Monday, April 13, 2009

War and Peace: My First Conference Presentation and My Weekend at Purdue University (Part I)

For the weekend of April 3-4 I was in Lafayette IN for a conference at Purdue University, titled War and Peace: Discourse, Poetics, and Other Representations. This was my first conference presentation and I presented my paper on David Reubeni. The conference was for graduate students so this was certainly a minor league affair, but I am glad that I was able to attend as this summer I will be presenting at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds England, a major league affair. As one might expect from the title, this conference was pretty top heavy in terms of post modernism. Of the presentations I attended Cory Driver’s and mine were the only ones that were not open exercises in post modernism. There was also the issue of liberal politics; as one might expect there was a fair amount not so subtle Bush bashing with some shots at Israel thrown into the mix. All in all it was a wonderful conference, though, and I really would like to thank the people who helped put it together particularly John White and also Jessica Raffelson, who chaired my session.

I was in a bit of quandary in trying to find accommodations for Shabbos. I was in luck and was put in contact with the Aldrich family and was able to spend Shabbos with them. Dr. Daniel Aldrich is a professor in the political science department at Purdue. He and his wife are now on my list (somewhere near the Klappers) of things that are right with Orthodox Judaism. They are one of the few Orthodox people in Lafayette and Dr. Aldrich’s wife home schools their three adorable children. They have also lived in Japan for a number of years, during which time Dr. Aldrich wrote articles, on the side, for the Haredi newspaper Hamodia about living as a Jew in the Far East. I presented on Friday but was thinking of walking back to Purdue on Shabbos to sit in on at least some of the day’s presentations. In the end I did not; I was having too much fun at the Aldrich’s. I had a great discussion with Dr. Aldrich about my favorite polemical topic, Haredim. I was on the offensive, he was on the defensive. This ended up branching out into post modernism; it turns out that he is even more hostile to post modernism than I am. I had to defend my willingness to use such terms as “Imperial Haredism” or “Haredi creation of the Other.” I do recognize the value of certain post modern terms, questions, and concepts as long as they do not become ends in of themselves.

As to the conference itself. The first panel was on Theorizing War and was chaired by Sol Neely. Ethan Sproat of Purdue University spoke on “War and Its Purification.” It was an examination of Kenneth Burke’s views on war within the context of Friederich Nietzsche. According to Burke, war is an object of communication and as a means of communications. This is Burke’s attempt to look at the symbolism of war as a means of getting around the act of war itself. Burke was influenced by Nietzsche. Nietzsche viewed war as the actions of people who already lived condemned lives. Actual war is a disease; it is built around a cult of empire and relies on dissipation and fanaticism. This is a type of reasoning that desires to eliminate all forms of opposition; Nietzsche refers to this as a “diseased form of reasoning.” Burke notes that all organisms live by killing. Move from the hand to the fist. Nietzsche also recognized this need for violence.

Nietzsche felt comfortable only with Heraclitus who said that “things become through war.” Strife is required for cooperation; there is a value in having enemies. Nietzsche self consciously used “war” instead of “strife.” War is a onetime event instead of something continuous. He believed in attacking ideas that have been victorious where one stands alone in opposition. One attacks ideas and not people. To attack is proof of good will. One can only wage war against equals. Nietzsche believed that it was important in preserving the enemy even the Church so in a sense Nietzsche’s attack on Christianity was, from his perspective, a true act of love.

Burke employs Nietzsche’s use of war as a way of establishing community. There is an element of competition; we engage in communion through competition. A pure act is always symbolic. As applied to war this would mean war without actual war, just the symbols of war. Pure war preempts actual war and reverses the relationship between symbols and actions.

Sproat ended his presentation with a nod to those in attendance. This conference is an act of pure war. We engage and challenge others. Despite our differences we still see engagement as something of inherent value. The questions becomes how do we bring these values of pure war to those already engaged in actual war.

Despite the underlying liberal polemic and post modern discourse of this presentation I did enjoy this one. Particularly since I love Nietzsche and it was wonderful to see someone embrace Nietzsche whole heartedly without any concern for being labeled a racist a Nazi or, even worse, a sexist.

(To be continued …)


RVA said...

What is the historians relationship with philosophy? Is it merely to document which philosopher's were influential and their personal and philosophical effect on contemporary and future society?

Should historians comment on the content of a philosopher's works? Does a historians training prepare them to understand philosophy in a manner which could justify any opinions, theories, conclusions they may state? Should historians abstain from analyzing the content of philosopher's work?

My questions are focused on getting insight on how a historian conceptualizes his relationship and duties when dealing with philosophy.

Izgad said...

Good questions. I posted a response as a full blog post.

Daniel said...


It was great hosting you, and we are glad that your conference attendance and stay produced such rich material for grist.

Stay in touch,

Daniel and Yael