SPEP 2009–More from Derrida

Earlier this week, we told you about a session on Derrida at the annual SPEP conference in October. We are pleased to present two more papers from that session!

Geoffrey Bennington, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of French and Professor of Comparative Literature at Emory University, is one of the country’s premier Derrida scholars. Commenting on Michael Naas’ book, Derrida From Now On, Bennington writes:

Of course, nothing says that doing or saying something in the name of someone or
something makes it a good thing to say or do. If I was mentioning what I imagine to be
Michael’s anxiety a moment ago, that is because what I say in his name always might go horribly
wrong in some way. Indeed in his book, other examples of things done in the name of
something are not always reassuring at all: for example, in the chapter entitled “Derrida’s
Laïcité,” Naas quotes one of the few as yet published pieces by Derrida on the death-penalty,
and explains that in the exemplary cases of Socrates, Jesus, al-Hallâj and Joan of Arc, the deathpenalty
was invoked by the state and “each was thus condemned in the name of a certain
transcendence for worshipping or claiming a relationship with another transcendence or a
counter-transcendence.” (67) [I’ll skip a couple of further examples.] And just a little later,
Naas glosses the point further, writing “Rather than simply opposing the theological, the state
wishes to have a monopoly over it. It thus uses the death penalty not so much to protect the
lives of its citizens as to take or sacrifice natural life in the name of an excess or hyperbolization
of life, that is, in the name of a certain transcendence.” (Ibid.) Or more generally, helpfully
unpacking the mysteries of Derrida’s late interest in the question of life, “it is this emphasis on
sovereignty and life, on superabundant life, on what can easily become sacrifice in the name of
that life, that has to be questioned if not countered, I believe Derrida believed, by a relentless,
vigilant, and affirmative interrogation of the way in which life as such is only ever possible in
relation to death.”

To read more of Bennington’s take on Derrida, through Naas’ lens, you can find the paper in its entirety here.

Michael Naas also spoke at the session. To read his remarks, click here.

Earlier this week, we told you about a session on Derrida at the annual SPEP conference in October. We are pleased to present two more papers from that session! Geoffrey Bennington, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of French and Professor of … Full Story

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SPEP 2009–Derrida From Now On

derridaIn October, SPEP (the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy) hosted its annual meeting in Arlington, Virginia. SPEP is one of the largest philosophical societies in America, boasting a membership of over 2500 people.

On October 29, the conference presented a panel titled “Derrida From Now On,” featuring Fordham’s Samir Haddad as moderator, and speakers Zeynep Direk (of Galatasaray University) and Geoffrey Bennington.  Michael Naas, professor of philosophy at DePaul University, and author of Fordham Press’ Derrida From Now On, was there to respond.

Here’s an excerpt from Zeynep Direk’s paper:

Micheal Naas’ latest book Derrida From Now On is comprised of several essays on Derrida’s late philosophy of politics, taking up the questions of nation state, secularism, globalization, democracy and Derrida’s latest assessments of Europe and United States. The title of the book is interesting for even though it locates itself in the “now” it performs not only a break with the past, but also perhaps with the present in order to open the future for a new philosophical engagement with Derrida. What about the now of Derrida, the now in which he lives on in the memories of family, friends, and students, and for others the now in which his signature no longer represents a living body but an immense corpus?

The full paper is available for download here.

Stay tuned for more from SPEP 2009!


In October, SPEP (the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy) hosted its annual meeting in Arlington, Virginia. SPEP is one of the largest philosophical societies in America, boasting a membership of over 2500 people. On October 29, the conference presented … Full Story

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Publishing in the Humanities Today: Part V

Without further ado, the fifth and final installment of Helen Tartar’s lecture on humanities publishing:

I have been saying for decades that, while the subsidy required by scholarly publishing most importantly subsidizes academic scholarship, in fact it also subsidizes other important things, namely, the technics and traditions associated with the book. These new electronic possibilities give a new meaning to that. They don’t attempt to replace the printed book, but build on it to provide models and uses beyond the print form. Yet they don’t pay for themselves.

            One very positive development in the last couple of years is a series of five-year projects funded by the Mellon Foundation and designed to help presses publish, in ordinary paper format, first books in what the call for applications called emerging or “underserved” fields, the latter being, if I interpret it correctly, a euphemism for important academic fields that publishers have been dropping on the excuse that the books don’t sell well enough.

            The two grants in which Fordham is involved are the Modern Language Initiative (MLI, also involving the University of California Press FlashPoints series, the University of Pennsylvania Press, the University Press of Virginia, and the University of Washington Press) and the American Literatures Initiative (ALI, headed by New York University Press and also involving Rutgers, Temple, and Virginia). There is also a Mellon grant for Slavic studies to Northwestern University Press, Wisconsin, and Pittsburgh. In that consortium, Northwestern has chosen to specialize in literature, and you should certainly be aware of that.

            The Modern Language Initiative, which Fordham heads, attempts to synchronize its aims with the report of the MLA Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages, and thus to take as its topic the study, as written up in English, of language as such and linguistic and cultural competence, rather than any focus on a single language and its area. Richard Sieburth nicely catches this in a blurb he has given us for our MLA handout: “What is exciting about this initiative is its Benjaminian emphasis on the ‘languageness’ not just of literature, but of that larger field of signs we call culture. Rather than approach the question of ‘foreign’ languages on a quota basis, this is a project that encourages the exploration of the spaces in between and among the various ways we all word our worlds.” There is a presupposition against work on Russian for this initiative, because the Mellon didn’t want to fund two competing venues and the Slavic grant had already been funded. But work in Slavic might also fit if it had a linguistic focus and a comparative dimension and did not, for whatever reason, fit the specifically Slavic grant.

The MLI funds four first books per press, and the ALI five first books per press, each year for five years. Editorial acquisitions procedures are completely standard and independent for each press—you can find press statements and contact persons on the respective websites at www.modernlanguageinitiative.org and www.americanliteratures.org. The collaborative portion, which is required by the grant, kicks in once a book goes into production—all books go through a freelance managing editor and typesetter up to the point of printing and binding, thus ensuring low cost and high standards (the freelance managing editor, a former colleague of mine, has been specializing in literary studies and literary theory for nearly a decade) and freeing the consortium presses from the internal costs of handling these books at those stages. Wonderfully enough, the grants include a recognition that marketing—often overlooked when it comes to subsidizing publication—is an integral part of what it means to publish a book, and there are funds for joint marketing of all books in the MLI and ALI programs.

            As I stand here in front of you, the most important thing about these grants is that they enable me to end with rays of hope in what has in recent years become a pretty gloomy scenario for authors of first scholarly books in the modern languages.  In the larger picture, though, I think what may most important is that these grants offer funding for books, as developed and published primarily in paper format, by university presses—recognizing all the necessary costs and skills that this involves. This is word that ought to get around, and that I hope you will help me get around, also to administrations. Books are not going to stay entirely the same, but they are not going to go away, either.  They are a societal good, and they deserve support.

Without further ado, the fifth and final installment of Helen Tartar’s lecture on humanities publishing: I have been saying for decades that, while the subsidy required by scholarly publishing most importantly subsidizes academic scholarship, in fact it also subsidizes other … Full Story

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Publishing in the Humanities Today: Part IV

Segueing from the effect of technology on the print model of book publishing to e-books, here’s the fourth installment of Fordham University Press’ Editorial Director Helen Tartar’s November 18 lecture:

So I’ll say some words about what has been spoken about a lot—“e-books” and hand-held electronic readers such as Kindle. I’d like to invoke here a helpful distinction proposed by Rebecca Kennison, director of the Columbia University Center for Digital Research and Scholarship (CDRS):  that between the online book and the book online. A  book online is what Amazon, Sony, B&N, etc. are pushing through their various hand-held readers. Basically it is—though not at all simply, in terms of the work required–the transposition of a digital file of what is printed as a physical book onto an electronic device. Any child raised in an advanced capitalist society ought to know why so much advertising is going into these hand-held devices at the moment. The manufacturing cost of a Kindle must be a quarter (and probably much less) of its selling price of $300. (And when was the last time you paid that for a book?)  So Amazon no doubt benefits from a markup much greater than its margin on the 50 percent or so discount it gets from publishers and the price it charges for their paper books. And then there is the electronic virtuosity in what Vance Packard long ago dubbed “planned obsolescence”— in a year or two, you can announce a new and improved version of your electronic device and force people to buy all over again something they didn’t need in the first place.

One thing that interests me very much here is whether and how media development outside the book may (or may not) have solved the issue of consumer interface, which has long been the sticking point in the imagination of “electronic books.”   In the nineties, Xerox Parc was fascinated by the problem of creating an electronic device that would flexibly fit into the body in the way a book does. But a much less elegant solution may have been enabled by such things as cell phones and hand-held computer games, because of people’s psychic investment in these things.  I’m especially interested in heating-up points in technological change where new technological practices, rather than disempowering and disenabling those forced into using them, start to result—usually via the hoary means of serving as vehicles for human passion—in arguably new modes of psychic life and sociality. If the “e-book” indeed does take off at this point, I would speculate that this may be because people now find hand-held electronic devices, no matter how horrible the interface, as compelling a model for interiority as the printed book came to be in the newly devised private rooms and other spaces of intimacy in the early modern period.

The online book, by contrast, is something else, an attempt to use the specific media skills of trained professionals (and I emphasize these words) to enable authors to realize their visions of presentation for their work in ways that they could not accomplish in the print medium alone. Everyone knows that text is only one of the things one can accomplish digitally: Why not try a book that incorporates more pictures than can normally be afforded in print, or even a video? Could the electronic medium be used to alter the temporal structure of how a book is experienced? And what about searches? Now that most writing is done on computers, everyone has rediscovered the wonders of the ancient genre of the concordance, the ability to search for specific words or phrases outside any conceptual armature.

Both of these options, I would hasten to add, preserve the notion of the book and  respect the notion of its publisher (even though the first may seem to seek to eat into that publisher’s revenues). And both require subsidy. Your having written your manuscript on a computer makes it no more ready to become an e-book without the intermediation of trained personnel than it makes it ready to send to a printer without the same. And somebody has to buy the time of those people. I haven’t heard that Amazon, for all its advertising push behind the Kindle, is willing to put any money into the special coding necessary before books can be accessed through that machine. Presses need to pay for that coding in order to get any subsidiary income that might result from such e-usage. This coding is equally necessary for a book on-line.

I myself don’t know all the specific additional intermediary work processes, beyond coding, that go into creating an online book—but I am in the process of finding out about them (and also about the costs and opportunities of books online, since Fordham is making a commitment to prepare many of its Spring 10 titles for potential sale as e-books). One of the Columbia CDRS’s pilot projects is an electronic expansion of Fordham’s book Dangerous Citizens: The Greek Left and the Terror of the State, by Columbia faculty author Neni Panourgía. I proposed Panourgía’s book to the CDRS because, perhaps erroneously, I thought it was already pushing toward being an online book. The author’s mode of composition was to use Microsoft’s Insert Reference function to create lengthy parallel texts—some of them amounting to ten pages correlating to three lines of main text—without reference to what could physically be accommodated on a printed page. Moreover, this is a book in anthropology, and so the fieldwork includes many photos, poems (sometimes with YouTube readings in Greek), interviews, and trips to the locations discussed, the prison islands, which could be a source of video footage. And since this fieldwork links into networks of memories, often suppressed or recorded only in obscure documents, there is the possibility of an evolving book, of adding additional material as readers respond to the site.

The full story of how all this is meshing in the online book, and how it will be enhanced through possibilities imagined and added by the CDRS team beyond what the author or I could envision, is not yet know to me, and indeed not yet finished. It deserves a writeup at least as long as this talk, and I hope will get one.  But you will soon be able to see it for yourself. The website is going live, with open access, at the American Anthropologial Society meeting the first week in December. And importantly, the online book will make no attempt to replace the printed book and the work time spent in its development—indeed, a prominent part of the site will be a buy-the-book option.

The final installment of the talk will be appearing here tomorrow!

Segueing from the effect of technology on the print model of book publishing to e-books, here’s the fourth installment of Fordham University Press’ Editorial Director Helen Tartar’s November 18 lecture: So I’ll say some words about what has been spoken … Full Story

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Publishing in the Humanities Today: Part III

Part III of Helen Tartar’s lecture at Northwestern University on November 18 discusses the role of computers and technology in the traditional publishing model:

First, a few general things about media change and about computers. Last week at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, answering a question about generational difference in response to electronic media (in particular, in the truly remarkable interimplications of metaphors and technics of electronic media in Ghanian Pentacostalism) the media scholar Jeremy Stolow said that he has not found such questions usually all that helpful in looking at the history of media change. In general, media (by contrast to types of technology) do not pop up and replace each other; rather, their evoluution is usually a complex negotiation and interimplication with earlier forms. To which I would add that there is an interplacy of coercion and freedom in how all this develops.

            The print medium provides an excellent example. The very fact of writing no doubt enabled a sort of orthodoxy more rigid than would have been possible in the mutual shapings of oral transmission—it became possible to “do things by the book.” But ever since Plato it has been common knowledge that the author of written words is powerless to control their circulation, which contributes to the fact that print has been a famously subversive medium. To publish is to disseminate to locations and audiences not determined or determinable in advance—and with effects even less so. Through publication, words can go anywhere and can have the most astonishing, and sometimes devastating, results. As an example, let me point to the Taiping Rebellion in nineteenth-century China. It was sparked when a Christian missionary tract was put into the hands of a disaffected literatus, Hong Xiuquan, who had failed to find employment in public office. He actually read the tract, and in a subsequent fever dreamed of himself as literally one of God’s children—specifically, the younger brother of Jesus. In the massive millennarian uprising that ensued when Hong brought God’s visionary battle against evil down to earth, 20 million Chinese lost their lives.

            Computers exhibit this interplay of coercion and freedom in spades. Of course, there are many positive things enabled by computers, and we are all now so bound up with them that one hardly need enumerate these things. Yet the disruption, disempowerment, and anomie they create in the “flexible” neoliberal workplace by eroding traditional modes of doing and reasoning has long been recognized. And if you can distance yourself a bit from a mythic hype of self-empowerment, autonomy, and individual choice, you just might notice that computers massively increase your dependency upon logics, organizations, persons, work skills, and locations that you know nothing about and to which you have no access. I suppose somewhere there must exist the real-life counterparts to the hackers I know only from science fiction and detective novels—miraculous adepts who can effortlessly compute their way through quasi-mystical cyberspaces to retrieve boundless amounts of secret data (and also usually money). But in the workaday world, for every one of those there must be tens of thousands of people reduced to “putzing” when something (inevitably) goes wrong with the machine, or just turning it off and praying that all will be as before and not too much time and work lost when it turns back on again. Computers also work, very actively, to hide that dependency on other workers and work skills. When the PC first came into my workplace, I assumed that eventually it would be like a car: that a system equivalent to car mechanics would grow up such that when the thing malfunctioned there would be a specialist—indeed, someone with whom one might develop a long-term relationship—to turn to. Guess again.

            You’ll have noticed that negotiations with computer technology entered my narrative in the seventies, when the advent of computer typesetting convinced universities that their linotype plants were obsolete. Ever since universities lost control of that means of production, there has been a constant negotiation about the types and locations of suppliers, including various spasms of outsourcing to Asia and, since the nineties, the possibility of bringing typesetting back in house, given new software development. This is literally ongoing—I do not know from week to week which book will pop up as having been sent to Lightning Source for “on-demand” publication rather than being reprinted conventionally.

            This is probably the main area of negotiation with electronic technology in a university press. It probably matters little to a humanities scholar whether his book is set in linotype by a university employee (the pre-seventies model), is “rekeyboarded,” as we now say, in Texas from a manuscript edited on paper (the model in the eighties), is “flowed” into a standard design by someone in Virginia on the basis of angle-bracket codes input in the course of on-line copyediting (as usually happens at Fordham UP today), or is typeset by the nice freelance managing editor in Denver who has been writing to keep the author apprised about each stage in the process (as happens with our Mellon-funded books). This does in fact, however, have an impact on the author, and to what degree she is required to participate in the drudgery of computer work via manuscript preparation or reviewing editing or dealing with proofs online. Again, though this is how the use of computers in publishing probably most directly affects authors, is rarely spoken about.

Check back tomorrow for Part IV! 

Part III of Helen Tartar’s lecture at Northwestern University on November 18 discusses the role of computers and technology in the traditional publishing model: First, a few general things about media change and about computers. Last week at the American … Full Story

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