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Showing posts from October 5, 2014

history without years

There’s a certain magical attachment in history to years. A year serves not only as an organizing principle, but also as a spell – it gathers around itself a host of connotations, and soon comes to stand for those connotations. Yet, what would history be like if you knocked out the years, days, weeks, centuries? How would we show, for instance, change? In one sense, philosophical history does just that – it rejects the mathematical symbols of chronology as accidents of historical structure. These are the crutches of the historian, according to the philosophical historian. Instead, a philosophical history will find its before-after structure in the actual substance of history. In the case of the most famous philosophical history, Hegel’s, a before and after, a movement, is only given by the conceptual figures that arise and interact in themselves. To introduce a date, here, is to introduce a limit on the movement of the absolute. A limit which, moreover, from the side of the absolute, s

dictionary of untranslatables

Since the time I was knee high to a lexicographer, I have loved dictionaries and encyclopedias.  For Umberto Eco, these are two text-types that cast a giant shadow over all texts. In Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, Eco makes much of both the opposition between the dictionary and the encyclopedia and their metamorphoses one into the other. A dictionary may seem like the simpler form – it consists, at the base, of an inventory of words in a language arranged in the order given by a writing system and attaching to each word a definition  – but of course, as Eco shows, this seeming simplicity disguises a host of complex ideological decisions. Eco gives the example of a dictionary that defines bull as an “adult male bovine animal” as opposed to tiger, which is defined as “a loarge tawny black striped Asiatic flesh-eating mammal related to cat”, to help us see that the decisions that go into what forms a definition never wholly correspond to the logic of one system. Eco goes back

short term patchwork long term disaster

John Quiggins at Crooked Timber has a post about the incoherence of the US' s Middle Eastern policy in which he writes that the US has only done one thing consistently in the Middle East, which is slavishly follow Israel's policy. Nice as it would be to have some compressed and easily understood guide to US policy, I don't think this one is is.  Actually, it is not just Israel that acts as a driver of US policy – although in actuality I think this is a two way driver, and that Israel does a lot of things that the US government wants them to do while pretending to condemn them or hold them at a distance – but Saudi Arabia. Why should the US, which is buddies with all the authoritarian Gulf states and calmly watched as the Saudis invaded bahrain and suppressed a democratic revolt, care about Assad? I mean, we have no real reason to overthrow Assad. It will actually make US policy much more difficult if Syria fragments. But the Saudis fear Iran, and thus want to damage thei