U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (1/21/2011)

1 (of 5). How Does Technology Change Our Thinking Patterns?

Nicholas Carr might be the best thing going for discussions on how technology, particularly the internet, influences the way we think. Check out this podcast at his blog, Rough Type, where he attempts a brief (Western) intellectual history of way that maps, mechanical clocks, and the printed book have changed our modes of perception and apprehension. Carr is perhaps best known for a bestselling book titled The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google. None of this is earth-shattering by itself, except in that Carr has been taking lessons from the past and applying them to internet. Is anyone else doing better, or equal, than Carr in terms of reflecting on how the internet is reworking our minds?

2. What Is Jürgen Habermas’ Significance To U.S. Intellectual Historians?

Courtesy of Brian Leiter’s Reports, I learned that a new biography on Jürgen Habermas is out. Authored by Matthew Specter, Peter E. Gordon reviewed the book at The New Republic. Leiter believes Habermas’ importance as a philosopher is overstated, but thinks that Gordon (and Specter) get Habermas’ role as a public intellectual about right. The comments on the Leiter thread are of interest. I’m not knowledgeable enough about Habermas to confirm or deny statements about his importance or unimportance. And no graduate or undergraduate class of mine required Habermas, either as a book or excerpted (which amazes me). Nevertheless, I have a copy of The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society on my shelf. Apparently, however, that book is more historical than philosophical, and therefore should be of interest to intellectual historians. What is the significance of Habermas to you? Or why should he be of interest to intellectual historians?

3. New Periodical: The Journal For The History Of Analytical Philosophy

Here’s the site. I found these lines from the journal’s self-description to be of interest (bolds mine): “JHAP takes the history of analytical philosophy to be part of analytical philosophy. Accordingly, it publishes historical research that interacts with the ongoing concerns of analytical philosophy and with the history of other twentieth century philosophical traditions.”

4. Who Is The “Americanized Heidegger”?

Courtesy again of Brian Leiter, I learned that there is a distinction in the literature between Martin Heidegger’s significance in Europe versus the United States—aside from the distinction between his philosophy and personal failings (i.e. Nazism). Leiter introduces this distinction in the context of discussing a 1999 BBC documentary on Heidegger (49 minutes, Richard Rorty makes an appearance). But I suspect that we intellectual historians would be better served by tackling Martin Woessner‘s new book, Heidegger in America (Cambridge, 2010). Here’s the blurb from the Cambridge site:

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger was one of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the twentieth century. Offering a novel account of Heidegger’s place in the recent history of ideas, Heidegger in America explores the surprising legacy of his life and thought in the United States of America. As a critic of modern life, Heidegger often lamented the growing global influence of all things American. But it was precisely in America where his thought inspired the work of generations of thinkers – not only philosophers but also theologians, architects, novelists, and even pundits. As a result, the reception and dissemination of Heidegger’s philosophical writings transformed the intellectual and cultural history of the United States at a time when American influence was itself transforming the world. A case study in the complex and sometimes contradictory process of transnational exchange, Heidegger in America recasts the scope and methods of contemporary intellectual and cultural history in the age of globalization, while challenging what we think we know about Heidegger and American ideas simultaneously.

5. A New Philosophy of History?

Christopher Shannon appropriates Alasdair MacIntyre‘s idea of tradition to introduce a new “approach to the study of the past” in the January 2011 issue of Historically Speaking. I’m eager to check this out. Have any USIH readers read the essay already? The same issue offers responses from Mark Weiner, Daniel Wickberg, and Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn—as well as a final rejoinder from Shannon. Aside: I love the dialectical presentation of topics in each HS issue. Mortimer Adler would’ve appreciated it. 🙂 – TL

8 Thoughts on this Post

  1. I can only speak to #5, and perhaps not then very well. But I’ll give it a shot…

    Shannon gets at the question of purpose: What is the purpose of professional historical scholarship? If I read him rightly, he is suggesting that the purpose or governing axiomatic commitment of modern liberal historiography is to tell the story of individualism/personal agency/autonomy, and that no matter how seemingly diverse and “new” various avenues of inquiry are, they are all devoted to telling that one story, to the point that scholarship has become a “discovery” and cataloging of examples of agency. I think he may be overstating his case, or I may be unfairly characterizing his critique. But I certainly would agree with him that the purpose of what we are doing *cannot* be the industrialized production of knowledge — that is a soul-killing endeavor.

    He seems to be suggesting that the purpose of history is to create a library of narratives with different plot lines besides the story modernity tells. I suppose tradition/story in his scheme might be something like Hayden White’s idea of a governing metaphor, though in Shannon’s reckoning this would be a metaphor shared by a self-defined and self-norming community with which the historian identifies and from (for?) which he or she speaks.

    It sounds like a nice gig for those scholars who happen to find themselves speaking from the center of a tradition. But for those who manage to find, test and transgress the margins — who tiptoe along the edges of heterodoxy, however it may be defined by that community — it doesn’t sound too promising.

    However, I think Shannon has raised a valid point in suggesting that there is room for other narratives. But once we have made room for those other narratives, once those histories from different traditions have been added to the library shelves, we would be remiss not to read them alongside one another. And then the question becomes, How? Whose hermeneutic do we abide by for comprehension, comparison, communication across the boundaries which separate the different traditions who are in conversation? In what language do we speak to one another?

    Overall, I found the whole forum an engaging read, and I’m still mulling over what everybody means. The forum itself may be a good model for the kind of conversation across traditions that Shannon has in mind, but if that’s the case, then the lingua franca is clearly that of the modern liberal secular academy. Which is just fine with me.

  2. I see that Woessner’s book on Heidegger in America (which I’ve been eagerly anticipating) has been priced to move by Cambridge University Press: it’s listed at $90 for the hardback and $72 for the ebook.

    Cambridge has a great list and produces beautiful books, but I’ve gotta admit that I simply don’t understand why any author who wants anyone to buy his or her book chooses to publish with them.

  3. Two other notes….

    1) Though I’m cheered to hear that some analytic philosophers believe that the history of analytic philosophers is a part of analytic philosophy, this view is far from universal among them. Also: analytic philosophers studying the history of analytic philosophy, while a Good Thing, is no substitute for intellectual historians studying both analytic philosophy and the history of analytic philosophy (if memory serves, “US intellectual historians have a lot to learn from contemporary US philosophers and have a lot of work to do on the history of modern US philosophy other than pragmatism” was something of a mantra at our first conference back in ’08).

    2) Those reading my previous comment may have guessed that, despite CUP’s pricing policies, Woessner’s book is already in my Amazon cart (though I haven’t pulled the trigger yet). They’re selling the hardcover for only $77! 😉 Oh well…that’s what research accounts are for. All of which probably explains why CUP’s business model survives. I imagine, at the end of the day, Woessner will probably sell almost as many books as he would have publishing at more reasonably priced presses. The market for such works is probably small and relatively price-inelastic.

  4. LD,

    I just ordered the article (and responses) via ILL yesterday, so I likely won’t have this read for a few weeks. Even so, let me respond to a few things in your comment:

    (1) What can possibly be meant by the phrase “modern liberal historiography”? I mean, there was no real “historiography” as we think of it today until post-Ranke, yes? And I never read Ranke to be engaging in any “industrialized production of knowledge.” He pushed empiricism and narrative (making history more scientific and less idiosyncratic). So if modern liberal historiography is bad, I would think that the only thing to blame would be shifts in form. But the modern project has mostly been about making the form more widely accessible and rigorous. Sure, there have been dead ends in theory and practice (i.e. the postmodern death of history, as an extreme example).

    (2) I have no problem with today’s historian purporting to ask and answer questions on behalf of a group (or groups) and for that group. That’s what I would call “service to the community”—or “a” community at a minimum (e.g. someone asking questions and seeking answers on behalf of Catholics, or American thinkers, or gays, or women, or whoever). But perhaps what Shannon means is that the historian should not be afraid to write for traditional kinds of communities on their terms—a town, a region, etc.? Hmm…Of course this would likely involve special terminology, which might make parts of those histories more difficult to access for “outsiders.” In sum, Shannon just wants historians to consider more audiences on traditional terms. This would seem to go along with the idea of public history; delivering historical knowledge to people on their terms in relation to the kinds of questions in which they’re interested.

    – TL

  5. Ben,

    Well, aren’t I glad that Cambridge has shown no interest in my book projects thus far?! 🙂 …Actually, I haven’t tried them for my Adler/history of the great books idea project.

    I’m with you 100 percent on your observation about intellectual historians doing work on the history of analytical philosophy, and that being different from analytic philosophers selectively mining their own history to make progress in their field. Apples and oranges.

    On the predicted price/market inelasticity of a historical work on Heidegger, you’re probably right. Then again, that would make probable marginal gains in audience that much more valuable (i.e. gaining the 50-100 more books because of affordability is good for intellectual history and Woessner’s career, yes?). So the Cambridge model fails for the scholar unless one is sure that more than X number will read the work. …I concede I might be on a flight of fancy here.

    – TL

  6. Two (non-scientific) bits on Habermas in the U.S.: 1) he was pretty important to the philosophy folks associated with the journal _Philosophy & Social Criticism_, but clearly did not have an impact on major areas of academic philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, mind, ethics), hence Leiter’s comments; 2) the idea of the public sphere has had a pretty good life in American historiography of the Enlightenment, and in historiography generally, much more so than with, I think, French historiography.

  7. Tim,
    To quote Andre the Giant, “I do not think that means what you think that means.” But I would be very interested to hear your take on the articles in the forum. In the meantime, maybe someone else who has read them can give you a better sense of Shannon’s argument than I did.

  8. LD: How can I not simply concede to someone who quotes the *The Princess Bride*? 🙂 I apologize if I misread your post, but I’m thinking we’re reading “liberal” in different ways in relation to different eras. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading the forum and offering up intelligent commentary. – TL

Comments are closed.