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Monthly Archives: January 2015

In 2015-16 I will be a Faculty Research Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto. Released from all teaching and administrative duties, I will have the opportunity to devote the year to further research for one of my two current research projects on “the collective afterlife of things.” Here’s a brief description of the project.

Based upon the conjecture of the “collective afterlife” recently put forth by the philosopher Samuel Scheffler (Death and the Afterlife), in which he argues that our ability to lead value-laden lives is more dependent upon our confidence in the long-term survival or afterlife of humanity, than our concern with our own survival of death or that of our friends and loved ones, my project asks: what do things tell us about societies and the social dimension of valuing things as mattering, not only based upon their histories, but upon their futures? In other words, their collective afterlives. Based upon this “futurity thesis” of ethical decision, action and responsibility, my project is further motivated by the following question: in what ways are aesthetic forms and experiences, including art as a thing that matters, both in terms of artistic practice and as artistic object/work/thing dependent upon a shared confidence in the future survival of humanity? I explore these questions, by extending and developing upon work that I have recently published in my book The Decision Between Us, on forms of inoperative aesthetic praxis that consist in collectively partaking in the decision to participate in the withdrawal, retreat, and disappearance of the work of art, including in the work’s material manifestation and configuration of things. Out of this I have developed the notion of the already-unmade, as the deconstruction of Duchamp’s readymade work of art. With this current project, I want to identify and examine a number of artistic, literary, and filmic examples, beyond those that I focused on in my recently published work.

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An emphasis on the “interpersonal” and interactive in contemporary art is often considered a riposte to what Bourriaud has termed “imposed” or institutionalized social relations. Ricco’s close investigation of the non-relational aspects of relationality—the manner in which we do not come together—is, therefore, a crucial intervention into the aesthetic and ethical impasse that is ever-present in discussions of art after the participatory turn…In substituting the act of decision for a more common art historical/critical activity like “evaluation,” Ricco shows that the promise of a truly relational practice lies in maintaining a shared space that we do not stand apart from or in judgment of.

From: Christa Noel Robbins, “Together Apart,” Art in America, January 2014.

I am re-reading some of Maurice Blanchot’s essays on Marx, Marxism and communism; partly prompted by Derrida’s own reading of these texts in Specters of Marx, but also as part of my ongoing thinking about the work of Georges Bataille and the forms of sociality and being-together that find their structure in what I refer to as “the intimacy of the outside.”

At the very end of “Slow Obsequies” (Friendship), Blanchot’s review essay of Henri Lefebvre’s La Somme et la reste (1959), M.B. says something about “measurelessness” that immediately brought me back to a blog post of mine from last summer, around the question of fraternity in and for Derrida and Nancy, prompted by my engaging with some recent work by my friend Philip Armstrong. Specifically, my having taken issue with Derrida’s inability (in his book Rogues) to understand how Nancy can argue that the incommensurable is the only measure that we share in common.

For Blanchot, philosophy’s claim of the end, including the end of philosophy (as by Lefebvre, but so many others in France in the 1950s), is always a claim for a measureless end. As he goes on to say, it is through this claim that philosophy reintroduces “the exigency in it for a new measure beyond all measure. In this way, measurelessness [his emphasis] would be the last word of a philosophy ready to be silent but still continuing to say to us: Measurelessness is the measure of all philosophical wisdom.”

What is all the more remarkable however, is that as I might want to rush back with this in order to further indict Derrida, Blanchot’s very last sentence, quoted above, carries a footnote which reads: “It must be said here, even in a very brief note, that in his writings Jacques Derrida poses the question of the ‘end of philosophy’ in a new—different (posing it without exposing it)—way.” This in and around 1959!

Derrida was of course completely aware of this text, especially at the time that he was writing about Nancy in Rogues (2003), a book that follows Specters by ten years (1993). So it is curious that Derrida does not draw upon this passage from Blanchot on the measureless, when he grapples with this concept in his reading of—and friendship with–Nancy. Is the measureless what Derrida will refer to (in Specters) as the “undeconstructible”? And as I tried to suggest awhile back, is Nancy’s assertion of this measurelessness (or incommensurabilty) as that which we share in common, the way in which we might say that he deconstructs deconstruction AND radically re-thinks friendship?For as Blanchot asserts in the quoted passage above, measurelessness is the measure of all philosophical wisdom, but it may also be the wisdom that is experienced as friendship.

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