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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Droppin' Nussbaums

Nussbaum’s analysis of Aristotle is insightful yet ironic. If it is true that “in avoiding emotion, one avoids a part of the truth”(317), why does Nussbaum come off so disembodied and dry in her writing style? Why does she simply present her reading of Aristotle in the typical academic form, yoked by the same enlightened criteria she’s attempting to sublate? Nikidion could very well be a robot with different emotional states which react to various programmed inputs and outputs for all I know based on her description.

If “philosophy is not self-sufficient as a shaper of souls” one can’t simply point to the aporia or gap and acknowledge its existence, rather it must be made manifest. Perhaps, the emotional tone of the excerpt is just the appropriate one given the academic context, or is this simply a rationalization? Nussbaum points to something like ‘structures of feeling’ or what Bourdieu would have referred to as the ‘habitus’ that mold the ways we react to a given stimuli or phenomenon; if her intention is to shift this should she not act in a way that moves beyond it? Changing the conceptual ideals and cognitive interpretation of Aristotle alone falls short according to her own account of the relationship between philosophy and feeling. With all of the work currently being done on affect studies and new materialism you’d think she’d hop on the train, perhaps with William Connolly, Ben Anderson, and Jane Bennett.

In order to break out of the confines of the current theoretical dispotif shouldn’t we experiment with new ways of relating to academic labor itself? Not some new idealism or fantasy of freedom, but rather an embrace of the lived materiality of comporting oneself to their life-activity of knowledge production. If the point of Nussbaum’s criticism is that a representational form of philosophy will not suffice, than the critic should let this feeling flow through their thought itself. To learn to affect and be affected suggests becoming attendant to the subtleties, intensities, and rhythms of thinking. A loosening of the ideological shackles, a withering of conceptual blockages, and a fomenting of forces that seem hardly perceptible to the naked eye. Nussbaum is still stuck within the theoretical methodology of Aristotle that we can truly come to know the nature of emotive impulses. She constantly chides characterizations of emotions as “mindless surges of affect” (311). While it is true that affective reactions are forms of judgment and discernment implying value commitments, it does not follow that the “rich cognitive structure” then becomes completely intelligible. Nor does it follow that we can comprehensively list the way particular emotional feelings arise, as if they were clearly defined states.

She points to the ways in which Aristotle gave a qualitatively different analysis of Anger and Pity based on the use of the Greek prepositions ek and epi, but is there not a larger question at issue here? Beyond Aristotle making a distinction by manipulating grammar, could we not also look to the ways in which our structures of feeling are themselves manipulated by grammar? It could be argued that part of the difference between modern and ancient ideas of anger could be imbedded within the differences in linguistic structures we use. In the ancient example, the preposition ek is used to describe a pain which comes out of a belief of impending evils, rather than epi which is a feeling directed at a pain someone else is experiencing. Today it seems that we direct our anger at structures, people, or a general state of things. Or perhaps the translation is fundamentally just incomplete and unable to grasp the difference.

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At February 22, 2011 at 7:07 AM , Blogger ddd said...

William Connolly????

At February 23, 2011 at 11:21 PM , Blogger JP Miller said...

Looking at my mention of Connolly I guess it was somewhat facetious, after Connolly's scathing critique of Nussbaum's Concentric Cosmopolitanism in Neuropolitics, I don't think she would want to be uttered in the same sentence has him.

Nonetheless, whereas I don't think the disputes between the two there apply as much to our reading, except for maybe the last part where Nussbaum hints at some further reaching conclusions about the sole of emotional attachment to conceptions of money etc Nussbaum does however seem to read emotions as universals. Its as if people can feel the same thing in all times and across cultures just based on different objects or in a different context. Which seems to cut out the eccentricities of lived experience, the ways reactions are perhaps always to a certain degree unknowable based on a particular persons angle of experiencing a given phenomenon, based on their current state, memories, and general relation to an object.

I think Connolly's work in Experience and Experiment, where he cites Antonio Damasio, partly because they share a certain affinity for Spinoza, but also because he incorporates neuroscience into what is typically deemed merely speculative philosophy. My basic point is that, Nussbaum's theory almost starts out in a way that limits the possibility of experience, rather than embracing a sort of ethics that is generous or open to forms of experimentation.


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