Knot of the Soul Book Event: On Philosophical Ethnography

“Life is essentially itself.” — Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion, p. 290

“There’s no such thing as life, just phenomena after phenomena after phenomena.” — Co—star App, horoscope for the author algorithmically generated August 16th, 2018.

Knot of the Soul reflects a commitment to ethnography as both empirical research and a philosophical project. […] The stories, or ‘cases,’ are themselves theoretical sites of elucidation. Concepts emerge within the ethnography, and are brought into conversation with other concepts. […] The ethnography is more than just a description of the there-and-then of its anthropological object, be that contemporary Morocco, psychiatry, the life of patients, psychoanalysis, Qur’anic cures, or the Islamic ethical tradition. It has the nature of a coming to the fore, an encounter, with a world and a tradition, but more fundamentally with what Ilyas called the ‘torment of life’.’” — Stefania Pandolfo, Knot of the Soul, pp. 22, 23

The attentive reader of Stefania Pandolfo’s Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam cannot help but by struck by the beauty of its sadness and the depth of the suffering attended to within its writing. It is this quality of the book that lies at the center of its resistance to the standard modes of academic commentary or review. What do you write about in the face of suffering? It’s a question that lies at the heart of Pandolfo’s project, as I understand it. How do you write and analyze in a way that is faithful to the incoherence of a life lived? How do you deploy concepts and stories, which are used to form coherence, without then shifting attention away from the suffering attended to?

Though these are but two ways of formulating the question, for me the configuration of this question demands a response that looks to the method of the project. Pandolfo’s book, like her earlier Impasse of the Angels, is beautiful at the level of its writing, precisely because her work takes seriously the melancholy of a life lived amongst a people, in a culture, positioned within a society. Yet, the method of her book is not simply to tell sad stories. Continue reading Knot of the Soul Book Event: On Philosophical Ethnography”

Contemporary French Philosophy Seminar (Philly Event)

Glenn Wallis is hosting an Incite Seminar on April 14th similar to the one that I led on the work of François Laruelle in the Fall. This seminar will be facilitated by Villanova University’s Gabriel Rockhill. This intensive seminar will serve as a crash course in contemporary French theory in order to provide students with a rigorous overview of its key movements, figures and concepts. Beginning with the immediate postwar rise of Existentialism, while tracing out its important connections to Marxism, we will then look at the emerging critiques formulated by the “structuralists” and their gradual turn away from Marxism. Finally, we will compare and contrast two rival movements that emerged on the heels of structuralism and continue today: the “post-structuralists,” who sought to radicalize the structuralist turn, and a disparate group of thinkers—from Castoriadis to Badiou—who saw in both structuralism and post-structuralism an intensified embrace of postwar ideology and advocated for a resuscitation of anti-capitalist philosophy. Interested parties are invited to visit the Incite Seminar website for more information.

On the Use and Abuse of Objects for the Environmental Humanities: Recent Books in Object-Oriented Ontology and Ecotheory

Below you will find a long review essay on three relatively recent books in Object-Oriented Ontology as they attempt to engage with ecology and ecological concerns (you may also download it as a PDF if you prefer). For those who read the essay, you will see that I am very critical of these works. The review was originally commissioned for an academic journal. This journal differs from other in its review policies in that reviews are sent out for peer review. The two reports I received from readers were very enthusiastic and recommended the review be published with some minor corrections. One reviewer actually suggested that the review was too forgiving and thought I should be even more critical. When I made my revisions I didn’t act on that suggestion, as I felt the piece was already harsh and, for the few who would read it, would already be controversial as is.

I was excited to publish the review and had spent a great deal of time on it. However, after the initial peer review stage the two main editors also take a pass at the reviews. Both ultimately disagreed strongly with the readers and made a number of suggestions and demands. This process lasted through two rounds and ultimately I felt they were asking me to change the piece so substantially that it was no longer a tolerable situation. Though I disagree strongly with them, I am thankful for some of their comments and respect their commitment to their standards. However, I am criticizing very powerful figures in the broad field of environmental humanities not because I think it is a good career move, but because I believe in the criticism. As I explained to the editors when I decided to withdraw the piece, I am not really rewarded for publishing work at my institution and am provided very little support for research and writing and as such I see no reason to compromise on what I do decide to publish much as they refuse to compromise.

Some of what I put forward at the end of the piece is forming the basis for a new project on ecology and colonialism, which includes a reading of Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic” through the work of Frantz Fanon.

On the Use and Abuse of Objects for the Environmental Humanities: Recent Books in Object-Oriented Ontology and Ecotheory

Anthony Paul Smith, Department of Religion & Theology, La Salle University, United States

This review essay examines three recent works of ecotheory, Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory beyond Green(edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen), Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman, and Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, all of which attempt to make use and deepen the philosophical project of object-oriented ontology (OOO). After an overview of the place of OOO within contemporary philosophy and its general principles, the essay posits that there is a unidirectional relationship between OOO and ecotheory (inclusive of scientific ecology). Since the practitioners of OOO discussed in this essay all claim that their work is philosophically realist in orientation, this failure to engage and mutate their philosophical work according to scientific ecology bears witness to the inability to fully break from anthropocentrism. At a deeper level this failure acts as a symptom for a wider failure to break from the colonial episteme that goes unexamined by OOO. Making use of Hortense Spillers’s conception of “pornotroping”, the essay offers a reading of various author appeals to love, erotics, and sadomasochism that argues this same colonial episteme of anti-Blackness structures OOO’s understanding of the object. While presenting a general critique of OOO’s interventions into ecotheory, the essay also calls for a deeper engagement and centering of scholarship in Black Studies and Queer Studies, particularly from an Afro-pessimist and anti-social perspective. Continue reading “On the Use and Abuse of Objects for the Environmental Humanities: Recent Books in Object-Oriented Ontology and Ecotheory”

CFP: RADICAL/IZED RELIGION: Religion as a Resource for Political Theory and Practice

Hannah Strømmen and Thomas Lynch are organizing a conference at Chichester University entitled “RADICAL/IZED RELIGION: Religion as a Resource for Political Theory and Practice” that may be of interest to readers of the blog. The keynotes for the conference are Torkel Brekke, S. Sayyid (whose Recalling the Caliphate was the focus of an AUFS book event), Yvonne Sherwood, andØyvind Strømmen. I have copied the CFP below, but you can check out the conference website for more information about the keynotes and scope. Continue reading “CFP: RADICAL/IZED RELIGION: Religion as a Resource for Political Theory and Practice”

Politics as Weather

Wake up, check the weather, and dress appropriately. People do it everyday. Sure, some climates, like that in the UK, are unpredictable and change throughout the day. That 20% of rain means it’ll probably rain at some point and that’s what the expandable umbrella tucked in the bottom of a bag is for. There is no way the weather will pass without affecting those who live under its regime, so the rain will soak some, the sun will burn others, pollen will enflame the nasal passages, and so on. There is not much one can do, in the end, to escape the weather.

For some time this is how I have related to politics. It’s probably a bit too pastoral an image for some and it certainly is not heroic. But it does capture something of the reality.  I get online in the mornings, no longer muttering fuck after months of intense therapy to confront and accept my anxiety, and I read the posts of those who know. Everyone appears to know what’s probably going to happen, or why it happened, or what we should to stop it. It would be interesting if it wasn’t so pathetic. Knowing is important; knowing is power. I think of this scene in that (admittedly rather poor) documentary about Negri where he looks at a picture of his younger self behind bars in some Italian dock (as if placing defendants in a cage isn’t prejudicial). He says that, speaking of his merit, he never lost the intelligence (a word he settles on after rejecting the word “hope”) to understand everything that was happening to him, despite the contradictions. That intelligence is not on display on social media chatter about the state of politics. My own understanding is perhaps idiosyncratic, but I have no less faith in my intelligence for knowledge than any of the intelligent people I follow. The energy to speculate may be lacking. Frankly it feels like it might make me ever stupider if I expended it.

So, I treat it like the weather. My anger hasn’t gone away, but it’s anger at the storm blowing out of paradise. And how do you fight a storm? You weather it, learn to escape it, to find places of refuge, to shelter others from its violence with your own body. But the time to affect the climate for good, to change the weather, is long past.

 

Our Hope Is Nothing

Content Notice: I use some sexually explicit language and sometimes use vulgar slang below. If you would prefer not to see such language then please skip this post. – APS

It is always awkward to give the (nearly) last word to one who rightly passes for a CIS-gender, straight man. It is perhaps even more awkward for the man who accepts the ontological shame of being such a man, rightly or wrongly. But it is a man’s world, as the song goes, even if all us such men know—and fear—that it would be nothing without a woman. James Brown’s lyric isn’t quite right. The truth is that we fear that we, our very selves, would be nothing without a woman. We would no longer be a he, but an unrecognized it. Without a woman defined in relation to a man this big, hard phallus that we fuck1 with is just a bit of insignificant and embarrassingly useless flesh.2 So as I have been given the truly terrible honor of providing the last of our responses to Linn Marie Tonstad’s provocative, challenging, clear-headed, and often beautiful God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality, and the Transformation of Finitude, I’m struck with the embarrassment of being caught with my dick out. I’m reminded of my own nothingness, the own abyss of my personhood, the lie I’ve been brought up believing regarding my own identity. Even though I am thankful for being invited to read and respond at all. Such things truly are a grace for me. 

That said, despite the confessional performances that often accompany those, like myself, who rightly pass as CIS-gender, straight men (and—my God—I’m white too!), such a nothingness bothers me very little. Though I speak with forked-tongue—or is it just pierced?—there is a freedom that comes from recognizing such a core of nothingness, a freedom that comes from giving up hope of finding anyway out of the phallic bind of being born this way (or rather, raised to believe I was born this way). When I read Tonstad exhort us to practice theology in a way that moves “from dick-sucking to clit-licking in touching God’s transcendence” I found myself thinking of the lyrics to Danny Brown’s “I Will”, a celebratory and graphic ode to clit-licking by someone whose body can’t be anything but queer in the world even as he too passes as a CIS-gender, straight man. There is a part of me that wants to read these lyrics as providing a kind of queering of theological practice for those born into these bodies and raised into these desires, but it is job season and I fear that already the honesty and impropriety required to speak of our sexuality and one’s hope or not in the Christian trinitarian God has me wanting to talk about this only behind closed doors, hidden deep in a valley, with one (or—hell—two or three or wherever the spirit leads) who share what can’t be shared with others. Continue reading “Our Hope Is Nothing”