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On Alfred Frankowski’s Postracial limits…

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

Here is the text of the talk I gave today at the American Society for Aesthetics’ book session on Al Frankowski’s The Post-Racial Limits of Memorialization: Toward a Political Sense of Mourning

Before offering a commentary on Alfred Frankowski’s sublimely monumental book, The Post-Racial Limits of Memorialization: Toward a Political Sense of Mourning, let me first share my reading of it by taking up the key elements of its title. I will then offer a Freudian account of the melancholic aspects of the very memorial culture that Frankowski describes without ever using the word melancholia.

Post-Racial

The term post-racial occurs throughout the book as a modifier for all manner of matters: post-racial discourse, post-racial politics, post-racial society, post-racial violence, post-racial memorialization, and post-racial memory; yet it is never taken at face value. Rather, in every use of the term, Frankowski sets it in italics. While he does not comment upon the typography, the meaning becomes clear: post-raciality is not a fact but a trope, one used to hide the reality of ongoing racism, a trope that attempts to erase what needs to be remembered. Its use always marks a contradiction: “The contradictions of post-raciality are clear,” Frankowski writes, “the bodies of the racialized are prefigured in their exploitation and create the material symbols that hold up a society that appears to be post-race and yet are politically thoroughly racist” (9). The effect of this contradiction is material, it leads to “a transition of meaning, in which violence is learned, adapted to, and framed out of thought both in terms of what counts as knowledge and whose lives count as world-historical” (9).

Post-racial discourse,” he writes, “is always already implied within the ways we represent oppression and implicit in how we perceive and come to know both the oppression of the past and the oppression of the present” (107). Usually this is by way of depicting past oppression as over and reconciled and by neglecting ongoing phenomena of oppression. The past is neatly relegated, the present context neglected.

Limits of Memorialization

Whenever memorials, however well-meaning, are erected in an attempt to reconcile with the past, to announce that things are better now, to provide closure, Read more…

Humanity and the Refugee

September 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Recently published in Social Philosophy Today, my paper, “Humanity and the Refugee: Another Stab at Universal Human Rights,” takes up the questions of (1) how the refugee crisis exhibits the fault lines in what might otherwise seem to be a robust human rights regime and (2) what kinds of ways of seeing and thinking might better attune us to solving these problems. There is surprising agreement internationally on the content of human rights, although there is a huge gulf between international agreements on human rights and the protection of those most vital. The subtitle of the paper, “another stab at universal rights,” has a double entendre: in the midst of a crisis that is stabbing international agreements on human rights to its core, I will take a stab at using the crisis situation to point a way forward toward a cosmopolitan social imaginary that uses human imagination, not just as an ability to represent in one’s mind what one has seen elsewhere, but also as an ability to imagine something radically new. This social imaginary points to the necessity of according everyone, refugees included, as having a right to politics and thus a hand in shaping their own world, including their new, host communities.

Deliberation and the Work of Mourning

I’ll be giving a talk in May 2016 in Prague on the following themes.

There are many languages of reason, but perhaps the most powerful and insidious one is the unconscious logic that emerges during political, ethnic, and religious conflict. What may at first seem madness, is, if looked at with the right lens, a very cool calculus of justice aimed at righting past wrongs — no matter how out of scale the “solution.” The unconscious is not mad. It keeps careful tally. It never forgets insults, injuries, traumas, or wrongs. It waits for its moment to set matters straight. And the unconscious of a people traumatized and bereft will bide its time for centuries, if need be, waiting for an opportunity to set matters right. Consider what lay behind the shot that set off World War I: six hundred years of grievance and political melancholia. Psychoanalytic hermeneutics can help make sense of the effects of political traumas. Might it also help people work through them? With his all-too-vague notion of “working through,” which shows up in dream work and the work of mourning, Freud thought he found an antidote to traumatic remembering and repetition, a process that could calm and bind the psychical excitations that trouble the organism. Considering a political body of restless people haunted by past traumas and injustice, what kind of Arbeit can help political communities deal with buried traumas and insults before they explode in vengeance? Without some kind of work, politics becomes an enactment of fantasied, unrealistic expectations; demonic projections; and persecutory anxieties. In this paper I draw on and move beyond Freud’s model toward a post-Kleinian one that can be tethered to the political process of public deliberation. In my account, political deliberation is not just a process of reason giving and consideration, which many political philosophers think it is, but an affective process that helps people work through fantasies of denial, splitting. and revenge and toward a position that can tolerate loss, ambiguity, and uncertainty, that is, the human condition.

New Paper on Kristeva and Arendt, Inner Experience and Worldly Revolt

December 18, 2014 Leave a comment

In my new article just published in the Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy, I ask: What is at stake when political revolt depends upon radical inner experience? Is the only route to cultural and political change, as Kristeva seems to argue, through personal introspection and revolt? If we want more from life than the freedom to channel surf, as she says, need the direction of inquiry be primarily inward? Need there be an either/or of psychical versus public life? Is the only answer to social and political dead ends really found by turning inward? Is the micropolitics of the couch the path to freedom? “Today,” Kristeva writes, “psychical life knows that it will only be saved if it gives itself the time and space of revolt: to break off, remember, re-form. From prayer to dialogue, through art and analysis, the crucial event is always the great infinitesimal emancipation: to be endlessly recommenced.” In this essay I ask whether we might move Kristeva’s “New Forms of Revolt” from the couch to the polis with the help of one of her major interlocutors, Hannah Arendt, who reminds us that thinking is always a plural affair. I develop a link between Arendt’s thinking and Kristeva’s revolt to show how thinking-as-revolt puts subjects in relation to each other and to the political. Such a political culture of revolt can engage in the work needed to move beyond adolescent fixations in melancholic times. And with it we might in fact create more meaning for our lives.

The full article is here.

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Kristeva Circle 2014

gonepublic: philosophy, politics, & public life

Kristeva Circle 2014

Julia Kristeva skyped in to the Kristeva Circle meeting at Vanderbilt this past Sunday to give a brief talk and take questions for over an hour. For a Skype session, it was amazingly intimate and personal, a great way to end an amazing meeting organized by Kelly Oliver and Rebecca Tuvel. I had the pleasure of being part of a panel on Saturday on Concepts of Women, Visions of Feminism. I talked about Kristeva’s recent article published in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association.

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Feminist Political Philosophy in the SEP

gonepublic: philosophy, politics, & public life

My newly revised entry on feminist political philosophy has just been published in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  This version has more on the history of feminism and a new taxonomy that expands on difference feminisms, diversity and postcolonial feminism (though it could still use much more on the latter), and a much expanded section on what I am calling performative feminism. Many thanks to Mary G. Dietz, Ann Garry, Bonnie Honig, Eva Kittay, Carole Pateman, R. Claire Snyder-Hall, Shay Welch, and Ewa Ziarek for their suggestions for this revision.

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March “Dayton Days” at the Kettering Foundation

Tomorrow I’m heading to Dayton, Ohio, to take part in its monthly research meeting and talk about one of my latest papers-in-progress, “Neoliberalism, the Street, and the Forum.” (This if for a chapter of a book under review with Routledge edited by Albena Azmanova and Mihaela Mihai titled Reclaiming Democracy.) The issue is this: in a neoliberal age that eschews political choice in favor of the TINA (there is no alternative) logic of the market (no matter that this logic is seriously flawed), how can the public sphere respond?  I argue that the often seemingly dueling elements of the public sphere — social movements and deliberative forums — have a complementary relationship and together can counter neoliberalism’s anti-politics.  Social movements help us think what we are doing.  This is an Arendtian way of putting something Arendt never herself wanted to think: that social movements have a crucial role in the political, that is the political public sphere of deciding what kind of people and communities we want to become.