New article out on Medium

I wrote a short thing about Descartes and cultivating the passion of generosity for Medium – would love it if you’d checked it out.

You can find it here

Some thoughts on Barthes’ *Mythologies*

I finished Roland Barthes’ Mythologies this week. I don’t recall ever reading this collection of essays before, so I was quite pleased by how current many of them still seemed. Barthes’ had a keen eye for society. What I was stricken by the most were two passages in the lengthy essay on myth that ends the book.

First:

The first bourgeois philosophers pervaded the world with significations, subjected all things to an idea of the rational, and decreed that they were meant for man: bourgeois ideology is of the scientistic or the intuitive kind, it records facts or perceives values, but refuses explanations; the order of the world can be seen as sufficient or ineffable, it is never seen as significant. Finally, the basic idea of a perfectible mobile world, produces the inverted image of an unchanging humanity, characterised by an indefinite repetition of its identity. (142)

I think looking at the history of Western philosophy we can trace this to the Greeks. This being the case, the interesting thing is how resistant to change the discipline has been. We see this now in the increasingly violent reactions to calls for change, such as the backlash Bryan van Norden and Jay Garfield received for their op ed in the New York Times a few years ago.

Philosophy reproduces itself by rejecting any form of radical change, and when it takes up new ideas, it’s only by assimilating them – i.e. by turning them into itself.

The other passage touches on this as well, at least slightly:

The Other becomes a pure object, a spectacle, a clown. Relegated to the confines of humanity, he no longer threatens the security of the home. This figure is chiefly petit-bourgeois. For, even if he is unable to experience the Other in himself, the bourgeois can at least imagine the place where he fits in: this is what is known as liberalism, which is a sort of intellectual equilibrium based on recognised places. The petit-bourgeois class is not liberal (it produces Fascism, whereas the bourgeoisie uses it): it follows the same route as the bourgeoisie, but lags behind. (152)

The Other in Western philosophy is relegated to the margins, or, assimilated. When marginalised, it manifests in the form of a complete rejection of the discourses that matter to the Other. An example of this, to my eye, is dropping any sort of religious connotations from Buddhist thought. This doesn’t happen only to non-Western philosophy though; consider the case of stripping away the theological assumptions in Cartesian philosophy, or taking any sort of ideas without their proper context, really. In assimilation, the Other is included only insofar as its discourses fit within those of the West.

Barthes isn’t talking about philosophy, he’s talking about culture. Nonetheless, philosophy, as practiced in the West at least, is a bourgeois endeavour. It doesn’t surprise then, that the failures of the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois that Barthes can identify in the French society of the 1950s are in some sense reproduced in academia.

Lynch, Sono, Chan, Kaye

While my brain machine has been warming up this year, I’ve been watching more movies. I want to be more deliberate with what I watch, so I’m also more deliberate with keeping track.

Some thoughts:

David Lynch – What Did Jack Do? (2019)

Image result for what did jack do

Lynch is in good form. The story is simple – a detective (Lynch) is interrogating a capuchin monkey (voiced by Lynch) as a suspect in a murder. Most of the time, it seems they are having two separate conversations. All classic elements of Lynch’s style are here – the noir styling, the carefully stylised, oddly articulated dialogue, playing with clichés, the unsettling uncanniness of the surreal.

In resisting interpretation the way this short does, the film is evocatively beautiful and intelligent and poetic. It’s a treat to be able to watch Lynch do basically what he wants. Who’s to tell him otherwise?

Fruit Chan – Dumplings (2004)

I’d long meant to see this. It’s a pretty interesting take on the beauty industry and the lengths people could go to keep their youth. Unlike The Forest of Love* there isn’t as much absurdity and subtlety here. The film feels almost utilitarian in how it tells the story.

Sion Sono – The Forest of Love (2019)

This was one of the weirder things I’d watched in a long time. I appreciated Sono’s self-indulgence in this. Reading other reviews, I saw one reviewer suggest the film doesn’t need to be nearly as long as it is. That’s probably true, but every moment takes you someplace unexpected. I thought the cinematography was weird and unorthodox, and the story violent.

At times, I was reminded of some of Takashi Miike’s (especially films like 1999’s Audition) and Quentin Tarantino’s work with the tremendous bursts of violence and absurd humour, and most importantly, the huge acting performances (most notably Kippei Shiina as Joe Murata).

Image result for the forest of love

Tony Kaye – American History X (1999)

I regret it took this long for me to watch this. I guess that might be understandable, given the subject matter. Even though this is twenty years old, I think the film is very current. I’m still processing, since I’d watched it last night – I might have further thoughts.

PhD Update 2

It’s been a few months since I posted an update (see previous) on my PhD project.

As it stands today, my funding runs out on the 31st of July – which is functionally my deadline, even though technically I have until the 31st of October. Hoping I’ll be able to get an extension to make sure everything is up to the kind of standard I want to be held to. We’ll see about that in due time – I certainly have good cause for an extension (though I can’t really talk about that here).

I have five chapters at advanced draft stage, one with a very rough mostly complete draft, and one that doesn’t yet exist in any meaningful way. The current word count is 43676, which seems low, given that the maximum limit is 80000. However, the chapter that is partially drafted still needs approx. 2000 words, and the non-existent chapter will be around 7500. The introduction and conclusion altogether will be around 10000 as well, so the final word count for the first draft will be about 65000 – which gives me a healthy ceiling for editing and clarifying things.

I had the somewhat regretful realisation that I am not likely to go to any more conferences during my PhD. The only one I am considering still is the meeting of the Australasian Association of Philosophy in July. But then, given my tight deadlines, that’s looking like a bad idea – I certainly wouldn’t have much time to prepare a new paper.

With that realisation comes the more worrying one, that from August, I might no longer ever have an academic job of any sort. I don’t yet know how I feel about that. On the one hand, I’ve been working towards that for about ten years; on the other, it’s not like I didn’t know that there isn’t really a job market any more. More on that as the situation develops.

In more positive news, a group of which I was one of the founding members, the Friends of Mary Astell, held its first meeting at the recent APA Eastern meeting in Philadelphia. It was heartening to see so much interest in Astell’s philosophy. Incidentally, she’ll be the focus of the yet-nonexistent chapter, and I look forward to immersing myself in her ideas for a while. She was great.

Restarting the Machine

The new year is upon us. And while I’m not quite back to full operational speed, I started to get back to work after taking a bit of a break over Christmas and the New Year.

It’s funny how quickly the brain gears stop functioning exactly right after a few days of actively avoiding responsibility. Monday was the first day I’d attempted to do work – I barely managed to read half of a journal article before capitulating to my wandering mind. By Wednesday I was able to focus well enough to spend a few hours reading for work. I’m hoping that by the end of next week I’ll be able to turn the tap and have words flow out of it as they normally would.

My supervisor is expecting some decent progress on the current chapter I’m writing by the end of next week, so the machine has to start functioning.

I’m writing on John Norris and Nicolas Malebranche right now, on the way in which they fuse Cartesianism with Augustinianism. As with the rest of my thesis, the focus is on the Cartesian theory of emotion. I can’t say much more, but the chapter is forming nicely – just slowly.

One thing that helped with bringing my focus back is the very successful first meeting of the Friends of Mary Astell. A new scholarly society dedicated to the promotion of scholarship on Astell that I was invited to co-found by my colleagues Michaela Manson and Allauren Forbes. Our first meeting was a tremendous success, even if I could only attend via Skype. We have some big plans forming for this year. Plans which I will reveal in due time.


The writer Warren Ellis uses a codename system to talk about his ongoing projects that aren’t ready to be discussed in public yet. I think I might try to do something similar. Maybe I’ll discuss it further in another post, once I’ve thought of some cool codenames for the few things I’m doing that aren’t strictly academic.

Status: 75% operational
Reading: Pessoa’s Book of Discquiet, Ackworth’s The Philosophy of John Norris of Bemerton; next, Tokarczuk’s Books of Jakob (in Polish)

Books I’d read in 2019

Putting this list together, I was somewhat surprised by how few books I managed to finish this year. I’m going to blame my PhD for it.

I’m somewhat pleased that just under 50% of the books I’d read for fun were written by women (12/26). There are two books I’d started to read but haven’t quite managed to finish in time. The first is Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet, which I’m slowly burning through. I find that after getting stuck into it, I can’t get myself to read more than a few pages at a time – I tend to get lost in them and go back to re-read. That’s okay. The other is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, which I’m rather engrossed in, but I just don’t think I’ll finish before midnight tomorrow. That’s okay too.

As far as books for work go, I haven’t read very many from start to finish. This is unfortunate, because usually I’m more than interested in what I’m reading – but I have a huge range of sources to deal with, so I’m reading bits and pieces depending on what I need to write about. So while there are only 11 books on the list, I’d read bits and pieces of many. Not to mention countless journal articles. I think next year I’d like to keep track of the smaller things I read, just to have a clearer picture of my reading habits. I’m also 90% through a half-dozen books that I intend to finish when I find the time to.

Looking back on my reading, the absolute standouts for me were Hustvedt’s Blazing World and What I Loved, Stax’s Swimming Through the Darkness and Ryu Murakami’s In the Miso Soup.

I had the privilege to meet Siri Hustvedt and have dinner with her (and others) at the International Margaret Cavendish Society conference in Trondheim. She’s an incredibly warm, erudite, and funny woman. She was kind about how starstruck I was meeting her, and she came to see my paper. She signed my copy of Blazing World too.

Mike Stax’s book was a bit of an impulse purchase that I’d regretted in the moment after I bought it, and it took me a while to get to it. I think it sat on my bedside table for a solid two years. Once I got to it though, I could hardly put it down. It focuses on the story of a promising young LA musician who suffered a mental break during a spiritual journey to India, went from having a skyrocketing career in music to homelessness in his old age. Likely, it was a result of untreated schizophrenia and drug use, but then, there are too many gaps in the story to really know what happened.

I have a bit of a solid reading stack waiting for me next year. I’m particularly looking forward to Bolaño’s 2666, Mo Yan’s Life and Death are Wearing Me Out, Catton’s The Luminaries, and Tokarczuk’s Books of Jakob (in Polish, because it’s my only way of not forgetting the language). Now that I’ve written this out, I see they’re all pretty thick, so might be a slow burn kind of year.

Anyhow, without any further ado, here are the books I’d read this year.

For fun:
1. George Martin – A Game if Thrones
2. Sarah Bakewell – At the Existentialist Cafe
3. Haruki Murakami – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
4. Italo Calvino – Invisible Cities
5. Thomas Piketty – Capital in the 21st Century
6. Guy de Maupassant – the Best Short Stories
7. Italo Calvino – Mr Palomar
8. Judith Butler – Precarious Lives: The Powers of Mourning and Violence
9. Sophie Wahnich – In Defence of the Terror: Liberty or Death in the French Revolution
10. Esther Leslie – Walter Benjamin
11. Mark Fisher – Capitalist Realism
12. Siri Hustvedt- The Blazing World
13. Olga Tokarczuk – Podróż Ludzi Księgi
14. Adam Mickiewicz – Pan Tadeusz
15. Fyodor Dostoyevsky- the Brothers Karamazov
16. Angela Davis – Women, Race & Class
17. Bhaskar Sunkara (ed) – the ABCs of Socialism
18. Siri Hustvedt – What I Loved
19. Mike Stax – Swim Through The Darkness
20. Otessa Moshfegh – Homesick for Another World
21. Doris Lessing – the Grass is Singing
22. William Gibson – Neuromancer
23. Stanisław Lem – Solaris
24. Arundathi Roy – the Ministry of Utmost Happiness
25. Mary Norris – Between you and me: confessions of a comma queen
26. Ryu Murakami – In the Miso Soup

For work:
1. Margaret Cavendish – Philosophical and Physical Opinions
2. Margaret Cavendish – Poems, and Fancies
3. David Cunning – Margaret Cavendish
4. Walter Charleton – Natural History of the Passions
5. Walter Charleton – the Ephesian Matron
6. Emily Booth – ‘A Subtle and Mysterious Machine’: the Medical World of Walter Charleston (1619-1707)
7. Laura Linkler – Lucretian Thought in Late Stuart Engletian Thought in Late Stuart England
8. R.W. Sharpless – Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics
9. John Norris – The Theory and Regulation of Love
10. W.J. Mander – The Philosophy of John Norris
11. Inger Mewburn, Katherine Firth, and Shaun Lehmann- How to fix your academic writing trouble

Conference Time

I’ve been very quiet on the blog over the last two weeks because I’ve been busy with a few conferences. I gave talks at the Australasian Seminar for Early Modern Philosophy (ASEMP) and the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy (ASCP) conferences.

I’m lucky enough to have been able to go to these conferences pretty regularly (well, there have only been two ASEMP meetings so far…), and I consider both to be pretty central parts of my calendar.

ASEMP is a very productive conference for me because it draws the attention of many scholars of early modern philosophy who are able to give me really good feedback on my work, and who are very supportive of my project overall.

My talk was titled Margaret Cavendish and the Cartesian Passions. Despite some rather frustrating technical issues with my slides – I managed to crash the computer I was projecting them from – the talk was well received. I got some good discussion at the end, and nobody pointed out any obvious problems with my ideas which is always a plus.

The highlight of the conference, as it is with every conference I go to, is seeing all of my philosophy friends who live far away (being a historian of philosophy in my department is lonely business in terms of having other historians to talk to). I’m fortunate that my supervisor has introduced me to a number of her colleagues and collaborators, who are all super supportive of my work, and having the ability to meet and hang out with so many philosophers whose work I admire is super fun every time.

ASCP was a very productive conference for different reasons, that I can’t say too much about. The ASCP is a very pluralistic group, and while ostentatiously their focus is continental philosophy, the term itself is rather meaningless these days. And while the conference prioritises and draws a great number of researchers whose work is informed by 20th and 21st century European philosophy, they also attract a good number of scholars working in non-European traditions and in the history of philosophy.

My talk here was titled, Walter Charleton and the Cartesian Passions. I had a very good audience, and this time no technical issues. The discussion afterward was very productive and opened up some possibilities for collaboration, which I hope end up happening. For now, I can’t say much.

These two conferences were a bit bitter-sweet for me. I currently have just over seven months of funding left. After that, it’s hard to say when I’ll be able to speak anywhere else. I guess that’s some motivation to keep hustling.