The journal Konturen has just published a special issue on “Writing Migration,” which looks wonderful. You can read it free online here. I have an article in the issue as well. Thank you to Jeffrey Librett for organizing and editing this!
Konturen, Vol 11 (2020)
This issue edited by Jeffrey S. Librett with Ahmad Nadalizadeh as assistant editor.
“Writing migration”: our title comprises a mixture of heterogeneous terms, like a mixed metaphor, insofar as movement of peoples seems so concrete, as movement of living, breathing subjective spirits, while writing remains abstract; the former so alive, the latter—the letter–so dead. Or so we usually think, even without having to think it. We know that migration experiences can be written down, but we think of the migration and the writing as two fundamentally different types of experiences, two quite different types of thing. Our point of departure in the organization of this special issue was—in contrast to these overly simple conventions—a curiosity about the ways in which the two structurally intersect: writing migrates, and migration writes.
Here is a video of my keynote lecture “Moving Borders” from B/Ordering Cultures. B/ORDERING CULTURES: EVERYDAY LIFE, POLITICS, AESTHETICS 6th Annual Conference of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Gesellschaft, e.V. European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) 8 — 10 October 2020. Thanks to Maria Klessmann and the others who invited me and helped organize the event and edit the video.
We need a new philosophy of the earth. Geological time used to refer to slow and gradual processes, but today we are watching land sink into the sea and forests transform into deserts. We can even see the creation of new geological strata made of plastic, chicken bones, and other waste that could remain in the fossil record for millennia or longer. Crafting a philosophy of geology that rewrites natural and human history from the broader perspective of movement, Thomas Nail provides a new materialist, kinetic ethics of the earth that speaks to this moment.
Climate change and other ecological disruptions challenge us to reconsider the deep history of minerals, atmosphere, plants, and animals and to take a more process-oriented perspective that sees humanity as part of the larger cosmic and terrestrial drama of mobility and flow. Building on his earlier work on the philosophy of movement, Nail argues that we should shift our biocentric emphasis from conservation to expenditure, flux, and planetary diversity. Theory of the Earth urges us to rethink our ethical relationship to one another, the planet, and the cosmos at large.
No Borders Post Nationalism at ArtsLink Assembly on Thursday 5 November 2020. Here are two events from the recent ArtsLink Assembly. the first is a conversation with Nandita Sharma about her excellent book Home Rule and the second is a panel and discussion on no borders with Alex Sager. Thanks to everyone who organized and participated in this event.
K. proposes an issue dedicated to the figure and thought of Titus Lucretius Carus because thinking about nature appears to be an urgent philosophical and political task. To this end, it is undoubtedly compelling to recreate a genealogy capable of showing that it has never existed a perfect and uncorrupted nature which an ecological thought and practice could restore. It may be possible, instead, that nature has never existed except as an event of encounters between materials, bodies, thoughts. In order to safeguard that type of event, it is necessary to work on keeping open the chance of the event itself.
By choosing Lucretius as the core of our next issue, we would like to discuss the possibility that a physics, i.e. an investigation of the “nature of things”, does exist. Dating back to Democritus, Epicurus and then Lucretius, this type of investigation should contrast (both in the past and in the future) the “myth” of nature as a place of individual and collective reconciliation; as a space for the domestication of conflicts and of our human fears; the same fears that relegate us to the hands of power, to any form of power.
By narrating the history of humanity, Lucretius specifies that the disaster that man has reached (the plague description at the end of De rerum natura is a plastic image of this disaster) does not derive from his customs and traditions, from his inventions and from industriousness, but, as argued by Gilles Deleuze, from that side of the myth and from that evil infinity that has slipped into his feelings and his works.
Lucretian physics embodies a philosophy of affirmation because it clashes with the prestige of the negative, it destitutes every power of the negative, denies the spirit of the negative the right of speaking in the name of philosophy. In our opinion, ecology today needs this physics, i.e. this work of deconstructing myths, ecology does not need a generic naturalism. In this perspective, as Lucretius identifies and fights the myths of his time (“in crescendo during his age”, to quote Leopardi), for us it is a matter of identifying the myths of our age and oppose them through a physics, or, if you like, an ecology.
In his beautiful, dramatic, late writings, Louis Althusser warns us on this. Materialism, or rather: this “underground current of the materialism of the encounter”, the French philosopher writes about and of which Lucretius is one of the most significant expressions, has nothing to do with the rationalist tradition. That is, it does not seek any Reason, any Cause, any Sense of events because it knows that everything derives from a rain of atoms that occasionally deviate from their parallels to create and destroy worlds. The acclaimed “clinamen” operates in the infinite void. For us, trying to define a destituent position in the field of political gestures and critical thinking, it will be particularly interesting to discuss a philosophy of emptiness, through Lucretius. The vacuum, is indeed already there, even before the fall of the atoms. It can thus be argued, without any doubt, that Lucretian materialism originates from nothing, and from an infinitesimal and aleatory variation of nothing which is the deviation of the fall. Is there an equally powerful dismissal of the claim of philosophy to tell the truth?
We know that Epicureanism means to found an ethics on the physics. It is therefore legitimate to ask ourselves how it is possible to found a speculative reflection around the practical behaviour of man, especially when searching for the true good right here in the world, around the nothing, in an infinite empty space, under an endless rain of atoms. The hypothesis that we would like to put forward in this issue is the following: if physics, this materialist philosophy of Lucretius, presents itself as an investigation into nothingness, that is, if it destitutes every truth, every idea of the world, every sense of things, the ethics deriving from it is necessarily an ethics of liberation even from the idea of any ethics. In other words, Roman Epicureanism, unlike the Greek one, in the context of the crisis of the first century B.C. is presented as a conceptual backlash endowed with a strong revolutionary charge, with great dissolving faculties.
Can a kind of thought that intends to change the conditions of individual existence also become a “destituent power”? Does the destitution of the world by a philosophy of emptiness succeed in prefiguring a political rupture and innovation, what we define as a “destituent power”?
Our next issue on Lucretius may revolve around one of the following issues:
1) Lucretius is a thinker of the things of nature and of the catastrophe of history. We would like to verify if this way of seeing the world contributes to defining a toolbox for an unprecedented ecological thought.
2) In the infinite universe, things are born all the time and they end. Nature is an infinite sum whose elements do not add up to become a whole, they always remain singular beings. Nature is thus an affirmation of the multiple and of the different as a perpetual source of joy. The power of pluralism that we find in Lucretius’ work seems to be particularly productive in the field of the arts: in the visual arts (from the Renaissance to Enrico Baj), in literature (from Alberti and Montaigne to Leopardi, Calvino, Ponge), in theatre (Jean François Peyret, Maguy Marin, Virgilio Sieni, Calixto Bieito), in cinema (Malick, Godard, Straub).
3) If the universe is multiple and different, the writing of this universe must be equally varied, contemplating the possibility of the explosion of discourse and its codes. There is a common thread that links the formal choices of literary composition and the framework of a new cosmological model in Lucretius. Writing must not mimic reality, when Lucretius complains about the poverty of Latin compared to the original Greek, he is not trying to adapt words to things. Rather, the poet prefers creating an infinite game of combinations and intersections between words, whose purpose is not to repeat the rhythm of reality, but to recreate it. It is above all in the use of a new genre compared to the Epicurean tradition that Lucretius reveals his genius. It is poetry that allows him to re-make the world. Going back to the preplatonic tradition, Lucretius invents an everlasting model in the relationship between knowledge of the world and its story (Giordano Bruno, Leopardi, Calvino, Gadda).
4) Thinking about emptiness. In the wake of the late Althusser, we would like to question the materialist tradition starting from the dismissal of the object of the philosophy that it operates. Philosophy, with Epicurus, with Lucretius, is no longer the enunciation of Reason and the Origin of things, but the theory of their contingency. Starting from ancient materialism, we would like to trace the map of those thoughts, those gestures (political and aesthetic too) that dared to start from nothing, from nothingness, from emptiness. Studying Lucretius could allow to interrogate the modern political ontology in a different way, by tracing a path that could have a crucial epicenter in Nietzsche – a great reader of Lucretius – since the Nietzschean instance of the super-man (that is, those who make their impotence-groundlessness the reason for their actions-decisions, deciding for necessity and therefore breaking its implacability) moves precisely in the direction of Lucretius’ vision of the void conceived as an indeterminable chain of events.
5) The “destitutent power” can be a possible outcome of the philosophy of emptiness. An emancipatory ethic takes shape without problems for the followers of ancient materialism. From this perspective, the question of friendship, decisive in Epicureanism and other Hellenistic philosophical currents, can be studied. Perhaps it is also possible to move a further step. In other words, it will be necessary to verify whether this philosophy of emptiness is also capable of creating a new course for common life, that is, if it allows us to prefigure new institutions, if it is, in short, also a form of “destituent power”.
Deadline for submission of abstract: 7th December 2020 (max 2,500 characters)
Please specify if the abstract is for the “essays” or “readings” section.
Please send abstract to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline for submission of papers: 11th April 2021.
Proposals may be submitted in English, Italian and French.
Karl Marx is the most historically foundational and systematic critic of capitalism to date, and the years since the 2008 financial crisis have witnessed a rebirth of his popular appeal. In a world of rising income inequality, right-wing nationalisms, and global climate change, people are again looking to the father of modern socialism for answers.
As this book argues, every era since Marx’s death has reinvented him to fit its needs. There is not one Marx forever and for all time. There are a thousand Marxes. As Thomas Nail contends, one of the most significant contributions of Marx’s work is that it treats theory itself as a historical practice. Reading Marx is not just an interpretative activity, but a creative one. As our historical conditions change, so do the kinds of questions we pose and the kinds of answers we find in Marx’s writing.