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Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

Why Only Art Can Save Us, Part II

Why Only Art Can Save Us

The following is part II of an interview with Santiago Zabala, author of Why Only Art Can Save Us: Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency. You can read part I here.

Question: Heidegger’s Schwarze Hefte (Black Notebooks) have an important place in your book. Can you explain why? Aren’t you afraid of the anti-Semitic passages of this book?

Santiago Zabala: The reason I used these books is that they contain, as his other writing of the same epoch, a number of statements on emergency and its absence that are central for my research. As far as the anti-Semitic passages: I obviously condemn them, but they don’t have much to do with his philosophy. Let’s please remember Heidegger is not the only great philosopher to have racist and antidemocratic views: Aristotle justified slavery, Hume considered black people to be naturally inferior to whites, and Frege also sympathized with fascism and anti-Semitism. Although Heidegger’s involvement with the Nazi Party has been known since the late 1980s, the recent publication of his Black Notebooks offered more evidence of his racist (anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic) views, triggering a backlash. If Jürgen Habermas, among others, has recently expressed perplexities regarding the ongoing fascination with Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, it’s because the attempt to channel his anti-Semitism into the history of Being is absurd. It’s part of what David Farrell Krell calls the “Heidegger scandal industry.” Together with other Heideggerians such as Krell, Richard Polt, and Gregory Fried, I think it’s important to continue to both read and criticize his philosophy despite his unacceptable racist views.

Q: Besides Heidegger, which other philosophers help you to create this new aesthetics?

SZ: Arthur C. Danto, Jacques Rancière, Gianni Vattimo, and Michael Kelly have all contributed in different ways. Danto, through his theory of the end of art, has helped me understand how truth has become more important than beauty; Rancière showed me that aesthetics is irreducibly political in its distribution and imposition of the sensible; and Vattimo indicated the hermeneutic consequences of art’s ontological status. Kelly, it could be said, triggered the whole project. In A Hunger for Aesthetics he writes that “the main goal of aesthetics today is to explain how the transformation of demands on art to demands by art is already a reality in some contemporary art.” These demands are linked to the absence of emergencies produced by our metaphysical condition. This is why aesthetics must be capable of interpreting these demands rather than “reality.”

Q: By “reality” you are referring to so-called speculative or new realist aesthetics that seek to judge or describe works of art independently of their effects, environment, and relations?

SZ: Yes, although I would not call “new realism” a new philosophy but the latest descriptive metaphysics. The adherents of this movement are brilliant at marketing it through book series, conferences, and blogs, making the public believe it’s something new, but they embody the absence of emergency we discussed earlier. Although these “new” philosophers justify their theoretical beliefs in different ways, seeking to demonstrate—despite Thomas Kuhn—the supposed stability of a particular scientific understanding of the world, their work is part of a global call to order or, as Boris Groys recently pointed this out in E-Flux, a return to psychology and psychologism. It is curious, as Simon Critchley rightly pointed out, that just “when a certain strand of Anglo-American philosophy (think of John McDowell or Robert Brandom) is making domestic the insights of Kant, Hegel and Heidegger and even allowing philosophers to flirt with forms of idealism, the latest development in Continental philosophy is seeking to return to a Cartesian realism that was believed to be dead and buried.” If, as Graham Harman suggests, aesthetics ought to become “first philosophy,” it is not because it can understand the “cryptic inner reality” that makes the effects of art possible, but rather because aesthetics can provide a way to interpret the emergency of art’s existential disclosures. After all, as Žižek says, “there is no ‘neutral’ reality within which gaps occur, within which frames isolate domains of appearances. Every field of ‘reality’ (every ‘world’) is always-already enframed, seen through an invisible frame.”

Q: Is this “invisible frame” what you call hermeneutics? What role does the philosophy of interpretation have in the book?

SZ: Yes, interpretation is the invisible frame through which we understand the world, and ignoring it is simply silly at this point of the history of philosophy. Hermeneutics is a philosophical stance focused upon the interpretative nature of human beings. Although juridical and biblical hermeneutics played a significant role throughout the history of hermeneutics, Hans-Georg Gadamer, in Truth and Method, decided to emphasize its aesthetic nature. Instead of its aesthetic nature I stress interpretation’s anarchic nature. The interpretation required to draw us closer to genuine appearance must be anarchic and existential, that is, suited to “venture into the untrodden and unformed realm of the opening of the emergency” as Heidegger says. If we can save ourselves through art’s existential claims it’s because interpretation is a vital practice where the interpreter, as Vattimo says, “must also become, fatally, a militant.” In sum, this book develops a radical hermeneutic conception of art and aesthetics by way of a philosophical and political engagement with Heidegger, as well as with contemporary artists who help demonstrate and apply this vision.

Q: For the cover you chose an image of The Ninth Hour, the most celebrated sculpture by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, which represents Pope John Paul II lying on the ground after being struck by a meteorite. Can you explain how it relates to the book?

SZ: The sculpture’s title alludes to the ninth hour of darkness that fell upon all the land when Christ cried out “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This alludes to this book’s title, which paraphrases Heidegger’s famous statement that “only a God can still save us” when he was asked whether we could still have any influence now that we are so overpowered by technology. Heidegger alludes not to God’s representative on earth, as portrayed in Cattelan’s work, but rather the absence of Being, which in our technological world has become the essential emergency. The goal of this book is to thrust us into this emergency as it is revealed through works of art. I was very happy to see this sculpture also used in the opening credits of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope series, which I enjoyed very much.

Q: Beside Cattelan’s work on the cover, there are twelve works in your book by artists from all over the world. Can you talk a little about why you chose these particular artists? Aren’t you afraid, as Mark C. Taylor said, that art often “loses its critical function and ends up reinforcing the very structures and systems it ought to be questioning.”

SZ: I agree with Taylor. But the same goes for philosophy or other intellectual activities. In order to challenge the lack of emergency in today’s society it is necessary to understand that these emergencies concern all of us. I’m referring not only to climate change but also to social media and global terror. I do not think that among artists there is greater freedom than among philosophers. How framed we are within the “very structures and systems” we should question does not depend on our field of research but rather how much we are inclined to disclose the absence of emergency. This is why I agree with Heidegger when he said the “artist remains something inconsequential in comparison with the work—almost like a passageway which, in the creative process, destroys itself for the sake of the coming forth of the work.” My choice of these artists or, better, their works, is not based on their nationality but rather in these emergencies. I think most of the artists were quite surprised by my request to use their work in the book as I’m not in the art world, a curator or an art critic. Either way, I’m very grateful they allowed the reproduction of their work.

Q: Why did you only present visual works or art?

SZ: Because they were easier to reproduce in a book. They are not necessarily better at disclosing the essential emergency than other forms of art such as dance, music, or cinema. I do refer to TV series (Hung), theater (Young Jean Lee’s plays), and songs (Tom Waits’s “The Road to Peace”) that also disclose emergencies.

Q: Some critics believe “relational aesthetics” is over. Has the time arrived for an “emergency aesthetics”?

SZ: I’m not certain whether the time is right as I’m not an art historian. Either way. I took my chances as I think the works of art I discuss disclose “an emergency turn” or “sensibility” in contemporary art. The problem is what we understand as an emergency. What is important for me is that the traditional relationship among the art object, the artist, and the audience is not simply overturned, as in relational aesthetics, but also disturbed, agitated into new action by the danger revealed by art’s ability to thrust the viewer into emergency. This move toward emergency art has also given rise to similar aesthetics theories, such as Jill Bennett’s “practical aesthetics,” Veronica Tello’s “counter-memorial aesthetics,” and Malcolm Miles’s “eco-aesthetics,” where emergencies also play a central role. The theoretical proposals of Bennett, Tello, and Miles, like my own emergency aesthetics, do not simply regenerate aesthetics through artistic practices but also respond to current vital issues. Hal Foster’s latest book, Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency, confronts the problem of emergency, but he does not distinguish between emergency and absence of emergency.

Q: Does your book have anything to do with the Emergency Biennale?

SZ: I don’t think so. I learned about the biennale while I was writing the section on Jota Castro work’s in chapter 2. He created the biennale together with the curator and critic Evelyne Jouanno in order to draw attention to the suffering in Chechnya. While I find their biennale interesting, I’m concerned with a variety of emergencies, not only the one in Chechnya. But events like this biennale are important as they embody the “globalization of the art world” that Danto talks about.

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Why Only Art Can Save Us, Part I

Why Only Art Can Save Us

The following is part I of an interview with Santiago Zabala, author of Why Only Art Can Save Us: Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency. Part II of the interview will appear tomorrow.

Question: Is this book for the philosophical community or the art world?

Santiago Zabala: It’s for both. I’m more interested to know what the art world will have to say about it as I can predict the philosophical community’s reactions to theories such as the one I explore here. A philosopher who posits that only those who thrust us into the “absence of emergency” are intellectually free today risks being marginalized as a radical who is surpassing the limits of rationality or common sense. But the problem is precisely this common sense. To be intellectually free today means disclosing the emergency at the core of the current absence of emergency, thrusting us into knowledge of those political, technological, and cultural impositions that frame our lives. I think the art world (from artists to curators and art historians) is better prepared for challenges, change, and even emergencies.

Q: How does this new book relate to your previous books?

SZ: Why Only Art can Save Us, like Hermeneutic Communism (coauthored with Gianni Vattimo), further develops my ontology of remnants, which I first illustrated in The Remains of Being. While in Hermeneutic Communism we tried to respond to what remains of Being through politics, here I attempt to respond to what remains through art, that is, how existence discloses itself in works of art. As with other post-metaphysical questions there is no straightforward response here, but simply an indication or sign from the future that we are compelled to interpret. In this book I’m interested in not only the signs but also the obligation this question implies, that is, the existential responsibility. This is why I agree with Slavoj Žižek when he calls for “a refined search for ‘signs coming from the future,’ for indications of this new radical questioning of the system … the least we can do is to look for traces of the new communist collective in already existing social or even artistic movements.” Recently, Vattimo and I explained why hermeneutic communism is still the most viable way to confront political emergencies such as the refuges crisis, ISIS attacks, or Trump’s presidency. Now the point is to tackle other emergencies that politics does not reach.

Q: You say that politics does not reach these emergencies because “the absence of emergency… has become the greatest emergency.” Can you explain the difference between “emergencies” and “essential emergencies”?

SZ: In order to explain this difference, it is first necessary to distinguish Heidegger’s “absence of emergency” (“Notlosigkeit”) from the popular “state of emergency” (“Ausnahmezustand”) of Walter Benjamin, Carl Schmidt, and Giorgio Agamben. The latter is a consequence of the former. Heidegger’s emergency does not refer to the “sovereign who decides on the exceptional case,” but rather to “Being’s abandonment,” which also includes the decision of a ruler to announce an emergency. If a political leader can decide upon a state of exception or emergency when Being has been abandoned, then the epoch’s metaphysical condition is its greatest emergency, and this condition explains the rise of the term “emergency” in the work of Bonnie Honig, Elaine Scarry, Janet Roitman, and many others. When Heidegger, in various texts of the 1940s pointed out how “lack of a sense of emergency is greatest where self-certainty has become unsurpassable, where everything is held to be calculable, and especially where it has been decided, with no previous questioning, who we are and what we are supposed to do,” he was concerned with this metaphysical condition. For example, we now live in a world where we are constantly under surveillance, and even the future is becoming predictable through online data mining. The problem has become not the emergencies we confront but rather the ones we are missing. These are the essential emergencies.

Q: Is the Trump presidency an emergency or an essential emergency?

SZ: He is an essential emergency. The fact that we did not predict he could win the presidency does not constitute an emergency per se; we all knew that whoever won the election would pursue or intensify the previous administration’s policies. Unfortunately, Trump is intensifying them and concealing even more the essential emergencies of climate change, civil rights, human rights, and others, which are now hidden behind his new appeal to order. He seems to be the incarnation of the absence of emergencies, determined to deny the most obvious emergencies by creating a condition that defines an emergency as anyone’s saying he is wrong. If the greatest emergency has become the lack of a sense of emergency, then art’s alterations of imposed reality, the new interpretations it can demand, disclose this emergency and demand a different aesthetics. The goal of this book is to outline this aesthetics of emergency or an ontology that posits art as fundamental to saving humanity from annihilation.

Q: And how can art save us from this?

SZ: Even though a work of art, such as a song or a photograph, is not that different from other objects in the world, it often works better than commercial media or historical reconstructions as a way to express emergency. The difference is one of degree, intensity, and depth. Media photographs can be truthful, but they are rarely as powerful as a photographic work of art. The series Soldiers Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan by Jennifer Karady or the Rwanda Project of Alfredo Jaar are paradigmatic examples here. Genuine art has the ability to disclose this emergency and help us grapple with it practically and theoretically. This is why Heidegger believes there is a fundamental difference between “those who rescue us from emergency” and the “rescuers into emergency.” The former are a means for “cultural politics,” that is, a way to conceal the emergency of Being; the latter are events that thrust us into this emergency. This distinction between artists and creators does not define who is more original but rather what is more essential: the emergency or its absence? If many artists have lost touch with the absence of emergency it’s not only because they are framed within cultural politics but also because as professional artists they have become the means of such culture. This is probably why Heidegger emphasized how the “growing ‘affability’ of the ‘profession of art’ . . . coincides with the secure rhythm that originates from within the predominance of technicity and shapes everything that is instable and organizable.” While some may consider this aesthetic theory a simple contribution to the discipline, its primary aim is ontological, that is, to specify how Being and existence are no longer givens but are rather the points of departure to overcome oblivion or annihilation. In sum, art should not simply be treated as an aesthetic object, but rather as an existential event that can save us from the essential emergencies.

Q: Is this why you call for the overcoming of aesthetics?

SZ: Yes, but this does not mean aesthetics must disappear. Rather, it has to surpass those metaphysical frames that conceal the absence of emergency. Against the ahistorical mode of aesthetics, which represents, orders, and manipulates beings and leaves us without a sense of emergency, emergency aesthetics dwells in this emergency. Contemplations of indifferent beauty, which rest on the correspondence between propositions and facts, are overcome in favor of interpretation and interventions that retrieve what is ignored by this traditional reflection. The emergency aesthetics I present does not simply overcome measurable representations and indifferent beauty but most of all creates the conditions to respond to the existential call of art in the twenty-first century. Only art can save us because, as Hölderlin pointed out “where danger is, also grows the saving power.”

Q: How is the book structured?

SZ: The book is divided into three chapters, each of which responds to the others. So while the last chapter, “Emergency Aesthetics,” outlines how to answer the ontological call of art in the twenty-fist century through hermeneutics, the second chapter responds to the “Emergency of Aesthetics” that I begin with. This emergency consists in the “indifference” that characterizes beauty as well as its “measurable” contemplation. Given that each chapter responds to the others, the reader is invited to read the book forward or backward as long as the works of art considered are interpreted as representing the possibility of salvation from metaphysics, that is, as revealing an aesthetics of emergency.

Q: Chapter 2 is divided into four sections that analyze contemporary social, urban, environmental, and historical emergencies through twelve works of art. Did the works of art suggest the emergencies or the other way around?

SZ: The artworks suggested or, better, “thrust” me into essential emergencies. So, for example, when I confront the works of Néle Azevedo, Mandy Barker, and Michael Sailstorfer, who create works out of melting ice, ocean pollution, and trees, we are thrust into environmental emergencies caused by global warming, ocean pollution, and deforestation. The same occurs with the “social paradoxes” generated by the political, financial, and technological frames that contain us: the “urban discharge” of slums and plastic and electronic wastes and the “historical accounts” of invisible, ignored, and denied events. These are not addressed properly in the public realm and have become essential emergencies.

Q: And in addition to the aesthetic examination, how do you document the nature and history of each emergency?

SZ: There is a lot of research behind my discussion each emergency, and I rely on the work of renowned economists, political scientists, and investigative journalists. In the case of social media, represented by Filippo Minelli’s Contradictions series, the investigations of Jose van Dijck, Lev Manovich, and Evgeny Morozov were very useful as they also indirectly explained how the artist’s work emerged in the first place. I also use the work of the political scientist as Georg Sorensen, the urban theorists David Harvey, and the historian Ilan Pappé. The reconstruction of these emergencies through renowned thinkers allows the reader to see how serious the concern of the artist is. If truth in art has become more important than beauty, as Arthur C. Danto once said, its because artists “have become what philosophers used to be, guiding us to think about what their works express. With this, art is really about those who experience it. It is about who we are and how we live.”

Part II of the interview will appear tomorrow.

Friday, August 18th, 2017

It Is an Entire World That Has Disappeared

Extinction Studies

“Did they have an intuition of what was and what will have been? That the sky had become a desert? That to be ten, or even a hundred, means to be alone when you are a Passenger Pigeon? Did they know, from their ancestors’ memories, that the land, forests, and fields, seen by few eyes, no longer resembled anything, and that their patterns and colors, so familiar and recognizable when the eyes are many, had become incomprehensibly foreign and senseless for theirs—like a painting by an artist gone mad?” — Vinciane Despret

This week, our featured book is Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations, edited by Deborah Bird Rose, Thom van Dooren, and Matthew Chrulew, with a foreword by Cary Wolfe. For the final post of the feature, we are happy to present Vinciane Despret’s afterword to the book, translated by Matthew Chrulew.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Extinction Studies!

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Telling Extinction Stories

Extinction Studies

“And yet, despite this central responsibility, people are involved in extinction in varied and ambivalent ways. We eat animals, log their forests for housing, cull their numbers for convenience, destroy and transform their homes and lives through unyielding systems of development and security. In this context, many people find themselves overwhelmed with the depressing inevitability and crushing finality of extinction. It is all the more astonishing, therefore, that along with sadness there is hope, along with seeming inevitability there is resistance.” — Rose, van Dooren, and Chrulew

This week, our featured book is Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations, edited by Deborah Bird Rose, Thom van Dooren, and Matthew Chrulew, with a foreword by Cary Wolfe. Today, to start the feature, we are happy to present the introduction, cowritten by the book’s three editors.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Extinction Studies!

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Extinction Studies

Extinction Studies

Extinction Studies collects haunting and haunted multivoiced stories that echo together in a vibrant plea for an ethic of care, lucidity, and obstinate, stammering hope. We need such stories to make us feel and think with the unraveling of a world we inherit and share together with innumerable entangled forms and ways of life. We need them also to repopulate our devastated imaginations and to help us escape the twin easy temptations of nihilist despair and blind confidence.” — Isabelle Stengers, author of Cosmopolitics

This week, our featured book is Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations, edited by Deborah Bird Rose, Thom van Dooren, and Matthew Chrulew, with a foreword by Cary Wolfe. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Dreaming of Energy Otherwise

Energy Dreams

“Like a magic wand, energy is a kind of thing that makes all other things (indeed, everything and everyone) possible. With the caveat that, in its current form, this terrible wand burns, evaporates, brings to naught, or otherwise destroys whatever and whomever are already in existence in order to fuel the realization of our desires. The problem is, perhaps, that we conflate energy not only with its types but also with power lacking any inherent ends.” — Michael Marder

This week, our featured book is Energy Dreams: Of Actuality, by Michael Marder. Today, we are happy to provide an excerpt from another article by Michael Marder, originally published at The Philosophical Salon. Read the article in full here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Energy Dreams!

Dreaming of Energy Otherwise
By Michael Marder

We are preoccupied, at best, with many types of this desired object: chemical, kinetic, potential, solar, nuclear… We sift through countless examples of energy structuring our existence, yet we are at a loss when it comes to pointing out what characterizes energy itself. Numerous unexamined assumptions are, to be sure, built into our relation to it, and one of these has already popped up here, namely the assertion that energy is a “desired object.” It is treated as a resource, an apple of discord at the heart of geopolitical conflicts and ecological concerns. But are we justified in reducing energy to its objective dimension? Is it not equally a subject, that is to say, an active or animating force flowing through and in us? Are we not transported to a place beyond straightforward oppositions between activity and passivity when we say in the grammatical passive voice we are energized, invested with the capacity to be capable?

Like a magic wand, energy is a kind of thing that makes all other things (indeed, everything and everyone) possible. With the caveat that, in its current form, this terrible wand burns, evaporates, brings to naught, or otherwise destroys whatever and whomever are already in existence in order to fuel the realization of our desires. The problem is, perhaps, that we conflate energy not only with its types but also with power lacking any inherent ends. As a result of this conflation, our theme is imbued with abstract negativity promising to gift us with everything we are dreaming of on the condition of devouring the world of actuality as a whole. (more…)

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

The Meaning of “Clean Energy”

Energy Dreams

“Environmentally destructive and shockingly shortsighted as these methods of energy production [(nuclear power and fracking)], are, they are not surprising in light of the prevalent conception of energy that involves breaching into and laying bare the depth of things (of the atom, of the earth…) and drawing power from this violent and violating exposure.” — Michael Marder

This week, our featured book is Energy Dreams: Of Actuality, by Michael Marder. Today, we are happy to provide an excerpt from an article that Michael Marder wrote during the recent global conference on climate change in Paris, originally published at The Philosophical Salon. Read the article in full here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Energy Dreams!

The Meaning of “Clean Energy”
By Michael Marder

As the global conference on climate change is taking place in Paris, it is time to contemplate the meaning of “clean energy.” In the West, the word energy is marked with the force of deadly negativity. It is assumed, for instance, that energy must be extracted, with the greatest degree of violence, by destroying whatever or whoever temporarily contains it. More often than not, it is procured by burning its “source,” in the first instance, plants and parts of plants whether they have been chopped down yesterday or have been dead for millions of years, the timescale sufficient for them to be transformed into coal or oil.

Without giving it much thought, one supposes that the only way to obtain energy, whether for external heating or for giving the body enough of that other heat (namely, “caloric intake”) necessary for life, is by destroying the integrity of something or someone else. Life itself becomes the privilege of the survivors, who celebrate their Pyrrhic victory on the ashes of past and present vegetation and other forms of life they commit to fire.

Seeing that, for Aristotle (who still maintains a strong hold on energeia, a word that he introduced into the philosophical vocabulary), the prototype of matter is hylē, or wood, the violent extraction of energy paints a vivid image of the relation between matter and spirit prevalent in the West. A flaming spirit sets itself to work by destroying its other and triumphs over the wooden matter it incinerates. The price for the energy released in the process of combustion is the reduction of what is burnt to the ground. And, unfortunately, the madness of metaphysical spirit, which sets everything on its path aflame, tends to intensify.

It is not that plants are exempt from the general combustibility that, for Schelling, defined the very living of life. They release oxygen, and so provide the elemental conditions of possibility for the burning of fire. But the vegetal mode of obtaining energy — especially that of the solar variety — is non-extractive and non-destructive; the plant receives its energy by tending, by extending itself toward the inaccessible other, with which it does not interfere. That is one of the most important vegetal lesson to be learned: how to energize oneself, following the plants, without annihilating the sources of our vitality. (more…)

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Introducing Energy Dreams

Energy Dreams

Energy Dreams—the title came to me all of a sudden, as they say “out of the blue,” when I least expected it. It surprised me and, just as swiftly, energized my thought and swathed me in its opacities.” — Michael Marder

This week, our featured book is Energy Dreams: Of Actuality, by Michael Marder. To start the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s first chapter.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Energy Dreams!

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Energy Dreams, by Michael Marder

Energy Dreams

“Energy is something that pervades all our concerns from ecological to libidinal: we dream about clean renewable energy, condemn fracking, gain strength through energy drinks. Michael Marder’s Energy Dreams moves beyond these topics and asks a more fundamental hermeneutic question: what understanding of energy is presupposed in our mundane concerns? He demonstrates brilliantly that we need a new philosophical paradigm and that only in this way will we be able to properly confront all the practical problems in our dealings with energy. Marder’s book makes it clear that only a deeper theoretical reflection will enable us to solve our most ‘practical’ problems—a lesson needed like daily bread in today’s world, which more and more abhors authentic thinking.” — Slavoj Žižek

This week, our featured book is Energy Dreams: Of Actuality, by Michael Marder. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, July 28th, 2017

Horror, Disbelief, and Shame

Struggle on Their Minds

“Rather than simply humanize black Americans as did Du Bois, Wells described how black dehumanization was less an a priori truth and more a meticulous white supremacist social construction. Highlighting the intensity and methodical accuracy with which they dismembered Hose’s body piecemeal also reflected the wish to excise black people from humanity. Publicly destroying black bodies communicated white anxiety about black equality.” — Alex Zamalin

This week, our featured book is Struggle on Their Minds: The Political Thought of African American Resistance, by Alex Zamalin. For the final post of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Zamalin’s chapter on Ida Wells and the antilynching movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Struggle on Their Minds!

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Huey Newton, the Black Panthers, and the Decolonization of America

Struggle on Their Minds

“[The Black Panthers'] view that political power was more important than ethics and that freedom would be best secured through the factional competition of competing interests extended Madison’s arguments. Their conviction that public action centered on the common good needed to be divorced from moral considerations resonated with American civic republicans. Or, to put it differently, the Panthers thought politics needed to be conducted by political moralists rather than moral politicians.” — Alex Zamalin

This week, our featured book is Struggle on Their Minds: The Political Thought of African American Resistance, by Alex Zamalin. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s chapter on the political and philosophical thoughts of Huey Newton and the Black Panthers.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Struggle on Their Minds!

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

The Political Thought of African American Resistance

Struggle on Their Minds

“[This book's aim] is to provide an intellectual history of when resistance to racial inequality was palpable in key African American political movements. If resistance is at once an activity and an experience that resists comprehensive analysis because it has no singular essence—if there is no way ever to develop fully a philosophical definition of the practice itself—we should study moments in which what occurs can clearly be called ‘resistance.’” — Alex Zamalin

This week, our featured book is Struggle on Their Minds: The Political Thought of African American Resistance, by Alex Zamalin. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from Zamalin’s introduction, in which he lays out the project for his book and explains what he means by “resistance” (and why the idea is such an important one).

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Struggle on Their Minds!

Monday, July 24th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Struggle on Their Minds: The Political Thought of African American Resistance

Struggle on Their Minds

“Fred Moten memorably wrote that the ‘history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist.’ Alex Zamalin reaffirms this assertion through exquisite examination of narratives of resistance—not merely protest—by David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Huey Newton, and Angela Davis. Zamalin’s deft treatise demonstrates how Afro-modern political thought refashions our fundamental understandings of resistance and the attendant ideals of democracy and freedom.” — Neil Roberts, Williams College

This week, our featured book is Struggle on Their Minds: The Political Thought of African American Resistance, by Alex Zamalin. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Culture Industry 2.0, or the End of Digital Utopias in the Era of Participation Culture

Sociophobia

“With the next distraction only a click away, patience for things that require effort evaporates. Anyone who doesn’t have quick responses to complex questions is promptly and publicly punished by a withdrawal of Likes. But is the medium responsible? Is it the human condition as such? Is the anthropological and technological constellation an overlay over background political and economic interests?” — Roberto Simanowski

This week, our featured book is Sociophobia: Political Change in the Digital Utopia, by César Rendueles, translated by Heather Cleary, with a foreword by Roberto Simanowski. Today, we are happy to present Simanowski’s foreword, in which he discusses the radio and Bertolt Brecht’s reaction to it, the timing of the coming of the internet, and Rendueles’s criticism of “Internet-centrists” and “cyberutopians.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sociophobia!

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Postnuclear Capitalism

Sociophobia

“We disparage consumerism, populism, and the finance economy but see them as the last bastion against today’s version of the barbarians at the gates. We live in constant fear of anthropological density because the only alternatives to liberal individualism we know are fundamentalism and the squalor of the megaslums. As though there were nothing between the headquarters of Goldman Sachs and the Buenos Aires shantytown known as Villa 31.” — César Rendueles

This week, our featured book is Sociophobia: Political Change in the Digital Utopia, by César Rendueles, translated by Heather Cleary, with a foreword by Roberto Simanowski. To start the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt on what Rendueles terms “postnuclear capitalism” from the book’s first chapter.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sociophobia!

Monday, May 8th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Sociophobia: Political Change in the Digital Utopia, by César Rendueles

Sociophobia

“Rendueles’s book transcends the national context in which it was written, and, without exaggeration, goes to the heart of the contemporary problem of political organization, as it concerns radical protest and resistance movements. The refreshing aspect of Sociophobia is its sober approach to the role of new media in fomenting alternative political structures.” — Michael Marder

This week, our featured book is Sociophobia: Political Change in the Digital Utopia, by César Rendueles, translated by Heather Cleary, with a foreword by Roberto Simanowski. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, January 6th, 2017

The Disaster of Half-Education

Death and Mastery

“[W]hen I help formulate the institutional statement that condemns x, or sign a petition to defend y, or go to a rally with a clever sign for z, what am I doing? Perhaps, in all or some of these activities, I am displaying agency – I, as an independent decision-maker, am doing something. But perhaps I am also mobilizing my half-education toward the maintenance of incomprehension and false projection.” — Benjamin Fong

This post is part of an ongoing series in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Benjamin Y. Fong, author of Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, looks at the tendencies of Horkheimer and Adorno’s “new anthropological type” and sees causes for concern in the wake of the 2016 election:

The Disaster of Half-Education
By Benjamin Y. Fong

My first book, Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, was published by Columbia University Press on election day 2016. It is above all an attempt to use psychoanalytic theory, like the original members of the Frankfurt School, to make sense of the tendencies of what Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno called “the new anthropological type.” At times, they described this new kind of capitalist subject as an actual psychological type very reminiscent of the Left’s stereotyped Trump supporter: this type rigidly adheres to conventional values; bears a submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealized moral authorities of the ingroup; has a tendency to be on the lookout for, and to condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values; is opposed to the tender-minded; has a disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; etc. (See Peter E. Gordon, “The Authoritarian Personality Revisited: Reading Adorno in the Age of Trump”). It’s all quite spooky.

At other times, however, the new anthropological type was for them less an actual type of person and more an emergent set of tendencies in thinking brought on by the birth of what they called “the culture industry.” Loosely defined, the culture industry refers to the forms of media (film, television, radio) invented and propagated in the first part of the twentieth century. Many commentators on the work of the Frankfurt School believe that their views of the culture industry are dated, trapped in the Fordist-Keynesian era of mass production and consumption, but I have a difficult time understanding this line of thought. That we watch Emma Stone instead of Greta Garbo, that our kids know the new Disney characters instead of the old ones, that we’re all constantly looking at screens instead of reserving a few hours after work for them – none of this adds up to any qualitative break. No doubt the invention of the internet and the forms of social media that go along with it demand an updating of the culture industry thesis, but it’s hard to see how they don’t reinforce the ability of mass media institutions to categorize and cater to commodity consumers. (more…)

Friday, November 11th, 2016

Introducing “The Antiegalitarian Mutation”

The Antiegalitarian Mutation

“Can democracy fail to resist the increase in inequality and poverty without becoming distorted? And for how long will democracy be able to withstand the pressure of all the political movements that call for the exclusion, rather than the inclusion, of entire segments of the world population without transmuting into something other than itself? And finally, why is it in the name of pre-political entities, such as ethnicity, the ancestral bond with a territory, or blind allegiance to a specific interpretation of a sacred text, that exclusion is desired?” — Nadia Urbinati

This week, our featured book is The Antiegalitarian Mutation: The Failure of Institutional Politics in Liberal Democracies, by Nadia Urbinati and Arturo Zampaglione, translated by Martin Thom. Today, we are happy to present a short essay introducing Urbinati’s project.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Antiegalitarian Mutation!

Over a span of a hundred years, two vastly different U.S. presidents chose Osawatomie, a small settlement located at the confluence of two rivers in southern Kansas, as an emblem of their country’s bond of solidarity. In Osawatomie, whose name is a compound of two Native American tribes, the Osage and the Pottawatomie, both presidents spoke of the common good as a higher value than the preferences of the isolated individual. In a speech that is often quoted as an example of presidential eloquence, on August 31, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president, for the first time explicitly warned the United States against its libertarian temptations: only a strong government, he argued, would be able to regulate the economy and guarantee social justice. It was again in Osawatomie that, on December 6, 2011, Barack Obama, a Democratic president, voiced his most passionate denunciation of rising economic inequality. “This is the defining issue of our time,” Obama thundered, to rapturous applause. “This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.” (more…)

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

Public Reason, Public Schooling, and Walls

The Antiegalitarian Mutation

“Those who raise anti-immigration walls, like the one California has built on the Mexican border, think that they will be able to preserve their privileges large and small if, and for so long as, only they enjoy them. They bring out one of the most flagrant contradictions that afflict our affluent democratic societies: that which sees, on the one hand, a refined culture that shares universalistic and cosmopolitan values and that nonetheless remains the appanage of a minority, often a snobbish one; but that sees, on the other hand, a widely diffused popular culture that, though intoxicated by global consumerism, is terrified by globalization and objectively weak in front of the challenges arising through the opening of borders to cheap labor.” — Nadia Urbinati

This week, our featured book is The Antiegalitarian Mutation: The Failure of Institutional Politics in Liberal Democracies, by Nadia Urbinati and Arturo Zampaglione, translated by Martin Thom. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the first chapter, in which Urbinati and Zampaglione discuss public reason and public education, the significance of anti-immigration walls, and the “new nationalisms” that arise with the unchecked growth of a financial and economic global power.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Antiegalitarian Mutation!

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

Mother Teresa’s Miracles

The Miracle Myth

“How should one go about justifying belief in miracles? As the Vatican approaches this question, one must look for evidence that, first, some event has occurred for which there is no scientific explanation; and second, that the event occurred as a result of prayer to the deceased candidate for sainthood. Philosophers have a name for the inference involved in this kind of search. We call it an inference to the best explanation.” — Larry Shapiro

This week, our featured book is The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural Is Unjustified, by Larry Shapiro.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of The Miracle Myth.

Mother Teresa’s Miracles
By Larry Shapiro

Nothing against Mother Teresa, whose elevation to sainthood seems as deserving as any, but I think a condition for sainthood – the performance of at least two miracles – is about as silly as they come. To understand why, let’s begin with a crucial distinction – a distinction between the existence of a miracle and the justification for believing in a miracle. Some event may have occurred and yet believing so could still be unjustified. Perhaps it rained on this date in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Still, we are not justified in believing that it did. Why not? We lack any evidence for the occurrence. No archaeologist has discovered a scrap of papyrus on which was scrawled “Today, September XX, 16 a.d. in Jerusalem it rained.” Nor is there a record of testimony to the event. There’s simply no reason to think that it did rain in Jerusalem on this day 2000 years ago.

With respect to miracles, this distinction between an event’s occurring and justification for believing that the event has occurred plays out like this. Perhaps Mother Teresa did perform two miraculous healings. However, we may still ask whether anyone is justified in believing so. More specifically, we should wonder whether the investigators whom the Vatican assigned to research the case for Mother Teresa’s canonization were justified in their eventual belief that she had performed the miracles attributed to her. Obviously, if they were not justified, then their conclusions should be disregarded. (more…)