08 December 2006

Jobs and the Desire of the Other

Well I've been fortunate enough to land at least one job interview at the American Philosophical Association conference in December. Hopefully there are more invitations to come. This isn't half bad as my research focus is contemporary French philosophy, and U.S. philosophy departments tend to have a highly allergic reaction to anything French, instead allowing language, literature, and cultural studies departments to do scholarship in this area. At any rate, this is pretty good for having only sent out eleven application packets.

Although this is happy news, I've found myself in the midsts of a massive anxiety attack, following me about for days. I tossed and turned all night, filled with anxiety and feverish thoughts as to who I am. In short, I'm wallowing in the midsts of the question of fantasy Che vuoi? "You're asking me this, but what do you really want?" That is, what is my research about? And when I ask myself this question, I am asking what it is about philosophically. In my fantasy life, things would be easy for me if I were pursuing positions in rhetoric, literary theory, cultural studies, or political theory-- it's always elswhere that things would work out for us --but explaining my work philosophically, that's far more difficult. How am I to explain the relevance of Lacan to philosophy in a non-dogmatic fashion, free of difficult jargon, that isn't simply about ideology critique a la Zizek? I feel as if I need some pithy statement of my philosophical project that resonates with more traditional philosophical questions in epistemology and ontology, but when I try to articulate such a project I suddenly feel paralyzed like a deer in the headlights. "My work is focused on differential and relational ontology." "I'm interested in the manner in which the formation of reality emerges from the impossible-real of irreducible antagonism. By the impossible-real I mean..." "I'm focused on questions of how it's possible to break with socio-historical mediation so as to articulate a truth." "I'm interested in the consequences that follow from the death of God. By the death of God I mean... Here I'm thinking primarily of the function God serves in Descartes' third meditation, and implicitly in the work of other philosophers that posit a whole..." "My work primarily revolves around the thought of Badiou, Deleuze, Freud, Lacan, Ranciere, and Zizek because..." "I'm interested in the relationship between the symbolic, imaginary, and real from the perspective of how our relationship to reality is organized, and am interested in the role desire and intersubjectivity play in questions of epistemology and our relation to being..." "I'm interested in questions of emergence and self-organization such that..."

Everything that falls from my lips ends up sounding vague, empty, or in need of too much clarification... Or I worry that I end up sounding like a posterboy for the typical postmodernist. What does the Other want from me? What am I for the Other. "What is the philosophical project that defines me as a human being?" I think I'll go curl up in a ball now. Fortunately I don't need a job, so at least I have that going for me. I have terrific colleagues, am in an intellectually stimulating environment, have lots of things going on such as conferences in the work, and am generally very content here. About the biggest irritation is bs administrative things, but you find that anywhere. It's much nicer to interview when you're not facing the prospect of hunger and debtors.

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Anonymous N. Pepperell said...

I wrote something a while back on how difficult it is to keep track of our core questions, to remember and articulate them clearly - it's a maddening thing, isn't it? I've been looking back recently over some things I did seven years ago or so, and was struck by the similarity of themes - and yet likely would have struggled if asked to lay out for someone else the main "target" of my theoretical work... Needing to communicate the point to others adds its own layers to the situation... This sensation is very familiar to me: "Everything that falls from my lips ends up sounding vague, empty, or in need of too much clarification..."

I had assumed this was a more-or-less universal experience - but happened to mention it to a colleague in passing, and got a startled stare and a "How could you forget your question?!" The perils of working with engineers... ;-P I suppose some fields actually do have straightforward questions that don't leave one with decisions about how to articulate them - or experience them...

I remember trying to navigate the US academic job market - we have it much, much easier here... Congratulations on your interview - if it helps at all, I have always found you exceptionally clear and illuminating. Probably not at all helpful for job market purposes, but I hear your current questions as being about what happens when concepts developed within a therapeutic context come to be applied in more general philosophical work; and about whether and how philosophy can cast meaningful light on the potentials for individual and collective self-determination... But you're of course doing much, much more than this - and, in any event, I'm probably distorting your questions through the framework of a very different disciplinary perspective...

I wish you all the best for your interview process...

December 08, 2006 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just a tip...you may want to advertise too loudly in case your current empoyers are listening that you are interviewing for other jobs unless they have already said it is okay.

December 09, 2006 2:57 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

That's a curious thought. How couldn't it be okay?

December 09, 2006 6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

obviously any professor ought have the right to apply and interview for jobs at any point they wish. but sometimes a university and/or department can frown on a professor with or w/o tenure who interviews for jobs at other institutions. it may not be an issue at all. but one also would want to avoid developing a reputation for getting a position and then searching for a new one shortly after. however, if one has mentioned it to one's colleagues and dept. head and they have no problem with it, then one can be free and open about it. if i did not have tenure (and probably even if i did), i would be very discrete about such process. i also don't know any of the specifics of your particular job contract...just some thoughts... just leaving comments on the blog:)

December 09, 2006 9:57 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Thanks for the advice. I don't think it really applies with my sort of position. I'm at a community college that has multi-year contracts, not tenure. Were it a tenured position I tend to agree, though I've also heard exactly the opposite advice given to friends that are pursuing tenure: that those pursuing tenure should always be applying to other positions and should let the department know that you're doing so as a way of negotiating contracts. I'm not sure I agree, do others with tenure track positions have a take on this? This, of course, is not my motive.

Although we have a first rate philosophy program that is amazing for a community college, I'd like to have students that major in philosophy and graduate students so that I might get to teach a wider variety of courses. I would also like more time for research and publishing (5/5 course load at present), and to be closer to family.

December 09, 2006 11:02 AM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

Congratulations on the interview, Sinthome!

I'm also on the academic philosophy job market presently, so your comments on "the desire of the other" resonate with me.

But I'm also suspicious of this move -- that what is really at stake here is to discover the truth of what the other desires of me, or the desire of the other is to discover my truth.

I find this all very "confessional," and it is not a game of power that contributes to the care of the self. Rather it involves accepting as authoritative for oneself the criteria of identity demanded by the other.

To that extent the game is rigged against us. Although I would not like to taken as implying that the people on the other side of the ballroom table are in much more control of the situation than we are. (One reason why Kafka is the prophet of modernity.)

What I would like to do is learn how to enjoy playing this game of power, without failing to recognize my subordinate status within it. Simply to enjoy playing it. To enjoy seeing how I can engage the others in dialogue, and turn the game of power into an Socratic agon.

December 09, 2006 11:43 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Dr. Spinoza, I think you're absolutely right. The Lacanian point isn't that we should become what the Other wants us to be, but that we should separate from this fantasmatic universe altogether. When Lacan claims "the Other does not exist", one meaning of this is that the Other is itself desiring, enigmatic to itself, unsure of what it really wants. As Hegel so beautifully put it, "the mysteries of the Egyptians were mysteries to the Egyptians themselves". This is what traversing the fantasy is all about, and a subject that has traversed the fantasy is also a subject that is capable of affirming its own values and aims without having to look to the Other for authorization or a a guarantee that these values are of value. Of course, for neurotic subjects such as myself, this is easier said than done. Best of luck on your job search!

December 09, 2006 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"U.S. philosophy departments tend to have a highly allergic reaction to anything French." What do you make of _Sadism and Masochism: A Symptomatology of Analytic and
Continental Philosophy?_



December 09, 2006 1:46 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

I don't make anything of it in the context of the remark I made, as my point was empirical, not about the so-called content of anglo-american and continental philosophy. All you need do is examine the make-up of faculty in *philosophy departments* throughout the United States. You will find that by and large those continentalists holding positions in the United States are also Germanists of one stripe or another (phenomenologists, Hegelians, Nietzscheans, Heideggerians, etc).

For whatever reason, those doing French theory tend to be hired in literature and language departments, not philosophy departments. Consequently, anyone working with French continental philosophy in the United States faces a two-fold challenge: On the one hand, finding a position at all in a philosophy department as most philosophy departments are Anglo-American in their orientation. One need only read the Jobs for Philosophers put out by the American Philosophy Association to see this. Some of the ads are quite vehement ("AOS: Open, but no continental philosophy!"). On the other hand, should one apply for one of the handful of positions that are open to continentalists (this year there were about 15 out of 300 advertised positions in the JPF), you then have to compete against the preference against Frence theory in this handful of departments. Thus, Austin (that is you, right?), you can argue until you're blue in the face that the analytic/continental divide is false and simplistic and you would be right, but this doesn't change the sociological fact of how philosophy departments are organized in the United States.

December 09, 2006 3:15 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Make that JFP, not JPF.

December 09, 2006 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Levi,

Good to hear you have an interview coming up. You certainly deserve it - and a lot of others.

Why don't you include your blog on your CV ;-))

Just as you might complain of the provincialism of American philosophy departments as to anything OUTSIDE the box of analytical philosophy, the same is true of European universities which are (even more) locked into the habitual paradigm of anti-Anglo-American thought.

On top of that, French philosophy is generally scoffed at outside (what is interpreted as) Gallic frivolous pomposity.

Basically, philosophy in Europe is Germanic.

Sad, provincial, and - of course - nationalistic.

Keep up the iconoclasm, Levi.

Orla Schantz

December 09, 2006 5:02 PM  
Anonymous Jodi said...

Excellent news re interview. Your Lacanian training could serve you well in the interview process: their questions are less about you than about them: do you reflect back to them the them that they want to be, that they see themselves as? do you make them feel smart, cool, desirable, accomplished? do you add to them an ability for them to be more than they are already themselves?

when I ask about people's research, in the context of job interviews, I generally want to know about publishing plans and intervention plans, what debates matter to them and what do they want to contribute to these debates?

December 09, 2006 8:08 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Thanks, Jodi. That's excellent advice. On the search committees I've sat on, after research (does it fit with our department vision?) and teaching skills, the central question we've asked is about "collegiality". Is the candidate someone we can have a productive discussion with that enhances our own research? Are they interested in our work? Etc.

December 09, 2006 9:12 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

I find it interesting that you see a split (of sorts) between German Continental philosophers and French Continental philosophers. (Will the wounds of the divison of the Holy Roman Empire never heal?) I agree that this is a strong sociological divide -- even departments that pride themselves on being strong in Continental (e.g. Penn State, Villanova, Fordham) tend to be strong in the Germans, less so on the French. And I had to learn what little French theory I know from a gentlemen in the literature department.

What, in your view, are some causes of this split? It's not that there aren't decent "translators" of French continental philosophy into the anglo-austrian idiolect.

I suppose I'm a German Continental philosopher, since my home turf is Nietzsche -- though I also work on the Frankfurters, Habermas, and Foucault.

I also had an initial infatuation with Deleuze that seems to have dissipated -- I'll have to blog on that soon. I shouldn't be letting Yusef have all the fun!

December 09, 2006 9:25 PM  
Anonymous N Pepperell said...

The causes of the split, in some initial sense, can be different from what sustains it. One of the things that has shocked me a bit from trying recently to read fairly heavily in unfamiliar traditions, is how very badly those traditions were misrepresented in my original field. Massive similarities of goals and even of conceptual strategies were not recognised, and competing traditions were often taught in a way that effectively froze them at a very early moment in time, not taking account of any subsequent maturation (while one's own field, of course, was taught in its fullest development). Or particular texts were taken as iconic, when it might have been more honest just to admit that those texts were more "teachable", rather than representative of the best a tradition had to offer... Reading around more widely now, I feel a bit betrayed... ;-P

I don't think any of this is deliberate in any serious sense - I don't think people are being nefarious - knowing the truth about competing traditions, and hiding it... I think there's an element of garden variety "path dependence" in institutional structures; there's the heavy investment people have to make in learning the technical jargon of their particular discipline - which then makes it so much easier just to use that discipline, than to start over from scratch in others; there are the elective affinities and biographical accidents that attract each of us to our initial field of study - and then the tendency to see that choice as valid and reasonable and "best", rather than something we might as productively have exchanged for another thing entirely...

I don't see an easy way around this. It would help to have more people reading and writing across various traditions, opening the door a bit and helping people become more familiar with core concepts and terms from competing traditions... But I don't see any quick fix...

December 09, 2006 11:48 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

I don't know of any quick fix. But I can think of some slow fixes.

Within the past year or so, I've become fascinated by the hum-drum fact that Carnap (one of the granddaddies of analytic philosophy) and Heidegger (one of the granddaddies of Continental philosophy) were familiar with each other's work in some fairly deep ways.

Both of them were concerned with "overcoming" or "evading" metaphysics, and both thought that the way to do so was by way of a new emphasis on language.

That Carnap pursued this by using Frege and Russell's logic, and that Heidegger pursued this by inquiring into the etymology of philosophical terms, now seems to me less interesting than the overwhelming parallelism.

Likewise, Quine's criticism of Carnap and Derrida's criticism of Heidegger is only now beginning to receive the careful attention it deserves. In both cases the last-ditch effort to salvage foundationalism founders on the shoals and shores of language.

In the past thirty years, metaphysics has again become "hot" on both shores of the Atlantic, thanks to Kripke and Lewis (analytic) and Deleuze and Badiou (Continental). All of them are unified, interestingly enough, by a very deep admiration for and inspiration by Leibniz.

For those of us who are still relatively young, career-wise -- i.e. not yet tenured! -- I expect that the analytic/Continental divide will cease to matter during the course of our professional work. Or am I being too sanguine?

December 10, 2006 3:57 AM  
Anonymous N Pepperell said...

I'm not trying to be particularly pessimistic, although I'm not sure whether I currently see a large movement to integrate across traditions - the net makes these issues a bit confusing, because it both facilitates cross-disciplinary communications, and therefore in some sense reinforces, strengthens, and makes them more viable. At the same time, though, this same process, by enabling those of us interested in cross-disciplinary work find one another, to perhaps feel like a larger presence and a broader discussion than we empirically are? The long-term trick will be engaging the mainstream - reaching beyond the self-selecting group of us who are already motivated to do this kind of work... Or creating an alternative institutional space, such that mainstream academic becomes in practice a more highly relativised institutional location...

December 10, 2006 4:17 AM  

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