Theory and Philosophy

Meeting Needs

Meeting Needs

If movements’ labor produces change in society, who then produces the movement?

Political meetings rely upon social reproductive labor: washing dishes, caring for children, feeding participants. But the meeting itself also presents a reproductive challenge: how do participants sit, in what sequence do they speak, how do they address one another? The stakes of these questions are high, and can ultimately sustain or destroy us. These sorts of high stakes are why Silvia Federici lifts up movements that “place at the center of their political project the restructuring of reproduction as the crucial terrain for the transformation of social relations.” The work of reproducing movements is not only that of sharing the invisible labor that makes a meeting possible; it is also about attending to the ritual practices of meetings themselves, like speaking and listening, that foster and maintain relations of activism. This is the work of meeting needs.

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Meaning of Emancipation

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Meaning of Emancipation

He was a revolutionary, if one committed to nonviolence. But nonviolence does not exhaust his philosophy

As a theorist of inequality, King is our contemporary. But he was also a philosopher of equality, and thus of emancipation. At the core of his thought one finds the political subjectivity that the civil rights struggle was helping to engender. Important as his final year was, the radical outlines of this project are visible from 1955 to 1963, as King was drawn deeper into political activism and answered the call to engage in a political sequence that exceeded the boundaries of the existing situation.

Objective Clarity in Our Visions of Each Other

Objective Clarity in Our Visions of Each Other

On Adrian Piper

In an essay from 1988 called “The Joy of Marginality” Piper made explicit the scope and purpose of her own political and socially-critical art. “My work is an act of communication that politically catalyzes its viewers into reflecting on their own deep impulses and responses to racism and xenophobia, relative to a target or stance that I depict,” she wrote. To achieve this goal (or any goal of effecting psychological change through art), Piper thought it was essential to engage the viewer in what she called the “indexical present” of the work of art: a here-and-now created in the transaction between artist and audience. (Conversely, she expressed skepticism about the efficacy of “global political art” that attempts to educate or persuade the viewer concerning a situation represented as being external to the viewer’s own experience). In another text, “Performance: The Problematic Solution,” Piper championed the didactic and the confrontational as central aspects, or modes, of this form of artist–viewer engagement.

Ordinary Faithfulness

Ordinary Faithfulness

Stanley Cavell, 1926–2018

Philosopher Stanley Cavell, the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard, who died on June 19 at age 91, published his first book, Must We Mean What We Say?, during the strike. The book’s essays cover a broad range of subjects, from modernist music and Beckett’s Endgame to Kierkegaard and King Lear. But one area—political theory—is noticeably absent. And yet, two essays, which were composed over the course of the ’60s, speak directly to the most pressing political issues of the decade: civil rights and the war in Vietnam.

Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis

Should we be angry about Trump’s Twitter account, or the consolidation of nuclear power to a single elected position?

The diagnoses laid out here—narcissistic personality disorder, sociopathy, Alzheimer’s, Trump-as-Hitler—will not result in treatment or removal from office. They assume a rational population that needs only to have the cause laid out for them. The problem confronting America is not a dearth of facts; the problem, rather, is that most people want the benefits of a system whose logical extreme—Trump—they can’t tolerate.

I Write Because I Hate

I Write Because I Hate

William Gass, 1924–2017

It is not hard to imagine young Gass chafing at the bit that midcentury analytic philosophy had sought to place in his mouth. In interviews he sometimes compared metaphor to junk food, which is of course dangerous, but also hard to define. In a broad sense any food is junk if you eat too much of it, or at the wrong time; in a narrower sense, junk food is delicious, and can be very good for the soul.

Obscurity of Purpose, Immediacy of Experience

Obscurity of Purpose, Immediacy of Experience

On documenta 14

Obscurity of purpose; immediacy of experience; the foregrounding of a nameless parallel space, shorn of concrete social orientation: these qualities enveloped huge swathes of the exhibition. In a paradoxical turn, the greater the formal emphasis on participation, egalitarian engagement, and the banishment of hierarchy, the less political commitment, or the articulation of a clearly defined viewpoint, appeared possible. It’s a turn that has been noted before, most magisterially by Claire Bishop in Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012). One foregrounds a “symmetrical situation of the encounter of equals,” only to wind up with incoherence and a teleology of open-endedness. Social relations were skated over, as projects like Social Dissonance melded more or less anonymous participants into spontaneous collectives. Artists tacked on political motives as loose premises or ex post facto revelations, unintegrated into any aesthetic whole.