Plausible

Living

Hello.

Here’s what I’ve been doing the last few months.

1. On Damaged and Regenerating Life – an essay on Spinoza, climate change and the Capitalocene. For the special issue of Crisis and Critique on Spinoza, featuring the great and the good.

2. Some short essays for the Open University’s OpenLearn platform, on various things:

  1. Why do we need free speech?
  2. Trouble in Paradise: the Dutch Golden Age
  3. Why are people superstitious?

These articles each manage to shoehorn Spinoza at the end. Credit my imagination here for some otherwise unexpected (possibly tenuous) links.

3. I co-organised a conference on Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, belatedly marking its 350th anniversary, with the great Marie Wuth. It was a good, free event, and well sold-out. We had to turn away about 3/4 of abstract submissions, interest was high. We were fortunate to have it funded by the British Society for the History of Philosophy. Most of the speakers were recorded onto a special conference webpage here. And then a colleague made another website that’s kind of the same, but looks better, here.

It took me about a week to transcribe these talks. Writing out the subtitles for YouTube. Yes, I had to. So please, watch a video with the subtitles on, let me know it wasn’t for naught. I even include little notes on audience interruptions, etc.

A short video introducing it all:

4. Teaching

I’ve now made loads of my old teaching resources available, in the Teaching tab. This includes slides and course syllabi for about fourteen courses including, in no special order:

Already, I’ve had up there two more:

Teaching that sheer range of subjects – plus seminars on many other courses where the lecture material isn’t mine, and supervision on subjects ranging from the history of Georgian boxers, Quaker attitudes to Islam, existentialist literature, and the philosophy of heritage-informed performance in music – was occasionally lovely, but often tough. I worked like Stakhanov for four years, cycling across London in all weathers, often not in the best health, teaching with a sense of vocation and love for the craft which bordered on masochism.

I’m proud of that work but also glad I can look back on it. I worked hard but I was also lucky. In early 2020 before the pandemic broke out, I’d been thinking seriously about retraining as a mental health social worker. The situation at Goldsmiths had been bleak – strikes, mulled departmental closure (more on that below), a future of precarity. And then, a breakthrough.

At the Open University, a new short course I worked on went live:

Media, Politics and Society – link here. Runs several times across the year. I wrote the fake news week. Weird conspiracies, Pizzagate, disinformation, the Zinoviev letter, Russia-backed black power and anti-capitalist groups and much more.

I’m busy rewriting part of one course, and doing a lot of work making another brand new, but there won’t be news on either for a long time.

5. Book reviews

Incidentally, my Spinoza book got a lovely write-up here, by Timothy Deane-Freeman. A couple more very nice reviews are on their way, in academic outlets.

6. Talks

  • “Jane Addams and sympathetic knowledge”, for the British Society for the History of Philosophy annual conference in April.
  • “Gateshead: care, public health and austerity”, for the British Sociological Association graduate one-dayer, “Situating Austerity” in July. I’ve talked on Gateshead before but this had a new approach and a deeper argument.
  • “England’s Dreaming. Nation, Belonging and Class in the Fragmented Union Debate”, for the IIPPE conference in September.
  • “Democracy, Sympathy and Difference”. I’m giving this talk to colleagues at the Open University tomorrow, but it’s open to the public. Here’s an abstract. And here’s a link – it’s at 12 noon on Friday 15th October. Join here, using Microsoft Teams: click this link. I won’t have time to write an outline like with the above, things have been chaotic – I’m going to talk through some images and questions related to sympathy as a moral and political emotion.

7. In the can

An essay on chess for The Philosopher. Another on Spinoza and love for Philosophy Today. A couple of pieces on climate anxiety, one a substantial essay, another a short little thing. And another on one of Foucault’s key sources in Discipline and Punish.

Others are on their way – four substantial new essays, one new project, an odd little piece on refusing to speak  – but best wait til they see the light.

That’s the end of the cringey self-publicity. Now, to the real stuff.

8. Friends

Some friends have had achievements worth celebrating. Here’s a list of those, and of great new books I have liked a lot.

  • Yari Lanci passed his viva last week, with a brilliant thesis I got to read on Marx, Foucault and the government of time.
  • Steve Hanson published A Shaken Bible. His reviews and editorial for the Manchester Review of Books make it the best magazine for ideas going, hands down.
  • David Ridley published a fascinating and important book on John Dewey and the concept of collective intelligence. He’s part of a great new initiative, Beyond Education, with public meetings.
  • Lara Choksey’s Narrative in the Age of the Genome is a wonderful guide to recent experimental fiction and its relation to genomics. It ends with an image of life as fragile, embodied, incomplete: ‘the ways that time does not capture consequences in advance, but proliferates chance.’ It’s free to read online.
  • M. Rajshekhar’s, Despite the State. Written indefatigably over 33 months across 6 states in India, it’s a politically astute and compelling travelogue through India’s crisis of democracy, written with a deep humanity for those he meets.
  • John Barker, an interesting and brilliant thinker who has helped me approach contemporary capitalism with more precision and nous, has co-produced five great podcasts on disease and pandemics in a distorted world for the Liverpool Biennial: Transmission (listen here).
  • With the relaxation of restrictions in recent months, it’s been a gift to catch up with friends again, where possible. Others haven’t been well. It’s not the same but I’ve also been grateful for the email or WhatsApp exchanges that keep friendship and community going.
  • Laura Grace Ford has been publishing some groundbreaking short fiction on the new London that’s appearing, in places like here and here. That London also comes across direct here.
  • Finally, My brother is pioneering a strange and brilliant form of landscape expression, part Chirico, part Hockney, 100% himself. As an artist he is relatively unknown, but his psychic navigation of the myths of the near future should be on record and book covers.

9. Goldsmiths

I’m so bitterly sad to see that Goldsmiths are planning to sack the equivalent of 20x full-time lecturers in History, and in English and Creative Writing. I don’t know how these are spread between them, but it will effectively mean the closure of the History department. I taught there for four years, working with fine colleagues and teaching fantastic students. This is bleak news. But I remember conversations in late 2019/early 2020, not long after the new VC arrived, when it became clear that departments like ours would be merged and gutted, with a couple of surviving research centres tacked onto other departments. Management said otherwise; we thought they were lying, and they were.

Goldsmiths is a very special, endangered place for the critical humanities. One day, people may come to recognise a distinctive “Goldsmiths School” style of applied critical theory and cultural studies, a shared sense of affinities and mood, an interest in exploring and narrating the affects and psychological landscapes of neoliberal capitalism, a nous about “management”, an antagonistic politics committed to radical democracy and the working class reclamation of the city, and an interest in stylistic experimentation that links a range of some of the most interesting thinkers of the last few years. This School has always been interdisciplinary – taking and stealing from the fields of philosophy, cultural studies, sociology, fine art, urban studies, politics, visual cultures, music and literature. This School is not located in any one department, and some of its best adherents may have only had fleeting liaisons with Lewisham Way. For some, the relationship with Goldsmiths has been hard and uneasy. But once these vital critical spaces are lost, they’re very difficult and time-building to rebuild. So solidarity to colleagues facing heartbreaking redundancies, with all the financial and personal consequences they entail. Please fight, and whoever reads this, give them every support you can. Follow Goldsmiths UCU here.

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