Tag Archives: philosophy

Paul Carter on Dry Thinking

On a crisp autumn night, Paul Carter presented a paper on ‘dry thinking’ as a contribution to the Southern Perspectives series. There was a complex North-South dynamic at play in Carter’s talk. Although published in German, Carter’s paper had never before been presented in English before. And although invoking the broad trajectory of Western philosophy, it offered a view from a country in a radically different zone – Australia.

Carter’s talk provided an opportunity to respond to the challenge laid down by Raewyn Connell regarding the geopolitics on knowledge. What kind conceptual thinking might embrace the experience of living in country like Australia? It is hard to think of anyone in Australia who is better fit for this challenge than Paul Carter.



Carter has been able to combine a career both as a writer and ‘place maker’. His 1987 seminal contribution to Australian historiography Road to Botany Bay will be republished this year. Since that book, he has produced a series of publications that uncover a broader poetic context for inhabited space. His most recent Dark Writing, published by the Institute of Postcolonial Studies last year, develops the link between his thinking and the challenge of designing public space. University of Western Australia is about to publish his next book, Groundtruthing.

In this talk, Carter considered the use of water as a metaphor by thinkers in the European tradition. This offered a critique of the way water has been consistently problematised as a symbol of doubt and confusion, by contrast with the ‘dry thinking’ that subscribes to fixed distinctions. But Carter’s talk went beyond this in critiquing metaphorical thinking per se as a form of abstraction that denies relation to place. So Carter speculated on which river it was that Heraclitus thought we could not step into twice. He contrasted the gridded landscape around Descartes with the variegated nature within which Vico wrote. In painting these scenes, Carter seemed to take an almost cinematic approach to thinking, considering its ‘scene’ in the specific time and place of its emergence.

There was some discussion about the relationship between Carter’s grounding methodology and the determinist theories of geography by writers such as Montesquieu and the German Romantics. For Carter it seems more a matter of poetic interpretation as thinkers reflected on the world around them:

Look out through the porticos of the Stoa and, in Australia at least, the bush is burning. It makes little sense to praise the potentiality of democratic communities lying in wait when drought drives the pioneers of the plough from the land, or when deforestation removes their shelter. The philosophical Ilyssus, whose flowing has always hitherto licensed philosophers to dream of composing music – visions akin to poetry’s – has, at least in the south, dried up. 

There seemed room there for the kind of move characteristic of the existentialism of Sartre. Here the individual is seen to seize responsibility to create a project that responds to their immediate political situation.

One obvious challenge arising from Carter’s thought is to consider how his methodology might be applied to other locations outside the familiar scenes of Western thought. What ideas like under the shadow of the Andes or on an atoll? How might this be extended beyond landscape to engage with the layers of political history that inform a sense of place?


Paul Carter ‘Dry Thinking and Human Futures’





An opportunity to hear one of Australia’s leading thinkers reflect on the philosophical challenges of living in a recalcitrant environment:

Australia’s natural water body is, as it were, too humid to be relied upon. It spreads out and refuses to solidise. It collects in billabongs and necklaces of ponds that do not communicate with one another, and cannot be accumulated.

Alongside the desiccation of parts of the planet, thinking also grows drier. Instrumental reasoning not only fails to imagine the reciprocities that inform living human and non-human regions – and their exchange – but actively inhibits a capacity to narrate these. In effect, the disparagement of concrete thinking mediated through metaphors of all kinds is a leaching of language that directly impoverishes the physical and the psychic domain.
Paul Carter is Professor of Creative Place Research at Deakin University. His book Dark Writing: geography, performance, design was published in the Institute’s Writing Past Colonialism series in 2009. His new book is entitled Ground Truthing: Explorations in a Creative Region.

Event details :

Paul Carter ‘Dry Thinking and Human Futures’
Thursday 29 April 2010, 7:30-9:00pm
Institute of Postcolonial Studies
78-80 Curzon Street
North Melbourne (map)
Tel: 03 9329 6381
Admission – $5 for waged, $3 for unwaged, and free for members

Maghrebi Intellectual: Thinking Jacques Derrida as African Philosopher

The Transforming Cultures Research Centre is hosting a Public Lecture with Prof. Grant Farred (Cornell University)

Maghrebi Intellectual: Thinking Jacques Derrida as African Philosopher
Thursday, 23rd July, 6:00-8:00, UTS Building 2, Lecture room 4.11

Lecture Abstract

It was not "the Nazis, but Vichy France," Jacques Derrida insists in "Monolingualism and the Other," that disenfranchised him. This is the voice of the "young" Jacques Derrida, articulating his relationship, from north Africa, to Europe (and European fascism). Derrida’s relationship, or, more properly speaking, his thinking himself back into the Maghreb, that region from which his family came and where he grew up, to Africa can only, it seems, be thought philosophically. In relation to thought, to the thought of other philosophers, to his own too long delayed understanding of himself as something other than a French philosopher. This is the work that Derrida undertakes in "Monolingualism:" it is his engagement with Khatebi, another Maghrebian philosopher. Here is Derrida, trying to think the Other, but in the process locating himself, for the first time at length, in the place of violent origin: war time Algeria: that place where fascism, Jewish disenfranchisement, the question of language (why is it that Derrida does not, he asks, know Arabic, why is it the language denied him? This, the language of Khatebi.) and the act of writing the Self back into something that is not only forgotten but, it would appear, hardly known.


Professor Grant Farred is from Cornell University and before that from the Literature Program at Duke University, where he taught courses in literature and cultural studies. Prof. Farred earned his PhD. from Princeton University in 1997, and an MA from Columbia University in 1990 after a BA Honours from University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, South Africa in 1988. He also taught at Williams College and Michigan University. He has served as General Editor of the prestigious journal of critical cultural studies, South Atlantic Quarterly (SAQ) since 2002.

He has published in a range of areas, including postcolonial theory, race, formation of intellectuals, sport’s theory, and cultural studies and literary studies.  His books include Midfielder’s Moment: Coloured Literature and Culture in Contemporary South Africa (Westview Press, 1999), What’s My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), Phantom Calls: Race and the Globalization of the NBA (2006), and his most recent Long Distance Love: A Passion for Football, (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, published 2008). He is completing a fourth book manuscript entitled, Bodies in Motion, Bodies at Rest (forthcoming in from University of Minnesota Press, dedicated to thinking of the philosophy of athletic movement.) Prof. Farred also edited a volume entitled Rethinking CLR James (London: Blackwell Publishers, 1996) a collection of essays on the Caribbean intellectual written by major scholars in the field of history, literary criticism and cultural studies. He edited a special issue of SAQ (2004) entitled After the Thrill Is Gone: A Decade of Post-Apartheid South Africa, a serious appraisal of South African democracy, its failure and its successes, in the post-apartheid era. Prof. Farred joined the Africana Center in fall 2007.

Please RSVP to Lindi.Todd@uts.edu.au