Simon Critchley in Conversation: Talking about Thinking About Football (…or Soccer)

To mark the occasion of Simon Critchley’s newest book What We Think About When We Think About Soccer (Penguin Random House), Research Matters sat down for an hour-long conversation with the Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy about the “beautiful game.”

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Research Matters: I want to start by talking about time, or actually about temporality. One of the recurring themes in the book is the way soccer helps to explain the peculiar way our perception and affective experience of time are neither linear nor constant. Where are you coming from philosophically here, and how does soccer help punctuate and organize our experience of time?

Simon Critchley: Philosophers for the last century—[Henri] Bergson, and most importantly, [Martin] Heidegger—have been trying to talk about the experience of lived time; to advance the claim that lived time is not the same as clock time. Clock time is your sequence of now-points—not-yet, now, no-longer-now—as a linear, uniform continuum. Various philosophers have been arguing, rightly in my view, that that’s not how we live our fundamental experience of time. Time is something that is not linear. It’s not governed by the clock; it’s shaped by the environment, by the world that we’re inhabiting at that time.

In soccer, it’s a particularly compelling and obvious point. You have linear chronometric time, the 90 minutes of the game plus injury time, into two nearly divided 45-minute halves. So there is the objective measure of temporality. Every game lasts as long as the last game. But our experience of the time is very different. So you could do a kind of Einsteinian twin example and say, “Imagine there are twins watching the same game and they support opposing teams. The game is 1-0. One of the twins supports the team that’s winning, and the other twin supports the opposing team.” Their experience of time is fundamentally different. For one, the last minutes of the game—the injury time—are an agony of extended duration. For the other, time seems to accelerate, contract. So there you have an example of the way our experience of time is shaped by this game and how in passages of play [are] completely recognizable, but when you think about it strange things happen with time. That time can suddenly compress, that there can be a movement—a throw in, a flick-on, a movement between two or three players and then let’s say a shot or a goal—and that ten minute sequence of play can be experienced as a second. And they can be replayed! So time compresses and can have this largasso stretching effect.

This is what a lot of people who don’t get about football is that it’s fundamentally about time, but the time is not the stacatto stop-start of most American sports, whether it’s the stop-start of basketball or the usually stop-and-then-occasionally-start of baseball, which of course make perfect sense commercially. American sports were shaped for advertising, whereas football is this extended field of more or less movement. The question is what is happening at any one point. Something is always happening, but people aren’t necessarily scoring goals. So this idea that football is boring because it’s not 57-52 at the end of the game fundamentally misses the point that it’s about watching this extended flowing movement. That’s the joy of the game, it’s watching. There can be fantastic games where nobody scores.

RM: There’s something to be said about the way that is integral to the game, right? The management of time, especially in the midfield. People like [Javier] Mascherano are good because they can control the pace of the game, and move that pace in the direction that benefits the team. He can extend moments or quicken things. There’s something about the way the manipulation of time is part of the strategy.

SC: Yeah. Very clearly in the Argentinian game, the Uruguayan game, and the Italian game. Those three football cultures, which are incredibly important, are about time management and the idea that what looks to other eyes as a cynical, defensive football—that’s the game. I talk in the book about the joys of defensive football. The classical Argentinian teams I grew up watching were brilliant defensive teams that played in the Italian style. You set up to stop the other team scoring, and then maybe get a goal yourself. And that can be ruthless, but there’s a real beauty in that.

I think also about the phenomenon of cheating. I think there’s something really interesting. The dream of any sport is that there will be constitutional clarity about what’s going on and video evidence or whatever it might be. In many sports that is the case. In soccer, it’s not the case, strange things happen every game and that’s not because football players are bigger cheats than other players but because there’s something about the relationship between law and the bending of law that is essential to the game. The objective of the game is to win. And if winning means bending the law, then you bend the law. And the art of a great player—a great defensive player—is knowing how far they can bend that law. That’s a subtle and often invisible art to the amateur, or to the person who just wants to see goals, because they’re not watching how the game is actually played.

Mascherano is a good example of a player who can, in a sense, not necessarily do much in a game. He’s a brilliantly gifted player, but he doesn’t have to do much given that his mastery of space and time organizes—makes the whole thing cohere. You need a player like Mascherano, as [Diego] Maradona said a couple of years ago. The Argentinian team is Mascherano and you find 10 others. His is the first name on the sheet. And these players are not really understood.

“Argentina did not play well today, but it also didn’t allow the opponent to play well, and that’s important.” – Maradona, 2014.

Another great one—there’s a photograph of him in the book—Claude Makélélé. Same thing. He used to be called the water carrier, cause he just carried the water. He just carried the team. There’s a great player called [Nemanja] Matić, played for Chelsea last year, same thing. So what interests me in football is that stuff. It’s not obvious. Football is a subtle art.

The Ethics of Climate Change: NSSR Alum Eric Godoy Asks Who Bears Responsibility

This is the second in a series of Research Matters articles profiling the interdisciplinary climate change work of students, faculty, and alumni at The New School for Social Research. Check back for more!

Who is truly responsible for the climate’s state of disrepair? Who should be responsible for preventing further deterioration of the environment? To help address these questions, Research Matters sat down with Eric Godoy, a recent doctoral alumnus of the Philosophy Department at The New School for Social Research and current Assistant Professor at Illinois State University. His research focuses on the ethics and politics of determining responsibility for the climate, and aims to articulate a frame for responding to it.

“I guess I’ve always been concerned with climate and climate change,” Godoy said. But his path to a PhD in philosophy was somewhat unexpected, given earlier interests in questions about climate from a scientific perspective. Having entered college as a chemistry major, he conducted research on waterways near his hometown in Central Florida. In the course of his fieldwork, he witnessed firsthand the disruption of delicate balances in the local waters, and began to consider ethical and political questions.

At The New School, Godoy wrote his MA thesis on the philosopher David Hume, examining how Hume’s ethical doctrines could be extended to envelop the concept of global justice—pressing on the typical boundaries of the scope of traditional philosophical inquiry of ethics. Godoy found the way ethics was typically framed to be much too restrictive, and went looking for an ethical and political framework that could address global challenges. Following his MA, Godoy began to work with Nancy Fraser, the Henry A. & Louise Loeb Professor of Political & Social Science at The New School. He both aimed to deepen and broaden his research, studying ethical and political frameworks that grappled with what he called, “the question of individual and collective responsibility.”

After serving as Assistant Chair of the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute, Godoy recently accepted a position at Illinois State University, where as Assistant Professor he is currently contributing to an effort to expand the university’s environmental studies major and minor. Over the past few years, Godoy has deepened his investigation into how ethics (and ethicists) can cope with a challenge as complex and overwhelming as those presented by climate change.

Godoy sensed that urgent issues related to climate change and environmental degradation are best explored within the framework of social and economic justice, but that little existing scholarship considered the issues from this perspective. “The question of where moral value resides is really interesting to me when it comes to climate change,” Godoy said. “There’s a far more pressing question that climate change presents […] and it’s going to get much worse.” The relative absence of justice from considerations of climate change seems, to Godoy, especially the case in his discipline. As he explained, “Especially outside of philosophy where a lot of the work focuses on environmental justice, climate change [is treated] as fundamentally a justice issue,” he said. Godoy’s work digs deeper: if environmental issues are fundamentally about justice, then who is the injustice being done to, and who can be said to be responsible for taking action? How can individuals ever feel individually responsible for such a large-scale problem? And if the responsibility resides with institutions or entire ways of life, then whom should we urge to action?

Godoy emphasizes that the causes of global climate degradation are profound and structural in nature. In his perspective, this kind of phenomenon is best understood by focusing on fundamental structures of our society like the way we economize, the way we govern, and our relationship to power. However, Godoy explained that, “the average person does have a sense that there’s something they should be doing. They don’t know what it is because it is a very complex problem.” He explained that this way of framing the problem and motivating action has considerable drawbacks. In his words:

This is kind of dangerous because there are plenty of corporations that will give those individuals an answer for a low, low price—just buy this, and do that—and these things don’t make much of a difference. The challenges are structural, and the solutions are political. So when we atomize responsibility, when all I have to worry about is whether or not I recycle, whether I remember to bring my reusable tumbler to Starbucks, that’s dangerous because it diffuses all that energy and motivation that people have.

At the same time, Godoy argues that swinging too far in the other direction can leave people feeling helpless about being able to do anything to fight climate change directly. He suggested that the history of recycling helps to illuminate the point, pointing to the introduction of aluminum cans to the market for beverages in the 1960’s and 70’s. “When recycling came along, beverage companies that had been able to survive Prohibition needed a much wider distribution method, so they were attracted to aluminum, which is easier to transport than glass.” This was a coup for beverage companies since the cost of glass manufacturing glass required companies to reuse these containers. However, the general public did not share this excitement. Godoy continued: “In short measure, there was waste everywhere. After widespread outrage, and a collective effort to band together to stop companies from being able to sell disposable containers and return to reusable glass, the companies themselves banded together to sponsor the America Beautiful Act. And they promoted recycling.” The crucial point is that, as a result of this move, “recycling passes the responsibility onto the consumer and the municipalities rather than the companies that manufacture the disposable containers.”

In more recent work, Godoy has written about the case of university campaigns to divest from fossil fuel companies. These efforts complicate the distinction between individual and collective action, as the campaigns are often made up of students, faculty, staff, and even Board members. Asked what attracted him to this kind of activity, Godoy responded, “For one thing it’s interesting pedagogically. For another, the communicative force of saying ‘this is not something we should be doing, this is not something we should be profiting off of.’ So it sends a very public message, and it comes from knowledge producers, which I think carries a certain kind of authority.” In this case, the agent of the activism is a single entity—a specific college or university—but the action illuminates how intimately individual persons and institutions are related at the level of economics and politics to the actions of big business, and especially, to the fossil fuel industry.

As a philosopher managing research that moves between disciplines, Godoy said, “I’ve always admired people, like Nancy, who can navigate two worlds. I’ve tried to push myself to work on interdisciplinary teams and to build relationships with different kinds of people so I can write with them.” Asked how this had worked out, and what he had learned about the terminological and methodological differences that exist between disciplines, he responded, “I think there’s something to be said for using disciplinary boundaries.” He clarified that despite one’s best intentions, it’s often quite difficult to co-author research across discipline lines without sacrificing some of the precision gained through disciplinary specialization. “I do think that when you try to approach real problems, you do give up a bit of precision,” he said. “But in the end, you might have to bracket certain issues in order to be able to work together.” Given the global magnitude of the challenges presented by climate change, the need to think through issues of individual and collective responsibility—and beyond intellectual specialties—has never been greater.

Social Epistemology and “Orange is the New Black”

Philosopher Emmalon Davis Joins The New School for Social Research

When introducing her research to non-experts, Assistant Professor Emmalon Davis—who recently joined the Department of Philosophy at The New School for Social Research—turns to Orange is the New Black.

Inspired by the prison memoir of convicted white-collar criminal Piper Kerman, the hit Netflix series helpfully illuminates several of Davis’s overlapping interests in ethics, social epistemology, feminist philosophy, and the philosophy of race. In Davis’s words, Orange provides an entry point for examining, “the social processes through which knowledge and interpretive resources are developed within and disseminated across communities.” Specifically, in the show’s portrayal of its disenfranchised female characters, Davis finds a lens through which we can start to recognize how “social biases are a corrupting influence on these processes.”

Davis pointed out that Orange creator Jenji Kohan has referred to the show’s anti-heroine—the white, educated, middle class, blonde felon, Piper Chapman—as a “Trojan horse.” Though Kohan focuses attention on her protagonist, she also introduces (in what constitutes a kind of narrative smuggling) stories about Piper’s fellow prisoners, many of whom are multiply marginalized by virtue of their age, race, class, gender identification, and sexual orientation.

“This strategy has been somewhat successful at bringing marginalized stories into more mainstream visibility,” Davis explained, “but it does so without locating marginalized voices at the center of their own stories.” Even as the show gives voice to stories from the margins, Orange is the New Black risks “reducing these other stories, and the women at their center, to mere props or ornamentation.” It presents marginalized knowledge only in relation to a character whose identity comports with established conventions about who should belong at the center of a narrative.

To unpack this problem, Davis suggests we need to examine how social biases perpetuate such conventions, not just on television, but also in lived experience.

In her most recent scholarship, the concept of “epistemic injustice” has been especially influential. Defined by CUNY Graduate Center Professor Miranda Fricker, epistemic injustice serves as a framework for describing the effects of bias when individuals interact with one another as knowers and testifiers. The concept can be deployed to reveal the obstacles marginalized individuals face when attempting to share their knowledge with a prejudiced audience.

“Fricker’s account emphasizes the ways that prejudiced interlocutors dismiss marginalized knowers altogether,” Davis said. In these cases, bias prevents certain testifiers from serving as knowers, despite their possession of knowledge. Davis approaches epistemic injustice from the opposite direction, instead interrogating “the harms that arise when dominant audiences actually do engage with marginalized knowers.” Again, the case of Orange is the New Black proves instructive, as it provides an example of the appropriation of marginalized voices into dominant narratives.

“Marginal knowers are not seen as viable testifiers in their own right,” Davis said, “Their voices are mediated.”

Yet even as marginalized knowers are frequently pushed to the sidelines of discourse, so too do they find themselves called upon to serve as representatives of the communities they are seen to inhabit. As Davis put it, “They face the possibility of being over-taxed in certain environments by requests to describe, for the edification of dominant others, what it feels like to live under conditions of oppression.” She pointed to college campuses, classrooms, and activist communities as environments in which marginalized knowers find themselves in this double bind: silenced by conditions of structural oppression and yet expected to educate the privileged about the nature and impact of their oppression and the way that oppressive structures affect social living.” Davis clarified that, “this educative work plays an indispensable role in our collective ability to undermine oppressive social structures,” but at the same time, “we need to pay attention to this dual nature of epistemic harm—ignored on one hand and overburdened with requests to educate on the other.”

Creating more equitable spaces entails adequate recognition of and compensation for the labor that marginalized knowers contribute in social spaces.

Davis similarly calls attention to the reality of marginalized bodies, and to considerations of which bodies are acknowledged in the spaces of medicine and bioethics. “Particularly within reproductive medicine,” she said, “marginalized individuals are subjected to violence and fail to receive the medical resources they need to flourish.” Citing women, people of color, persons with disabilities, and LGBT individuals as having been especially subject to the “medical gaze” throughout history, Davis aims to expose instances in which social identity mediates our relationships to the very institutions upon which we often rely to make our bodies and lives habitable.

In all of her scholarship, Davis suggested that she attempts to make philosophical concepts accessible to multiple communities of knowers—including those who find themselves underrepresented within the discipline of philosophy. Describing an interest in expanding what counts as philosophical discourse, Davis said that she takes “interesting philosophical questions and writes about them in a way that synthesizes lived social experiences and real-world everyday problems.”

This effort extends to the classroom, where Davis hopes that she can help, “remove some of the barriers that have prevented women and people of color from entering into philosophical spaces.” In a discipline where rigor and inaccessibility are often a euphemism for opacity, Davis aims to promote inquiry that activates student energy for grappling with philosophy, while creating spaces for genuine interdisciplinary conversation.

Citing The New School’s open curriculum, she expressed enthusiasm at the prospect of bringing together students and faculty from across the university. “The intellectual resources here at The New School are immense,” she said, “and I’m really excited to be a part of this community.”

Against Occidentalism: A Conversation with Alice Crary and Vishwa Adluri on “The Nay Science”

How should we read and interpret texts? And how might the modes through which we read be informed, enriched and revised by our understanding of our cultures of interpretation? These questions have driven the work of Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee, doctoral alumni of the Department of Philosophy at The New School for Social Research.

This winter, Anthem Press will publish their second book, Philology and Criticism: A Guide to Mahābhārata Textual Criticism. To mark the occasion, Research Matters presents excerpts of Adluri’s conversation with Philosophy Professor Alice Crary. They talk about Adluri and Bagchee’s first book, The Nay Science: A History of German Indology (Oxford University Press), the practice of reading and interpreting texts and a history of Indology.

Indology—the academic study of India—originated in Germany and served as a foundation for western academic interpretations of Indian texts and traditions. The Nay Science charts the history of German Indology to show how the nascent discipline was rooted in troubling philosophical assumptions that generated inaccurate readings of the culture it was studying. Against stubbornly persistent biases, Adluri and Bagchee write in favor of a more sincere reading of ancient and Eastern texts—a kind of “innocent reading” that goes beyond a postcolonial critique—that might enable us to meet texts outside the Western Christian tradition on their own terms.

Pressing beyond a critique of the specific history of Indology and its effects on our understanding and our modes of reading ancient texts, The Nay Science offers vital reflections on philosophical and social scientific methods. Adluri says that the book teaches us to, “read texts carefully but respectfully because, if you read them respectfully, they will talk to you.”

Adluri also reflects on his training at The New School. On the practice of philosophy, he says: “You have to read every single thing, struggle your whole life to claim the life of an intellectual. If they are competent—perhaps competent is not the right word—if they can hang on and do the work, there is no greater reward than philosophy.”

 

Alice Crary (AC): The occasion for this interview is your magnum opus, the 2014 monograph written with Joydeep Bagchee, The Nay Science: A History of German Indology. I want to sit with you and talk about its significance and implications. I thought we should get some background first—who you are and what you have done since your time at The New School for Social Research’s (NSSR) Philosophy Department. Can you tell us a bit about your life and your intellectual work at NSSR and afterwards?

Vishwa Adluri (VA): Thank you, Alice. I went to The New School where I got my first PhD for a dissertation on ancient Greek philosophy (since published as Parmenides, Plato and Mortal Philosophy). After that, I continued my work in ancient Greek philosophy (I published an edited volume titled Philosophy and Salvation in Greek Religion in 2013), but also branched out into Indian philosophy. My education at The New School sensitized me to the need to ponder the conditions of modernity. My teacher and mentor Reiner Schürmann had the greatest influence on me. In Broken Hegemonies, Reiner describes modernity as a project grounded in an inward turn toward self-consciousness as the primary referent for all knowledge. He calls self-consciousness “the modern hegemon,” and describes how it conditions our relationship to the world and ourselves. I began to see how, when we approach the ancients—ancient Greeks, for example—or other civilizations, we automatically subject them to our prejudices as moderns, as Europeans and as post-Enlightenment. I wanted to investigate this problem in a different field. I turned to “Indology” as a test case to study the influence of method on a non-Western episteme. About the same time I met a fellow NSSR student who was living and studying in Berlin. Working together, we mapped the emergence and decline of this field. The resulting book was published by Oxford University Press (OUP) in 2014. OUP India released a South Asian edition last month (August 2017). We were humbled by the enthusiasm among scholars whose work we read and in turn admired (Richard Wolin, Bryan W. Van Norden, Peter K. J. Park, Susannah Heschel, Arbogast Schmitt, Edward P. Butler and Robert Yelle). But we were simultaneously traumatized by the disciplinary force contained in academic disciplines, facing enormous resistance for talking about things as obvious as the link between Orientalism and anti-semitism.

AC: Can you talk about how you got started after the first monograph? What got you started on this project?

VA: I was working with Arbogast Schmitt on Greek philology at Marburg. I had contacted him because he had written a wonderful book, Die Moderne und Platon, that I wanted to translate into English (my translation appeared as Modernity and Plato in 2012). His ideas resonated with what I had learned from Reiner. Like Reiner, Arbogast had rethought the relationship of the ancients and moderns. He has this wonderful phrase, “Die ganze Arroganz der Moderne,” which defines our attitude not only to the past but also to cultures labeled “pre-modern.” Arbogast knew I was interested in the Sanskrit epic, The Mahābhārata, which I had been reading alongside my work on Homeric epics. Taking Nietzsche’s and Reiner’s cue, I had looked at the pre-Socratics and Plato in relation to Homer. Arbogast knew the Indology professor at Marburg and he introduced us quite casually over a glass of wine. The professor, Michael Hahn, suggested I turn my writings into a dissertation under his and Arbogast’s guidance; a pilot project for collaboration between their departments (classics and Indology). Back then—remember I was Seth Benardete’s student and came from classics—I could not have known the problems with so-called Indian philology or Indology. What they presented in the name of a “critical” philology was anti-semitic and anti-Brahmanic resentments, theological maxims and racial prejudices (about ancient Aryans, Indo-Germans, etc.).

AC: You say there are parallels between the way you were treated; parallels reflected in the attitudes you trace in part one of your book, where you argue that a partial and flawed positivism was a cover for the projection and imposition of different strains of Protestant theologizing, Eurocentrism and also various kinds of racialized and even racist thought.

VA: Yes. The racism I encountered in Marburg was not the kind we see among the “alt-right” or the discrimination black and minority citizens face daily. That kind of racism is easier to spot and to call out. This was more insidious. It was scientific or scientized racism. The Indologists had for so long told themselves that Indians lacked access to the “true” meaning of their texts that they no longer considered it a prejudice but a methodological principle and a necessary one at that. The question was, “How do we approach these texts scientifically and critically?” The answer was, “Obviously not as Indians read them, for Indians never developed scientific, critical thinking.” Apart from the fact that, except by skin color, I am not Indian—I have lived and studied in the US most of my life, have a PhD in Western philosophy and know German intellectual history inside out—I was not approaching the Sanskrit epic in a “traditional” way. I was reading it alongside Homer and the tragedians. I knew the scholarly literature, had presented at the American Philological Association (now known as the SCS) and was offering a cogent interpretation. Yet, whenever I opened my mouth, the Marburg Indologists could only hear an Indian, and thus, whatever I said had to be negated to maintain Indology’s status as a science. And then I realized: scientism and racism are linked. Indologists enact this discrimination not because they are vulgar racists—obviously, they think they are cultured, enlightened and cosmopolitan—but because their authority depends on it.

AC: Can you explain a bit more?

VA: Certainly. Here is the situation. Someone proposes a reading of a text. You may disagree with him, but then you must give grounds. This was different: they were accusing me, qua Indian, of being incapable of methodological, scientific studies; of being incapable of reading texts without a dogmatic faith in gods and metaphysical entities. One professor wrote me:

“What I was arguing against in my assessment of your work was your peculiar method to use ‘theology,’ that is in this case an Indian religious view of the text, not as the object of research (which we do all the time), but as a key approach. While I have no problems with theologians, with whom I work here, I would not accept a work with a theological approach for our department of philology, but send him to my colleagues in theology. So, in fact, it is your method, which does not fit into the academic self-understanding of ‘Indologie.’”

The problem was that I was not proposing an “an Indian religious view.” I had not studied the text traditionally. I began with a reference to Jean-Luc Nancy, his idea of the flight of the Gods. NSSR students know this has been a pervasive theme in German thought since Hölderlin. Heidegger talks about it. I then used Nietzsche, Merleau-Ponty and Plato to explore what this flight might mean. You know the theological turn in Continental philosophy (Levinas, Marion, Courtine, Derrida, etc.). The Mahābhārata likewise takes a theological turn in response to nihilism and materialism. But rather than seeing my work as Western to its core, the Indologists saw it as hopelessly naïve and backward. The same professor, Jürgen Hanneder, wrote:

“To an international discussion of methods appropriate for academic studies of Sanskrit texts I always look forward, but I have to disappoint you: this discussion is not really brand new. In Europe it is as old as the emancipation of the humanities from theology.”

This triggered my deconstructive project: whence these prejudices? Why this insecurity? Why this need to prove oneself “modern” by disparaging the ancients? The popular view of the Enlightenment is that it overcomes theology. But this is hardly accurate. The German Enlightenment, especially, was ambiguous about religion. There was a strong Pietist influence (think, for example, of Thomasius and Zinzendorf). Kant famously declared, “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” (CPR Bxxx) The Indologists’ own work emerged from Protestant debates over scripture (sola scriptura, the emphasis on the sensus litteralis sive historicus, Semler’s Kanonkritik). Do you see the problem with preaching to an NSSR graduate about having overcome theology? Whence this arrogance?

And then I realized that the supersessionism inherent to modernity itself underwrites the Indologists’ arrogance. The Indologists really believe it is their mission—as Europeans—to teach Indians to receive their own texts correctly and “critically.” There is now a narrative about history as a progression from the darkness of religious belief to the light of reason. Europe, having exited religious superstition first, has a privileged status. Other cultures must look to it for guidance, as they are—allegedly—on the same path. Husserl can now declare that “the spiritual telos of European Man [includes] the particular telos [sic] of individual nations.” Notice the provincialism, the reduction of other cultures to one’s own. Notice the negation and subsumption of ancient cultures. Everything they thought is only preliminary. And finally, notice the disparity instituted. Europeans are mündig (mature), whereas non-Europeans are unmündig, and hence candidates for (Um)erziehung ((re)education). I wish us to hear this word with all the disciplinary force inherent in it. At stake is an Umerziehung, rather than an Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts (in the spirit of Lutheran theology and its specific Menschenbild).

AC: Heidegger just came up, but Gadamer plays a big role in the project also. It is a positive role and he is Heidegger’s heir. As I understand it, Heidegger plays an ambiguous role here. Is that right? Can you explain why Heidegger and Gadamer appear in different ways?

VA: Heidegger’s role is ambiguous because, while he has profound philosophical insights, he also buys into “Germanness.” In several passages, he declares that philosophy is uniquely Greek, European and German. The Germans are the true inheritors of this legacy and the German language is the philosophical language par excellence. Germany has a role to play in the destiny of the Occident by recapturing the true meaning of Being (Pauline, not Greek). Studying Indology opened my eyes to how Germany, after Kant and Goethe, laid exclusive claim to the idea of thought and scholarship. I saw how, through this ideology, people from rather humble backgrounds, first-generation school-goers, began to dominate the reception of ancient thought. I saw how, through the Humboldtian university, they injected Protestant prejudices into other textual cultures. I saw how, out of their provincialism—what Germans call Deutschtümelei—they arrogantly declared that those cultures had failed to grasp their own texts and only Germans, or German-trained scholars, could interpret them.

Gadamer is alert to the problem. In Truth and Method, he expands Heidegger’s hermeneutic circle to an a priori condition of interpretation. He shows that all understanding is historically mediated. The idea of “presuppositionlessness” (Voraussetzungslosigkeit) arises from the Enlightenment prejudice against all prejudices. But it is no less prejudicial. The genuine meaning of prejudice is not an unjustified prepossession but a pre-understanding (Vorverstehen). Without this pre-understanding, no understanding is possible. Every interpretation therefore must engage with past interpretations (that is, with the text’s Rezeptionsgeschichte). The Indologists systematically overlooked this fact. They modeled themselves on the natural sciences, forgetting Dilthey’s distinction—indeed, if they ever knew it—between Geisteswissenschaften, which aim at understanding (Verstehen), and Naturwissenschaften, whose goal is explanation (Erklären). This is why we ultimately took the critique of Indology towards a discussion of the methodology of the social sciences (the title of a lecture course by Reiner in the Schürmann Archives). Contrary to what the Indologists may think, the book is not just about them: it is a nuanced critique of “method” in the humanities.

AC: I want to talk about the reception to the book. A minute ago you said something that I had not detected earlier. As far as I know, the book was greeted as a huge accomplishment, but you suggested that, contrary to what the Indologists say, you are a nuanced thinker. Do you think that in some places, the book was received as a polemic? Has it gotten the reception you expected and hoped for?

VA: Outside Indological circles, the book received strong reviews. We had fantastic responses from classicists, who saw it as continuing Nietzsche’s legacy. We had fantastic responses from philosophers—including a fellow New School alum—who grasped its Foucauldian archaeological-genealogical project. A reviewer for History of Religions wrote that we had “hoist[ed] earlier Western scholars by their own petards.” I must confess, I had to look up the expression. A petard is a small bomb (from French peter, meaning “to break wind”; pet “the expulsion of intestinal gas”). And this is quite appropriate because, essentially, we just translated everything the Indologists had said into English. More exciting, the book created waves in fields we least expected; fields like German studies, history and even Jewish studies. I received an email from Susannah Heschel, who wrote, “I want to thank you and Joydeep Bagchee for your hard work and remarkable insights. The book is real gem.” Susannah is Abraham Joshua Heschel’s daughter, whom I read as a religion undergraduate. It was very gratifying. In a way, I felt I had come full circle. The Nazi legacy tormented Reiner his whole life. By tracing what he calls those “distant and profound origins,” (Broken Hegemonies, 3) I felt I had repaid my debt to him.

AC: I want to talk a bit about larger morals we can draw from the book. I know you considered its relationship to postcolonial studies. We could start there. When I think about what you and Joydeep have done, there is a moral about the nature of interpretation. Interpretation has an ethical dimension, especially as making sense of people distant from us in time and place. At the same time, the book itself is an exercise in social criticism. It is a critique: writ large, its moral about the nature of interpretation is, simultaneously, a moral about what powerful critique is like.

VA: That is very perceptive. The book does not just present a critique. Through its backstory, it also enacts a critique. It illustrates how we must question established paradigms. Critique cannot be only historical, but must be directed against existing institutions. Remember that Foucault said, “Schools serve the same social functions as prisons and mental institutions—to define, classify, control and regulate people.” I would like to throw a challenge out to NSSR students: how does our institutional framework—the research university, the dissertation refereeing past research, the encyclopedic tome, the reverential relationship to German scholars, the Eurocentrism exhibited, for example, in Husserl’s Vienna Lecture—limit what we think? They should read not just the primary figures, but should also study their historical context: issues in German political and social life, how figures like Hegel were embedded in a specific religio-philosophic context. They should read critiques of the university (Nietzsche’s “Anti-Education” and Arrowsmith’s “The Shame of the Graduate Schools” are good starting points). The Nay Science let me emancipate myself from an idealized vision of Germany. Meeting Indologists was a wake-up call. I saw behind the façade and beheld racism, supremacism and chauvinism.

Everyone studies Hegel at The New School. But how many actually experience the systematic othering the Hegelian narrative effects? How many will perceive the absurdity of declaring that ideas that arose in Germany at a specific moment and have their historical reasons are the telos of world history? Indology was my second education. It forced me to rethink everything I knew about the Enlightenment and German philosophy. I returned to Herder, Schlegel and Hegel with new eyes, and saw they had betrayed Kant’s and Humboldt’s legacy. Positively, I learned about what you called the ethical dimension of interpretation. I saw that we must respect what others respect and not perform autopsies on the ethical spinal cord of living cultures. I saw that the university’s arrangement into area-specific disciplines reifies cultural boundaries, ethnicity and race. I saw that this structure was itself “disciplinary,” since it gathers every culture into the university and lays it bare to the viewing of a master gaze in the same way museums of natural history gather animal and human specimens. And I saw that my narrative could no longer fit this paradigm. I was neither eastern nor western, neither German nor Indian, neither modern nor traditional and neither religious nor a participant in modern iconoclasm. I had exploded the Indologists’ categories.

AC: I am interested in how you started working with Joydeep. I knew you both independently, so I know he started at The New School after you. I also know that when he talks about you he talks, in the most glowing terms possible, about you as a great teacher and role model. How did you start working together, and how would you describe the collaboration?

VA: We reconnected in Berlin after many years. He had gone to Germany to study Heidegger in Berlin and Freiburg. And after three years, he became extremely frustrated with the German system—its cult of the God-professor, the endless posturing and the lack of dialogue. He was about to quit because he really cared about philosophy. I went to Berlin, and when I read his dissertation, I realized his was not an ordinary mind. He was wrestling with genuine philosophical questions. I later realized that Joydeep is very logical. In his dissertation, he was trying to reconstruct Heidegger’s grounding of Dasein in facticity, and he had this sense of circularity. I always say that he broke Heidegger’s hermeneutic circle. I see him as Reiner’s successor, so he has been my greatest conversational partner after Reiner.

AC: We were just talking about Hegel. I wanted to ask about the role Foucault plays in the book. I take it that when you talk about genealogical method, you have not just Nietzsche but also Foucault in mind.

VA: Foucault is important. Joydeep and I read, admired and learned from him. His writings on nineteenth-century institutions like Victorian sexuality, the prison and the madhouse anticipate our struggle with Indology: another nineteenth-century disciplinary institution. His writings on power/knowledge, disciplinary mechanisms (especially the panopticon) and, finally, modes of subjectivization, now assumed a new significance. We could, for the first time, see these principles at work. We saw how Indologists had constituted a knowledge domain, introduced verification techniques and distributed authority between those who could speak and those condemned to be silent observers, the subjects on whose bodies they played games of truth and power. I know to most people a history of Indology must sound banal. Who cares about these nineteenth-century figures? But if you read The Nay Science with Foucault in mind, you will see it is a journey into an institution like the nineteenth-century madhouse or prison, except its inhabitants are our contemporaries and we have yet to see it as the perverse and inhuman system it is.

AC: A related philosophical question, since you just described Foucault. I think it comes out really clearly that this is what the book really does: it provides the resources or methods to critically dismantle a discipline. Foucault is also brought to bear in many other people’s work, positively, to describe the kind of self-awareness and methods one needs to positively approach a text. Listening to the references to his writings on these topics and the things you just said, it strikes me as one of the most interesting things about your project is that you do not recommend a skeptical moral about our relationship to texts.

VA: The Nay Science argues for a new way of reading texts—call it innocent reading. I am thinking of Deleuze’s quote, “If you don’t admire something, if you don’t love it, you have no reason to write a word about it.” In their quest to prove Indian texts monstrous, false and debased, the Indologists forgot this basic qualification. They advocated a historicist approach, aware it would frustrate the texts’ ability to address the reader. From their perspective, this was essential. They wanted to insert themselves between the reader and the text. Having historicized the texts, they could claim the reader needed their expertise to decode the texts’ historical layers and lay them bare in their primitivity.

Deleuze again: “[I came] to see the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery… I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed.”

Does this not apply to the Indologists? Did not their literary productions—the purified versions of the transmitted texts they proposed—result from their “buggery” of the ancients? The Nay Science opposed this perverted, self-serving reading to the texts in their immediate presence. You do not need the Indologists, or their degrees, or their permission, to read texts. Pick up a work of literature and read it.

AC: I heard you say that your book can be read as an argument for Indian philosophy. Can you clarify that?

VA: What has been the single greatest obstacle in reading Indian philosophy for the past two hundred years? The conviction that India did not develop philosophy, that everything we call philosophy is really only “religion.” This conviction is false and prejudicial. Indian philosophy is rigorously logical. It is based on the principle of noncontradiction. It developed sophisticated systems of debate and criteria for validity (including a critical epistemology). The separation of theology and philosophy did not happen in Europe itself until the Reformation. When we accuse Indian philosophy of being “religion,” we apply a post-Reformation prejudice (here religion, which is a matter of faith; there philosophy, which was hubristic with the Greeks and uncritical with the Scholastics, but is now limited to self-reflection or critique and, importantly, cannot say anything about God, the soul and the universe). The allegation serves to negate a potential challenge to Christianity. This prejudice can be traced to Hegel, who largely fashioned the Western image of India (India only developed an abstract Absolute, it lacks a historical sense, it does not know of concrete individuality, etc.). Hegel’s aim was to head off the challenge from Indian philosophy to his Lutheran faith. Remember, Hegel said, “I am a Lutheran, and through philosophy have been at once completely confirmed in Lutheranism.” And again, “We Lutherans (I am and will remain one) have a better faith.” Hegel’s entire philosophy thus serves to justify Protestantism and the Prussian state. The university is the link between them (Hegel knew this in saying, “Our universities… are our churches.”). Hegel’s Protestantism is now well known and the Prussian state has collapsed. Nietzsche has exposed the link between philosophy, Protestantism (“The Protestant pastor is the grandfather of German philosophy, Protestantism itself is its peccatum originale”) and how the humanities and philology, in particular, serve to neutralize the threat from ancient thought to Christianity (from Wir Philologen: “The philologists are… ardent slaves of the State, Christians in disguise [and] philistines”). When, then, have we not revised our judgment about Indian philosophy? One reason is the university’s inherent inertia. Once Hegel rejected Indian philosophy and parceled it out to departments of Religion and Indology, Philosophy never reclaimed it, partly because of its own Christian inheritance and partly because of its Eurocentrism. We would rather study Hegel, who needed the resources of the Prussian university system to preserve his fame (“Verein von Freunden des Verewigten”) than look at Indian thought afresh. Indology draws sustenance from this snobbery and contributes to it. By dismantling Indology, The Nay Science lets us reclaim Indian thought; to read it as contemporaneous rather than as a stage of thought that Spirit allegedly bypassed on its way to Germany.

AC: Is there anything further you want to say about the project’s wider consequences, including political ones?

VA: We have seen the problems that result when academics play politics. Consider, for example, Bernard Lewis’s role in the Neocon movement. American intervention in the Middle East was disastrous. Likewise, the Indologists, having failed at an epistemic justification, have turned to politics. It is their last hope for their chairs. The Nay Science did not address this because we are disinterested in politics. But we know the danger power-hungry sophists represent. Instead of sticking to grammar, the Indologists turned to policing and petitioning. They wish to ride a wave of self-righteousness without questioning what they do, whom they serve and how they use or misuse their authority. Why should taxpayers fund them if they do not serve society?

AC: I know you just finished another book, Philology and Criticism. Is that a continuation of this project? You suggested it was at the beginning of the interview. What aspects of The Nay Science are you still working on?

VA: We sometimes call Philology and Criticism The Nay Science: Part 2, even though it is a book of a different nature. The Nay Science presented a genealogy of German Indology. It returned to Indology’s roots to understand its emergence from neo-Protestant theology and its anti-clerical prejudices. The Indologists’ justification has been that Indology is neither theology nor religious studies. It is indebted to neither Romanticism nor Aryanism. It neither supported nor fed into German nationalism. We are simply editors and preservers of texts; we do for Indian texts what classicists did for Greek and Latin texts. We thus had to show that the Indologists did not know textual criticism. Philology and Criticism examines post-critical  Mahābhārata scholarship. It shows that on the pretext of respecting The Mahābhārata’s critical edition the Indologists reintroduced their anti-Brahmanic prejudices (found, for example, in the work of the anti-semite, Christian Lassen). The book contrasts V. S. Sukthankar’s careful philology with the Indologists’ pseudo criticism. It distinguishes between philology as a method, which is needed, and philology as a discipline or a slogan.

I am thinking of Sheldon Pollock, who has never produced a critical edition but argues that the textual practices of non-Western cultures must submit to the tests of “historical self-awareness,” “nonprovinciality” and “methodological and conceptual pluralism” before they can be admitted to the “temple of disciplinarity [sic].” Philology and Criticism shows that Pollock himself made unforced philological errors. One wonders, why make these statements in favor of philology, if you have not mastered the method? Are they not another form of Wissenschaftsideologie, the writing of manifestos for the future university? How much intelligence does it take to write pompous statements? University history is littered with those who made their careers writing them. Husserl’s Vienna Lecture is an example. How did that turn out for Husserl?

AC: Imagining either your younger self or students here at the New School right now, do your experiences as an intellectual post-PhD make you wish you could have told your younger self something?

VA: Do they stay up at night worried about philosophy? Even if there is no prospect of a job, will they still do it? A job is necessary and important but it is not the only thing. The other thing I would say is that the big dream they see as graduate students, the glorious dawning of truth, has a price. You have to read every single thing, struggle your whole life to claim the life of an intellectual. If they are competent—perhaps competent is not the right word—if they can hang on and do the work, there is no greater reward than philosophy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original text of this article has been revised and re-posted to reflect necessary changes made by Vishwa Adluri. Questions can be addressed to nssrcommunications@newschool.edu.

Histories against Oblivion: Reading Philosopher Dmitri Nikulin’s The Concept of History

Is history just a list with a story?

A fragment of Atlantis by Hellanicus

This question underlies New School for Social Research Philosophy Professor Dmitri Nikulin’s latest book, The Concept of History (Bloomsbury). Nikulin, who will serve as Chair of the Department in 2017-18, asks what we even mean when we use the word history, returning to the discipline’s origins in Ancient Greece. He suggests that to get the clearest picture of what history meant to the ancients, we should push past even Herodotus, typically considered “the father of history.” Instead, we should look to Hecataeus and Hellanicus. The surviving 400 fragments of their work provide a key insight that has less to do with the truth of history than with the way our concept of history has evolved.

To get away from the common modern conception of history as universal and unilinear, Nikulin examines how these earliest historians conceived of their craft. “When I looked at the way in which people were narrating history at that time,” he said, “I started to realize that they looked at history very differently because they didn’t yet have the idea of a final destination for humankind.”

Without this clear destination in mind, history looks like an amalgam of genealogies and geographies; and instead of a single and all-encompassing version of history, we find thinkers narrating diverse simultaneous histories. They are the parallel stories of different peoples populating different places, told from multiple perspectives. Each of these perspectives is embodied by any single person: we all inhabit different streams of overlapping histories (individual, professional, familial, etc.).

“I take it that we inhabit multiple histories, not just one,” Nikulin said, describing one conclusion to take from this perspective. The absence of an overarching narrative among the early Greek historians challenges two touchstones of modern historical thought: the idea of an origin and that of a final end. It underscores the fact that these multiplicities only come together in a single overarching plot—history as a unified narrative—much later.

This perspective required Nikulin to come up with an alternative reading of how the concept history came into being.

In his view, history has always been partly a project of keeping records of details and minutiae like names, events, things, battles, and places. “By doing so, we bring in some order, [and] arrange details in many different ways,” Nikulin said. He emphasized the decision to avoid using the word facts, instead opting for the word details. In this, Nikulin is acknowledging that facts often come laden with narrative. For Nikulin, “The fabula of history,” that is, the story and the narrative that the list tells, “really refers to the narrated plot of what happened, which ties all these details together.” In other words, the combination of details and fabula becomes the real stuff of history.

Though Nikulin insists that the arrangements of any set of details and fabulae remain multiple, this combination of two ingredients—details and the narrative that stitches them together—produces the more familiar picture of history, which intends in part to preserve something like living memories. Such memories are crucial for what it means to be human. “I take it that our historical being consists in our having a place in a history […] in inhabiting a history. And we do that by being included in a narrative.” Like Hannah Arendt, Nikulin argues that a purpose of history is to save us from “the futility of oblivion.”

In the ancient genre of catalogue poetry, for example, we often see extraordinary efforts to preserve meticulously detailed lists and accounts of people and events. These efforts arise from the notion that the practice of history constitutes a preservationist act. According to

Hecataeus of Miletus Map

Nikulin, this idea pervades ancient histories. “You can find it all over the place from the Bible to Hecataeus to Hesiod,” he said, “It’s all about the genealogies of humans and of the gods.” Genealogies give both an order to history and a place to humans, who are either part of the history or involved in its transmission and significance. “If you want to save a people from the futility of oblivion,” he explained, “genealogy is important.”

At the same time, this conception of the purpose of genealogy and its relationship to the historical gives Nikulin space to think about the relationship of history to poetry in the ancient world. “We moderns have a very Romantic understanding of the figure of the poet,” he said, referring to the intellectual movement spanning the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, “according to which the poet is essentially a maniac […] He is inebriated, enthusiastic, and he empties himself in order to let something else, perhaps divinity, speak through him.” But when thinking more carefully about the figure of a poet like Homer, Nikulin argued, “[the poet] is not a maniac.” Rather, he carries out the sober task of preservation and transmission of knowledge. In this sense, Nikulin suggested, “History is probably the first prosaic genre,” which is to say, history was the first non-poetic genre.

This wedding between narrative and genealogy, argues Nikulin, marks a decisive moment in the evolution of history. History begins to look more familiar precisely when the catalogue or list joins with a fabula or narrative. These narratives are malleable, changing over the course of generations, and opening history itself to constant reinterpretation—even as history remains somewhat fixed by the events that the narratives build into a plot. In The Concept of History, Nikulin charts a judicious middle ground between seeing history as a closed, unified and unidirectional march, and seeing it as a jumble of infinitely competing narratives.

How might this influence the practice of history and our understanding of its relationship to other fields?

Nikulin points out that others have suggested that historians can only use the literary genres (comedy, tragedy, detailed lists, etc.) available in their own moment to interpret events. But he emphasizes the inventive possibilities of historical narrative. “We can use certain conventions, but we can invent many other interesting ways of reading histories,” he said. With recent critical understandings of gender, for instance, we might be able to construct novel historical narratives that might have been difficult to conceive up to now. This has significant implications for our understanding of politics as well, given the intimate inscription of the historical. Given the understanding of history as multiple and revisable, politics becomes equally subject to such reconsiderations.

In The Concept of History, Nikulin does not limit his claims to ancient histories, but there is significant value in learning what historians intended before more familiar contemporary conceptions of historical work hardened into tradition. Nikulin’s book opens up conversation about what history can aspire to be, precisely by learning about how the discipline came to be constituted as being invented.