Freedom isn’t free

A tip: whenever someone is using the word “freedom” in a way that seems hypocritical, try substituting in “traditional privileges” (and for “free,” “traditionally privileged”). Often, the real meaning will snap into place.

A great example is the debate over “free speech,” where people are shocked to learn that conservatives use the term opportunistically in their own favor while not caring about the free speech rights of pro-Palestinian activists, communists, etc. Just pull the old switcheroo, designate it as “traditionally privileged speech,” and voilà — everything becomes clear!

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.

New essay at n+1: “The Prequel Boom”

I have a web piece up at n+1: The Prequel Boom. I have had the topic of prequels in the back of my mind for a long time now — the narrative potentials and limitations, the possibility of reading more ancient texts as prequels in some sense, and the question of why fans seem to hate prequel material so uniquely — and this article was a good way for me to cut a coherent slice through all that thinking.

I haven’t gotten the idea entirely out of my system with this — I am now pondering a study of Genesis as prequel, following up on my posts about the Joseph and Jacob stories as prequels.

Help me plan a module on Christianity, Race and Colonialism

This September I’ll be teaching my first ever completely self-designed module, and I’m pretty excited about it. The module will focus on Christianity, race and colonialism, and possibly for the first time ever when teaching I feel like the learning outcomes I have committed myself to actually reflect what I want the module to do:

By the conclusion of this module, a student will be expected to be able to :

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of the historical development of racism and colonialism
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of key conceptual frameworks for understanding the development of racism and colonialism
  • Critically evaluate theological texts in light of historical and theoretical accounts of race and colonialism

I have a bunch of ideas, and am trying to figure out how to balance these three central elements – history, theory and theology – in assigned readings and classes, but would love to know: what do you think are the canonical texts, events, ideas etc for this kind of a module? Any and all suggestions gratefully received; I’m especially keen to find resources for engaging with the histories of slavery and colonialism outside of North America, and especially with the histories of slavery and colonialism in relation to the British Empire.

‘Klingons are animals’

The title credits of Star Trek: Discovery unfold on a background of age-stained paper. Perfectly geometrical lines and calculations take solid colour and form as a ship over a planet, a human body being outfitted with a space suit, a gun, a communications device, Klingon weapons of war and, finally, two space-suited hands reaching out, never quite touching one another. Star Trek unfolds, we are reminded, within the horizon of modernity: of the transformation of the human body into a machine; the transposition of divine characteristics onto Man, creator and controller of the world due to previously unimagined technological advances; all driven and enabled by exploration, warfare and, crucially, the invention of race. After the weapons comes the reaching out of hands; after the transformation of cold geometry into the hard lines of metal comes the dissolution of all these images into smoke; all that is solid melts into air.24-credits.w1200.h630.png

Continue reading “‘Klingons are animals’”

Star Trek Discovery: Magic to Make the Sanest Rewatch Go Mad

Star Trek Discovery #7 Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad screencap Lorca Mudd.jpg

Episode 1.7 of Star Trek: Discovery, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” has had a singular reception among the episodes of the first season. Widely acclaimed as the best episode of the first season, it is also the most traditionally “Trekky,” a standalone adventure largely independent of the main series arc (despite its nominal status as a sequel to episode 1.5, “Choose Your Pain”). Harry Mudd returns on a mission of vengeance after having been abandoned in a Klingon prison cell by Lorca and Tyler; armed with a time-travel device that allows him to relive the last half-hour over and over again until he is happy with the results, the time-loop narrative is complicated by Stamets’s new, spore-infused status outside the normal flow of space and time. Stamets, Burnham, Tilly, and Tyler are able to use Stamets’s knowledge of the loops to contrive a situation that convinces Mudd he has achieved all his goals, only to pull the rug out from under him at the end of the episode after he has shut off the device and ended the time loop.

The episode’s ecstatic early reception was produced in its moment by a number of factors, perhaps most especially its status as the first “fun” episode after a series introduction dominated by dark and depressing plotlines (including among other things mutiny, war, the total destruction of the Shenzhou, and the brutal torture of sentient and nonsentient lifeforms alike). Rainn Wilson’s Mudd does indeed inject an infectious spirit of chaos into the proceedings, and the crew not only gets a longed-for “clean win” but achieves it by working together as a cohesive whole in a way that had not yet been seen on the series (a mood of TNG-style camaraderie that would return in even grander form as the moment of triumph at the end of the Mirror Universe arc in 1.13, “What’s Past Is Prologue”). The episode is also a familiar take on a well-worn Trek concept, the Groundhog’s-Day time loop, certainly updated for contemporary sensibilities and cinematic style but still coloring within the well-established lines of the Trek franchise (to an extent not found, arguably, in most of the rest of Discovery).

And it is, to be sure, a perfectly delectable episode.

But despite this popular acclaim rewatching “Magic” in light of what comes after does present some evaluative difficulties. Continue reading “Star Trek Discovery: Magic to Make the Sanest Rewatch Go Mad”