Thursday, 13 December 2012

Charles Peguy

I was stimulated to post something on Charles Peguy after hearing an interesting paper at a conference in Italy over the summer by Pete Candlor of Baylor University in Texas (some of the ideas posted here are derived from his paper). Peguy is interesting because he offers a critique of modernity that is both Christian and Socialist in equal measure. Peguy was writing at the turn of the last century and like Nietzsche his is one of the chief prophets of our age. According to Peguy, modernity is radically against us as human beings as it has handed us over to nihilism without recompense. The modern world, in his view, is radically anti-human and it is so because of its failure to synthesise the temporal and eternal in way that has rendered live liveable. In his view, only in relation to eternal is humanity capable of freedom and so modern freedom, that is based upon recognition of a necessary finitude, is essentially illusory. As he states, in modernity the monuments celebrate freedom but the modern world itself oozes slavery (an acute philosophical observation, if ever there was one). Of course, the idea that modernity has engendered a new form of slavery was integral to Marx's critique of contemporary capitalism - but Peguy digs deeper than Marx and examines the ontological basis of modern servitude. For Peguy, this servitude is the result of mistaken conception of humanity, one the fails to grasp the humanity is most fully human only in relation to the eternal and the infinite. Peguy prefigures much contemporary critical thought (that is currently attempting to reinstitute the infinite as a basis for social critique). He also explores ideas in a philosophical poetics, a much neglected literary form for conveying philosophical issues. Neil Turnbull

Friday, 30 November 2012

Marcuse and Art

I have just been reflecting a little on Marcuse's aesthetics in his book The Aesthetic Dimension . According to Marcuse, in modernity art has been institutionalised in a way that legitimates a particular kind of 'disinterested' comtemplative attitude towards the world. As such, art possesses a certain kind of autonomy from society and politics athat allows it to stand as their critic. More specifically, art, in Marcuse's view, has the power to negate society as it currently exists by offering a kind of escape from an oppressive society into oneself and one's own experience. I was wondering whether anyone might provide specific examples of art works that have provided just this function for them, a kind of interior escape into another world, a world that this one might in fact one day become? Neil

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Fashion and Materiality

Last night, we welcomed Prof Tom Fisher from the School of Art and Design who spoke to us on the topic of 'fashion and materiality'. Tom argued that in conceptual terms that fashion is essentially a contradictory phenomenon - being both individualistic yet conformist, democratic yet elitist and highly particular yet completely universal. He went on to examine the philosophical aspects of a number of sociological theories of fashion and explored why fashion seems to be an essential characteristic of modernity through its propagation of the idea of taste-cultures and individual lifestyles. Fashion, he suggested, signifies the radically contingent aspects of the modern, its sense of possibility as a series 'of things that could just as well be otherwise'. Fashion seems to be essential to much of human life today and philosophers have had very little to say about it - the most important thinkers in this regard being social theorists (especially, as Tom reminded us, the 20th century German social theorist Simmel). Plato was famously anti-fashion (more interested, like most Greek philosophers, in the eternal and immutable). Is fashion open to philosophical reflection or must the philosopher be 'anti-fashion'? Neil T

Thursday, 9 February 2012


I thought it would be interesting to start a discussion on the Occupy protests that have currently made themselves so prevalant. What is your view on the movement? Is capitalism the lesser of all the evils? What do you think Karl Marx would have to say about this -- and is it simply just a cry out for communism?


Ever since the Occupy protests started on September the 17th of last year, the movement has grown exponentially. There are well over 2000 occupy groups, spanning over around 80 countries. The first widely known occupy protest was held in New York, by a group going by the name of 'Occupy Wall Street.'

You may have heard of the Occupy protests, seen them on the news -- but what is it really all about?

The movement is innately anti-capitalist. The slogan "we are the 99%" is in reference to the top one percent of earners owning most of the wealth-- and therefore holding the most power. We can see this in effect quite vividly in America, where the top 1% of earners own around 35% of the country's wealth and the top 20% own, staggeringly, around 80% of the country's wealth.

The goal of the movement is to, in general, empower the lower classes by redistributing the world's wealth. Even a small fraction of the earnings of the top 1% would be enough to help a lot of services and a lot of people. People from the movement believe that it is unfair or even unjust that the balance of wealth is so skewed. Therefore, the movement is very much in favour of ideas such as The Robin Hood Tax.

Read More
The Occupy Movement on Wikipedia
The Robin Hood Tax

The Occupy Nottingham Camp Site

Nottingham has its own Occupy protest camp, which has been there for some time. The camp is currently situated in the Old Market Square near the fountains. They have even set up an information tent where you can drop in and ask them questions.

Occupy Nottingham
Occupy Nottingham on Facebook

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Philosophy - Red Week Events

Philosophy – Red Week Activities

Tues 14th
Philosophy Drop in Session (all years) 11-1pm in room 215 – with Ruth Griffin
Come along to this informal student led drop-in session where we can discuss anything relating to Philosophy at NTU. This is your chance to seek guidance about assignments or class tests, discuss your dissertation, debate topics of Philosophical interest, or simply revisit areas which you are unsure of - or would like to pursue further - within a friendly and informal environment. All years welcome.

Weds 15th
12-3pm in room 215 - MA Research Presentations – Open Discussion – With Patrick O’Connor and the MA Students
The MA in Philosophy students of Nottingham Trent University will present a showcase of their current research and studies.
Presenting short 20 minute papers Jim Bunker, Verity James, Zak Miller, and John Bregan will present short talks on the
value of egoism, the philosophy of film, Leibniz and Newton on time and space, and philosophy and the recent riots. This will present an exciting opportunity for undergraduates to see what it takes to be a philosophy postgrad, and maybe even give them the opportunity
to test their mettle against their more ‘senior’ postgraduate colleagues!!!

Friday 17th 11-1.30 pm in 215 – Screening – ‘Tree of Life’ - With Neil Turnbull

This is an important film in philosophical terms – possibly the most explicitly metaphysical film made in recent years. It explores ideas of nature and creation in relation to ethical issues and especially the relationship between nature, love and loss. It is quite mind-blowing at times. Please try to get along to this and join in the discussion afterwards.
Here is a recent review of the film by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian (see

Terrence Malick's mad and magnificent film descends slowly, like some sort of prototypical spaceship: it's a cosmic-interior epic of vainglorious proportions, a rebuke to realism, a disavowal of irony and comedy, a meditation on memory, and a gasp of horror and awe at the mysterious inevitability of loving, and losing those we love.
Sean Penn has a central but minor role as Jack, a careworn 21st-century corporate executive who is now disenchanted with his life. At the moment of crisis, he is carried back to an ecstatically remembered 1950s boyhood in smalltown America. He remembers his relationship with his demanding, disciplinarian father, played by Brad Pitt, and the brother who died at the age of 19: the news is brought to his distraught mother (Jessica Chastain) via an official communication – the telegraph delivery boy thrusts it into her hands and walks quickly away – so he appears to have died on military service.
Jack realises that time, far from healing the wounds of loss, only makes them more painful. Along with the dream-lit tableaux from his childhood, he is vouchsafed extraordinary visions of geological time and the unknowable reaches of the universe, in comparison with which his loss is meaningless. And yet meaning has to be found if the pain is not to be unendurable. In a sense, the purpose of these gigantic visions is to anaesthetise the pain of being alive and not understanding.
Brad Pitt dominates the bulk of the film as Mr O'Brien, who appears on the face of it to be a God-fearing family man with a button-down shirt and crewcut, brusquely but sincerely in harmony with his gentle, beautiful and profoundly religious wife. Chastain has a voiceover at the very beginning asking her sons to prefer God's grace to the beauties of nature, as the truer path. But O'Brien is far more complex than first appears: he is angry with his boys; he respects the severity of traditional churchgoing belief, but aspires to riches and worldliness, taking out patents in the aeronautics industry and dissipating the family's means in the process.
He challenges his boys to hit him, to toughen them up, and does not hesitate to hit them for disobedience and discourtesy. He plays the organ in church and is a disappointed musician; his frustration and rage simmer from every pore. His boys feel fear as well as love: Malick shows how they have fused into the same emotion. They are encouraged to respect his violence and secretly to feel contempt for their mother's gentleness, and yet their fascinated alienation expresses itself in one startling scene involving an incursion into the parental bedroom.
And there are the baffling and bizarre symphonic passages of non-narrative spectacle, prehistoric jungles, arid deserts, galaxies and spiral shapes – Kubrickian landscapes of wonder. Weirdest of all is the engorged river in which a wounded dinosaur lies prostrate; another dinosaur comes along, plants its great foot on the other's neck and then moves heedlessly on. Is this the only message of the universe – pure survival? But then how is it we want something other than survival? What do we want to survive for? And Malick appears, through sheer crazy excess, to bring his movie closer to the ultimate question: why does anything exist at all?
This film is not for everyone, and I will admit I am agnostic about the final sequence, which suggests a closure and a redemption nothing else in the film has prepared us for. But this is visionary cinema on an unashamedly huge scale: cinema that's thinking big. Malick makes an awful lot of other film-makers look timid and negligible by comparison.

NT/RG/POC – Feb 2012