Aviary Notes on Creatural Immanence (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

The book’s first chapters triangulate philosophy, theology, ecology; its later chapters undo this triangulation; they supplement and radicalize. The book self-consciously creates the space for its reading, not between or beyond philosophy, theology, ecology, but already torturously active among them. It is a book that actively resists argument. Instead it is a book to be worked with and through. Thankfully it teaches you how to read it. It has an idiom that is more intimate, closer to you than you first thought. “Ecologists are able to take people into a field and show them the teeming drama of what seemed hidden before. I will do the same now for this theory of nature” (217). Its scope is defined and chimerical: it opens onto itself. And it takes further reading. Read the rest of this entry »

On the Muslim question

i recently read Anne Norton’s On the Muslim Question (Princeton 2013), and thought i’d post some quick comments. A friend over last night to watch Seven Psychopaths and play a few rounds of dutch blitz noticed the book lying on the table and asked, “so what’s the answer?” What is the answer to the Muslim question? “All of the above,” I replied. “Yes to all of the above forms of life.” And like Colin Farrell in the film, a screenwriter who wants to make a life-affirming movie about carnage and destruction (serial killer serial killers), the book works through scenes of torture and drones and state terror to urge us finally to recognize what is already happening all around us. Not “war is over, if you want it”, because of course there is and will ever be conflict, but “snow removal and garbage collection, if you want it”. Norton argues that the figure of the Muslim today, much like the figure of the Jew earlier, is where a host of Western anxieties converge — anxieties about democracy, secularism, sexuality, equality, freedom. Yet these anxieties have less to do with Muslims per se than with problematics internal to the West and its history. And so Norton in elegant prose lays out just how unexceptional Muslims are. (How terrible that this is itself an achievement.) These are questions of living together, and people every day work out how to do so. She concludes:

Knowing these things, I see the Muslim question as the Jewish question of our time: standing at the site where politics and ethics, philosophy and theology meet. This is the knot where the politics of class, sex, and sexuality, of culture, race, and ethnicity are entangled; the site where structures of hierarchy and subordination are anchored. It is here, on this terrain, that the question of the democratic — its resurgence or further repression — is being fought out. (228)

And in this demonstration, for me as for others, there is a sort of relief. It means that the burden of these questions is not inexorable. It means they can be shared — with you, between us.

Almost the opposite strategy was offered by Martha Nussbaum in last year’s The New Religious Intolerance (Harvard). Read the rest of this entry »

History, Fictions, and the Politics of Justice

Chicago-area folks may be interested in “History, Fictions, and the Politics of Justice”, an event in two weeks with Saba Mahmood and Mahmood Mamdani.

Mahmood’s lecture is titled “Azazeel and the Politics of Historical Fiction: Sectarian Dramas Ancient and Modern”; Mamdani’s lecture, “Beyond Nuremberg: The Historical Significance of the Post-Apartheid Transition in South Africa”.

October 25, 4pm

International House Home Room

University of Chicago

Further details here.

Miracle and Machine/Islam

Philosophy (and philosophy of religion) no less than other disciplines today remains immune from Islam and the questions of Islam. (Islamic studies mirrors this, for all its contemporary heat and funding, in maintaining its textualist heritage against the vapid enthusiasm for “interdisciplinarity” bursting from the other humanities.) Thus Islam appears in philosophy for the most part either as a cipher for religion-as/and-politics (that is, a cipher for danger) or as a recourse to gain critical distance for one’s argument. We can offer various hypotheses about this limit, but remarkable here is that Derrida follows neither of these courses, trying also to avoid the temptation of taking Islam as “available” to his arguments. Thus Islam is introduced in “Faith and Knowledge” under the question of the name (Islam, or a certain Islam, what passes for Islam today, or what speaks in the name of Islam). Islam is “clearly not just one religion among others in the current debates about the fate or place of religion” (25). Yet when Derrida looked across the conference table at Capri almost two decades ago, he saw (only) European men. “No Muslim is among us, alas, even for this preliminary discussion, just at the moment when it is toward Islam, perhaps, that we ought to begin by turning our attention” (§5). The references to Islam that follow in the rest of the essay through Miracle and Machine - undermining the confidence of translation, figuring the risk of democracy, attacking the right to literature, possessing a global “prerogative” to the question of religion - should be read in the melancholic light of this observation. Read the rest of this entry »

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