I am in my tenth week of an intens(iv)e training program to run a half marathon in November. Perhaps running the race is wishful thinking, but the training is keeping me focused during the pandemic....Read more
The first references to nature or physis in Athens* were made by those supporting aristocratic partisans against their perception of a rigid democratic establishment in the 420s BCE. Nomos was considered the embodiment of popular...Read more
Is "social distancing" a step on the road to tyranny? Arendt captures the concern of many that forced isolation and empty public spaces during the current shelter-in-place orders that most U.S. state governors have issued...Read more
I was supposed to have one of the busiest semester's of my academic life on the conference circuit this semester. Three invited panels, one Paris workshop, one interdisciplinary conference, one Italy workshop, one development workshop....Read more
These comments were originally presented at the Eastern American Philosophical Association in Philadelphia on January 9, 2020 at the satellite meeting of the Society for Philosophy in the Contemporary World.
My colleague at Denison University, Barbara Fultner, and I received a Themed Course grant from the Great Lakes Colleges Association to incorporate transnational feminist perspectives into our feminist philosophy courses. We are teaching shared texts...Read more
I love Anaïs Mitchell's album "Hadestown," (2010) which I blogged about in 2015. I was thrilled to learn that the album, which was composed as a folk opera, had been turned into a Broadway show...Read more
In some ways Walton really captures the sense in which the point of philosophy is to engage in a life of questioning and examining and dialectically following the conversation where it leads. There are insights into Plato and into philosophy to be found here. It isn't a substitute for reading Plato's Republic, but perhaps the novel--like good public philosophy--could be an on-ramp.
I'm curious about the current run on novels of teenage coming-of-age and how these novels aim to capture this contemporary #metoo moment. Anna Burns' The Milkman captures the peculiar attentiveness of a late adolescent to...Read more
It's Election Day in the United States. It's a national civics lesson in which we celebrate democracy and the role of the people in governing themselves. In the United States, this civics lesson describes our...Read more
Ryan Johnson contacted me after my posts (here and here) on teaching Aristotle through active teaching exercises to tell me about his own active Aristotle classroom. I think you will share my enthusiasm for his creative...Read more
The last several weeks have been difficult for many women. We saw a Senate accept weak lies from a self-entitled man. We saw many many people including for many of us, people we know, excuse accusations from...Read more
I'm on a roll folks. After I did the last group activity, I was inspired to do another, and I think this one was even more successful in getting students to think about Aristotle's Metaphysics. For this...Read more
I am a little more than one week in to teaching my ancient survey. This is my second time starting with Aristotle's Metaphysics. I know that sounds wild, but I think Aristotle sets up principles...Read more
Heidegger famously said of Aristotle's biography, "He lived, he worked, he died." While many scholars take that to mean that Heidegger was dismissing the significance of biography in considering a philosopher's work, Iain Thompson has...Read more
Last Wednesday, we went with friends for a fifteen-course traditional Slovenian meal in the small town of Skaručna outside of Ljubljana. Gostilna Skaručna has been run for forty years by the same family, one brother runs...Read more
Today we walked from our place in The Mets to Plato's Academy, about five kilometers - it's about 1.5 miles from the Agora. My colleague Lew Cassity is working on a book on Plato's Laws and...Read more
I have been listening to Matthew Desmond's Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (the book website gives a pretty good overview of the book). Desmond followed I think 11 different people around Milwaukee...Read more
It's Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States, which frankly seems like a scheme to make the appreciation come in the form of useless cards and treats rather than cost of living raises and the...Read more
One of my favorite yoga teachers likes to say after particularly difficult poses in Bikram, have no reaction, just stand still. I've been thinking about how "having no reaction" seems like good Stoic practice for...Read more
I recently learned of people who think that Facebook is listening to them through the microphones in their phones. This weekend someone told me a story about how she was reading a book out in...Read more
I saw Kimberlé Crenshaw speak at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis tonight. Crenshaw's work on the unique legal and political situations that Black American women faced led her to coin the term intersectionality. As...Read more
In Trump's State of the Union he tried to take back the "dreamers" language from recent immigrants, saying, "We have dreamers in this country, too. You can't forget our dreamers." He went on to say:
I didn't want to watch. The tickets had typos (I know, this is the least of our worries). But then I listened to David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism on Audible on the way into work...Read more
In Aristotle's account of how a person becomes virtuous, he argues that a virtuous action is done in the way a virtuous person would do it. This account often appears circular to those who first...Read more
Trump spoke at the World Economic Forum at Davos yesterday (full transcript here) about "America First," saying, "I believe in America." Trump seems to think it is obvious who he means by America, and many...Read more
I have never been so convinced that reviewers have missed the central theme of a film than in the case of "Phantom Thread," the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson starring Daniel Day-Lewis. It is not...Read more
Yesterday, after yoga I thanked the teacher for the encouragement in class and he said, "It's a pleasure to watch you work." It got me thinking about how the encouragement and positive feedback motivates me...Read more
This semester I am teaching a course I'm calling "Thinking with Arendt." The question of the course follows from Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: if failing to think enables us to do great evil, what is it about...Read more
Sims’ claim based on her own research as an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist is that people who have more estrogen and progesterone and other hormones we have traditionally called “female” cannot be trained as small men as they have been for decades. During the high hormone phase of the menstrual cycle for those who menstruate, the body has a harder time taking up protein. If you don’t get significant protein within 30 minutes of a workout, the body recovers by taking protein out of muscles — basically eating the muscles instead of building them. In addition to the different needs brought about by different hormones, the different physiology, specifically for example broad pelvic bones, lead to less stability in the knees and thus more of a likelihood to be knock-kneed — and in running to have less stability and a tendency for knees to collapse in — unless glutes are significantly strengthened. Even really strong women athletes can have strong quadriceps and still buckle their knees when they jump if they aren’t working on building all three gluteus muscles.
The first references to nature or physis in Athens* were made by those supporting aristocratic partisans against their perception of a rigid democratic establishment in the 420s BCE. Nomos was considered the embodiment of popular sovereignty. Before physis, “to eon” or just “that which is” or easier “the fact” was opposed to nomos. The sophists chiefly served–for a fee–the aristocratic youth whose parents’ wealth and good birth had ceased to give them the power to which they thought they should be entitled. The distinction the sophists offer between physis and nomos justifies the aristocratic claim against entrenched democratic interests.
Physis was associated with one’s birth, so it allowed the aristocrats to associate their own power with their birth, and thus with physis. The aristocrats thought that by virtue of their birth they had a claim to rule. The sophists give them the language of physis to justify this claim through birth, which points to ways that the reference to physis in its beginnings was in the service of a kind of eugenics, those of better birth were those whose rule was more natural. Nature itself was of those who were better born. To be better born was to be on the side of nature. From that claim, the oligarchic interests take up the sophistic view that physis is just what is against the nomos or convention that changes and is thus without ground–a charge familiar to us as a criticism of democratic approaches to justice from Plato. If those who are better born whose claim to rule is natural, and returning to the ancient customs wherein the well-born ruled, then nature is just what had always been, and the changes wrought by the increasingly democratic regimes were suspect. Nature gets put on the side of “things remaining the same,” and convention on the side of constant change and radical disruptive power of the commoners. The sophists introduce arguments that further put physis on the side of intelligence against wealth. Those who newly make wealth still do not have the intelligence that comes with being well-born.
I’m teaching an Arendt seminar this semester and well, this is all happening, so I’ve been thinking a lot (see here) about what it means to be natural living beings and what it means to treat those beings as human. I have no interest in weighing in on the Agamben public statements, but I do think that he is thinking about the Arendtian question of the dangers of reducing human life to mere questions of survival and living. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, “There are more important things than living,” and the thing is, he isn’t wrong. Aristotle suggests that some acts we should be unwilling to do even in the face of death (EN 1110a25-26). What Patrick is wrong about is what those things are. He thinks that workers should be willing to die for the economy, ie., the production of wealth for others.
But maybe what is worse than death is reducing the other to biological life who is here only for the production of increased life of others, or who as biological life is expendable. My husband and I have been having a long-running debate about cannibalism. My initial response to it is that I don’t really have a problem with the idea that in dire straits, one might have to eat another human. He keeps insisting that there are some things worse than death, and that we should be willing to die for the idea of the dignity of the human. This flusters me and makes me worry that I’m more invested in living than dignity. But I have watched his concern about the loss of the chance to mourn the dead that seems to be really happening in New York and around the world. And I’m reminded how fragile is the line between treating other life as for us and treating it as for itself. The line depends on the treating.
Is “social distancing” a step on the road to tyranny? Arendt captures the concern of many that forced isolation and empty public spaces during the current shelter-in-place orders that most U.S. state governors have issued serves tyranny when she writes in The Origins of Totalitarianism:
It has frequently been observed that terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other and that, therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical governments is to bring this isolation about. (474)
Isolation seems to make tyranny possible because it allows governments to replace the shared understanding that citizens can achieve by judging a world that appears in common to all with an ideology that fits the ends of the tyrant.
Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as with the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist. (474)
Arendt argues in The Life of the Mind that the end of metaphysics–of the idea that a world beyond this one can be accessed, or that any access to it can be judged by one who has can stand outside this world (or that we could have access to such a judge)–requires things to appear and beings to whom the world can appear, “guarantee[ing] their reality” (19). Or as she writes in The Human Condition, “For us, appearance–something that is being seen and heard by others as well as ourselves–constitutes reality.”
I was supposed to have one of the busiest semester’s of my academic life on the conference circuit this semester. Three invited panels, one Paris workshop, one interdisciplinary conference, one Italy workshop, one development workshop. Two panels happened before coronovirus hit. The international travel has been canceled and I’m waiting on word that the last remaining events will be a no-go. If you told me at the beginning of the semester that these events would be canceled, I would have thought that the news when it came would be devastating. I’m surprised to learn that I’m relieved. In the age of neoliberalism, the freedom of the collective expectation that you will not and cannot be “investing in” the human capital that you are and that no one else can be either reminds me that the burden of the expectation is a constant weight.
I appreciate this book and am glad to have it in the world. Serene Khader canvasses a breadth of debates of multicultural and transnational feminism within the field. She frames possible objections and offers responses in many cases just as the reader begins to consider that objection and in other places where the raising of the objection clarifies Khader’s position. The book is highly readable both for non-academics and technically sophisticated for scholars. I taught the book in my feminist philosophy course that focused on transnational feminism this past semester and it became a touchstone for debates throughout the course. Khader offers nuanced frameworks that aim to be effective in on the ground transnational feminist activism. I have now read and reread this book three or four times and I can say that the initial objections have melted away as I have continued to sit with it, but I think there is still something in my initial concerns that I now think are about whether universalism can be decolonized within a liberal framework. Khader herself points to these questions. In conclusion, I’ll ask whether an alternative notion of universalism in a Marxist or post-Marxist vein is what Khader’s project invites.
I would sum up my remarks with four questions:
Who is the book for?
What work does the sense of universalism that Khader aims to recover do?
What is the status of this account as non-ideal theory?
Can universalism be decolonized within a liberal framework?
In one scene in the teenage rom-com adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You, one character Michael (played by David Krumholtz) jokes about pictures of Shakespeare another character Mandella (played by Susan May Pratt) has hanging in her locker. She’s unamused, so he says, “No, because I know you’re a fan of Shakespeare.” “More than a fan,” She replied, “We’re involved.” I was put in mind of this scene reading Tarver’s account of the multidimensional meaning of “fan.” As Tarver explains, being a fan or fanatic in its origins was not a good thing. Mandella thinks “fan” too weak a word to describe her devotion to Shakespeare. “True fans” themselves might not think that the epithet “fan” sufficiently describes their devotion. They’re not fans. They’re involved.
Tarver’s book considers why we become so involved in this
way. What’s in it for the fans? She argues that sports fandom is one of the
primary ways of creating and reinforcing individual and community identities.
Indeed, sports fandom is a practice of subjectivization. Sports fans subjectivize
and are subjectivized as individuals and as members of their (white)
communities, it turns out.
Describing the role that black masculinity has to play in
this process, Tarver draws on Toni Morrison’s approach of investigating the
role of images of blackness in producing white consciousness (3). White fans,
Tarver argues, contribute to the reproduction of their whiteness in and through
fan practices involving their imaginative relation to and ritualized display of
people of color (4). Tarver describes, “This feeling of possession, or of
intense, frenzied pleasure,” as “one that is no doubt familiar to many devoted
sports fans who have had the experience of being present at the sacred space of
the home field or court” (25). As Tarver explains, fans don’t watch as
observers, but engage in light of their deep allegiance to a team not unlike
the kinds of allegiances we feel to our families or our partners. Multiplied in
a crowd, especially at a live sporting event, the effect is, as Tarver writes,
“an emotional scene that has virtually no equal in contemporary life” (25).
This is the scene of what Tarver calls, following Foucault, subjectivization.
“Subjectivizing practices are means by which individuals both subordinate
themselves to a discipline and, by virtue of it, achieve a sense of their own
identities” (27). This process works from below rather than from above by
habituating individuals into monitoring and policing their own behavior rather
than being concerned by external threats (31).
Sports fandom involves a normalization of knowledge
acquisition as one criterion for fans to differentiating themselves as fans
from mere spectators. Tarver describes the sports fan as one who has mastery,
who dominates through knowing when such power would not be available to him
through physical force (38), a strategy that many men pursue when the road to
physical domination is barred to them. Tarver notes the homosocial bonding of
sports fandom where women’s sports fans are either excluded if they fail the
various tests of fandom or included by the determination of men in ways that
perpetuate the notion that men are the keepers of knowledge and of the common
that is the sports venue, and often by extension, the community at large. As
Tarver writes, “[T]he subjectivization accomplished in and through this
practice normalizes masculinity: it
creates an idealized norm to which individuals strive to conform and in
relation to which they can be judged, ranked, rewarded, or excluded” (41).
Women who try to enter this space as sports fans on their own terms appear to
threaten the homosocial bonding of the space, making questionable the
homosocial bonding that occurs (39). Articulating men’s investment in all-men
spaces in general, Tarver notes in the last chapter on women fans that the
presence of women and their emotional vulnerability keep men from being able to
display their emotions in a way that is acceptably masculine (177). When there
are fewer and fewer places of masculine homosociality, sport allows men to
touch one another and express emotional vulnerability in ways that are
otherwise forbidden by heterosexist norms (176).
At the same time sports fandom contributes to the constitution of a community and to the identity of that community, producing not only fandom but whiteness as spectacle (48). As Tarver writes, “We must ask whether southern football pride has in fact become a metonym for pride in the southern white aristocracy, as a mode of the further entrenchment of its power, or as,” quoting Bryan Curtis, “‘rebranded’ southern pride in which ‘we can [have solidarity] and can’t really be criticized for it” (Tarver 49-50, Curtis 2011). In chapters that follow, Tarver goes on to describe two of the key ways in which fans can seem to revere black men as athletes while still engaging in white supremacist practices. Through this analysis, Tarver shows how what might look like communal support for black men is in fact using them for the fans’ communal feeling while easily disregarding the interests of those black athletes who do the subjectivizing and identifying work for fans.
Tarver compares the treatment of the star athlete as a hero to the treatment of the star athlete as a mascot. She writes, “To treat a person as a mascot is, I will argue, to instrumentalize them in the service of communal identity, even as they are excluded from full membership in it. Hero worship, in contrast, conceives of its object as ‘one of us’, as belonging to the community in a representative rather than a commodified sense” (80). She buttresses her account of mascotting of athletes with a discussion of sports mascots, arguing that the role of the mascot is to unify a community that excludes those serving as mascots, and others from their group, as in the case of Native American mascots (75). She notes astutely that the defense for holding on to the Native American mascots that says the mascots are part of a community’s tradition was a tacit admission of the role mascots play for teams and fans (77). They do uphold a tradition, one of settler colonialism. Tarver draws on Malcolm X’s description in his Autobiography of his experience of feeling like a mascot in the chapter by that name. Tarver writes, “Being a mascot requires that one – like the pet ‘pink poodle’ to which Malcolm compares himself – give no indication of existing for or desiring purposes beyond those that serve the instrumentalizing community. A mascot who exists for himself is no mascot at all” (95). The mascot is the athlete who is required to serve the needs of the fans and denied any subjectivity of his own – it is noteworthy that mascots are almost by definition men since women athletes seem to escape the cathetic investment of the fan to see themselves dominating because the women athlete’s femininity would seem to foreclose that possibility, a situation that Tarver notes is a kind of ironic escape for the female athlete (200-202). Mascotting can function by quickly rejecting those who fail to fulfill the expectations of the fans, as in the case of Lebron James when he left Cleveland for Miami. Or it can function as a kind of virtue signaling or a sign that there are no problems as the mascotting of Michael Jordon shows (97). What Tarver locates in the mascotting is a “collective failure to recognize the role of other’s subordination or service in one’s own social position,” a failure that is “a persistent feature of whiteness and colonialism” (132). Tarver reminds us of Césaire’s equation of colonization with thingification and with the narcissitic focus of the Europeans on themselves to the extent that they are unable to recognize that “exploitation is a necessary condition for its continued existence” (133). Mascotting then seems to pretend it is hero worship while narcissistically forgetting how it depends on the black player as “lusory object” whose meaning is dependent on their role in the game rather than on their own being in the world. The hero by contrast is treated with a concern for their being beyond the sport, as Tim Tebow exemplifies. In fact, it is who he is beyond the sport that makes him a hero of white masculinity. By contrast black men who reject their mascotting role are portrayed as thugs, as in the case of Richard Sherman, and menaces to society, as in the case of Michael Vick (169).
Tarver’s distinction between the athlete treated as hero and
athlete treated as mascot invites skepticism about the role that sports might
have in bringing us together, as we commonly describe their role. But I want to
ask about whether that role is entirely lost or whether this analysis might
help us think further about what radical fandom could be. And my road through
thinking that will be through conceptions of the festival and the crowd.
That well-known philosopher of sport, G.W.F. Hegel,
describes the festival as the living embodiment of the essence of the community
in The Phenomenology of Spirit (¶725,
The beautiful fencer is indeed the honor of his particular people, but he is an embodied individuality in which the comprehensiveness and seriousness of meaning, along with the inner character of the spirit which underlies the particular life, interests, needs, and mores of his people has met its downfall. In bacchanalian enthusiasm, the self is external to itself, but in beautiful embodiment, it is the spiritual essence… In this self-emptying into complete embodiment, spirit has cast off the particular impressions and echoes of nature, which, as the actual spirit of the people, it encompassed within itself. Its people thus are no longer conscious of their particularity within that spirit, but rather, in casting off this particularity, they are conscious of the universality of their human existence. ¶727
The fencer captures in his particular being the character of
the people, but still remains an individual. Indeed, the problem with the
fencer is that the fencer for the fencer’s own self-consciousness refuses to be
merely for the spectator, for the fan. The fencer insists on also being for
himself and this causes a shift away from the fencer as fulfilling Spirit in
its fullness and prompts Hegel to turn to what is happening with the crowd.
I also want to think with Hegel about what is happening with
the crowd, but I see in this shift away from the fencer the question of whether
the problem is that we tend to mascot some players and hero-worship others or
if the more profound problem is, as Charles Barkley—and my Sixer fandom
requires me to let you know that I met him when I was in fifth grade when he
visited my Philadelphia public elementary school, which apparently he was doing
begrudgingly since he famously later said that he did not want to be and wasn’t
paid to be a role model—, in fact Barkley’s “I’m not a role model,” well
captured the problem of trying to make athletes have to stand for more than
themselves, have to stand for us, as heroes and exemplars, and refusing them
the space to stand just as themselves.
Yet this same passage points to how the athlete as the
particular catalyzes the people to cast off their own particularity, to no
longer be conscious of their particularity and instead in the frenzy of the
athletic event / festival to feel conscious of their unity with one another.
indeed, “the universality of their human existence.” Tarver’s account would
seem to suggest that this universalizability in the face of the frenzied
festival is impossible because the universality is always a false one – it
seeks the unity of a group, a group that considers itself universal in a way
that functions to maintain its discriminatory power, either at the expense of
an athlete who is not of the same group or through an athlete considered to be
a member of the same group and thus in this case the particularity both of the
group and the athlete remain. Is Tarver rejecting the festival’s capacity to
universalize altogether on Hegel’s terms? And what might that mean for further
political implications of the festival? Is there no unifying possibility of the
community that doesn’t carry these particularities with it? Or rather, what
conditions might be required for that consciousness of the universality of
human existence to become possible? What do we lose if we never can accomplish
Hegel continues in the next paragraph,
The spirits of a people, who become conscious of the shape of their essence in a particular animal [the fencer I assume], merge into one spirit; in that way, the particular beautiful spirits of a people combine themselves into a Pantheon whose element and abode is language. The pure intuition of itself as universal humanity in the actuality of the spirit of a people has the form of the spirit of a people which then joins with others, and together they constitute by means of nature one nation and forge a common undertaking. For this work, it forms a collective people and in so doing, a collective heaven. This universality which spirit attains in its existence is nonetheless merely this first universality which initially starts out from the individuality of ethical life, since it has not yet overcome its immediacy and formed a single state out of these separate tribes. The ethical life of the actual spirit of a people rests partly on the immediate trust of the individuals in the whole of their people, partly in the immediate participation which all, irrespective of differences of estate, take in the resolutions and business of their government. Within the union, which is initially not that of a persisting order but that of a union merely for a common action, that freedom of participation of each and all is temporarily set aside. This first communal endeavor is thus more of an assembly of individualities than it is the dominion of abstract thought, which would rob individuals of their self-conscious participation in the willing and acts of the whole. ¶727
The fencer, the athlete—here, I read animal in Hegel as the
living thing—makes the people aware of themselves as a people, who as a result
can merge into one spirit. Not just a particular group but of “universal
humanity,” which overcomes differences. This common undertaking forms a
collective people, and in so doing, a collective heaven. There is so much to
unpack in this passage, but I just want to point to two things that Tarver’s
analysis complicates for us. First is whether this universal humanity that
departs from the fencer excludes the fencer and what this tells us about how
the unity of a people depends on those it excludes in sports fandom, but also
in other kinds of fandom and mascotting. Hegel wants this universalizing to
transcend the differences of “separate tribes,” in order to accomplish a unity
not just of a nation-state but of universal humanity. But the nation-state has
long shown its inability to include all of humanity when it based that
inclusion on a collective departure based on the “shared spirits” of a people.
Particularly telling is how this universality must reduce its catalyst to the
living thing or animal.
Yet at the same time, I wonder whether Tarver takes issue
with the Hegelian structure of producing the universal from the singular being,
or with which singular being the universal is produced from. When Badiou
approaches an account of subjectivization of a universal political, he does so
through a road that produces a universal from the excluded and uncounted and
conceives of a universal thought from the position of the excluded (Metapolitics
2005, 150, 115, The Communist Hypothesis 2008). Is there place
in Tarver’s analysis for a fandom that could work in this way?
Second, Hegel speaks of setting aside the freedom of
participation of each and all. While this passage will go on to discuss the
role of the epic in capturing this particular made universal, Hegel thinks the Bacchanalian
festival as a moment which begins with an assembly of individualities and moves
toward something unified and in excess of the mere joining of individuals. This
moment that exceeds collective individuality could be thought as the belonging
of the group still marked by traits that set it apart – whiteness, masculinity,
the identifying markers of the sports fan. But could it also be thought as a
moment that rejects the subjectivization as an individual and embraces
subjectivization from the crowd? A subjectivization that might also lend itself
toward subjectivizing from the position of the excluded?
Jodi Dean talks about the liberative political possibilities
of the crowd in ways that reflect the possibilities of the protest march. I want
to know whether for Tarver these could also be the political possibilities of
the sports crowd.
Dean draws on the work of Gustave Le Bon who argues in The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind for
thinking of the crowd as what Dean calls “a distinct form of collectivity. The
crowd is not a community. It doesn’t rely on traditions. It doesn’t have a
history. The crowd is not held together by unstated norms or an obscene
supplement that extends beyond its own immediacy (although crowd images and
symbols clearly shape the reception and circulation of crowd events). Rather,
the crowd is a temporary collective being. It holds itself together affectively
via imitation, contagion, suggestion, and a sense of its own invincibility.
Because the crowd is a collective being, it cannot be reduced to singularities.
On the contrary, the primary characteristic of a crowd is its operation as a
force of its own, like an organism. The crowd is more than an aggregate of
individuals. It is individuals changed through the torsion of their
aggregation, the force aggregation exerts back on them to do together what is
impossible alone” (Dean, 9). The crowd is the site of resistance to the
individuation the ideology of capitalism accomplishes (79). “If the subject is
interpellated as an individual, the strengths of many become the imaginary attributes
of one. The individual appears as the locus of a capacity for innovation and
interruption that is only ever an effect of collectivities.” (113) “Crowds
exert force or, better, they are a force of desire exerted by collectivity.
When they amass in spaces authorized by neither capital nor the state, they
breach the given, installing a gap of possibility. The presence of a crowd is a
positive expression of negation. People act together in ways impossible for
individuals, a phenomenon that preoccupied the early twentieth-century crowd
Now whether sports crowds amass in ways not authorized by
capital or the state is certainly questionable. But I think there is still room
here to think about sports crowds as sites of possibility for progressive
For example, I think about Dean’s analysis when I think about the
2001 Sixers Championship run where they ultimately lost to the Lakers. I grew
up working class in Philadelphia, a city whose politics and geography are riven
with racial strife. It’s a tough city. Gritty even, you might say. But the
championship run created fellow feeling, unifying fans in a crowd who could
collectively boo Beyonce for wearing a Laker’s jersey and cheer our small but
fearless point-guard Allan Iverson through so many games in which we won from
way way behind. That month of those several series Philadelphians felt
differently united in affect for a common cause. Allen Iverson was beloved by
the city, and not just because he led the team through a winning season, but
also because his Norfolk youth made him very familiar to gritty Philadelphians.
Philadelphians followed the events of his life off the court even long after he
left the team. That press conference the year after the championship run where
Iverson complained that the press was giving him a hard time for showing up
late or not showing up to practice and that they weren’t even talking about a
game, “not a game where I got out there and play every game like it was my
last” – Philadelphians were with Iverson against the sports press. Perhaps it
was because Iverson made most Philadelphians feel like he represented them and
so it wasn’t really about Iverson. But I think it could also be that the fans
were unified in a kind of resistance with Iverson. “We not even
talkin’ bout the game, the actual game, when it matters.” I think we are seeing in some fan
response to football players who kneel a similar subject formation out of a
crowd. The individual players in this schema are like the party representative
speaking for the whole, rather than a mascot. That whole team in 2001, Eric
Snow, Aaron 6th-man McKee, Dikembe Mutombo, they were fighting for
us, not big enough to be heroes and not different enough from the city to be
mascots. I wonder if there can be places in which things are different or
possibilities for being different, for following stories of down and out
players, and feeling like those stories are emblematic of a city and its
trials. When Dean speaks of the Party as the voice of the crowd, I think she
offers resources for reversing the situation. Could it be that the players
articulate the needs of the crowd and what would that look like?
This is what I think Badiou means by a universal political
subject formed out of the recognition of the uncounted (Trott 2011).
I also see this kind of collectivity being formed by sports fans who took up
Colin Kaepernick’s call to boycott the NFL.
I wonder further whether there is possibility for something like
what Jennifer Nash calls in the context of representations of black women “recovery
work,” wherein fandom and sport itself as a project can be “both the space of
objectification and the locus of remedying the objectification. Recovery work
maintains an unshakeable political faith in self-representation, which
is imagined to undo the violence of dominant representation” (Nash 2014, 56). In this way, recovery work could return some
of the agency to the players.
Some of the ways that Tarver describes the liberating
possibilities of women both as athletes and as fans might already point to
these possibilities. As Tarver writes, “women tend to know sports fandom as a
means of social bonding, as a set of practices that increase feelings of love,
connection, and community…women often recognize the larger set of social
practices—the rituals, the traditions, the means of cultivating family and
group identity—as meaningful, and perhaps as the underlying reason for
participating in the spectacle of the games at all” (178). Tarver describes
women’s knowledge of this kind as a threat to homosocial and hypermasculine sports
fandom (178). As this kind of threat it also seems like a fruitful place for
thinking about how the crowd can produce politically liberative ways of being.
Tarver notes how women’s sports have become a gathering place for queer people,
both participating in them as in the lesbian softball league, and as fans, as queer
people have flocked to the WNBA. The recent watching parties and celebrations
of the US Women’s team during their World Cup run is another good example. Women’s
sports are important in one sense because the increased visibility allows women
to see themselves on the court or field in a way that offers an alternative to
“the second sex” experience where women only experience their subjectivity as
objects (197). Tarver questions the legitimacy of sex-based segregation in
sport, in a move that makes increasing sense in light of last spring’s decision
by the IAAF to demand Caster Semenya control her testosterone levels. And her
argument suggests that the segregation serves to further produce masculine
The two questions I would like to put to Tarver are:
Is the problem with the structure of finding the
universal in the particular or is the problem with which particular the
universal is formed out of and thus can a revolutionary politics work in this
way by forming the collective from the marginalized, oppressed and excluded, in
sport as anywhere else?
I take it that Tarver would agree that there is
no individual without subjectivization. So how we get subjectivized as
individuals is both about how we get subjectivized as part of specific
communities and as separate from one another. Is the problem that sport can’t
achieve this kind of politics from the experience of specific communities and
how we become separated from one another and come to see ourselves as
individuals rather as collectives with power to resist oppressive systems? In
this light, it seems like sport fandom is a place that is producing
collectivities. Recognizing how fraught those collectivities are, is the
problem that sport produces collectivities or is the problem what
collectivities are produced? What conditions would we need to see sport fandom
as a site for subjectivizing collectives for the sake of resisting a world that
would divide us from one another under white supremacist patriarchal
heterosexist ableist capitalism?
I am grateful to Tarver for this book, which does a good job
of bringing philosophy into the public sphere in ways that make it both rigorous
and what my evangelical roots lead me to call “convicting”. It’s a good model
for all of us.
My colleague at Denison University, Barbara Fultner, and I received a Themed Course grant from the Great Lakes Colleges Association to incorporate transnational feminist perspectives into our feminist philosophy courses. We are teaching shared texts for a little more than half of the syllabus. Our students will meet by video conference three times over the course of the semester and then meet for a workshop at Denison at the end.
I love Anaïs Mitchell’s album “Hadestown,” (2010) which I blogged about in 2015. I was thrilled to learn that the album, which was composed as a folk opera, had been turned into a Broadway show now running at the Walter Kerr theater. For my birthday in the spring, Jeff proposed that we go. We saw it on Wednesday. It’s good. It’s about art broadly construed and politics and what art should do and how art fails politics and what to do with the failure. It’s a show about Eurydice and Orpheus. It’s a show about right now. The end of the show found me with tears streaming down my face. So I think it did its job.
In some ways Walton really captures the sense in which the point of philosophy is to engage in a life of questioning and examining and dialectically following the conversation where it leads. There are insights into Plato and into philosophy to be found here. It isn't a substitute for reading Plato's Republic, but perhaps the novel--like good public philosophy--could be an on-ramp.
I'm Adriel M. Trott, an Associate Professor in Philosophy at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. I work on ancient Greek and contemporary continental philosophy inflected by social and political concerns. I am especially interested in the uses and abuses of the concept of nature in the history of philosophy and the social and political implications of these uses. I am currently working on a book project on the way that Aristotle thinks of the material working of form in the process of natural generation. I argue that form is dependent on material in natural becoming in a way that has consequences for how we think of the association of male animals with form and female animals with material.
I like to run. I'm into hot yoga. I care about justice, feminism, opposing racism and resisting neoliberalism. I think Socrates was on to something when he suggested thinking was a practice of living. I teach students to think. I delight in the pleasures of doing the difficult thing. I'm glad to be.