Month: April 2015


Electric Text

“And what I wanted to show you was that if Greek philosophy has raised the question of truth from the point of view of the criteria for true statements and sound reasoning, this same Greek philosophy has also raised the problem of truth from the point of view of truth-telling as an activity. It has raised questions like: Who is able to tell the truth? What are the moral, the ethical, and the spiritual conditions which entitle someone to present himself as, and to be considered as, a truth-teller? About what topics is it important to tell the truth? (About the world? About nature? About the city? About behavior? About man? ) What are the consequences of telling the truth? What are its anticipated positive effects for the city, for the city’s rulers, for the individual, etc.? And finally: what is the relation between the activity of truth-telling and the exercise of power, or should these activities be completely independent and kept separate? Are they separable, or do they require one another?”

Foucault, Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia, [6] Concluding Remarks

Parrhesia and Frankness

“The word ‘parrhesia’ then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says. For in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion. And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find. Whereas rhetoric provides the speaker with technical devices to help him prevail upon the minds of his audience (regardless of the rhetorician’s own opinion concerning what he says), in parrhesia, the parrhesiastes acts on other people’s mind by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes.”

[1] The Meaning of the Word “Parrhesia”

Parrhesia and Truth

“It would be interesting to compare Greek parrhesia with the modern (Cartesian) conception of evidence. For since Descartes, the coincidence between belief and truth is obtained in a certain (mental) evidential experience. For the Greeks, however, the coincidence between belief and truth does not take place in a (mental) experience, but in a verbal activity, namely, parrhesia. It appears that parrhesia, in his Greek sense, can no longer occur in our modern epistemological framework.

If there is a kind of “proof” of the sincerity of the parrhesiastes, it is his courage. The fact that a speaker says something dangerous — different from what the majority believes— is a strong indication that he is a parrhesiastes. If we raise the question of how we can know whether someone is a truth-teller, we raise two questions. First, how is it that we can know whether some particular individual is a truth-teller; and secondly, how is it that the alleged parrhesiastes can be certain that what he believes is, in fact, truth. The first question — recognizing someone as a parrhesiastes — was a very important one in Greco-Roman society, and, as we shall see, was explicitly raised and discussed by Plutarch, Galen, and others. The second skeptical question, however, is a particularly modern one, which, I believe, is foreign to the Greeks.”


“To summarize the foregoing, parrhesia is a kind of verbal activity where the speaker has a specific relation to truth through frankness, a certain relationship to his own life through danger, a certain type of relation to himself or other people through criticism (self-criticism or criticism of other people), and a specific relation to moral law through freedom and duty. More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy.”



“The personal account in some ways demands more of a reader than other forms of reportage, for he [sic] must read and then evaluate the author’s editorial commentary…A first person presence must be constantly evaluated by the reader.”

Tom Wolfe and E. W. Johnson, unpublished manuscript of The New Nonfiction

“This new form was grounded in a concrete setting and developed through the use of scene, dialogue, and point of view. The question-answer business was abandoned in favor of a less formal, more artistic presentation which was essentially a dramatization of fact in a technically-fictional framework.”

Tom Wolfe, “The New Interview,” unpublished manuscript


“21. Moore’s view really comes down to this: the concept ‘know’ is analogous to the concepts ‘believe,’ ‘surmise,’ ‘doubt,’ ‘be convinced’ in that the statement ‘I know…’ can’t be a mistake. And if that is so, then there can be an inference from such an utterance to the truth of an assertion. And here the form ‘I thought I knew’ is being overlooked.—But if this latter is inadmissible, then a mistake in the assertion must be logically impossible too. And Anyone who is acquainted with the language-game must realize this—an assurance from a reliable man that he knows cannot contribute anything.

“22. It would surely be remarkable if we had to believe the reliable person who says ‘I can’t be wrong’; or who says ‘I am not wrong’.

“24. The idealist’s question would be something like: ‘What right have I not to doubt the existence of my hands?’ (And to that the answer can’t be: I know that they exist.) But someone who asks such a question is overlooking the fact that a doubt about existence only works in a language-game. Hence, that we should first have to ask: what would such a doubt be like?, and don’t understand this straight off.

“30. When someone has made sure of something, he says: ‘Yes, the calculation is right’, but he did not infer that from his condition of certainty. One does not infer how things are from one’s own certainty. Certainty is as it were a tone of voice in which one declares how things are, but one does not infer from the tone of voice that one is justified.”

paragraphs from Wittgenstein, On Certainty

Response to Political Concepts

On Legitimacy or Maybe Opacity

David Sugarman



Ruby says: I want to answer Penelope’s question.
Anna says: Women! Homosexuals! The Disabled! Arabs!

List of people writing things down:


People Not Writing:

Anna says: I want you to answer Penelope’s question.

Who is listening?
Eoghan has his arms crossed.
Gina is nodding.
Kim looks nervous?
Oliver, diligent.
Anna touches her lip.
Berengere’s hair is growing long—it looks nice!

Ruby read three books before she understood Glissant at age 4.

“Twinkling eyes.” Who said this? What was the context? Follow up.

Penelope says: This isn’t an actual comment.
Eoghan says: This might be stupid.
Are there more carrots? Have I had more than my fair share of bread?

Who has nodded thus far:

Sam has recently read Invisible Man.

[Enter Vignesh]: Hello everyone.

Anna says: That’s what I’m sort of starting to think about.
Chad says: That’s just me being useless.
Gina says: There’s nothing to uncover.

Ruby commends Eoghan’s comment on “the medial.” Eoghan responds: Mmhmm. Ruby says: Can you say more? I don’t think Eoghan can say more.

Nuri is now writing. Chad is writing. “There’s no colon!” someone says. “That’s interesting to me!” Have I had more than my fair share of bread?



Political Concepts: O p a c i t é

Ruby Lowe

Electric Text 8 April 2015


“Continual return is to exegesis as chaos is to disorder”

Anonymous (Twentieth Century)
Epigraph, Faulkner, Mississippi


Édouard Glissant Poetics of Relation (1990)

The opaque is not the obscure, though it is possible for it to be so and be accepted as such. It is that which cannot be reduced, which is the most perennial guarantee of participation and confluence. We are far from the opacities of Myth or Tragedy, whose obscurity was accompanied by exclusion and whose transparency aimed at “grasping.” In this version of understanding the verb to grasp contains the movement of hands that grab their surroundings and bring them back to themselves. (191-2)

The thought of opacity distracts me from absolute truths whose guardian I might believe myself to be. Far from cornering me within futility and inactivity, by making me sensitive to the limits of every method, it relativizes every possibility of every action within me. Whether this consists of spreading overarching general ideas or hanging on to the concrete, the law of facts, the precision of details, or sacrificing some apparently less important thing in the name of efficacy, the thought of opacity saves me from unequivocal courses and irreversible choices.

As far as my identity is concerned, I will take care of it myself. That is, I shall not allow it to become cornered in any essence; I shall also pay attention to not mixing ;it into any amalgam. Rather, it does not disturb me to accept that there are places where my identity is obscure to me, and the fact, that it amazes me does not mean I relinquish it. (192)


Jacques Derrida Monolingualism of the Other: Or, The Prosthesis of Origin, Paris/Baton Rouge (1998)

One more word to expatiate a bit. What I am sketching here is, above all, not the beginning of some autobiographical or anamnestic outline, nor even a timid essay toward an intellectual bildungsroman. Rather than an exposition of myself, it is an account of what will have placed an obstacle in the way of this auto-exposition for me. An account, therefore, of what will have exposed me to that obstacle and thrown me against it. Of a serious traffic accident about which I never cease thinking. … A Judeo-Franco-Maehrebian genealogy does not clarify everything, far from it. But could I explain anything without it. But could I explain anything without it, ever? No, nothing, nothing of what preoccupies me, what engages me, what keeps me in motion or in “communication,” nothing of what summons me sometimes across the silent time of interrupted communications, nothing, moreover, of what isolates me

in a kind of almost involuntary retreat, a desert that I sometimes have the illusion of “cultivating” by myself…. (69)

It is the monolanguage of the other. The of signifiers not so much property as provenance: language is for the other, coming from the other, the coming of the other. (68)


Édouard Glissant Faulkner, Mississippi (1996)

What is hidden makes us feel what is disclosed or revealed all the more strongly. ln Faulkner’s work, it is what “we don’t understand’’ that helps us approach the dark and luminous mass of what we think we have understood. (142)

The Faulknerian genius, occupied with deferring and at the same time revealing what torments the consciousness of Whites in the county, instinctively chooses to treat Blacks as if they had opaque, impetratable minds, even the most important Blacks in his works. (70)

True, it is said more than once (someone will repeat) that Whites are incapable of understanding Blacks. We do not hear the parallel implied that “Blacks are incapable of understanding Whites.” It is as if only the Whites feel the need to understand. (65)

Efforts to create descendants and a foundation are thwarted by two obstacles: opposition and refusal by the Blacks (the extended family) and the curse of the Whites (“the exasperated Hand”).

This is what Quentin Compson says about it: “The last. Candace’s daughter. Fatherless nine months before her birth, nameless at birth and already doomed to be unwed from the instant the dividing egg determined its sex.”

The people of the county who act against each other and against their opacity, only have themselves as their point of origin, and they leave no descendants. Through this, they refuse familial inheritanceand legitimacy, the indispensable base of every foundation. (126)

Legitimacy, the drama of its depletion, and the path of its restoration are the first principles of traditional tragic theater. This is because, in Western culture legitimacy guides the individual’s destiny and is the indistinct path linking a community to a Genesis, establishing it in its sovereign right. (128)


Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundations of Universalism, Paris (1997)

For each identification (the creation or cobbling together of identity) creates a figure that provides a material for its investment by the market. There is nothing more captive, so far as commercial investment is concerned, nothing more amenable to the invention of new figures of monetary homogeneity, than a community and its territory or territories. The semblance of non-equivalence is required so that equivalence itself can constitute a process. What inexhaustible potential for mercantile investments is this upsurge — taking the form of communities demanding recognition and so-called cultural singularities — of women, homosexuals, the disabled, Arabs! And these infinite combinations of predictive traits, what a godsend! Black homosexuals, disabled Serbs, Catholic pedophiles, moderate Muslims, married priests, ecologist yuppies, the submissive unemployed, prematurely aged youth! Each time, a social image authorizes new products, specialized magazines, improved shopping malls, “free” radio stations, targeted advertising networks, and finally, heady “public debates” at peak viewing times. Deluze put it perfectly: capitalist deterritorialization requires a constant reterritorialization. Capital demands a permanent creation of subjective and territorial identities in order for its principle of movement to homogenize its space of action; identities, moreover, that demand anything but the right to be exposed in the same way as others to the uniform prerogatives of the market.

Response to Allusion

“My presentation is not about drugs,” Vignesh tells us. An allusion to Electric Text, an allusion to Kim. Electric text itself is an allusion I don’t understand, I realize. Allusion is a form of exclusion. Or so argues Freedgood. Vignesh begs to differ.

A summary.

19th century novels chastise readers, put them in their place. Mass literacy leads to havoc! (Lions, tigers and bears, oh my!) There is a right interpretation, and a wrong interpretation and (for some) “you just don’t get it.” Vignesh disagrees—it is via allusion that one learns about new things. Clytemnestra is as old as a vampire. Scholars are quick to see novels and poems as ways of reinforcing underlying barriers of education between the classes—and Vignesh disagrees: literature works to disrupt this structure. The presence of literature and fact that everyone is reading the same texts (because they have not yet figured out how to break up literary market) means that literature is the place to be looking to see if the coextension between class and education is not as coherent as we would think.

A conversation.

How allusion works, and how we get to use it. Allusion drives you elsewhere to look for meaning. The text sends you out on “intellectual errands,” as Anna puts it. Quite aptly, we all agree. But how do you know if this intellectual errand is a fool’s errand? If I send you all out to get apples, pears and κυκεών, am I just messing with you? Probably. Will you look it up? But if you do, does it matter? Probably not. I didn’t really mean anything by it, after all. And in Freedgood’s mind (or perhaps Victorian literature in general?) the author decides. So there. Well, unless you’re Phillip Roth. But I’m not. I have no Wikipedia page.

We talk about different genres. We see the exact opposite (of Freedgoodian knowledge exclusion), some colleagues point out, in high modern fiction. We assume that we will be looking stuff up and not getting it. Think Finnegan’s Wake. We can choose our own path through a text. “Choose your own ending.” In fact, choose your own beginning and middle, too. Poems are always obfuscatory. You always have to look things up. It is your challenge as reader to find the things out and bring them back to the text. “Intellectual errands” become a game of fetch.

This is a source of pleasure. Vignesh champions pleasure. We should be able to recover the pleasure in coming across something that we don’t understand. But no one leaves open the space to say anything other than that the novel chastises you for not knowing a thing, and you must humbly, meagerly crawl to it. This doesn’t leave open space for pleasures. Pleasures of instant recognition are overstated. There are other kinds of pleasures.

A response.

Pleasure, play, and errands. These terms of conversation dwell with me the most, I think. Allusion is inherently about play. From the post-classical Latin allusion-, allusio game—the verb being alludere (to frolic/play/sport around/with, play against, jest); closely related to the Latin ludere (to play, mock, tease, trick). What a great semantic playing field! Knowing is part of this play—“His Majesty smiling, said, I understand your allusion”—but not knowing is part of this play too. You need to have a ball to chase after. No fun just sitting there with the ball in your hands. Though I suppose it depends what kind of balls we’re talking about.

On that note, here’s a joke, from England’s Jests refined and improved being a choice collection of the merriest jest, smartest repartees, wittiest sayings, and most notable bulls, yet extant with many new ones never before printed by Humphrey Crouch (1687):

A scholar, being ask’d by a Porter for a Gentlemans Chamber in [Oxford] Colledg, he directed him thus, You must crncifie [sic] the Quadrangle, and ascend the Grades, and you will find him perambulating in his Cubicle, near the fenester. Pray Sir, says the Porter, what is that Fenester? It is, replies the scholar, the Diaphanous part of an edifice, erected for the Introduction of Illumination; which so amaz’d the Porter, that at first he did not know what to think, till recovering himself, he went and enquir’d of another, who have him plainer directions, in more intelligible terms.

Ha, ha! So, as I see it, you can laugh at the pompous scholar who speaks in obtuse allusions, and just go find someone else who will deal in terms you know. Or (why not!) you can also go out on the intellectual errand of crncifying the Quadrangle. Long live the pursuit of meaningful-meaningless words, terms, and ideas. Allusion to all, and to all a goodnight.

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