Philly-area people may be interested in the upcoming Villanova Philosophy Conference taking place on March 13th and 14th. The schedule and other relevant information may be found on the flyer.
Sovereign aesthetics, aesthetics of sovereignty, the power of the image, the poverty of the image, the state of exception, the real exception to the image –Arne De Boever’s new work on art history’s contribution to the philosophy of sovereignty invigorates and severs the too easily assumed connections between Walter Benjamin and Susan Sontag that organize contemporary discourses of image politics. Join us for a workshop with Professor De Boever Tuesday 17 March, 5pm, generously hosted by our collaborator Gallery 400. Reading circulated in advance; request it here.
This article deals with the afterlife of Walter Benjamin’s comments on the state of exception—specifically, his distinction between the state of exception and what he calls a “real” state of exception that would dismantle the former–in Susan Sontag and Hito Steyerl’s theories of the image. It argues, first, that Sontag’s theory of the image, while conceived in Benjamin’s wake, insists on the reality of an outside-image that always risks to create new states of exception. While Steyerl, also working after Benjamin, goes a long way towards dismantling this risk, she too recreates it in her casting of the unreal people in spam images as those who will do the dirty work of imaging for us so that we, the real people, can withdraw from representation. This logic of substitution, which does not change what Steyerl in her work diagnoses as the “exceptional” conditions of contemporary imaging, does not succeed in bringing about the real state of exception that Benjamin called for. For this, the logic of substitution would need to be abandoned. Benjamin himself suggested this in his discussion of strike in his essay “Critique of Violence”. After the strike, Benjamin argues, it is us—i.e., not someone else—who go back to work. But the work has been “wholly transformed”.
Be on the lookout for another Rancière session soon; as always, drop us a line to propose events; and for now, here’s what’s
on our calendar:
2 March, Atmospheres
3 March, Charles Palermo,Photography and Modernism
5 March, Adam Kotsko, Creepiness
5-8 March, Narrative theory conference in Chicago
The Subverting the Norm conference series is unique in bringing theologians, philosophers, and religious studies scholars together with religious practitioners to encourage collaborative conversations about how continental philosophy can both inspire radical theologies within the academy and energize contemporary Christian discourse and practice. The third Subverting the Norm conference will specifically examine this intersection of theology, philosophy and lived religion in the light of contemporary political questions, both theoretical and practical. In particular, we hope to bring to the fore issues of race, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity – issues that have too often been eclipsed or marginalized in postmodern, political and postsecular theological discourse and church practice.
We would like to invite proposals for 1) individual papers, 2) panels of papers or workshop sessions, and 3) performance/art pieces (including transformance art/worship events, poetry/prose readings, art exhibitions, etc.) related to the conference theme. We are especially interested in presenters who can bridge the gap between the academy and the church, and whose presentations are accessible to specialists and non-specialists alike. Preference will be given to presentations that connect not only with the academic community but with church audiences as well.
About Subverting the Norm III
Keynote speakers include Catherine Keller, J. Kameron Carter, John D. Caputo, Sarah Morice Brubaker, Sandhya Jha, Namsoon Kang, Peter Rollins, and more TBA
As Gerry Canavan has eloquently pointed out, the perpetual crisis mentality of higher ed is an indication that the very large and expensive management class that has taken over universities in recent decades is an utter failure. Well-managed universities should not need significant “flexibility” in their course offerings semester to semester, for example, nor should they be blindsided by demographic trends that were easily predictable decades ahead of time. Gerry notes, of course, that the apparent “failure” of the autonomous administration class actually reflects a success on another level: they want to destroy the traditional university, and using constant crises to force budget cuts is a great way to destroy anything.
The exact form this destruction took was perhaps not predestined, but in retrospect, it was inevitable that putting people without a deep investment in academia into administrative positions would lead to the undermining of traditional academic institutions (such as tenure, etc.). This tendency became exacerbated once administrators began jumping from campus to campus as a routine part of their career path. At that point, your focus is on building the resume to get the next better position, not on the future of your current institution.
It doesn’t require any individual to be a bad person — it’s a structural problem of incentives. And the only way to align incentives appropriately is faculty self-governance. I’m in favor of a very strong system of self-governance, where all academic administrators are appointed out of the regular tenured faculty of the university with limited, renewable terms.
In my ideal system, literally no university would ever do an outside search for dean or provost, ever, and there would be a minimum time served requirement before any new faculty hires could do administrative tasks. This would ensure that all administrators are absolutely tied to the future of their current institution and would be anticipating rejoining the regular faculty in the future. If they screwed over their colleagues, they would have to live among them as a peer for decades to come.
This system would also presumably inculcate broader loyalty to academia as such, pushing against the destruction of the teaching profession via adjunctification, etc., etc. But even if it didn’t have such wide-ranging effects, it would at least keep administrators from actively destroying their own institutions, simply out of self-interest.
Now I know that self-governed faculties are to blame for the rise of the current situation. They chose their short-term interests over the long-term interests of the profession, and we’re all paying the price. The same could be said about labor unions more generally — they sold out and began looking solely inward, allowing a two-tiered system of labor to emerge. But just as something like a union is the only conceivable way to increase workers’ collective bargaining power, so also is something like faculty governance the only way to preserve academia as an autonomous, self-reproducing institution. The only alternative is to hand all the power over to the bosses, and the bosses as a class — no matter how nice or kind-spirited an individual boss might be — only care about enriching themselves and destroying anything that could challenge their power.
Surah 31, entitled “Luqman” after the legendary wise man who appears in it, is about wisdom. The question is whether there is any content to wisdom beyond simple adherence to Islam, and initially the answer may seem to be no. Luqman’s first line of dialogue, delivered to his son, reads, “O my son! join not in worship (others) with Allah. For false worship is indeed the highest wrong-doing” (v. 13). Yet as the surah unfolds, it seems to me, we begin to discern the shape of a form of human wisdom that — while ultimately compatible with Islam — is not determined by its historical revelation, nor indeed by the historical intervention of any particular prophet into his society (interventions that as a rule occur when the society is beyond hope in any case).
The New Inquiry has published an excerpt from Creepiness, including — most importantly — a link where you can purchase it. Be a part of something bigger than yourself: my beer money.
The most famous term from Agamben is surely “bare life,” la vita nuda. As often happens, this term actually stems from Benjamin, specifically the “Critique of Violence,” where he briefly mentions blosses Leben. As Carlo Salzani pointed out in our ACLA seminar on Agamben last spring, Agamben’s la vita nuda is not his own translation of blosses Leben, but is instead drawn from the original Italian translation of Benjamin’s work. And as a translation of Benjamin, la vita nuda is imprecise — one would probably prefer something like “mere life” (or, less circumspectly, “pure life”).
Similarly, the standard translation “bare life” initially seems questionable. One might have opted for “naked life” — a translation that is more visceral and more immediately clarifies that this life is emphatically post-political, not (as one might dare to think) pre-. You cannot be “naked” outside the context of social norms, while you can in some sense be “bare.”
Yet there is something ingenious in the translation “bare life” that warrants preserving it beyond simple considerations of continuity and tradition. It somehow straddles the gap between the original Benjaminian term and Agamben’s translation — echoing the way that the term itself is in a weird space of indeterminacy where it is neither fully Benjamin’s nor fully Agamben’s own creation.