Exhausted Politics: A Few Comments on the Video for Run the Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes (and Count to F**K)”

Run the Jewels just released a video for one of my favorite songs on their recent album. The video is hard to watch, if only because there is something hard to watch in the fictional violence against a black man that is expressive of the images of real violence we have seen every month and that others have been seeing long before social media made this available to wider audiences. The video is open to lots of poor readings, including one I saw on Facebook by a certain popular, nihilistic appropriator of black culture. It’s not really important to name names here, but the reading he gave was that there is a certain reversibility in the image of the struggle between the white cop and the black man. It’s a poor reading in large part because it takes an abstract expression captured by film as if it were supposed to be a documentary or even as if these images were supposed to be didactic. But it’s also poor simply because the supposed reversibility is not present. The cop expresses his positionality as an instance of an institution with his uniform, with his gun, his mace, with his handcuffs, with this lights and sirens, and so on. These are progressively lost throughout the video, but it isn’t as if the black man gains them, or takes on the position. The only one who is able to issue a command, to make a declaration, thereby being the voice of an institution, is the cop (“Don’t you fucking run!”). Of course the only response to such a demand is to start running and to look for a weapon as you do. In so far as the black man expresses he does so through without the recourse to language, without the structure that would project him into transcendence, he has no ground but his own existence, his own expression in the flesh.

Generally I tend to avoid reading an artist’s statement on their own work. The work itself expresses and when I write on that work I like to think I’m building and riffing off the work, rather than providing the true reading of it. But I see the artist’s statement as their own act of riffing and building, without any particular access to the truth of the work either. So I’m largely setting aside AG Rojas’ remarks aside. But, he is very clear that these two figures are not meant to stand for the reality, that these are precisely archetypes in his words. Instead of looking at the video as an instance of reversibility, shouldn’t we see it rather as an instance of the struggle between the master and the slave? And perhaps this exhausted tussle is an advance upon the mixed determination present in Hegel of these figures. That they are an abstraction is the point. They are an abstraction in the form of thinking through the problematic of America, not just police violence against black people, but America as such as a country built upon violence against black people and that’s why the video is largely successful in my view. As the tussle plays out upon a background emptied of any people, of anything but the struggle, we are given a meditation on the relationship of blacks/whites as such. In that relationship the few glimpses of triumph or relative transcendence are scenes of the black man. Free from the relationship with the cop as such, but this only exists as a virtual possibility as they sit on the marriage bed, a loveless marriage to one another as the train that calls itself progress rings in the distance.

One of the first things that struck me as I was watching was a remark that James Cone made in an interview with Bill Boyers some years back.

JAMES CONE: […] Now, you don’t get away from that by not talking about it. That’s too deep. Germany is not going to get away from the Holocaust by not talking about it. It’s too deep. So, America must face up that we are one community. We– you know, if anybody in this society– if anybody is brother and sister to the other, it’s black people and white people because there is a– there is a tussle there that you cannot get out of. It is a– it is deeply engrained in our relationship to each other in a way that’s not with anybody else–

BILL MOYERS: How do you mean?

JAMES CONE: –in this land.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

JAMES CONE: Because 246 years of slavery, number one. We have built this country. White people know that. Then, after slavery, segregation and lynching, we still helped built this country. So, it’s a history of violence […]

This familial tussle (either between brothers or something more sinister) plays out as exhaustion in the video. The relationship is one of exhaustion precisely because politics is exhausted in this relationship. While one form of (white supremacist) politics is constituted by this relationship (a politics we are all exhausted of), even the higher politics is exhausted by this relationship. Even the cop, a willing pawn in the construction of the exhausting politics, is exhausted. Or, as Fred Moten puts it to white people regarding any possible coalition, “I don’t need your help. I just need you to recognize that this shit is killing you, too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker, you know?”

I can think of no better filmic expression of the feeling of exhaustion than this video, of being exhausted before the present political options, and so expressive of the need to think of something else. Or at least to find a way out of the exhausting relation of this kind of politics as such. Or at least that’s my reading.

Villanova Philosophy Conference: New Encounters in French and Italian Thought (updated flyer)

A remainder about an upcoming conference that Philly-area people may be interested in.The Villanova Philosophy Conference taking place on March 13th and 14th. The schedule and other relevant information may be found on the flyer.

Poster 11 by 17 FINAL

Draft Translation of an Interview with François Laruelle from Actu Philosophia

I was having a bit of writer’s bloc the other day and in an attempt to break it I decided to translate a recent interview conducted with François Laruelle by Florian Forestier for Actu Philososphia. I have posted that draft translation for you below and have compiled this as a PDF for those who prefer to read the interview that way. This is a once through translation, so some rough patches and bits I may have missed, but generally I like translating Laruelle’s interviews as I feel less constrained to retain the syntax of his writing for which there are good theoretical reasons but often frustrating English formulations. Anyway, I would not use this for citation purposes, but feel free to share.

Interview with François Laruelle: Author of Christo-Fiction

By Florian Forestier

Saturday, January 17th 2015


Draft translation by Anthony Paul Smith

Longtime professor at the University of Paris-X Nanterre, François Laruelle is behind a difficult and abundant oeuvre, boasting more than twenty books, amongst which Le Principe de minorité, Une biographie de l’homme ordinaire, Philosophies of Difference, En tant qu’Un. La « non-philosophie » expliquée aux philosophes, Principles of Non-Philosophy, Future Christ: A Lesson in Heresy, Introduction aux sciences génériques, Philosophie non-standard: générique, quantique, philo-fiction, and more recently Christo-fiction, a book we will explore in detail. His recognition internationally grows strongly, as shown by the colloquium La philosophie non-standard de François Laruelle held at Cerisy in September 2014 and bringing together researchers coming from different disciplines and different countries, form Russia to the United States and as far as Taiwan

If this recent rediscovery of François Laruelle’s work is in particular due to the vitality of what is commonly called speculative realism (regardless of the precision of this term), the perspectives and preoccupations of which François Laruelle is indirectly associated, it is necessary nevertheless to examine his thought in its particularity, a thought which, with the risky term non-philosophy, attempts to set up a new use for philosophy and a new use for what Laruelle characterizes as philosophical material. In an article published in 2003, Ray Brassier described François Laruelle as the most important unknown European philosophy, in that he develops not an original thesis on this or that classical object of philosophy, but a way of thinking and appropriating philosophy.

According to the formulation offered in the Cerisy colloquium announcement, non-philosophy or “non-standard philosophy” develops a new theory and new practice of the philosophical act, outside of its traditional norms of self-modeling. It puts variables that can be conjugated to work together, a traditional philosophical structure like the transcendental structure and a kernel of thought extracted from quantum physics. It is not, however, concerned with a philosophy of science but rather with an association in equal parts of philosophy and current [actuelle] science.

My thanks to François Laruelle for his receptiveness and generosity during the interview he granted me. Read the rest of this entry »

Black Religion in America: Resource Request

I have proposed to my head of department a course for next Fall with the somewhat sterile title “Black Religion in America”. I am very excited to teach the course for a number of reasons. Since coming to this post, I have been trying to correct my lack of learning from black scholars and organic intellectuals. My experience in Philadelphia brought home to me that, if I was to be anything like an effective teacher and a teacher that aimed for something transgressive (à la bell hooks) in my pedagogy, I had to bring myself under the conditions for theory set by the blackamerican experience and blackness as such. I do not mean this in an instrumentalist way, I mean very seriously that the immanent conditions for thinking through some of the most important aspects of reality for me required that I listen to this particular manifestation and that my work had to be shaped by it without in anyway seeking to speak for or even about that experience. So, as one should, I’ve read a lot of really important theoretical work in the black tradition. I am, as in all my intellectual pursuits, utterly amateurish here and I have noticed that the few times I have come across professionals in Black Studies they are unimpressed with the sources I have found inspiring. Importantly there is no single black tradition, there are debates there, and there is reality but no necessity. All of this I take to be important philosophical conditions.

Much of what I have been reading, unsurprisingly, relates to questions of religion. And, while I am very aware of the trap I may have set for myself in terms of falling into unconscious forms of white supremacy, it seemed in our current environment that putting this research to use in a classroom setting would be good for our students. As a campus we are, relative to national averages, very diverse in terms of our students. We do not quite reflect the demographics our city, something that some of us continue to push for, but we are far closer than many of the other universities. We have a lot of work to do to make the faculty reflect even our student body, to say nothing of our city, but until we are given the resources to hire a black scholar I feel like risking failure may be worth it. Especially as I have cultivated a pedagogical method that helps get me out of the way and, if students are willing to take the lead, may be student directed in a way that would offer a corrective to any mistakes I may call into. My hope is that if I can’t reflect for our students what having a black professor would, I can at least provide the framework and platform to engage with the work of important black thinkers, communities, and problematics.

I have a number of ideas for how to organize the course, specifically with regard to readings, but I am hoping to tap into the hive mind of our readers for their thoughts regarding 1) texts they have used or think would be good for a course like this and 2) pedagogical methods for disempowering as much as possible the whiteness of the professor.

Some remarks on how I want to present the class. I think it is vital to spend some class sessions on the religious/theological construction of race, specifically with regards to the Slave subjectivity that both conditioned and was reciprocally underpinned by the middle passage (I am very curious about suggestions here). I want then to look at ways in which resistance via religion manifested. So obviously discussions of mainstream forms of black religion will be there (Black Christianity and the move to Sunni Islam), but I want to look at those other inventive, syncretic forms of resistance and survival. Blackamerican Islam strikes me as particularly important there as it plays out from the Temple Moorish Science to the Five Percenters, but I may also include those groups that push the identity of religion like MOVE.

What thoughts do you all have?

Un-reconciled Relation: atonement, attunement, and fumbling the notes – Cloud of the Impossible Book Event

This is a guest post from Karen Bray. She is a PhD student in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University.

The other day at that most holy of New York City rituals, Sunday brunch, a friend from a wealthy Episcopalian Church was discussing her frustration over the small turn-out for a Justice and Reconciliation service planned in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. We shared stories of struggles we’d experienced working on issues of privilege and justice within majority white and wealthy congregations (hers Episcopalian, mine Unitarian Universalist). Quickly we came to an issue larger than turnout: why reconciliation? Why Justice and Reconciliation instead of Justice then Reconciliation? Further whom exactly was being reconciled? And with whom? And by whom? While my brunch-mate’s responses contained many more references to Jesus than my own, we both agreed that now seemed like an awkward time to be speaking of reconciliation, as though there was a conciliatory or agreed upon togetherness to which we could return. Further, who had told any of us, those of us in primarily White congregations, that it was with us whom they wanted to be reconciled? As though being in good relation was a gift we had to offer and which they wanted to receive. Perhaps, and this was so for my friend, Justice and Reconciliation meant in part that only through works of justice would one become reconciled with one’s God. Still God was not enough of an answer. We finished our eggs before coming to be reconciled with reconciliation.

In the wake of reading Catherine Keller’s The Cloud of the Impossible at this time of great and necessary unrest I am left wondering if we can think relation without reconciliation. And if we can, whether apophatic entanglement, when viewed not as an ethical end-point, but rather as a theo-ethical method (what Keller might call our way of “doing God”), will help us to do so. Indeed, might apophatic entanglement as method help us to read Keller against Keller? By reading Cloud through such a relational unknowing we might resist Keller’s tendencies to side with connection over disconnection and to hope over fear in our attunement to our entanglement. In other words we might uncover from within the Cloud those tangles that offer a more radical form of relation as non-relation, as disruption, and as resistance to what we might call the totalitarianism of togetherness. Read the rest of this entry »

Letting Go: On Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Normally Adam posts something in recognition of MLK day. In the past he’s linked to his remarks from his radical work often covered over in today’s official celebrations or to the remarks in Letter from a Birmingham Jail concerning the threat of the white moderate. Remarks often repressed in white consciousness even as they celebrate the supposed victory that MLK lead the nation towards. On today’s MLK day I invite you to read Chris Lebron’s piece in the NYT: “What, to the Black American, Is Martin Luther King Jr. Day?“.

Many on my various social media timelines have shared this powerful line, “I want to say there is also some distance between black and white Americans today, between “you” and “I,” as it were, and that this day has increasingly become “yours,” not mine.” The sorrow at the ways in which white Americans have co-opted MLK, and this day in particular, as a symbol of a job already done is a sorrow brought on in part by the way it erases the responsibility of white Americans to either answer the call of MLK and other radical Black leaders or be honest about their apathy and hatred for their Black neighbors. As he goes on to write, “While he indeed fought for the security of a full schedule of rights for black Americans, he was in fact fighting for something greater and more difficult to articulate — the hope that white Americans could extend a hand of brotherly and sisterly love to blacks.” As whites tarnish MLK’s legacy through ad campaigns or as a figure of respectability politics, then they continue not in the tradition of MLK (as they may fantasize they are), but of Bull Connor and George Wallace. Only now they–a “we” for some of us–are laden with artifacts of Black culture they use as new modes of repression. Repression both of Black demands for justice (“MLK was peaceful, but you’re out here blocking shoppers!”) and their own repression of the shame of being white (“MLK’s dream is fulfilled today because I don’t see race!”).

Today is a day to celebrate one of many important Black leaders. But anytime the same state and culture invites you to worship a human being they tried to kill, we should be suspicious of the ways they want us to remember. Many Black americans already know this and it is something that white Americans, including myself, need to learn from them. Whites need to let go of the fantasy of Martin Luther King Jr. if they are going to be part of his being reclaimed.

CFP: Workshop on Transcendental Materialism

Workshop on Transcendental Materialism
April 24-24, 2015
Loyola University Maryland


‘Transcendental Materialism: Anthropology, Nature, and the Political’
Keynote Speaker: Adrian Johnston, University of New Mexico

Since the publication of 2008’s Žižek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity, the work of Adrian Johnston has aimed at the development of a contemporary materialist ontology which accounts for the emergence of a more-than-material form of subjectivity from a wholly material grounds. Utilizing the intellectual resources of German idealist philosophy, Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis, Marxist political theory, and the natural sciences, Johnston’s transcendental materialism aims at the development of an atheist, naturalist, and materialist ontology and theory of subjectivity that rivals the work of figures such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek. Read the rest of this entry »

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