Following, as I often do, a link from Ned Resnikoff to a blog that’s new to me – “An und fuer sich” with the most excellent URL “itself.wordpress.com” – I ran into a post written from a professor’s perspective on the difficulties of bringing the likes of Lacan to undergraduates:
We have come to that segment of the humanities capstone course that treats of “theory” — that body of dense, allusive work that has dominated the intellectual culture of the academic humanities for the last several decades. This body of work is, famously, “difficult.” It is written in a style that is uncommon in the English-speaking world, and the fact that it is translated can often represent a special obstacle. It also has a tendency to refer to a lot of things that an undergraduate has not yet had a chance to read in any detail.
The blogger, Adam Kotsko, goes on to recollect his own experience of hoping or expecting, once upon a time, that, through diligent reading, eventually in the original languages, of source materials, much that seemed unintelligible in “theory” would at last become clear. He then discovered, inevitably, that looking for origins and absolute clarities typically entails a plunging into ever greater complexities and new inscrutabilities, in never-ending confrontation with the lack, famously (not quite-)observed by Derrida of any origin at the (non-)origin.
Hegel’s (non-)answer – not only Hegel’s, of course, but in Hegel clearly stated and one might say most lovingly embraced as the answering non-answer it is, then is some more – was to deny the existence (or the truth) of “truth” except as a system of truth, as its own system. Continuing to write loosely, and thinking of the Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit (which happens to be relatively highly readable), I might suggest that the truest truth of the search for intelligibility might be in and only in that selfsame search for intelligibility, not in any “clear” “particular” “inteilligibles” yielded by some finally successful reading to be understood as like a finally successful trip to the thinker’s shopping mall.
Yet, because such observations, once uttered, strike us, the writer especially, as ought-to-have-been unutterably banal, we turn quickly to any other content for re-grounding, for seeming immediacy and uniqueness (the subject of Chapter 1 following the Preface!)…
…I recently discovered Agamben for myself: His erudition seems overwhelming, and his prose seems overwhelmingly dense even apart from all the Latin and Greek, but both the erudition and the density remain “entertainment values” in themselves, even if after the fourth book I get the impression that another part of his authorial shtick is to seem always on the verge of a great discovery or revelation or, to use an Agambenian-Heideggerian term, disconcealment that never quite arrives, or that seems to reduce to the kind of paradoxical abstraction that a precocious sophomore would enunciate.
Then I think of Nietzsche, whose reading in philosophy and many other subjects upon which he held forth would stand by contemporary academic standards as disqualifyingly light, and by Agambenian standards almost laughable. Nietzsche apparently never read Hegel, for example, and dealt with Marx and Darwin strictly on the basis of secondary sources. Partly this failing, if failing it is, was a result of personal physical impairments – poor Fritz was nearly blind, and subject to chronic debilitating migraines and other impediments to thorough scholarship – and partly it was just a fact of 19th century literary-academic life that not every professor had easy access to almost anything he could want to read. This observation isn’t an endorsement of Nietzschean philosophy or pseudo-philosophy or pre-theoretical philosophizing, but a suggestion that the anxiety of influence is a multi-sided problem; that among the “sides” are its fully criticizeable material conditions – including capitalist overproduction of the possibly overly vast library and overly dense text; and that the difficulties bordering on hopelessness of undergraduates relate to the limitations bordering on hopelessness that “theory” encounters everywhere/nowhere.
One seeming alternative is just to get those sad poops out of there. Yet, living on in the aftermath of poop-annihilation seems to mean that there are more sad poops where the ones we just got rid of (non-)originated, and so we start over, whether with the sophomoric paradox, the preface written to help us sophomores out, or maybe with Chapter 1, and its nearly unintelligible examination of the bases of intelligibility itself.