Materialist enchantments

I was recently asked to respond to Paul Cloke, Christopher Baker, Callum Sutherland and Andrew Williams’ really interesting new book, Geographies of Postsecularity: Re-Envisaging Politics, Subjectivity and Ethics as part of the launch event for the book. Here is the text of my response, which explores narratives of (dis-)enchantment and questions about social reproduction in relation to Christianity and political activism.

I wanted to pick up on theme of enchantment in the book because it’s where the authors engage my work, partly because I’m not sure that we’re actually talking about the same thing, and partly because I’ve been developing my thinking on what we’re actually talking about when we talk about disenchantment in ways that might be productive for ongoing conversations about the books’ arguments.

The idea of disenchantment emerges as a narrative which suggests that some sense of the world as spiritual is lost with the advent of modernity, that our connection to one another is damaged and that what we need, then, is a restoration of that sense of magic and wonder. The book advocates re-enchantment as one of the characteristics of the ethics of postsecularity that the authors want to advocate for, and suggest that religion can help us restore ‘a sense of mystery and wonder … a greater acknowledgement of the possibility of the sacred, and a dissatisfaction with neoliberalised secularity’.

Continue reading “Materialist enchantments”

The Self-Emptying Subject Book Event: Angels and Flies

nature insect macro dragonfly
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Beatrice Marovich is an assistant professor of theological studies at Hanover College. She works at the intersection of philosophy and theology and is currently working on a book called Creature Feeling: Political Theology and Animal Mortality.

Gilles Deleuze was no great proponent of theology. But he did recognize a kind of potency that was present, at least historically, in the concept of God. In a lecture on the early modern work of Spinoza, Deleuze posed that, prior to the 17th century, the figure of God gave philosophers a kind of creative freedom. This is not to say, of course, that these thinkers weren’t constrained in many ways by church authority. But, Deleuze suggests, philosophers were nevertheless able to work with these constraints in order to render them, instead, “a means of fantastic creation.” Working with the figure of God offered these thinkers a kind of conceptual opportunity—to think right alongside a figure that was, itself, entirely free of constraints. “With God,” Deleuze suggests, “everything is permitted.” Concepts, when pushed up against the figure of God, became free of the task of representation. Concepts could take on “lines, colors, movements” they would never have had “without this detour through God.” There was, Delezue suggests, a kind of joy in this intellectual labor.

For Deleuze, the creative joy of thinking with God was essentially a thing of the past. But in The Self-Emptying Subject: Kenosis and Immanence, Medieval to Modern Alex Dubilet seizes upon this old conceptual opportunity like it’s a live wire. Alex is not particularly interested in doing theology, at least not in the manner that contemporary academic theologians tend to self-consciously understand their intellectual labor. But Alex is invested in, as he puts it, “deactivating the battlefield of disciplinary polemics” that draws and re-draws the methodological boundary lines between religious and philosophical discourses over and over and over again. “Before we are philosophers or theologians, we are readers and thinkers,” Alex writes. And so, against these embittered polemics, Alex confounds the disciplinary boundaries between philosophy and theology, refusing to allow his project to be contained by either normatively religious or secular discursive limits. He takes some of his own detours through the figure of God. And he seems to find a contemplative but irreverent joy in this intellectual adventure. Yet he doesn’t stay on those roads, either. Instead he charts a winding footpath along the edges of philosophical and theological thought that is much more enticingly odd, and singular.

Continue reading “The Self-Emptying Subject Book Event: Angels and Flies”

Books I Blurbed in 2016

As I did last year, as a sort of alternative to a “Best of” list, I thought I’d give you a run-down of the books I blurbed over the course of 2016. If I have time, I follow it up later with books I never got around to formally blurbing, but should have.

* * *

1) Sudden Death, by Alvaro Enrigue (trans. by Natasha Wimmer)

Sudden Death is going to be a revelation for a whole lot of people this year. (It was already my favorite book of 2016 when I read an advance copy in 2015!)

We are in the midst of a new golden age of Mexican literature, and Sudden Death has opened even more audacious paths for this most cosmopolitan storytelling. To retell the plot does the novel very little service — which isn’t to say it is plot-less or even particularly difficult to follow. Rather, it is tightly wound (not unlike the balls used in the epic duel of a tennis match that functions simultaneously as the novel’s centerpiece and frame) and bounds expertly between centuries from Old World to New.

Sudden Death is, at its core, a very angry book – specifically, at the insipid successes of the world’s colonizers – but it is an anger born of play and the censure of comedy. The bad guy may always win in the end, Enrigue seems resigned to say, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the losers’ little victories along the way.

* * * Continue reading “Books I Blurbed in 2016”

Some thoughts on Leshem’s Origins of Neoliberalism

Early this summer, I received an unsolicited review copy of Dotan Leshem’s Origins of Neoliberalism: Modeling the Economy from Jesus to Foucault — true proof of divine providence, given that I was working on a project connecting political theology to neoliberalism. It is a fascinating study of the concept of oikonomia, with its center of gravity in the era of classical orthodoxy (Nicea and Chalcedon).

Leshem hit on the idea of a genealogy of oikonomia around the same time as, but independently of, Agamben’s study in The Kingdom and the Glory. The book evinces a certain anxiety to differentiate itself from Agamben, which in my view sometimes leads to overhasty critiques. I prefer to view them less as competitive than as supplementary to each other. Agamben focuses on the formative moment of Christian economic thought (Pauline and proto-orthodox), whereas Leshem focuses on developments within established orthodoxy itself. When we add Mondzain’s account of the decisive role of economic thought in the iconoclastic controversy, we wind up with a fairly comprehensive view of the role of oikonomia in pre-modern Christian thought. This is not to downplay the very real differences between the authors’ approaches, of course — a truly comprehensive account has yet to be written, but it will need to start with the labors of these three.

I learned a great deal from Leshem’s study, which in many ways does a better job of following up in detail on Foucault’s suggestions about the role of Christian pastoral in forming modern subjectivity. He also deals much more closely with Arendt, who is claimed as a major source of the Homo Sacer series but mostly stays in the background. His study is based around the “human trinity” of economic, political, and philosophical, and the text is punctuated by helpful diagrams illustrating how this trinity keeps getting reconfigured over time. This provides clarity and orientation to a study that is not afraid to delve into the fine details of doctrinal and pastoral theology. What worries me about this approach is that it pitches Christian doctrine primarily as a development of Greek and Roman thought — as in Agamben, the Hebrew roots of Christian thought are comparatively neglected. I wonder whether that same “trinity” would apply to the Hebrew biblical tradition, and if not (which is my suspicion), how that might require us to reconceive the genealogy of oikonomia.

The weakest point of the book, in my view, is the title itself. The warrant for the book’s claim to establish “the origins of neoliberalism” is that Christian Orthodoxy establishes the dominance of the economy over the other hypostases of the human trinity and neoliberalism also forcefully asserts the dominance of the economy over other areas of life. The genealogical connections provided are even sketchier than in the appendix to The Kingdom and the Glory, and explicit discussions of neoliberalism are few and far between. The subtitle is misleading as well, given that the pre-Christian Greek concept of oikonomia is the real starting point, not Jesus (who is not a major figure in this book, given the absence of references to oikonomia in the Gospels).

I like to imagine Leshem’s book with a more accurate title. What it achieves is an important and formative contribution to the genealogy of oikonomia, one that places him into an emergent “canon” alongside Agamben and Mondzain. From this point forward, anyone investigating the place of economy in Christian theology will have to engage with Leshem’s work.

Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: Closing Summary (Westmoreland)

MARK WILLIAM WESTMORELAND is a doctoral student and instructor of philosophy and ethics at Villanova University and is writing a dissertation on racial profiling. They also teach philosophy and religious studies at Gwynedd Mercy University, Penn State University – Brandywine, and Rowan University. They work in political philosophy, philosophy of race, and philosophy of technology and have published on Bergson, Derrida, and issues of race/racism. Mark is co-editor with Andrea J. Pitts of Beyond Bergson: Race, Gender, & Colonialism (forthcoming, SUNY), editor of a forthcoming special issue of The Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy commemorating the 75th anniversary of Henri Bergson’s death, and editor of a volume (in progress) on Charles Mills.

________

We have concluded our book event at AUFS. The original roundtable conversation can be found here.

The full posts of the book event can be found below.

Thomas Nail: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/07/14/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-method-and-motion-nail/

Todd May and Ladelle McWhorter: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-a-set-of-queries-maymcwhorter/

Andrew Dilts: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/07/08/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-migrants-figures-and-bodies-dilts/

Adriana Novoa: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-migrants-a-human-vital-force-novoa/

Robin Celikates: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-taking-migrant-agency-seriously-celikates/

Daniella Trimboli: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/06/27/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-refiguring-the-migrant-body-trimboli/

Sandro Mezzadra: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/book-event-the-figure-of-the-migrant-seeing-like-a-migrant-mezzadra/

Vern Cisney: https://itself.wordpress.com/2016/06/21/the-figure-of-the-migrant-provocations-in-consideration-of/

Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: Method and Motion (Nail)

THOMAS NAIL is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Denver. He is the author of Returning to Revolution: Deleuze, Guattari and Zapatismo (Edinburgh University Press, 2012), The Figure of the Migrant (Stanford University Press, 2015), and Theory of the Border (forthcoming with Oxford University Press, 2016). His work has appeared in AngelakiTheory & Event, Philosophy Today, Parrhesia, Deleuze Studies, Foucault Studies, and elsewhere. His publications can be downloaded here.

________

Thanks to all the reviewers. They have all challenged me to think differently about the book in their own way. In addition to my responses in the roundtable, I wanted to offer a final reflection on one issue in particular that has really made me think: methodology. In particular, I wanted to voice a couple of thoughts on the relation of kinopolitics to more qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

Qualitative: First, the knowledges and experiences of migrants are absolutely crucial to understanding contemporary migration. The quantitative approach favored by the sociology of migration literature leaves out entirely the human experience of the violence, suffering, and racism that many migrants go through. The consideration of this experience is, in my view, the very condition for understanding what is wrong with current immigration politics, as well as the possibility of doing anything differently. If we do not listen to the stories and demands of migrants we lose a crucial aspect of any analysis.

One of the motivations of this book comes from my work as a full-time migrant justice organizer with the group No One is Illegal in Toronto, Canada in 2010. One of the most important things we did as a group was to organize events which spotlighted the stories of migrants, told by themselves, and to fundraise to help them and their families. In addition to this, we also organized more intellectual kinds of events—panels of migration theorists and activists, for example. And, like good radicals, we also organized massive un-permitted street protests, civil disobedience events, and had delegates in a dozen local community groups related to education, women’s shelters, legal issues, medical issues, food banks, and more. I think that all these kinds of interventions (and others) are important, and all are needed. For more details about the kind of work we did you can read my interview with some of the main organizers here.

Quantitative: That said, the contemporary phenomenon of migration cannot be fully understood without both the qualitative study of the experiences of suffering and oppression (favored by the humanities: autonomy of migration and epistemology literatures) AND the quantitative study of migration (favored by the sciences). I am very thankful that there are people out there doing the original data collection, recording stories and writing ethnographies, or calculating the numbers of detainees, expulsions, deaths, global refugees, etc. There are many great works on migration that are, on their own, only quantitative or qualitative. That is fine. But for the whole picture I think we really need, at least, both.

Kinetic: However, the aim of The Figure of the Migrant was to introduce yet a third dimension and conceptual framework to the analysis of migration that would complement the other two, but which is not reducible to them: a kinopolitical dimension—a historical and comparative study of the patterns of the social motions of migrants. The kinopolitical framework of the book provides a way to track and compare large-scale patterns of social motion over long periods of time and space and draw some pretty dramatic conclusions. One of the most important being that the expulsion of migrants is the condition of a larger social expansion. In other words, that the migrant has been and continues to be the constitutive figure of western societies—through its motion. This is not a metaphor or an exaggeration. Societies have always required the movement of migrant bodies. The Figure of the Migrant takes the materiality and movement of the migrant body itself as its starting point. However, in offering such a focus, it has also only touched lightly on the qualitative and quantitative dimensions of migration.

What I have tried to do with this book is to add to the already vibrant literature on the old and well-studied phenomenon of migration, with its several foundational and productive methodologies, a new kind of framework for analysis that I believe can contribute something new to the conversation—a new method as well as new information. My greatest hope for The Figure of the Migrant is that something in it will be useful to someone working to provide a more complete picture of migration in effort to make the lives of migrants better. That may be as a supplement to their quantitative approach, or their qualitative approach, or their activism, or all three. I have no idea, but my fingers are crossed that something will come of it.

 

 

Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: A Set of Queries (May/McWhorter)

TODD MAY is Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of the Humanities at Clemson University.  He is the author of fourteen books of philosophy, most recently A Significant Life:  Human Meaning in a Silent Universe (University of Chicago Press, 2015) and A Fragile Life:  Accepting our Vulnerability (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2016).

LADELLE MCWHORTER holds the Stephanie Bennett Smith Chair in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and is also Professor of Environmental Studies and holds an appointment in the Philosophy Department at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of Bodies and Pleasures: Foucault and the Politics of Sexual Normalization (Indiana, 1999), Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America: A Genealogy (Indiana, 2009), and more than three dozen articles on Foucault, Bataille, Irigaray, and race theory. With Gail Stenstad, she edited Heidegger and the Earth: Essays in Environmental Philosophy (Toronto 2009).

________

TODD MAY / LADELLE MCWHORTER: We just finished reading your book together as part of our reading Skype group (which has been going on for about seven years). We really enjoyed it. It’s interesting, original, and provocative. We wondered whether your approach inverted a traditional approach that grounded itself in stasis. It seemed to us that the relation between stasis and movement is not one of foundedness, but is instead more dialectical. What is static is affected by movement, and movement is affected by stasis; for example, the existence of stable state institutions will affect what kinds of movements are possible, which will be different for unstable states. Continue reading “Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: A Set of Queries (May/McWhorter)”