Long time listeners and readers know that I'm a fan of Rick Roderick. For those who don't know, he was from Texas, got his degree in philosophy from UT and taught at various places including Duke. He was a down home type who became famous to philosophiles through a couple of lecture series he published through The Teaching Company. (Home also to Mark's crush Robert Solomon) They were filmed in the 90s and have subsequently been re-posted to various places on the web including youtube. He died way too young and had a checkered academic career (you can read more about that along with testimonials here) but as evidenced by his videos, was a great communicator and passionate about philosophy in society.
Roderick did a lecture series in 1993 called "The Self Under Siege: Philosophy in the 20th Century" covering Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, Habermas, Heidegger, Sartre, Marcuse and Ricoeur. Roderick sets the question as follows:
- Current professional philosophy is “deflationary” in that it gives no answers to our larger questions, in particular our questions concerning our selves, our projects, our place in society and in the world.
- We have lost a vast resource of cultural meaning upon which we could draw to construct meaning for our lives. Meaning, in this large sense, can no longer be drawn unproblematic from religion. We have information, but not knowledge.
- We all strive to have a “theory” or narrative about our selves., we want to have a meaningful story about our lives that affirms our humanity. In short, we want them to mean something.
- The complex systems under which we live (economic, technological, global) have put the self”under siege”, overloaded with information and images that offer no meaning for us. We have difficulty making any sense out of our lives.
The Foucault text Roderick chose to focus on was Discipline & Punish. Situating Foucault via this text in a dialogue with these other thinkers is some kind of validation of the broad reach of the text and its importance in the stream of 20th century thought. All 5 parts of the Foucault lecture along with a transcript can be found here and I have embedded the first video below. A page on the whole series is here. I recommend you check out the whole series and his other recorded lectures as well.
David Buchanan says
Thought I’d simply quote one of my favorite moments…
“The more powerfully the critic paints the ills of the society and the fragility of the self and the struggle it undergoes to be a human; the more powerful our account is, the more hopeless the people feel who could do anything about it. On the other hand, if we don’t paint the account in such a powerful way then people tend to underestimate what they are up against, so you have got a critic’s dilemma. Foucault clearly has picked the path where he doesn’t care if you feel powerless or not; that’s your problem, you have got to do something about it, so he draws out all the mechanisms of control to the maximum so that you understand them.”
Daniel Horne says
Ditto ditto ditto.
Not my most intelligent comment (not my least, either!), but I’m happy to just cheerlead anyone who will stick up for Rick Roderick. (I know Mark has also posted Roderick, of course!) I like the Roderick fan page that describes him as the “Bill Hicks of Philosophy”:
Had I the time and resources, I’d try to build a larger online shrine to Roderick than currently exists. I don’t agree with all he said, but his talent and humor and project is so rare nowadays. If only he could have transitioned out of academia into something like journalism or even just popular publishing, I wonder if his story wouldn’t have ended more happily. I like to think of you guys as somehow following in his tradition.
my apologies, not sure what is going on at EGS with their videos but this has as #2 part of the Q&A so pls skip ahead.
Tom McDonald says
Rick Roderick rocks.
Peter Hardy says
This sounds great (well, I hate Roderick’s accent). His project is consonant with the more general one I’m beginning on bringing eudaimonology back.
jay twitty says
Been a fan of Rick Roderick myself since I purchased audio-cassettes of his “Self Under Siege” course from the Teaching Co. years ago.
I am reminded of how I was personally drawn to Roderick’s style of teaching. His concerns for the place of philosophical activity in our personal lives and the neglect by the profession of philosophy or academics of real issues human beings face is right the hell on. I listened to the tapes repeatedly and have gone back to excerpts now on YouTube.. like I’m listening to a philosopher-slash-secular preacher from Texas.
An Alan de Botton TED talk comes to mind here.
I remember seeing Botton took lotsa shit for his junior high accessible pop book on like lessons that people can take from specific aspects of great philosopher’s lives that relate somehow to said philosopher’s work. Kind of a cheesy book that Oprah and Dr. Phil would love. Anyway I wonder what the PEL guys would make of Alain de Botton’s “Atheism 2.0”. He makes the case that secularists need to emulate organized religion’s kick ass organizational and inspirational abilities instead of this played-out focusing on nouveau atheist style smart assed debunking of theism — IF they/we want the public to get the meaning and guidance it hungers for from sources other than Islam, the Catholic Church, Evangelical Mega-Churches, etc.
What is inspirational about the Bible? I find it revolting. The reason you feel this way about atheism is not because of what it means but rather that the truth will not ever sell as well as systematized delusions. Christianity is inherently divisive, it tells us some of us will go to Hell and some of us will not, and then operates on thousands of years of entrenched authority. There is nothing particularly organizational about it that fascism could not also perform.
jay twitty says
Oh a reply.. fun.
Howdy, yes I was referring to Mr. Botton’s TED talk.
Peter Hardy says
I just noticed he didn’t lecture on Lacan here, which is a bit odd as he’s the continental philosopher I’d associate most with the inexistence of the self.
Daniel Horne says
A few theories:
1. Roderick seemed to be primarily a Frankfurt School guy, whose influences were developed in the 1960s; the “syllabus” of this course tends to reflect that.
2. There are only so many people one can cover in an 8 episode series, so picking and choosing among one’s favorites is inevitable. (For example, I would have liked to seen episodes on Levinas or Gadamer.)
3. Roderick himself may have been hostile to Lacan’s thesis, as the whole point of “Self Under Seige” was to get away from “deflationary” modes of philosophy which try to describe the Self as non-existent or unworthy of analysis.
All of the above may be way off (my bet is on #2, frankly), but just sayin’.
hard to say for sure but there is a tension in academic philo between the teaching the history of philo and the doing of philo and strictly speaking Lacan was not a philosopher (tho many of the key structuralists were in other disciplines)
here is on of my favorite current thinkers Avital Ronell talking on Authority and thinking across discipines:
“The trouble with leaving the account of being human this abstract, you know “We come from a culture, we flee from conformity, we try to get authentic” the trouble with leaving it that abstract is that you could be an authentic anything, you follow me? I mean, it turns out that you could be authentically a member of the Third Reich, authentically a member of Reagan administration… I’ll just leave those two together for a while in your minds… authentically a friend of Richard Nixon… no wait a minute, that’s logically absurd… no it isn’t, I think that’s possible.”
This man is hilarious. Everything a practicing philosopher should be today. I’m flying through these lectures.
David Buchanan says
I haven’t listened yet but just downloaded the most recent episode of the Diet Soap podcast. It’s titled “Rick Roderick on Fatal Stategies”.
Jeffrey Folger says
I came across Roderick through the TTC lectures. Nice to realize that others found value in these lectures as well. For me, his rhetorical style has a unique way of personalizing the ideas he is presenting.
Roderick was man who has made many people think differently about the world. A shame he didn’t live long enough to see YouTube as it is now and the impact he has had on people around the world
(And he is Zizek’s brother after all 🙂
J Miller says
As someone who grew up in the 50s and 60s like Rick I feel he’s a true peer and due to a very rough childhood like Rick I wasn’t educated past high school and then poorly but I found salvation in books the same way he did. So finding Rick Roderick’s lectures on youtube has been one of the more lucky breaks in my life. He opened up some important philosophical ideas in a way I could easily grok. I’ve basically educated myself on youtube and can say with a little authority that Rick was the most brilliant teacher I’ve ever come across and I’ve come across dozens. Words cannot express how much I miss him even though I never met him. I only wish that he had been able to do a youtube lecture on Schopenhauer. I just have to wonder what he might have to say about my favorite philosopher. I think I could have sat at his feet happily for many years and so gained the education that I sorely lacked. Plus I don’t think I could have ever found a better friend.
The last 10 years of his life are shrouded in mystery unfortunately and I’ll never have anything good to say about Duke University for the circumstances around his termination. I hope those last years were satisfying and I hope he understood how many lives he influenced in positive ways. America is very short of educators of his caliber. RIP RR. You rock forever.