The poststructural anarchist. Todd May interviewed by Richard Marshall. First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, July 12th, 2013.
Todd May is the poststructuralist anarchist who thinks anarchism is more than just a critique of the state, that there is more than one struggle, that Foucault, Deleuze and Lyotard are important, that postructuralism is elusive, that anarchism is bottom-up and liberalism is top-down, that ‘how might one live?’ is the down and dirty question, that Foucault’s thought will remain standing when the dust is settled, that what it means to be human is a matter of practices, that Ranciere gets him emotionally, that friendship offers a different model from neo-liberalism and that his conception is about resistance not cohesion. High Five!
3:AM: What made you become a philosopher? Were you always aware of a kind of crisis?
Todd May: Many philosophers I talk with seem to get their start in philosophy from a teacher, often a college professor, that turns them on to the subject. For me, it was different. I went to a high school in New York City during the late 1960s and early 1970s, where ideas and crisis were in the air. It was the kind of place where Melville, Faulkner, and Dostoyevsky, along with the Vietnam War, were regular staples of conversation. So early on I became interested in both ideas and political resistance. In college I studied psychology, but was never far from philosophy: I read Being and Time with a philosophy grad student. Another friend of mine, also a grad student in philosophy, gave me Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception as a graduation present. In the few years I took off between college and grad school, I read most of Merleau-Ponty’s work. Eventually I decided I wanted to go to grad school in clinical psychology, but wanted a phenomenologically oriented one, and so chose Duquesne University. But, as it happens, at the end of my first year there I was introduced to the work of Foucault and Deleuze, who raised unsettling questions for me about the entire project of psychotherapy. I pressed these questions in my classes at Duquesne, admittedly with the passion of which a person committed to ideas is capable, and at the end of my second year was informed that my funding was going to be cut off. So I spent a few more years reading and thinking about what is often called “poststructuralism,” and finally applied to Penn State, where I had the chance to study these thinkers more rigorously. A friend of mine who is a radical lawyer once asked me why I wanted to study philosophy if I was so interested in politics. My response, to which he offered me a mocking stare, was that I felt somehow that in order to understand and solve political problems I needed to be able to grasp their ontological underpinnings.
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