I was very pleased to participate in the conference “Critique in German Philosophy” at Depaul University in Chicago from November 9th to 11th. Click here for the program. An abstract of my paper, entitled “Making a Specter Out of Marx: The Reformist Agenda of Contemporary Critical Theory,” can be found below.
Krzysztof Bednarski, “The Ghost Is Wandering,” 2013
This paper examines the demise of Marxism in contemporary critical theory. It begins by foregrounding the central importance of Marxist critique to the early Frankfurt School, which was explicitly dedicated to mobilizing theoretical tools for social emancipation from capitalism. By marshaling and reinvigorating the reflexive strategy of the first generation of critical theorists, which consists in resituating subjects and knowledge claims in the objective social world, it explores the need for a social critique of contemporary ‘critical reason,’ and more specifically of the ways in which the second and third generations of the Frankfurt School have made a specter out of Marx. It is in this light that it examines whether the combined decrescendo of certain Marxist discourses within the academy and the ear-piercing crescendo of imperial neoliberalism has many self-proclaimed critical theorists working at counter-purposes: paying rhetorical lip service to a vague Marxian heritage while defanging its critical bite and realigning ‘critique’ on a reformist agenda within the dominant system of capitalism and corporate political rule under liberalism. The taming of critical theory in the age of neoliberal hegemony leads, in conclusion, to a broader conjunctural question: can critique be radicalized in order to shake it out of its neoliberal academic slumbers?
I will be presenting a paper, entitled “Radicalizing Critical Theory beyond the Eurocentric Lodestone of Frankfurt,” at SPEP on October 19. It will be part of a panel that I am very proud to have co-organized with Romy Opperman and Verena Erlenbusch, entitled “Decolonial Genealogies of Critical Theory.” Click here for the full program.
It was an honor and pleasure to present the keynote listed below at Loyola University Chicago’s Philosophy Graduate Conference. A special thanks to Yiran Zhang for organizing and coordinating everything.
Here is a recently posted video from the Critical Theory Workshop / Atelier de Théorie Critique 2017, in which I discuss my research on the CIA’s intellectual world war with Jennifer Ponce de León. Entitled “French Thought in Bad Company: The CIA’s Intellectual World War,” the conversation took place on July 3, 2017 at the EHESS in Paris.
An author-meets-critics session that will take place on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 from 6-8 p.m. at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia. Entitled “Radical Imaginaires,” the discussion will be based on my two most recent books: Counter-History of the Present and Interventions in Contemporary Thought.
This symposium brings together leading scholars in the fields of political theory, intellectual history, comparative literature and aesthetics to discuss two recent books by philosopher Gabriel Rockhill: Counter-History of the Present: Untimely Interrogations into Globalization, Technology, Democracy (Duke UP, 2017) and Interventions in Contemporary Thought: History, Politics, Aesthetics (Edinburgh UP, 2017 for the paperback edition). These works, whose contents are outlined below, perform a tectonic shift in the theoretical coordinates that frame our understanding of the contemporary. Cutting across multiple fields and debates, they intervene to propose both a novel form of theoretical practice and alternative conceptual models for understanding the multidimensionality of the current conjuncture as a force field of social struggle.
Counter-History of the Present dismantles the widespread belief that we are living in a
democratized and globalized era intimately connected by a single, overarching economic and technological network. Arguing that it fails to account for the experiences of billions of people around the world, Rockhill interrogates the ways this political narratology has emerged in connection with the neocolonial expansion of neoliberalism, which often seeks to mask the oppressive dynamics of global capital behind the value-concept of democracy. He thereby puts into relief the development of a technico-democratic mission that historically mirrors the role played by the civilizing mission during the grand era of colonialism. Proposing a counter-history that simultaneously counters the narratives of this imperial mission and develops a new grammar for historical and political imaginaries, the book creates space for the articulation of futures no longer engulfed in the prison of the colonial present.
Interventions in Contemporary Thought is a collection of essays that rethink the state and stakes of contemporary theory. By resituating theoretical work in a broader force field of culture and power, Rockhill develops an alternative historical model for understanding intellectual developments and proposes incisive, iconoclastic interventions into a broad array of current debates. These include a detailed dismantling of the sequential historical narrative leading from the structuralism of Foucault to Derrida’s post-structuralism; a radical critique of the political implications of the philosophy of difference; a meticulous reassessment of the force and limitations of the work of Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, and Cornelius Castoriadis; and a retrieval of architecture and public art, which have been largely excluded from certain contemporary theoretical debates on art and politics. Drawing on and developing his earlier work in Radical History & the Politics of Art, the book as a whole thereby proposes to modify the very framework for thinking the historical relation between aesthetics and politics. Continue reading
I will be participating in the Modern and Contemporary Studies Initiative at Penn State and presenting a lecture on “Knowledge/Power behind the Scenes” at their inaugural Summer Institute. Click here for the program.
Je vais présenter une conférence intitulée “Comment sortir de la prison du temps présent?” dans le cadre du colloque “Économies de l’existence” à l’École Normale Supérieur et à NYU à Paris.
I will be presenting the keynote lecture at the conference on “Resistance, Radicalisms and Aesthetics,” which has been organized by the graduate students in the Department of French and Italian at Northwestern University. Click here for the full program. An abstract of my lecture is below.
The Political Plurivocity of Aesthetics:
Equality and Empire in Whitman’s Poetic Revolution
This lecture seeks to demonstrate the political plurivocity of aesthetic practice, meaning the extent to which artistic work is the site of multiple and often conflicting political investments, be it at the level of production, circulation or reception. This plurivocity calls into question the very widespread reduction of individual artists or their works to single political positions, an approach that tends to define the task of the critic as one of drawing up binary lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ political art. In critically dismantling this univocal politics of aesthetics—as well as the unidimensional hermeneutics and the moralizing dichotomies that it favors—it is not sufficient, however, to simply point to the complexities of aesthetic practices as multifaceted social phenomena. It is necessary to develop a multidimensional analysis of these practices that is capable of providing a nuanced map of their political plurivocity, precisely in order to be able to intervene more effectively in it.
As a specific instance of this struggle, the paper turns to the work of Walt Whitman and his proposed poetic revolution in New World literature. It elucidates his provocative account—which resonates strongly with the work of figures like Schiller, Hugo and the early Marx—of aesthetic revolution as the necessary cultural supplement to a purely political revolution, explicating how art and literature compose a people by simultaneously depicting and forging its culture, norms, affects and personalities. It then situates his project in the historical nexus it calls its own, detailing Whitman’s unique contribution to the revisionist historiography of democratic theodicy, and more specifically American manifest destiny. Finally, it explores the diverse ways in which the purportedly egalitarian poet of a new world literature, at least in certain of his writings, subjected other people—particularly the enslaved and the colonized—to a brutal, imperial process of decomposition. It thereby foregrounds the multiple dimensions of politics operative in his work and the extent to which the struggle over its reception and interpretation is part and parcel of its social politicity.
The provisory program for the Critical Theory Workshop / Atelier de Théorie Critique, which is an intensive research collaborative that I run in Paris over the summer, has been set. Click here to read in full. The list of invited guests includes Marielle Macé, Patrice Maniglier, Peter Skafish, Philippe Corcuff, Sophie Wahnich, Alice Canabate, Marie Goupy, Jennifer Ponce de León, Jean-François Bayart, Andrew Feenberg, Bernard Stiegler and Özgür Gürsoy. Participants in this year’s workshop come from approximately 12 different disciplines and 15 cultural backgrounds. Click here to read their profiles.
I was very pleased to be able to present last weekend at the Anachronisms conference at NYU. For information on the program and presentations, click here.