Month: April 2018

Life: A Modern Invention, Reviewed at NDPR

Davide Tarizzo’s Life: A Modern Invention, tr. Mark William Epstein (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), is reviewed by Charles T. Wolfe (Ghent U.). The review marks out only “minor quibbles” and jumps, like the book, across so many figures as to lose any thread on what is meant by the “invention” of “life” (presumably one that is non-teleological). One would think this was more than a “minor quibble” below in the italicized sentence:

That Tarizzo thinks Darwin and Darwinism lead to Hitlerism is clear enough: “Darwinism, i.e., the theory of natural selection, is racist and discriminatory, as facts have demonstrated many times and unfortunately continue to demonstrate” (194). Why this is the case is a bit trickier to make out from his book [my emphasis]. Most basically, both raise life to the status of an ultimate value. But then, we (we moderns, we people of today, whoever the ‘we’ is) are just as bad! Indeed, “Worse still, we are the last racists, because we already embody the future, we embody human beings to come, we embody the eschatological Race that by definition and on principle cannot be followed by any other” (213).



Adorno’s Lectures on Aesthetics Reviewed

Culled from recordings in 1958/9 and published in German in 2009, the lectures (Polity: 2018) are reviewed by Lydia Goehr (Columbia University) in NDPR. Goehr notes:

[The lectures on aesthetics] are indispensable because they show the workings of aesthetic theory in philosophy more generally, when, whatever the topic, philosophy shows itself willing to submit to its own immanent critique against its positivistic tendency to discipline its thought through too pure an engagement of logic or reason. To discipline thought, for Adorno, is to erase what cannot be contained by the logic of achieved concepts: the mimetic trace or aesthetic movement that sustains the ongoing and open labor of thinking. When this movement is excluded, concepts tend to become closed off from all that gives thought its particularity, contingency, and historicity, even, we are told, its expressivity and life. He writes of the closure as a pyrrhic victory: the concepts seem clarified but dialectically they only affirm the tendencies toward complacency, rigidity, and regression in the society at large.

La fin de l’hospitalité reviewed in Critical Inquiry

Authored by Guillaume Le Blanc and Fabienne Brugère, La fin de l’hospitalité: Lampedusa, Lesbos, Calais . . . jusqu’où irons-nous? (Paris: Flammarion, 2017) and reviewed by Corina Stan. Here’s part of the take:

La fin de l’hospitalité was a prompt response to the mismanagement of the refugee crisis in 2015–2016 in Europe: the surveillance of the Mediterranean, the reinforcement of frontiers, the building of walls, camps, and centers where refugees were categorized, their life projects changed, their immigration plans directed elsewhere. These measures, Le Blanc and Brugère note, have made relevant again Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the denationalization of refugees in World War II; they also support Giorgio Agamben’s analyses of the camp as “the new biopolitical nomos of the planet” (p. 120). And the transformation of “hot spots” for migrants into centers of detention—places where the distinction between economic migrant and political refugee is operated—gives renewed significance, the authors show, to Michel Foucault’s hypothesis of the “carceral archipelago” in Discipline and Punish.[2] Europe no longer appears to heed old norms of hospitality that ensured that the foreigner from afar was received as the guest of an entire community; today he is turned away as a stranger who must be made invisible behind walls. Ironically, the authors note, nothing signals more explicitly the failure of the nation-state than the building of walls. “The migrant’s body becomes the expulsed threshold of the nation,” Brugère and Le Blanc write (p. 142), echoing psychoanalyst André Green’s reflection that “one can be a citizen or a stateless person, but it is very difficult to imagine oneself as a frontier.”[3]

An Interview with Paul Gilroy

I once had the privilege of putting together a panel on his work and haven’t kept up the last couple of years except for articles here and there, so this was a pleasant interview to come across, from the Johannesburg Review of Books. Here he discusses his relationship to the Struggle in South Africa, his worries about U.S.-style reifications of race, and so on. He affirms his long-held view that racism should be viewed less as an abstract structure than as local, complex practices that need to be studied in their specific “ecologies.” He notes, for example, that in South Africa, that race may be less of a question than relations to land:

 I consider myself a pelagic thinker—a humble practitioner of theory at sea-level. It’s probably banal to say that the issue of land is fundamental here [in South Africa] as it is in all of the world’s (slowly recovering) colonial nomoi. Only a transformed relation to the land can restore the evasive quality of dignity to your democracy. However, foregrounding the question of race will not assist you in that ambition. That can only lead to the reification and ontologisation of race in line with US habits and priorities that are now disseminated and enforced online. On the other hand, foregrounding the question of racism might release other more useful possibilities and potentials. Here, I will sound like a dinosaur to those who prefer to trade in concepts like ‘antiblackness’. I dislike that US rhetoric because it dissolves, in an instant, all the sticky engagements with particular histories and local ecologies of belonging. We fought for decades to place the focus upon how racism assembles racial actors in over-determined circumstances, situations that needed to be grasped in their complex particularity and then accounted for at a different level of abstraction as structural phenomena. I am not ready to see all of that flushed away because it demands a few trips to the dusty old library. This lazy, flattening jargon about black and brown bodies drives me nuts.