Jewish Philosophy Blog Pieces (Ephemera & Method) (Response to Critical Pushback)


In response to a friend pushing back on me critically about what very well be the bad infinity here at JPP, I want to revisit a methodological question re: the relation between philosophy and non-philosophy on a new media platform such as this. Because what’s a blog? One thing that you can do with new media platforms is to open up a conversation to new kinds of things, like images and sound clips, and all kinds of ephemera, drawn from the Web and from one’s own daily life offline and online, in the car, on a walk, etc.). All of a sudden, a discourse can open out in a very mediated immediate way to the life and world around it. Blogs are quick and responsive, much more so than old media platforms.

I’ve been at this for almost two years. Built up over an extension of time, I want this blog to be constitute an assemblage of little pieces and pictures, a plastic form of Jewish thought and culture put together around the aesthetics of space and place and the kinds of things that show up in that frame and across a temporal duration. And I want to do it aimed middlebrow, so as to be inviting to non-specialists in the the field of Jewish philosophy. Because otherwise, what’s the point of a blog as opposed to an old media journal article except speed? And actually what’s the point of philosophy if you are only talking to a small group of specialists?

I can say, though, that the longer and relatively more involved book notes/reviews get the most visits, proving that even online some people really are looking for substance, or at least (a little) more substance rather than less. And actually, the other stuff is meant deliberately to reflect ephemera, visual and social commentary that pattern the more conceptual work that is basic to the practice of Jewish philosophy. Modular in nature, the point of the pattern is an emergent sensibility. It works as a background, or as background noise which some people will notice and some people won’t at any given moment. Like anything online, background is infinite, and people’s attention can be intentional, but also ad hoc and selective.

The comments that I wrote almost two years ago that are still up on the “about” page still hold, as do my earlier comments in a post about “ephemera” that I posted in March 2012 about ephemera. They have to with the juxtaposition between philosophy and non-philosophy. The linkage between philosophy and non-philosophy, the relation between a picture or an image vis-à-vis a political concept or thought, for instance, are meant to be loose, as I think they are in daily life. The ephemera are meant to be quick, scatter-shot quality of an image-ephemerum (??) versus the more complex thought-block worked up over a sequence of paragraphs. Either they loosen up, complicate, and volatilize thought, mixing things up and contributing to more vital assemblages.

Either they bring life, color, action, pleasure, or violence to concepts – or they don’t. As such, JPP is meant to be an experiment. It’s either going to work or it won’t. So far, I’m pretty of pleased by the results, including the remark from my friend, which constitutes the first serious methodological criticism re: this project.

I would add that part of the play of ephemera that pattern the appearance of this blog has to do with new visual citizenship, the way we communicate with each other online, the pictures that we share, and the way we make ourselves present to each other in a new media environment. This is Fred Ritchin photojournalist and new media theorist talking about the use of images in today social media environment, which I think are relevant:

The images that you make have an authenticity to them because, in a sense, we know you a bit. Then we have this other group of images that both contradict and support your perspective—that is, if all the images support your point of view, then we are not going to believe it. That seems too much like propaganda. So there is this give and take, a sort of discussion rather than an automatic credibility. Is this effective in terms of being immediately practical? No. But is it effective in a kind of deeper spiritual way, as a form of dialogue? I think yes, because we have to ask ourselves who we are and what we want and who we are learning from. And eventually we are going to have to figure out a way to digest all of this and to act. (“Notes from the Field: An Interview with Fred Ritchin,” Humanity, 4:3 [Winter 2013]  p.396)

As for New Jewish Philosophy, I would hate to see it cordoned off from the larger new media environment in which it is presently situated, and which presently situates it. In my response to my friend’s quick, cutting and accurate pushback, which itself happened online in a quick, ad hoc sort of way, these remarks here about “ephemera” are like notes from the field. An empiricist, what I think I’m learning is how to take the background presence of ephemera in a serious way, and with some methodological care. But maybe too, I need to be more careful in curating the appearance of ephemera here at JPP. I can’t thank my friend and friends enough for the critical feedback. I sometimes think we think much more quickly online than we do offline. The point is to do it more or less well, which requires one to explain oneself and to justify one’s practice, methodologically, to other people.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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4 Responses to Jewish Philosophy Blog Pieces (Ephemera & Method) (Response to Critical Pushback)

  1. mfeuer2012 says:

    Well-said, Zack! I’m with you on this one. We Jewish-Philosophy bloggers are on the crest of a wave. And though some many deny it, they know they are wrong. The new Jewish philosophy that is and has been (and will continue to be) emerging should situate itself within the new media. To not do so, would show that Jewish philosophy is not open to change (and we know what that leads to).

  2. esque says:

    Looking at the cover of the new AJS program makes me want to ask you if you think of each post along the lines of a Schachter eruv.

  3. dmf says:

    I actually think that much of the work after Wittgenstein on family-resemblances and
    aspect-dawnings (making connections) blurs the lines between philo and non-philo (showing and saying) in ways that endorse collage as well as bricolage.
    from down the road @ LeMoyne:

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