentences, so I’ll avoid it, and hope that you saw the last tape. Which was basically… the movement so far is to present something like a traditional history of ideas but – if you’ve noticed – with little rejoinders along the way that suggest that that history of ideas is not innocent. Not as though it were being presented in the way that the National Association of Scholars would have you believe. Books being selected as though by very intelligent readers because they are the best books. That isn’t always wrong, but the story of the survival of books and the formations of canons clearly has other factors. View Full Article »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 2: Epicureans, Stoics, Skeptics.mov

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 »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 1: Socrates and the Life of Inquiry.mov

Transcript: A course in philosophy and human values may seem paradoxical because philosophy was that discipline in our traditions – that’s western traditions, western civilisation – that began with a search for unconditioned knowledge. Unconditioned by human knowledge, of things that transcend this world or any other. That tradition is very much alive in philosophy today, mostly in formal logic and mathematics, where it seems in place, and professional philosophers have a name for that tradition. It’s the “analytic” tradition in philosophy. A course in philosophy and human values has very little to gain from that tradition. View Full Article »