7) “The Relation between Language & the Other Symbolic Forms” Interpreting Cassirer: Critical Essays (Cambridge UP, 2020).
Keywords: Cassirer, Philosophy of Language, Myth, Philosophy of Symbolic Forms
Abstract: This chapter examines the relation between language and the other main symbolic forms in Cassirer’s philosophy of culture. For Cassirer, language holds a ‘foundational’ status in the life of a culture. It combines with all of our most important forms of knowledge to help us express our religion, art and science. But language first arose in a very close relationship with myth. Although religion, art, science, and also history, all strive in different ways to keep the rise of mythic language at bay, their power of myth is never complete. It is for this reason that Cassirer includes myth as part of his “labile equilibrium” of culture. While myth and language share a pre-representative, ‘archaic’ union in the function of naming, religion, art, science, and history rely upon language in different ways. For religion, the name is revelatory Truth, for Art, the name calls forth a fictional hero, and for science, the name is a useless tag; what counts is the concept. History is also a symbolic form, though its relationship with language shares elements of religion, art, and science. History must be practiced in a culture in order to maintain the labile equilibrium in a culture, but a glut of history allows for the return of earlier, mythical forms of language. In general, history, like science, employs names primarily in a critical mode, tending toward ever greater integration, both systemically and semantically. However, the rise of National Socialism in the 1930’s forced Cassirer, and forces us, to view the overweening sense of destiny present in thinkers like Spengler, as a mythical force, imbued with dangerous onto-poetic and onto-thetic powers.
6) “The State of Example: Sovereignty and Bare Speech in Plato’s Laws“, Journal of Speculative Philosophy 34:3 (2020).
Keywords: Agamben, Plato, Sovereignty, Poetry, Homo Sacer
Agamben gives us two ways to conceive of sovereign power—according to the exception, and according to the example. He famously follows the former in his Homo Sacer project, but I develop and follow the latter, which I find present in Plato’s Laws. There, Plato gives us a view of sovereignty in its constitutional moment, showing us how constituting and constituted power emerge together from the relationship between law and the communal narrative upon which it rests. This form of sovereignty cannot be expressed according to the state of exception but requires an analysis from the state of example. The figure that emerges here, homo magus, provides the basis for an alternate archaeology of power, one in which sovereignty does not attempt to reduce political subjectivity to ‘bare life’ but rather attempts to reduce political speech to ‘bare speech’.
5)“i nomi degli dei: A Reconsideration of Agamben’s Oath Complex,” Law and Critique (2019)
Keywords: Oath, Agamben, Homo Sacer, Infancy, Divine Names, Ancient Greek Politics, Polytheism
Abstract: This essay offers an exegesis and critique of the moment of community formation in Agamben’s Homo Sacer Project. In The Sacrament of Language, Agamben searches for the site of a non-sovereign community founded upon the oath [horkos, sacramentum]: an ancient institution of language that produces and guarantees the connection between speech and the order of things by calling the god as a witness to the speaker’s fidelity. I argue that Agamben’s account ultimately falls short of subverting sovereignty, however, because the sacramentum derives its power, at a fundamental level, from the ‘monothetic’ structure of truth—what Agamben calls ‘the name of God’ [il nome di Dio]. I propose we may yet salvage the oath as a means of subverting sovereignty, however, if we reconsider it in the context of polytheism, where the names of the gods [i nomi degli dei] can be many, while remaining powerful. First, through a reading of Aeschylus’ Eumenides, I argue that the Greeks understood the oath to function even where truth and falsity were inherently undecidable. Second, I argue that if we separate the truth and power functions interwoven in the sacramentum, we find a second formula, the decisory oath, which can be taken in order to produce a community even in the absence of one sovereign truth. As a kind of magical speech, the decisory oath provides the limit conditions for the possibility of distinguishing true from false in the sacramentum, and thus founds it.
4) “Myth, Primitive Sign, Poetry: From Cassirer to Heidegger,” Research in Phenomenology 48:2 (2018)
Keywords: Heidegger, Cassirer, Language, Myth, Poetry, Being and Time
Abstract: In this article, I trace the disagreement between Cassirer and Heidegger on the nature of the magical (or ‘primitive’) sign, which is at the heart of mythical discourse. While Heidegger initially argues that this form of sign is structurally impossible on the basis of his accounts of signs and language in Being and Time, he later comes to recognize that he had not properly accounted for its possibility within his phenomenological deduction. I conclude by describing how Heidegger’s notion of poetry eventually comes into alignment with the way Cassirer describes the function of myth and the magical sign.
3) “Homo Sacer, Homo Magus, and the Ethics of Philosophical Archaeology,” Journal of Speculative Philosophy 31:3 (Summer 2017)
Keywords: Philosophical Archaeology, Foucault, homo sacer, Political Ontology, Agamben
Abstract: Philosophical archeology, which was first developed into a workable formulation by Michel Foucault (1966), is a method of modern historiography that engages the production of its own origin (and destiny). For this reason, however, the manner in which the figure of ‘man’ is inscribed by a thinker upon its episteme is never ethically neutral. Giorgio Agamben’s production of a figure without speech, homo sacer, delivers the Western political subject into a powerless political destiny, leaving thinkers who accept this paradigm to grope blindly after a rarified concept ‘whatever’ community. We must give an alternative archaeology of political speech to avoid this fate. Thus, I propose an archaeological account of a figure that is in essential possession of its own speech. This paradigmatic figure is what I call the magician, or homo magus. Awarded Graduate Prize for best submission, SPEP 2016.
2) “Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise and Lessing’s Fragmentenstreit,” History of Political Thought 38:4 (Winter 2017)
Keywords: Benedict de Spinoza, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Theological-Political Treatise, Political Theology, German Enlightenment Thought
Abstract: Scholars agree that Lessing deliberately incited the infamous ‘Fragmentenstreit’, but they limit his role to moderator of the conflict. However, I argue Lessing takes up a positive Spinozist position in the debate, discernable in three ways: first, by his claim, ‘the Bible obviously contains more than what pertains to religion’, second, by his distinction between the ‘spirit’ and ‘letter’, and third, by his practical mode of theologizing. After an overview of the debate and discussion of the relevant themes in Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, I turn to Lessing to show how these three ways emanate from and resonate with Spinoza’s Treatise.
1) “Spaces of the Self: Foucault and Goffman on the Micro-Physics of Discipline,” Philosophy Today 61:1 (Winter 2017)
Keywords: Michael Foucault, Erving Goffman, Discipline, Power, Micro-Physics
Abstract: This article argues that the works of Michel Foucault and Erving Goffman are complementary, specifically in their analyses of disciplinary power. This analysis would be what Foucault calls a ‘micro-physics’ of power. Micro-physics is an important concept even in Foucault’s later lectures, but it remains a sub-discipline of genealogy Foucault himself never pursues. Goffman’s works, which rely upon notions of social performance, personal spaces, and the construction of the self through these, fulfill the conditions of micro-physical analysis well. Using Goffman’s works, I argue that his style ethnographic analysis helps clarify certain fundamental questions about disciplinary power left unquestioned in Foucault’s works—namely, the ‘internalization of the gaze’ and its ‘spontaneous’ efficiency. I conclude that disciplinary power is not actually a process of internalization at all, but a systematic divestment of the subject’s access to the external processes and spaces on which the production and performance of his ‘self’ depends.
Under Review & Complete
2) “Of Other Histories: Philosophical Archaeology, Historiology, and Paradigmatology”
Keywords: Foucault, Agamben, Kant, Philosophical Archaeology, Historical A Priori
Abstract: In this article, I examine the relationship between Foucault’s concern with the historical a priori, conceived of as the object and basis for philosophical archaeology, and Kant’s twin projects of writing an ‘a priori history’ and writing a ‘history of the a priori’. The question of the historical a priori has been the attention of many excellent scholars, though many of these seek the exposition of Foucault’s use of the term in contrast to Husserl’s late works. One scholar, Colin McQuillan, has recently published two articles exploring the connection between Foucault and Kant on this question, and in one of those, he also analyzes Agamben’s more recent work on philosophical archaeology. While McQuillan firmly establishes the importance that Kant played in the development of Foucault’s thought leading up to The Order of Things, he is ultimately led to disavow Agamben’s contribution to this discussion because he views Agamben as trivializing the production of the historical a priori, rendering it arbitrary and ineffectual. I disagree with this assessment, and my analysis thus serves as a re-situation of the interaction between these three thinkers that shows Agamben as faithful to and even working to draw out several important implications of Foucault’s use of the historical a priori. In short, I argue Agamben’s work shows us that we are able to discern the properly archaic status necessary for Foucault’s pursuit of the historical a priori only when philosophical archaeology tends toward the production of culturally contingent paradigms that are able to serve as a critique of the modern episteme in which we find ourselves. Agamben’s approach furthermore provides the ontological principle of creating new kinds of intelligible objects for use in critiquing the categories of existence and principles of order inherent in our historical situatedness—what Agamben calls, “paradigmatic ontology.”
1) “The Magical Community: Toward a Broader Concept of Political Participation”
Keywords: Community, Sacrifice, Magic, Mimesis, Methexis, Jean-Luc Nancy, Marcel Mauss, Anthropological Theory
Abstract: In this article, I describe two models of community present in recent Continental Philosophy—the sacrificial and unsacrificeable—and I propose a third, the magical community. These models can and should be articulated separately because they assume non-contradictory senses of participation (methexis)—the mimetic, the fusional, the anamnetic, and the patronal. First, with regard to the sacrificial community, I outline two varieties—the mimetic beginning in Freud, and the fusional beginning in Bataille. Second, I discuss the attempts beginning with Blanchot and Nancy to think the unsacrificeable community, a model that subverts sacrificial mimesis and fusion through anamnesis. However, I argue these attempts ultimately rest in a vacuous sense of ‘singular-plural’ exposure. Third, I examine patronal methexis, a form of participation first articulated in Mauss that is visible only at the level of social facts and forces, and which describes a community bound by cultural commitments. In closing, I argue for the social fact of magic as a singular-plural site of culture to lends context to the unsacrificeable subject. I suggest the magical community can help articulate the concepts of a ‘political base’ and a ‘fan base’, while also rising to meet contemporary problems of Western ‘historiology’ and ethnographic theory.