I am writing less here of late, not because I do not love to write here, but only because I have very many commitments to publish elsewhere and am doing my best, frantically, to despatch these. Not only am I not posting here, but I am also actively deleting a number of posts that have gone up over the past year or two. I was very fond of them, but decided it would be better to delete, for the simple reason that portions of them will soon be appearing in cleaned-up versions, in print, in either one of two forthcoming books. I had posted bits with which I had been particularly satisfied as 'previews', but now that the books themselves are nearing publication, I have an interest in ensuring that the these quasi-physical entities be the exclusive locus for the presentation of the ideas and concerns that motivated me to write them.
My new book, Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy, will be appearing in print from Princeton University Press in early 2015, and is already available for pre-order on Amazon.
I have just submitted the manuscript for a subsequent book, The Philosopher: A Short History, also to appear at Princeton. Here is the opening paragraph:
This book, an essay in the proper Montaignean sense, seeks to answer that most fundamental of philosophical questions: What is philosophy? It does so, however, in an unusual way: by refraining from proclamations about what philosophy, ideally, ought to be, and by asking instead what philosophy has in fact been, what it is that people have in fact been doing under the heading of philosophy in different times and places. In what follows we will survey the history of the various self-conceptions of philosophers in different historical eras and contexts. We will seek to uncover the different ‘job descriptions’ attached to the social role of the philosopher in different times and places. There will be some autobiographical interjections, and some parafictional excursuses, but the principal purpose will be to enrich our current understanding of what the project of philosophy is, or could be, by uncovering and critically examining lost, forgotten, or undervalued conceptions of the project from philosophy’s distinguished past.
I am busy with a number of other editing and translating projects, and a few other handbook entries and journal articles, but will not summarize those here. I try to keep discussion of these projects cordoned off at my academic website.
Beyond the scholarly work (and the line here is growing ever blurrier), I am currently writing a feature article for a well-known American magazine on Roma migrations in Europe, with special focus on the impact of EU expansion on Roma communities moving from the Balkans to France. This is my first work of real long-form investigative journalism, and the research for it has brought me, recently, to Kosovo and to a Roma bidonville on the outstkirts of Paris. More on this once the article has hit the newsstands.
I continue to appear on France 24's televised debate show, when invited, on topics that are important to me, such as immigration and refugees. I don't really understand what television is for, or why it even exists at all at this point, if all it does is to summarize what they've just read on social media. As far as I can tell it's for people with no Internet access, which is to say mostly elderly people, and all it really does is transmit a rough impression of what it would be like to be getting the news online. The last time I was onm a 'media watch' expert appeared at the end of our debate and basically just read to the viewers from his social media feed. Anyhow the host, François Picard, is a very affable and gracious person, and the conversations he sustains are at least as interesting as what you might experience with a reasonably well-selected group of people talking about politics without cameras pointed at them.
I continue to contribute to the New York Times' 'Stone' section. I try very hard to stay out of 'state of the discipline' debates among professional philosophers --I think there are big important questions about what philosophy is, but these are not the same as the questions addressed by APA subcommittees and 'philosophy bloggers'--, and sometimes I fear that the 'Stone' cannot help but function as a forum for such debates. I was pleased therefore to branch out recently in my Times writing with an article on 'The Skeleton Garden of Paris' for the 'Menagerie' section of Opinionator, which also appeared in the print edition of the International New York Times. Often, what I would like to write for the Times is too philosophical for 'Menagerie', but too animal-fixated for the 'Stone'. Indeed in the best of all possible worlds these two columns would be fused into one, and readers would be invited to consider how philosophically stimulating it can be to contemplate the brute beasts.
I continue to write for Cabinet Magazine, and in the next issue have an article appearing on deaf-blind pedagogy in the Soviet Union, and on my personal experiences in Moscow, in 1994 and again in 2013, with some of this tradition's representatives. In the most recent issue of Cabinet Sina Najafi and I also have an interview with the subtle-minded Michael Witmore on the subject of 'accidents'.
I also continue to conduct research together with my colleagues in the ESTAR (SER) collective, on topics pertaining to the history of the Order of the Third Bird. This has issued in several public interventions, notably at the Palais de Tokyo this past February, at the Centre Pompidou in May, and, later this month, in Jerusalem.
I currently owe an article to a volume on theories of animal perception and cognition in early modern philosophy. My contribution is to treat the question of avian vocalization, more commonly known as 'birdsong'.
I am in the middle of translating a 19th-century French treatise on 'the Pasilalinic Sympathetic Compass', sometimes called 'the snail telegraph', which was a device that promised instantaneous wireless communication around the world by means of the animal magnetism between two snails that have previously been brought into copulative contact with one another and that therefore bear a charge of 'escargotic force'. I do not know quite where this is going, but I have much to say about the deep history of the desire for wireless communication, about the significance of the idea that it is precisely through harnessing biological forces that this could be brought about, and in general about what this could reveal for our understanding of what might be called 'the metaphysics of the Internet'.
I have chronic high blood pressure and at my doctor's orders have recently taken on a very different sort of research project. I had always interpreted the imperative to 'know thyself' in a qualitative sense, but now I am being asked, and indeed am accepting the challenge, to know myself quantitatively: to measure my pressure at frequent intervals throughout the day and to correlate it with comprehensive details about my daily intake of food and drink, as well as about my physical activity. This has been the occasion for considerable reflection about what exactly may be learned through such an undertaking. More on this, too, when the data, or my reflections on them, lead to new insights.
Anyhow, the general point is that I am terribly busy, and I really hope all this business spontaneously forms into what may someday be respectably called 'a body of work'. I also hope that I find a way to pull this off while at the same time maintaining this fragile vehicle of my own physical body, this compages of vessels and ducts, in a viable condition. But for now I'm just plugging away, and writing at somewhat less regular intervals in this still very dear to me space.