Sunday, November 18, 2007

Telos, the critical theory journal and its blog - my comment on the Madrid verdicts

Over at the website for Telos, the critical theory journal, I have posted more commentary on the Madrid bombing verdicts. Here.

Telos is a journal with a fascinating intellectual and personal odyssey from its first days as a New Left theory journal until today. Its founding editor, Paul Piccone, was someone I adored, fought with, yelled at, over the years. Leaving NYC for DC in the mid-90s, we lost touch more or less - on his part, Paul had married and was spending more and more time upstate. His tragic early death from cancer left a big void.

Paul's widow, Marie, has decided to keep the journal going, and Stanford professor Russell Berman, also one of my favorite people and favorite intellectuals, has taken over as editor. It is gradually moving onto the web - by Spring 2008 - and the intellectual lineup is utterly fascinating. Telos's politics have fragmented over the years in various directions - some of us have moved right in various ways, others left, and others in different directions in areas of radical ecology, etc. The alumns of the Telos editorial board would quite stun you - after all, this was a journal that had no academic home, its editor, Paul, having been pushed out of academia early in his career. It has always been a place for non-careerists. No one ever got anywhere in the academy by an affiliation with or publication in Telos; often quite the contrary.

However - just off the top of my head among the Americans, let alone the rest of the world ... the leading corporate law theorist Joe McCahery, the Giuliani biographer and former City Journal editor Fred Siegel, theologian and feminist theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain, Jean Cohen, Andrew Arato, anyway the list of very long. Indeed - note to Russell! - it would be a very interesting thing to put up a complete list of all the editorial associates of the journal going back to the beginning. Not a bad way to advertise.

I owe several intellectual debts to Telos and Paul Piccone in particular. One was that, because it was never about academic career, it was always open to ideas and energy - within a certain intellectual tradition, to be sure - from young people outside the usual boxes. It was open to short pieces from me even as an undergraduate, and gave me a start in thinking about how to write intellectual pieces. Second, it gave me a vantage point from outside the Anglo-American analytic philosophy I had been doing to see that as an intellectual enterprise within a larger frame - it introduced me in a serious way to theory that went outside the confines of analytic philosophy, while analytic philosophy had the very important role of disciplining that thought and pointing out how frequently Continental philosophy got intellectually unmoored. It was a useful point-counter-point. Put another way, third, Telos introduced me to a discipline quite in low esteem within analytic philosophy - intellectual history. Philosophy as I understood it at UCLA was ahistorical - something like economics today - and existed as though free from all connections to the history of ideas. Telos took intellectual history very seriously and helped give me a frame in which to understand the "moment" that gave us Anglo-American analytic philosophy - not to mention a certain class analysis on its pretensions. Fourth, Telos gave me - a rather shy and not very confrontational scholarly type - a place to be able to freely argue politics and positions without pre-conceived outcomes. This led many in Telos to much more conservative positions than would have been conceived in its 1968 New Left days (when I was a child and not around for it) but it was a journal that was utterly alien to the idea of political correctness, which was a big reason why people like Paul had not survived in the academy - too blunt, to impolitic. Paul could be brutal, but he was always honest. Where in the academy do you find that?

So it is with great pleasure and a sense of gratitude stretching back several decades that I look to get more heavily involved with Telos. I am interested in where critical theory is going, and of course no journal has a better grasp of that than Telos. No journal has a longer, deeper set of connections to this theory in Europe. So, if you are theoretically inclined, you should subscribe and read it, and get your institution to do the same. The physical copies are one of the great pleasures to have in an office library - I'm being shallow here - with decades and decades of bright, cheerful, insouciantly unacademic cover colors. And perhaps you should get involved - if you do critical theory, under a broad church label, drop a proposal to Russell Berman and see if he thinks it would fit within Telos's currently broad-church theorizing.

I myself am interested in doing a special little section, perhaps five short articles and a couple of comments on all of them taken together, on the subject of ... neutrality. Telos seems like a good place to take up the concept in critical theory, philosophy, law, politics, social theory, and history. What do you think? In any case, I plan to post monthly or bi-weekly short topical comments over at the Notes and Comments blog at Telos.