Review of Elden’s Birth of Territories in Antipode

The review of The Birth of Territory by Phillip Campanile is here. I won’t discuss the book itself (I have long admired Stuart’s work and he was my fellow editor at Society and Space). But I do read it a bit as symptom: it labels the book “unsexy” and too ensconced in history; Campanile finds the latter both “admirable and tedious.” I take this as a symptom of a certain style in both the humanities and the social sciences: everything has to be about the wholly now, and a genealogy of the present is too historical–read “tedious.” What would one make, then, of Foucault’s lecture courses, who almost never outlines the contemporary significance of why he’s discussing over many lectures, say, early 17th century thinkers for many lectures in a row?

Often at S&S I would reject comments about papers not being “new” enough–coming from philosophy, while I agree with Stuart about historical and geographical specificity, I also think the idea that anything is wholly new under the sun, especially when declared, denies a lineage and is thus almost always naive, and hence that part of contemporary publishing (the push for the next new movement or idea) turns me quite off (it leads on the worst end to branding and the “what I like to call” syndrome). That’s why weirdly the review never engages Elden’s readings: where might he be wrong in his history? Is his claim of the import of Leibniz (my favorite part of the book, not least since as a philosopher I was clueless about this side of Leibniz’s work) correct historically? That would make for a good back and forth for readers of the book. Not to be blunt, but I guess actually checking the claims of the book would be “tedious,” though of course “admirable.”