Slavoj Žižek

zizekThe philosophy department here in Heidelberg is hosting at the moment Slavoj Žižek. Professor Žižek (as his Wikipedia article will tell you) “is a Slovenian sociologist, philosopher, and cultural critic”. In anticipation of his coming I watched this documentary film in order to familiarize myself with the kind of thinker he is and the kind of things he thinks about. He is one of those rockstar philosophers who has people following him around and asking him to sign their books. He is a cult favorite because he doesn’t limit his philosophizing to what is accepted as “philosophy” within the academic realm – some of which he includes that is “outside” of academia is film (although this is gaining more and more popularity), cyberspace and science fiction. In the film he makes reference to how he is a little annoyed to be thought of as a “cultural critic” and is a little disappointed that he is mostly asked to talk on this subject. He also bemoans in the film that his more serious philosophical works have been overlooked because they do not fit the image the world has of him. He himself describes this image (again in the film) as the fuzzy bearded man who tells jokes; such that his publisher gives him a hard time if his newest book doesn’t promise, from the title, laughter.

This evening he gave a talk on a very serious academic subject, especially so in Germany – namely, Hegel. Zizek himself said how happy he was to be in the presence of serious philosophers as he was flanked by Professor Halfwassen and Dr. Gabriel of Heidelberg. I imagine he was also happy to be giving a talk on Hegel in front of some pretty serious students/professors of Hegel. He presented his ideas of Hegel in an untraditional manner, a manner that made him so popular, by pulling examples from Hitchcock’s movies Vertigo and Psycho. He also used an article from the Weekly World News about the “discovery” of more commandments and so on and so on (weekly world news is one of those joke newspapers that claims to have reports on contact with aliens/world’s fattest baby/batboy/etc).

Now that all that introductory crap is out of the way I think I can write about my impressions. I liked it. This man speaks many languages but it was hard, at times, to understand his German. He apologized for his German many times at the talk but he was able to elucidate most of his points, if not gracefully. I’m not complaining though, I would be too frightened to stand in front of so many people and speak in German and German is only my 2nd language whereas it is most likely the 4th or 5th for Zizek. His use of examples from Hitchcock’s films, Weekly World News, Kafka, Hemmingway, etc. (he was anything but short of examples) were slightly more than necessary. Sifting the idea through one or two other bodies of work would have been enough to get his point across but his examples were not doing the work he wanted them to do. It was as if the examples themselves progressed in complexity as he was not able to completely say what he wanted to in his previous jaunt. I’ll follow his lead, however, and use his example from Psycho to explain away what I got out of the talk.

psychoWhen a story is created or a thesis “thought-out” it brings with it, its opposite. Hitchcock’s film Psycho has a man stab a woman while she is in the shower. Because we are given this particular scenario it is made possible to think of its opposite. To imagine the film where the woman is left harmless in the shower is to imagine something dependent on the original story but at the same time its antithesis (that is if we are to take this murder as the climax or defining point of the film). This example (which I dumbed down because I didn’t remember everything he said – I think the point of the example was preserved though) and the many others he used were all leading up to a point concerning Hegel. The juicy conclusion is that Hegel’s philosophy, in its system building, made possible the theorizing that would later attack it – i.e.; Hegelianism made anti-Hegelianism. Or, to go back to the topic of the discussion, we could say that Hegel’s “reconciliation” of philosophy and religion, or science and God, was a decisive point in the “death” of God and split between science and religion. Once Hegel’s oeuvre exists as such one has the freedom to take and leave the theories/ideas as one chooses. These ideas and conclusions can then be used to challenge other ideas and conclusions that belong to the same longer train of thought. Such was supposedly done with Hegel’s phenomenology, the part his followers liked, for the purpose of attacking not only his theology but theology as such. If the film Psycho is analogous to Hegel’s oeuvre than changing the climax of the film is analogous to changing the climax of Hegel’s philosophy; namely, the reconciliation of science and religion. In both cases, Hegel and Psycho, the main body of the work stays the same but is “used” against itself to form a new conclusion. Such was done with Hegel’s philosophy in the nineteenth century. What’s important is clarifying exactly what it is in Hegel’s philosophy that lead to this turn and how this what influenced and continues to influence philosophy. Zizek referred to “it” at the start of the talk as a ‘new way of thinking’ but exactly what “it” is will be discussed tomorrow at a philosophy roundtable in the department.

This post was created mostly so I could think about what was said at the talk and to try and exercise these thoughts so I’m prepared for the much smaller and more open discussion that will happen tomorrow morning. After tomorrow I’ll finish writing my own impressions and try to finish the story Zizek was creating as he himself promised to finish it tomorrow.

success is holding a shovel…

indiana.jpgSo I scored a job. As far as I know (how far do I know?) I will be helping Archaeologists dig for things that are apparently buried. I talked with the boss today and was told to wear pants that can get dirty, to bring a rain jacket, that I’ll eventually need health insurance “certified” boots and that I needed to bring food because the work is in the middle of nowhere. I’m going to be picked up the train station and then delivered to the top secret dig site. I start on Friday and am expecting Indiana Jones-esque adventures and mishaps. The only problem was that the diggers in the Indiana Jones’ movies were always the first ones to have their soul sucked out, to be bitten by a snake or otherwise seemed prone to fall from high places. As soon as we find something I’m going to yell, “it belongs in a museum!” and run with the item through the fields as fast as I can. While running my coworkers will (hopefully) be chasing me with spears and shouting…

With this job I’ll earn enough to live, eat and buy a book or two – I’ll also only need to work two days a week which means I’ll have time to accomplish those tasks that currently require my presence in Germany.

This latest development has definitely calmed me down and is, hopefully, the last stressful/pressing issue that I have to deal with for a while. I do, however, have to go back to my most beloved government building in Heidelberg and try to acquire a tax-number so I can receive money for my efforts. As much as I was hoping to get a job at the university in some (any) capacity I am excited at the prospect of doing some nice physical labor.

funding?

So I’ve been on the search for “funding” (scholarships) for my studies all week and I’ve been running into the same walls over and over again. The walls sound something like this:

  • This scholarship is targeted towards students whose dissertations will make a “mark” in the natural sciences.
  • This scholarship is targeted towards Lutherans.

Luther

  • This scholarship is intended for active members of political party “x” (most of which are German political parties).
  • … for upcoming entrepreneurs!
  • … for people who specifically want access to some hidden library.
  • … for someone who is part of a labor union.
  • … for someone who has been politically and socially involved in their community (the politics of Heidelberg have thus far escaped me).

Then there are always the “details” which exclude me from being able to apply.

  • Student must be affiliated with an American University.
  • Student cannot receive degree in Germany (as in the scholarship is only for a research visit).
  • We will place you at a German University when you have been approved (I’m already “placed”).

After sifting through many scholarships I have found only three to which I can apply to (although I am not done looking I have used up the biggest resource I had in finding scholarships). They are the most general, non-descriptive scholarships thinkable. The requirements are that one be a foreign student and that one be in the process of writing a dissertation. I will most definitely apply to these three scholarships but even if I were awarded one of them (I’ve become pessimistic after constant rejection from scholarship committees and the like) the funding would start next school year.

That means finding a job is unavoidable – no matter how much I lament and whine about all the time I will be losing on my research (the object is to get this program over with in a reasonable amount of time – the more I work, the longer it will take me to finish my dissertation. The longer it takes me to finish the more problems I run into as a foreigner on German turf.). My student Visa allows me 90 working days (full-time) or 180 (part-time) per year. That isn’t very much. There is a loop-hole, however, and that is working for the University. If I worked for the University I could work as long as I wanted to without breaking any rules applied to my Visa (this would most likely mean working at one of the cafeterias). I’m trying to find one of these jobs but haven’t found the right people to talk to.

Then there is always the nervousness of working in a foreign language (I’m still frightened of having a phone conversation the screamhere because so many of the tools of understanding are lost – i.e.; body language). My writing is also not good enough to have to write at whatever job I might get.

All of these requirements for scholarships that exclude me, all of my apparent nervousness at working in “German” makes me do this about every 2-3 hours (see example left)

Until I can find a source of income life here is unstable. That’s only good because it gives things a sense of urgency – that I have to find a job no matter how nervous I am or how capable I think I am. I knew all of this when I decided to stay in Germany but knowing something is far from dealing with something.

umgesetzt

So I’ve been done moving my stuff into my new apartment since Monday. I’m waiting to get used to my new environment here on the other side of town. I’ve still yet to determine where the closest grocery store is, where I can feed my late night hunger attacks and where I can just sit down with a coffee. The building I moved into is new and not very fascinating. The goal of building student housing isn’t style or comfort, the goal is to shove as many students in as little space as possible. It is new though and I’m not complaining – just musing over the appearance of the place (a wall of doors). Once you realize that each of those windows is connected to a bathroom and that every place looks the same inside (except the corner apartments) the whole thing seems a little too simple.

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The area I now live in is much more modern and less urban (surprise, surprise) from the “old” city of Heidelberg. Instead of looking out my window and into a law firm, I look out on to horse pastures where horses are allowed to graze in the afternoons. (There just happened to be no horses out when I took this picture).

view

I have something right outside my window called a “French balcony”. It doesn’t look like any balcony I’ve ever seen before so I call it “don”t let the American fall-out-the-window-late-at-night-ony”. Who knows, if it wasn’t there I could possibly come home one night and walk right out my window. In any case, I feel bad for the fellows whose mishaps necessitated this invention.

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I haven’t even been here for a week yet but am nonetheless anxious to feel at home here. We’re still waiting for one more roommate to move in before we lay down the laws of the apartment – for now we’ll have to stay an anarchistic living quarters.

he’s still my homeboy even though we have our differences

An ex-girlfriend made this for me quite some time ago. I just stumbled upon it while going through some of my Nietzsche documents saved on my laptop. This image belongs out on the internet and not saved in some dark corner of my hard drive.

Homeboy

the month belongs to Hegel

HegelI’m currently reading Stephen Houlgate’s An Introduction to Hegel: Freedom, Truth and History. I have to keep reminding myself that reading about Hegel is time well spent, even if it what I read is suspicious. I should, in all likelihood, be trying to read him in German but I decided to give myself a break and read something in English. And although this is an “Introduction” Houlgate goes in depth on the important aspects of Hegel’s philosophy. Houlgate writes like the devote Hegelian he is (a quick peek at his faculty page at the University of Warwick shows his obsession). Hegel is undoubtedly an important figure in German philosophy and I would be mocked if I didn’t sharpen my knowledge of Hegel while here in Heidelberg. Knowledge of his works will also prove to be useful in understanding my new philosophical love interest, Karl Löwith.Löwith

It just so happens that Hegel’s phenomenological heir, Husserl, was once a teacher of Löwith’s. Husserl was also close friends with Heidegger (but not vice versa) and Heidegger was also a teacher and friend of Löwith’s (before WWII got in the way). It gets tricky trying to remember which philosopher had a crush on which philosophy or which school of philosophy so and so belonged to. The dot connecting can be fun, sometimes unexpected and sometimes the topic of a paper.

sisyphus.jpgOne such fruit, that came from reading this introduction, was a link between Hegel’s master/slave dichotomy and Albert Camus’ “solution” in his Myth of Sisyphus. I’m leaving this ambiguous because it might be fun to actually write a paper on it one day. I’m expecting (and somewhat oddly hoping) that any influences on Camus’ work from Hegelian philosophy will be influences sifted through the mind of Karl Marx. See how all of these philosophers play on the same playground and use the same toys? Maybe that is why I like Löwith so much – because he shows how philosophers and ideas are indebted to each other (at least those in the 19th century).

Curious

I’m curious how this blog will develop. If it will have anything to do with my research or just include random thoughts… I do a lot of writing already but in the form of a journal. A pen, a journal and the strict rule that nobody is allowed to read it. Under these circumstances I write very honestly when I write in my journal. I have no intention of letting anyone read these journals, ever. They are kind of an external consciousness – a playground for my brain to converse with itself.

This blog, however, is a different writing environment. The things that I will write here will be different than the things I normally write and that’s mostly because I presuppose the existence of an audience. I have had a couple blogs in the past but they failed because I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I was inspired to start this blog in part because of Rudy Rucker’s blog and the style he writes in. He mixes images with his words, giving his blog more depth and making it fun to read.