On Peripheral Philosophy
[I]f there is to be a philosophy at all,
[it must be] withdrawn from all State influence.
– Arthur Schopenhauer1
[E]verything interesting happens on the periphery,
outside the standard modes of "developed" existence.
In philosophy, the only thing that we are taught to
"expose" is a weak argument, a fallacy, or someone's
"inferior" reasoning power.
– George Yancy3
While the history of anti-academic philosophy has its roots as far back as Ancient Greece and Socrates’ relentless mocking of the Sophists for whom truth was merely a fad destined to change during the next pay-cycle, its spectre has never disappeared.4 Academic philosophy, further interlinked with the state in late-capitalism, has been the subject of scorn not only by those who remain unafraid of the monolith of the Academy, but also by those individuals who are always-already on the periphery. Despite becoming enlightened and supposedly shedding old religious dogmas that infected professional philosophy, we’ve managed to become nominally post-religious while replacing a visible system of control – retribution from the Church – with an invisible system of exclusion built around hegemonic attitudes and accepted norms. One must pass the Academy’s Turing test and never slip up.
While the monotony of the Church has all but disappeared from academia, the hegemony of the state has expanded with elite institutions around the world being funded by countless, and sometimes unknown, sources with a vested interest in promoting a myriad of agendas. As Nick Land, taking up Schopenhauer’s century-old cry, noted, “the university is inextricably compromised by the interests of the state, [such] that this necessarily involves it in the perpetuation of [its] monotheistic dogmas” and this entanglement, for Schopenhauer himself, meant that any new system of thought must be tested “to see whether it can be brought into harmony with the doctrines of the established religion, with government plans, and with the prevailing views of the times.”5 While a bleak picture, and one that has, of course, changed slightly, its contours remain the same, with the state funding institutions and those institutions, de facto, determining what can and cannot be critiqued. Such hegemon(oton)y can be seen as an instance of what Deleuze and Guattari call royal science.
Royal science, for them, is study subordinated to pre-defined limits with the aim of control and of extracting constants from variable relations in the world. In contrast, nomad science can roughly be understood as study for study’s sake with the goal of ambiguating the constants royal science produces. Thus, for Deleuze and Guattari, nomad science, a science of the periphery, attempts to elude control and place the variables of the world “in a state of continuous variation”; Being vs. Becoming.6 Nomad science is not strictly theoretical, confined to the pages of a book, however, but is practiced by living, breathing bodies daily. Yancy, in commenting on stereotypical State philosophy, notes that there is a disparity between the thought that goes on within the walls of the Academy and the thought of those bodies not always included. For the former, thought is abstract with the goal of taking down enemies while presuming to "speak for all of ‘us’” while the latter’s thought is rooted in personal experience.7 The former’s rigorized, highly structured mode of philosophizing, at best, only excludes those not privileged enough to exist within the Academy and, at worst, denies the experiences of the other. While Yancy has carved a niche for himself and I know students who are working on queering their studies to provide room for a trans philosophy, countless thinkers existing on the edges of society don’t have a voice within the concretized Academy.
Perhaps that’s for the best, however. The Academy, like The Blob, assimilates and normalizes – state acts fundamentally counter to the ideals of the nomad – all that come too close and turn “the philosophical lecture-room into a school of the shallowest philistinism” where radical ideas are salted before they germinate.8 Back in 2001, the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru) began mapping precisely the movement of the nomad scientist toward the periphery:
Many members of the Ccru fled cultural studies, disgusted by its authoritarian prejudices, its love of ideology, and its pompous desire to "represent the other" or speak on behalf of the oppressed.
Ccru engages with peripheral cultures not because they are "downtrodden" or oppressed, but because they include the most intense tendencies to social flatness, swarming, populating the future, and contagious positive innovation, hatching the decisive stimuli for the systematic mutation of global cybernetic culture.9
While personal weblogs were just beginning to blossom, and Twitter was still a glimmer in Jack Dorsey and Company’s eyes, those disgruntled with academia began setting up shop on the digital edges of the map, creating radically new social enclaves on pseudonymous discussion boards where Becoming was intensely affirmed. Indeed, is it any wonder that, largely in response to the rigor (mortis) of academia and the explosion of absurdly expensive pay-walled academic journals, that the blogosphere grew massively in the Oughts? Further, does it surprise anyone that some of the liveliest philosophical conversations can be found in the comments sections of blogs or on Twitter threads as opposed to the stuffy pages of X, Y, Z Quarterly? As pamphleteering was to the state, blogs and Twitter are to the Academy.
Further, this peripheral philosophy provides another benefit besides being a bulwark against assimilation: a multiplicity of unheard voices are being expressed. Indeed, to be taken seriously within the Academy, a certain level of authority must be achieved, a level only attained via what Mark Fisher (a.k.a. k-punk) called “the traumatic experience of doing a PhD.” On the way PhD work, and academia more generally, is structured, Fisher notes that it “bullies one into the idea that you can’t say anything about any subject until you’ve read every possible authority on it” – indeed, how can a mere graduate student, much less a lowly worker, have anything important or substantial to say on Hegel when even the Hegelians are trying to figure him out?10 And further, what of those who, at best lack the means to be formally educated? While there is certainly a level of expertise gained from studying a given thinker over a period of time, who’s to say the confines of academia is the best way to attain such a level? Further, if texts are ambiguous and novel ideas are simply amalgamations of unique interpretations of given thinkers, is it correct to say that formal academic experience intrinsically grants one anymore validity than a pseudonymous blogger? Contingently, and within the confines of the Academy as it exists, the former is given precedence over the latter, but at what cost? Privileging some subjectivities above others based solely on contingent factors not only produces the conditions for the exclusion of the Other, but is also complicate in a perverse replication of the same.
So, where do we go from here? Disavowal academia entirely? Drop out of school, quit our jobs, run from society and become “a dangerous companion and everywhere an unwelcome guest?”11 No. For Fisher, the alternative was not to cede theorizing to the academics, but rather to engage in guerrilla philosophy by way of blogging and, as per Deleuze and Guattari’s recommendations, engaging with elements of the existent system “if only to turn them against their own [larger] systems.”12 Thinkers outside the Academy should not only “lodge [themselves] on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it provides,” and engage in new movements and new modes of capture, but set up alternative academies and modes of thought not to think “’about’ (or – even worse – ‘for’),” but with the other.13 Thus, peripheral philosophy should embrace amateurism and push the boundaries to their limits. From the (in)famous hell threads of Weird Theory Twitter to the blog-on-blog discussions to the countless alternative- and self-publications, the Outside is pushing back with a multiplicity of voices and stands as a testament to what non-academic theorizing can provide. Traditional philosophy is slowly but surely becoming outdated, and when the last pay-wall crumbles as information yearns to be free, blogs will be there to reinvigorate radical thought.
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- 1. Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities,” in Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, Vol. 1, trans. E.F.J. Payne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), 137-197: 180.
- 2. CCRU, "Communiqué Two: Message to Maxence Grunier (2001)," in CCRU Writings: 1997-2003 (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2017), (:)(:)-::(:), (:)(:).
- 3. George Yancy, “Whiteness and the Return of the Black Body,” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 19, No. 4 (2005), 215-241: 215.
- 4. Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities,” 153-154.
- 5. Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (London: Routledge, 1992), 10. Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities,” 153.
- 6. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 369.
- 7. Yancy, “Whiteness and the Return of the Black Body,” 215.
- 8. Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities,” 153.
- 9. CCRU, "Communiqué Two,”(:)(:).
- 10. Mark Fisher and Rowan Wilson, “They Can Be Different in the Future Too: Mark Fisher interviewed,” on Verso, published January 16, 2017, accessed January 3, 2019 (https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3051-they-can-be-different-in-the-futur...).
- 11. Schopenhauer, “On Philosophy at the Universities,” 153.
- 12. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 160.
- 13. Ibid., 161; CCRU, "Communiqué Two,” (:)(:).