1) “The Magical Community: Toward a Broader Concept of Political Participation”
Keywords: Community, Sacrifice, Magic, Mimesis, Methexis, Jean-Luc Nancy, Marcel Mauss, Anthropological Theory
Abstract: In this article, I describe two models of community present in recent Continental Philosophy—the sacrificial and unsacrificeable—and I propose a third, the magical community. These models can and should be articulated separately because they assume non-contradictory senses of participation (methexis)—the mimetic, the fusional, the anamnetic, and the patronal. First, with regard to the sacrificial community, I outline two varieties—the mimetic beginning in Freud, and the fusional beginning in Bataille. Second, I discuss the attempts beginning with Blanchot and Nancy to think the unsacrificeable community, a model that subverts sacrificial mimesis and fusion through anamnesis. However, I argue these attempts ultimately rest in a vacuous sense of ‘singular-plural’ exposure. Third, I examine patronal methexis, a form of participation first articulated in Mauss that is visible only at the level of social facts and forces, and which describes a community bound by cultural commitments. In closing, I argue for the social fact of magic as a singular-plural site of culture to lends context to the unsacrificeable subject. I suggest the magical community can help articulate the concepts of a ‘political base’ and a ‘fan base’, while also rising to meet contemporary problems of Western ‘historiology’ and ethnographic theory.
2) “Critical Fabulation in a Minor Figure: Concepts for a History of the Present” with Lauren Guilmette, Foucault Studies (forthcoming 2022)
Keywords: Saidiya Hartman, critical fabulation, genealogy, ethics in the archive, language
Abstract: Michel Foucault’s name comes up only once in the main text of Saidiya Hartman’s 2008 essay, “Venus in Two Acts,” and once in a footnote of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (2019); yet, a critical conversation with Foucault haunts both texts, one rich with insights for the present-day legacy of Foucauldian ideas in decolonial feminist theory. Hartman describes a new way of dealing with lives whose only existence in the archive is having been touched and excluded by power. By linking Foucauldian concepts to Hartman’s thinking, the aim is not to thereby re-center his significance but to explore the ethos and methods implicit in Hartman’s concern for the ‘minor figures’ she finds in institutional archives.
3) “Figural Philosophy” with Lauren Guilmette
Keywords: Philosophical Archaeology, Philosophy of Culture, Projects, Figuration, Kant, Cassirer, Deleuze
Abstract: The notion of the figure is widely used in Continental philosophy and its adjacent fields today, but the term does not appear in our current philosophical dictionaries. In part, this has to do with its immense breadth. The aim of this essay is to begin to remedy this gap in the literature by outlining a post-Foucauldian method and an approach to developing non- or quasi-transcendental philosophical inquiries centered on the figure and figuration. For our purposes, a ‘figure’ names the outline of a persona that serves as the cipher for, or route traced through, a history that helps represent the lives and experiences of multiple real people. The process of figuration, though often unexamined, is one of the central problems of modern philosophy, having deep roots. In the first part of this essay, we trace the notion of figuration from Descartes, through Kant and Cassirer. In the second half of the essay, we demonstrate the ways figuration becomes more complex over the 20th C., but also that these developments— in Lyotard, Foucault, and Deleuze— contribute a basis for a workable research method. In the essay’s conclusion, we consider objections to the notion of a figural philosophy from de- and post-colonial theorists and philosophers of race, such as Spivak, Mbembe, Weheliye, Wynter, and Hartman. While these perspectives present challenges to the Western tradition of philosophizing through figures, we nonetheless believe figuration is an important notion to explore today—not just as an outgrowth from archaeological and genealogical methods, but also as a conceptual development for use within the philosophy of culture and other non- or quasi-transcendental projects.
4) “Without Provenance: Doing Phenomenology in the USHMM’s Photo Archives”
Abstract: Unlike personal testimonies, photographs have, according to Barthes, a more certain referent and stable existence: “I can never deny that the thing has been there.” In Marianne Hirsch’s work, this ‘there-ness’ of the photo is sufficient to explore questions of constructed postmemories, which are 2nd and 3rd generation means of maintaining a connection to places and people never directly experienced. These postmemories are problematic for the historian, insofar as one’s “connection to the past is thus actually mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation.” For well-documented archival collections, postmemory is ameliorated by the details of their provenance. Yet, what is ‘there’ for one who finds a collection of photos for which the extra details of this ‘there’ have been eviscerated by a lack of provenance—where investment, projection, and creation are the extent of our ability to grapple with the ‘there’? This paper considers the “John Howell” collection at the USHMM: an album of anti-Semitic signs taken across northern Germany in 1935. The lack of information regarding the photographer, the purpose of the photos, their preservation, and donation strongly preclude the production of anything but a ‘mere’ postmemory experience attached to them. I argue, however, that where the details of archival materials fail us, the possibility of a distinctly phenomenological and ethical engagement remains that can be taken up as a source of meaning and significance for the future.
5) “The Nazi War on Language”
Abstract: In this article, my guiding questions concern the discursive conditions for German fascism, on the one hand, and for the genocide against European Jews, on the other. How, I ask, can language be understood as a cause of both nationalism and genocide? How are these related in the case of the Third Reich, and what can we learn from this process that allows us to better understand the relationship between power and political subjectivity in general as a function of language? Underlying my analysis is the assumption that language in its various forms—as a grammatical system, as a vehicle for cultural logic, as a political tool, as the primary medium of sociality—can have profound effects upon the ‘truth’ of material reality. Far from being a mere vehicle for the presentation of facts about the world, or a mere vehicle for normative prescription about ethical aims, there is a level at which language is responsible for the very shape of social and material reality insofar as it is linked to different forms of political power—power which may become violent on the basis of its prevailing truth.