The Black Atlantic: Notes on the Thought of Paul Gilroy

Black-Atlantic

Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, which was first published in 1993, remains remarkable for its introduction of the validity of ‘race’ as an analytical category in presenting the ‘Atlantic’ as a discrete geo-​political unit in the modern capitalist world-system.[1] The book elaborates a richly provocative critique of cultural nationalism, against which Gilroy posits black diasporic cultural and intellectual production. Gilroy’s ‘black Atlantic’ delineates a distinctively modern, cultural-​political space that is not specifically African, American, Caribbean, or British, but is, rather, a hybrid mix of all of these at once; this is evidenced via a series of compelling readings of a cohort of key modern black intellectuals and artists. Martin Delaney, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Toni Morrison, and Richard Wright, and black Atlantic music from jazz to…

Parrēsia: Notes on the Thought of Michel Foucault

Jean-Léon Gérôme - Diogenes - Walters

In the last two lecture series Foucault gave at the Collège de France in 1982 – 1984, published under the titles The Government of Self and Others and The Courage of Truth, a genealogy of the obscure concept parrēsia - “truth-​telling”(dire-​vrai) or “free-​spokeness”(franc-​parler) — is unfolded. Parrēsia was, according to Foucault, one of the core principles of Athenian democracy together with - but sharply distinguished from - isonomia and isēgoria; principles that are roughly translatable as equality before the law and the equal right to address the assembly for all citizens of Athens. Though all Athenian citizens have an equal right to speak (isēgoria), only a small elite, those who are in the foremost rank (prōton zugon) and of extraordinary personal and moral qualities, are meant to claim their right to…

Equaliberty: Notes on the Thought of Étienne Balibar

Day and Night, MC Escher, woodcut 1938

It could be asserted that the spectre of Equaliberty (Égaliberté) has haunted Étienne Balibar’s work for decades. Early connotations avant-​la-​lettre can be found in his concept of citizenship as ‘temporary equilibrium’ (Balibar 1988: 724) — a key structural condition that also underpins ‘equaliberty’. The notion itself reappears throughout the entirety of his work; the most differentiated and compiled summary of its fundamentals are to be found in Equaliberty (2014; first published in French in 2010), which contains a collection of essays responsive to the term. Equaliberty itself is more of a proposition than a concept. It hints at an aporetic condition determining the political field. Balibar’s frequently used terminological characterisation ‘portmanteau’ attests to its inherent non-​uniformity. While he traces equaliberty’s genealogical origin back to Cicero (aequa…

Why Neoliberalism’s Unregulated Global Debt System is for the Birds (and Vultures)

Jubilee vulture pic

An eerie sense of calm pervaded the bustling streets of Buenos Aires as local Porteños calmly went about their daily business. It was 31st July 2014 and the clock had just run out on the deadline for Argentina’s government to make a $539 million interest payment to the 93 percent of its bondholders which had agreed to debt restructuring in the years since the country’s 2001/​2 economic and political crisis. Back then Argentina had been forced to declare the largest sovereign default in world history, but with the latest deadline having been missed, the South American nation was now once again in ‘technical default’. Profound economic upheaval potentially lay in store. If the locals’ seemingly misplaced serenity wasn’t disturbing enough, what…

Three Questions for Hamas

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There is no doubt that Hamas has exhibited extraordinary resilience under the most difficult of conditions that have bedeviled its period of political leadership in the Gaza Strip that started in 2007. It also seems clear as persuasively argued by Sandy Tolan in a valuable Common Dreams article [Tolan, “Blown Chances in Gaza: Israel & U.S. Miss Many Chances to Avoid War, Aug. 13, 2014] that Hamas pursued multiple initiatives starting in 2006 designed to achieve calm and quiet in its relations with Israel, and that these initiatives, including back channel reassurance about peaceful intentions, were rebuffed without even being acknowledged by either Israel or the United States. It also seems the case that Israel acted to provoke the three most…

Finding the Hidden Constitution: Explaining Ireland’s Abortion Law

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On Saturday, we heard of the Irish state’s latest efforts to police its abortion law. The story has emerged from a series of High Court hearings. Reporting on the case is restricted by court order, and so facts have emerged drip by drip. On Tuesday, we heard a journalist almost in tears on Morning Ireland finally make sense of the story. A young woman, still in her teens, arrives in Ireland earlier this year. The Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act, 2013 is in the first months of its operation. She does not speak English. She has no money. She has few friends or family to call on. She has recently been raped in the country she had left to come to Ireland. During a medical assessment, presumably part…

An Island of Saints and Sadists: Abortion in Ireland

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People often ask me why I write such dark books. You’re such a sunny person, they say. I say: Look around you, what kind of a country do you think you’re living in? Here is a tale of the island of Saints and Sadists. A young woman came to our country for help, for a home, for safety. We call her an immigrant and it has become a bad word in the way that the simple trade of tinker became a bad word when I was a boy. And sometimes we call them refugees, which is even a worse word. Or fugees. At least we’re not racist about it. It applies to anyone in distress who asks us to take them in. And she had been raped in her own country and…

International Law 1914/​2014

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Looking back to mid-​1914 from mid-​2014, it is hard to see beyond the piles of bodies. History barely seems up to the task of grappling with this tumultuous interstice. Perhaps, rather than approaching this interval as a sequence of historical contexts, we might conceive of it – and our relationship to it – in terms of a welter of styles, or as a ‘storage room for costumes’ as Nietzsche suggests the ‘hybrid European’ makes of history. Now, as in the immediate aftermath of World War I, Dada seems the only way to concoct something approaching a response to that war and what we’ve done since. So, trying on hobble skirt and tunic: What among the ways international law might have been thought and done in 1914 seem to…

Civilians, Combatants, and Histories of International Law

If the only deaths worth mourning are those of children, we have become complicit with the oppression that dehumanizes their communities. Image by Israeli artist Amir Schiby in tribute to four boys killed on a beach In Gaza

In the media coverage of war, whether reports on individual incidents or the numbing tallies of casualties, the distinction between civilians and combatants is central and frequently contested. The killing of the four boys who had been playing soccer on a Gaza beach has become emblematic for Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians because the boys were clearly recognizable as children and therefore civilians. When news outlets report the death toll of the uneven conflict, they give details that bolster and yet complicate the distinction between civilians and combatants. For example, the Washington Post reports that as of July 26th, 41 Israeli soldiers and 3 Israeli civilians were killed in the recent war, whereas 129 armed Palestinian militants, 119 Palestinians with unknown roles,…

Repetition and Death in the Colony: On the Israeli Attacks on Gaza

Visit Gaza

At the moment of writing these lines, the BBC reports 100 deaths thus far in Gaza in the recent Israeli onslaught. As we have seen these scenes before, the invocation of repetition comes naturally. “Once again” is a commonly used word when it comes to death and suffering under occupation in Palestine and specifically Gaza.1 It can be a rhetorically deployed knee-​jerk reaction (as in: once again Israel is killing Palestinians; or: once again Israel has to defend itself against Palestinian attacks). It can also be deployed by a well-​meaning third party who perceives the rhetorical deployment of “once again” as a propaganda war between two parties involved in a tragic conflict. Repetition is equated with futile death. Repetition outside context But “once again” is…

Should we value academic fashions?

Davina_Cooper_Academic_Fashions-Manet

Fashions come and go, but what about academic or intellectual fashions? Are they like any other, with the same pleasures and limitations? Or should ideas be protected from the vagaries and currencies of what is current? Googling the phrase “academic fashion” produces a lot of hits — almost all address the question of what to wear. Very few tackle the problem of which academics are well aware — that ideas go in and out of popularity. “Academic fads” as a phrase gets closer to this truth, but fads are derided — their lack of staying power evidence the idea was not a committed one, not a good one. But are fashions in ideas all bad? Can anything good be said about them? The academic world I inhabit, that corner where social and…

The Infinity of the Silent Strike

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We know from Burke that it is the noise of the crowd or throng which leads to the expe­ri­ence of the sub­lime. The cacoph­ony of the many, gath­ered in their dis­charged state, draws us like a mag­net. But the crowd in strike has a num­ber of very dif­fer­ent dynam­ics to our open, closed and occu­pa­tion crowds. Let us begin with this ques­tion of the crowd’s noise. The brief spell of rev­o­lu­tion­ary Syn­di­cal­ism in France between 1886 and 1914 pro­vides a use­ful start­ing point for think­ing about the func­tion of noise and silence.1Canetti begins this: Within the actual strike it is essen­tial that every­one should abide by the under­tak­ing not to work. Spon­ta­neously from within the crowd itself there springs up an orga­ni­za­tion with…

Civilisation & the Savage Crowd

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Any­one famil­iar with ‘crowd the­ory’ will have been told repeat­edly that Gus­tave Le Bon is an ori­gin. This asser­tion is quickly masked by obfus­ca­tion. He is not a first, of course, pre­ceded by the his­to­rian Taine and the early crim­i­nol­o­gists Lom­broso and Sighele. But Le Bon is the one who draws these dis­persed though influ­en­tial works together into a tra­di­tion or a the­ory. He con­sti­tutes an iden­tity of crowd psy­chol­ogy, crowd the­ory or even social psy­chol­ogy. Le Bon was a pop­u­lar­izer and a syn­the­sizer, rejected by the aca­d­e­mic and sci­en­tific estab­lish­ment, he writes for pop­u­lar audi­ences. And with The Crowd he cer­tainly finds one. In a sense, Le Bon per­fectly instan­ti­ates the para­dox of ori­gins. They do not begin any­thing but are still the begin­ning. Le Bon is not the start of…

The Open Crowd & The Kettle

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Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power pro­vides a use­ful start­ing point for this project. In it, he iden­ti­fies a wide num­ber of dif­fer­ent crowds. They are deter­mined by the tem­po­ral­ity of their aims, the space in which they man­i­fest them­selves, the ori­en­ta­tion of their activ­ity, the man­ner in which their togeth­er­ness is con­ceived. In fact, the axes of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion mul­ti­ply to such an extent that what ini­tially began as a sim­ple tax­on­omy, frac­tures and mul­ti­plies to reveal crowds as always too com­plex and con­tra­dic­tory to explain or under­stand in their total­ity. As a begin­ning, then, Canetti under­lines pre­cisely the mul­ti­plic­ity of the crowd. Despite this mul­ti­plic­ity, let me focus on two types of crowds, in Canetti’s eyes. The open crowd is ‘open’ in the sense that it is…

About ‘Crowded Sovereignty’

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The crowd is not a technology or a subject of sovereignty. It is neither the ‘agent’ who could take, create or destroy sovereignty; nor a ‘means’ for others to become sovereign. The crowd is remarkable because of its prevalence and excision. It is often there in those paradigmatic moments of sovereignty, but generally maligned and denigrated. This site is designed to investigate the intuition that today the crowd presents a distinct way of thinking. Unlike the nation, people or proletariat, the crowd has remained something to be reviled, and as such it remains unburdened by the weight of idealisation. The crowd is crucial, but not in its rationality, its wisdom or its possibilities to provide capital efficiently. As Freud or Canetti saw clearly,…

The Prospect of Harmony and the Decolonial View of the World: Weihua He Interviews Walter Mignolo

Knowledge is always situated. As a young scholar from China working on western theories, I always felt frustrated with the eurocentrism embedded within them. The frustration comes first because they are not addressing the problems lingering in my mind; and second at the moment I realized that I had the wrong expectations: why should theories developed to deal with European issues and problems address issues and problems in China? During my yearlong stay at Duke University as a visiting graduate student from 2008 to 2009, I attended Professor Walter Mignolo’s seminar. Participating in class discussion, talking with Professor Mignolo, reading the materials assigned, and delivering class presentations with other students, I was ushered into the exciting world of decolonial thinking. It offered to me a totally new perspective…

Politics in Times of Anxiety

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Politics in Times of Anxiety springs from the 9/​11 attacks, when public safety and security turned into a central concern across the globe. The subsequent economic crisis that broke out in 2008 in the USA and its gradual spread across Europe initiated a protracted period of global slump and distressed views of political representation to be found in the Occupy movement, for example, the Indignados, or, more recently, uprisings in Greece, Turkey, and Brazil, to name but a few. In these instances, fear about environmental sustainability, economic stability, or social exclusion has permeated the public discourses, creating a strong narrative of an immanent threat or uncertainty about the future. These expressions of uncertainty and dissatisfaction are more than mere signs of insecurity. They are also attempts…

The Past and Future of the Legal Left: Celebrating Duncan Kennedy’s Scholarship

Duncan Kennedy

Below you can watch the conference on ‘The Past and Future of the Legal Left: Celebrating Duncan Kennedy’s Scholarship’ which was held at SOAS, University of London on 22 May 2014. This conference honoured Professor Duncan Kennedy, one of the most influential legal theorists and left critics of our time. After teaching for more than four decades at Harvard Law School, Professor Kennedy announced his intention to retire. Kennedy’s brilliant contributions have challenged our thinking on law and its role in society. He never shied away from controversy and engaged in a variety of academic and political debates. Admirably, he was able to commit simultaneously to both an intellectual critique and left-​wing politics, without the political stifling critique or the latter undermining…

Language: Notes on the Thought of Luce Irigaray

I is marked sexually

Luce Irigaray’s critique of masculine language systems follows logically from her broader critique of history and culture first elaborated 40 years ago in Speculum.1 Irigaray’s thinking on language is so complex and informed by so many difficult methodological frameworks, when approaching it for the first time I think it helps to look at her corpus chronologically. In her vast critique of language systems, Irigaray argues that systems of parole, discourse and logic rather than being universal and neutral are set up and maintained to serve male interests. Irigaray’s psychoanalytic reading of language is informed primarily by her insight that through a process of specularisation man projects his own ego on to the world which is then reflected back to him with his own image. Woman, as…