Saturday, September 01, 2007

Buridan's Ass

Classes start on Tuesday. Given that I am teaching two new classes in the semester as well as making several conference presentations and invited lectures this semester it will probably prove to be a very demanding one. So the question is what to do with the last few days before it begins. I am torn between three options: read and work on notes for classes; read something for research (or maybe even write); or blow everything off, ride my bike, go to the beach, read comics and rent movies. Each option is equally compelling, thus I remain frozen, doing a little of all three, but a lot of random things as well.

I think that is probably the thing missing from the famous description of the ass. It is not enough that the donkey would neither eat nor drink, it has to also decide to engage in some kind of pointless activity while it simultaneously starves and dies of thirst: reorganizing its CD collection, looking up old Dischord bands on on Youtube, and google-mapping every apartment it ever lived in. That is what it is like to be caught between equally compelling demands.

My old roommate in graduate school and I used to have a term for this, responding to pressures by wasting time: we used to call it "sovereignty." Specifically we would use this term to refer too blowing off the reading for classes and exams in order to read something else, some other work of philosophy or theory usually. The use of the term is a vague reference to Georges Bataille. As is the name of this blog.

A few people have asked why I have named my blog "unemployed negativity." Some have even been quick to point out that I do in fact have a job. If there is any justification for the title it has to do with the idea of critical energy that does not really go anywhere, fragments of thought that do not make it into publications or the classroom, hence unemployed. Mostly, however, I just thought that it sounded cool. I am not even that into Bataille or negativity, for that matter.

Well back to the subject of waisting time. I have been known to make up some really stupid songs (another roommate remembers a song I made up about Jean Baudrillard) and equally stupid dances. It is perhaps for this reason that I have developed an odd fascination with The Flight of the Conchords, a show that I have only seen in its youtube form.

Here are some favorite bits:

Finally, let us remember what Spinoza said about all of this wasting time on youtube:

[I]t may be objected, if man does not act from free will, what will happen if the incentives to action are equally balanced, as in the case of Buridan's ass? [In reply,] I am quite ready to admit, that a man placed in the equilibrium described (namely, as perceiving nothing but hunger and thirst, a certain food and a certain drink, each equally distant from him) would die of hunger and thirst. If I am asked, whether such an one should not rather be considered an ass than a man; I answer, that I do not know, neither do I know how a man should be considered, who hangs himself, or how we should consider children, fools, madmen, &c.

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