Monday, March 17, 2014

Marginal Practices

Razib Khan:

Does any of this matter? Why is that humanists have to judge their intellectual forebears by the standards of a modern Oberlin seminar? Would any of us withstand critique and deconstruction a generation down the line? Instead of grappling with the ideas, it seems that in much of the humanities there is grappling with personality’s who can no longer argue, and inveighing against ages long dead. I can compute Pearson’s correlation coefficient without being troubled by Karl Pearson’s socialism and white supremacism. Obviously it is too much to ask the humanities to be view their intellectual production in a similar manner, but it strikes me that they have gone too far down the road of putting the dead through ghostly show trials meant to solidify conformity in the ranks. As I stated on Twitter, the problem with fashionable intellectuals is that they need to be careful not to outlive the fashions of their age.

He's talking about a Slate article that frets over whether Heidegger is fit to be taught in polite philosophical company. Meh. I've never found him all that worthwhile, and as for Slate, well, I mean, you know, when you go visit that site and scroll down through the latest godawful redesign, one of the most prominent features on the entire page is the link to their voyeuristic advice column (judging by the most-shared list, the most popular feature of the site) where people find help with such pressing existential dilemmas as what to do when your boss poops in the office shower (yes, seriously, that was the topic du jour last time I was there; no, I'm not digging up the link, go find it yourself, you disgusting coprophiliac). What I'm saying is, you kind of get a sense of the demographic they're pitching to, and thus you shouldn't be surprised that they would produce an article tackling the equally pressing issue of whether a long-dead philosopher is merely a bad man for having joined the Nazi party, or a bad, bad man for having expressed anti-Semitism in his recently-discovered private letters.

According to Peter Watson, though, Heidegger at least had some redeemable insights:

Heidegger also had the idea of "marginal practices," what he called the "saving power of insignificant things — practices such as friendship, backpacking in the wilderness, and drinking the local wine with friends." This was his idea of "radical pastoralism." All these things remain marginal, he maintained, "precisely because they resist efficiency." They remain outside — beyond — the reach of the modern attitude. This is not quite true, of course — backpacking can be harnessed to our concern with health and training, making us more efficient in that way. But Heidegger meant "marginal practices" to be refuges from modern life, and used them as metaphors for his approach.