【UTCP Juventus】Naveh Frumer

6 August, 2009 Naveh FRUMER, UTCP Juventus

The following is an update on my research and other academic activities.

1) Research
The main research project I was involved with this semester was a complete re-definition of my dissertation project and the writing of a new prospectus. I have decided to abandon the previous direction, which dealt with the political horizon of Derrida’s work, in favor of a project that would be less author-based and more thematic.

In a nutshell, the new project begins from the question posed by Habermas, “what are the normative foundations of a critical theory of society”? Breaking away from Habermas, though, I argue that most critical theorists after him have adopted an approach that ultimately fails to address both the nature of the moral issues they themselves wish to deal with and the nature of moral claims altogether. That approach amounts to what I regard as an acceptance of the core ideas of liberalism into critical theory. The idea is to show how this liberal framework, even in its “critical” variant, either fails to cope with certain kinds of moral wrongs that are typical of modern society, or that, by forcing those wrongs to be translated into the liberal idiom, end up missing their very immoral nature.

Seeing as in our day and age, social injustice, alienation and actual, unnecessary miseries go on precisely under what we might call “really existing liberalism”, namely under the pretence of freedom, universal rights, fairness etc, the task is not only to expand the meaning of those core liberal values, but rather to formulate the moral urgency of the present in terms that try to capture what is fundamentally wrong with it, that is to say, in terms that regard such realities as morally unacceptable.

Over and against the liberal framework, I propose to look at a series of thinkers who propose an approach to moral claims that go beyond the limitations of this framework: Theodore Adorno, Judith Butler, and the Israeli philosopher Adi Ophir. In their works we find an attempt to build a moral phenomenology that recognizes the existence of pain and loss as concrete moral experiences that need to be given voice in our moral idiom, rather than shunned by it, together with a moral vocabulary based on notions of vulnerability and dependency, damage and harm. It is an idea of morality that focuses less on the attempt to construct a just social arrangement (although this too is, of course, indispensable), so much as on the idea of orienting ourselves towards the reduction of unnecessary violence and suffering. I claim that rather than those approaches being “merely negative”, “utopian” or “moralizing”, they in fact better address many of our moral intuitions, especially those pertaining to the kinds of wrong typical of our contemporary social reality.

What those authors have in common is that they offer a kind of “negativist turn”; a theory of injustice rather than of justice. Here injustice is understood in terms of people inflicting harms upon others—often in ways mediated by social structures—and not, as in the liberal idiom, in terms of rights-violations, unfairness, inequality or lack of freedom. This alternative means that prior to regarding others as right-bearers or as entitled to social conditions of fairness, equality, etc., we should regard them as potential victims of real injuries incurred upon them. This means placing immorality before morality, actual wrongs before some idea of right, and the notion of inhumane conditions before any notion of the human.

2) Conferences
On March I participated together with other UTCP members in two symposiums in Taiwan. During the second symposium, "Co-existence and Cultural Spheres", which took place in the Academia Sinica, I delivered a paper dealing with the critique of Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler on the political philosophy of Giogrio Agamben. I found the discussion following the talk very productive, and the questions that were posed were very stimulating and important to my work.

3) English instruction
Finally, I continued my ongoing work as an English writing tutor. Among the project I was involved with this semester were a conference at McGill University, where three of our students attended, as well as the student conference organized by UTCP in May under the title “The Plural Present of Historical Life”. I also launched a new “Academic English Newsletter”, a periodical email newsletter sent to our members, in which I discuss various points, tips or common mistakes in academic writing that came up during my work.

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