Monthly Archives: July 2015

Book Cover

I am so pleased to be included in this big, new beautiful book on the work of the Berlin-based architecture firm J. Mayer H. und partners.

My essay focuses on Metropol Parasol, the redevelopment of the Plaza de la Encarnación in Seville, Spain, as a public space of political contestation, occupation, and social gathering, including its articulations between city and countryside, urban and rural. Here is the concluding paragraph:

While claiming the status of being one of the largest wooden structures in the world, Metropol Parasol is not a built structure—an architecture—with the aspiration to unify, totalize, and wholly encompass some image of the world, as in Noah’s Ark. Which is also to say that it might be understood less in terms of mega-structures [which since the inception of this aspiring word in the early-1960s has been primarily about size], and more as something gigantic [which is about scale]. And as Susan Stewart illustrated years ago in her beautiful meditation, the gigantic is our scaled measure to landscape. By making gigantic mushrooms [parasols, setas, parásitos] grow in the middle of the city, and thereby creating a place irreducible to any notion of context, and uncontainable by any single structure [mega or otherwise] Metropol Parasol offers a sense of what it means to occupy the world. The political-ethical task is nothing less than that gigantic.

Published in: Art in the Anthropocene, edited by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin (Open Humanities Press, 2015). The entire interview (included all references and notes), along with the rest of the 400+ page book, can be read and downloaded here: Art in the Anthropocene

In a recent article in The New York Times titled “Learning How to Die in the
Anthropocene,” Roy Scranton argues that the current geological, technological,
and climatic global situation has shifted the classic philosophical problem
from how to die as individuals to how to die as a civilization. Scranton
served in the United States Army from 2002 to 2006 and was stationed
in Iraq following the US invasion in 2003. A couple of years later, when
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Scranton realized that he was witnessing
“the same chaos and urban collapse I’d seen in Baghdad, the same failure of
planning and the same tide of anarchy.” It is precisely this inextricable interdependence—
and therefore the always potentially catastrophic destructive
effects—of the natural and technological that Jean-Luc Nancy refers to as
“eco-technology.” For, as Nancy is keen to remind us, “nature always contains
and offers the prime matter for technology, whereas technology alters, transforms,
and converts natural resources towards its own ends.” With “this
eco-technology that our ecologies and economies have already become,”
we are confronted with the geopolitical logic of globalization today. What is
new about the eco-technical logic currently operating is that the reciprocal
relations between the economic and ecological wed technology and nihilism
at an unprecedented worldwide scale, one that may prove to encompass the
human species. But proof for whom in that case?

As Nancy goes on to argue, “whereas until now one used to describe ends
(values, ideals, and senses) as being destitute, today ends are multiplying
indefinitely at the same time as they are showing themselves more and more
to be substitutable and of equal value.” It is based upon this understanding
of the equivalency of ends constructed by the eco-technical, that Nancy has
provided ways in which to think about the connections between the Iraq invasion
and Hurricane Katrina as at once military, geopolitical, technological,
natural catastrophes, and environmental disasters. Which is not to cast them
as equivalent catastrophes, but rather to understand them as events entirely
caught up in the catastrophic logic of general equivalence in which every
moment has become economized, as every single thing has been monetized.
In response to this, Nancy has put forth the notion of the “condition of an
ever-renewed present,” which he goes on to define as “not an immobile present
but a present within historical mobility, a living sense of each moment,
each life, each hic et nunc [here and now]. A sense that is characterized by
exposure to its own infinity, to its incompleteness”—and thus, we might add,
to its in-equivalence to every other moment and thing.

So perhaps it is not only a matter, as Roy Scranton argues, of learning to see
each day as the death of what came before, but in doing so, of seeing that
day as the birth of the present in and as its own—ever-renewed—finitude.

Meaning: no longer the projection of a future or as part of the project of
future ends. Instead, as Nancy has recently argued, “what would be decisive,
then, would be to think in the present and to think the present.” That is,
of the present not as absolute and final presence, but as appearing near,
proximate, close to, and in rapport with. As he goes on to explain, if one
wants to speak of “end” it is necessary to say that the present has its end in
itself, in both senses of goal and cessation. The finitude of each singularity
is thus incommensurable to every other, and therein exists the equality of
all singularities—their in-equivalence. It is in this way that Nancy calls for
an adoration of—or esteem for—the inestimable singularity of living beings
and things, and the equality that lies in their in-equivalence to any general
schema, measure, principle, or horizon. This is a matter of attending to the
inestimable worth of things as opposed to the appropriation of each and
every priceless experience. Therefore Nancy closes his recent book After
Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes, with the following claim: “To
demand equality for tomorrow is first of all to assert it today, and by the
same gesture to reject the catastrophic equivalence. It is to assert common
equality, common incommensurability: a communism of nonequivalence.”
For Nancy, the proliferation of so many common ordinary things today is
not only the obvious evidence of capitalist production and accumulation,
but also the fact that (as quoted above) “ends are multiplying indefinitely,”
and precisely for this reason offer “more and more motives and reasons to
discern what is incomparable and nonequivalent among ‘us.’”

Therefore, as Maurice Blanchot contended in 1959, when philosophy lays
claim to its end “it is to a measureless end,” such that “measurelessness is the
measure of all philosophical wisdom,” so too in our reading and engagement
with the work of Jean-Luc Nancy today do we come to realize that when
philosophy (or more modestly, thought) confronts the prospect of the end
of humanity, that the incommensurable remains the measure of eco-technical
wisdom. Furthermore, given the ways in which Nancy has enabled us to
understand art as “the privileged domain for an interrogation of finality,”
aesthetic praxis is one of the principle means by which we confront the
problematic of ends. It is in this way that his comments below will prove
indispensible to ongoing considerations of the interconnections between
art, aesthetics, politics, and environments in what has come to be called the

Based upon my reading of Nancy on art, technique, and aesthetic praxis, we can enumerate the following (non-exhaustive) list of tenets:

  1. If there is something, then there is always more than one thing. This is the affirmation of the plurality of worlds.
  2. Place, relation and thing (the political, ethical and aesthetic) are not pre-given and readymade, but are always already-unmade.  Duchamp understood this, precisely in his “invention” of the readymade and its presentation of the oscillation and sustained undecidability between work, work of art, the inoperative, and the ordinary everyday object.
  3. In this sense, art’s work is not reducible to the aesthetic object or work of art as the result of a process of production (poiesis), but instead is a praxis, technique, gesture and decision.
  4. Distinctions are blurred between the organic and inorganic, the animate and inanimate, such that one does not know where the stone ends and the sculpture begins. This is exactly opposite to any notion of medium-specificity.
  5. Aesthetics is always relational and therefore the notion of “relational aesthetics” is either a pleonasm (and) or an idea that leaves unexamined both “aesthetics,” and the “relational.”
  6. The partaking in the sensuous sense of the intimate exteriority between places and things is neither incorporeal nor embodied, but happens right at and along the edges of bodies. As Nancy underlined in a recent lecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris: all body is “body art.”
  7. Which, finally, means that  to the axes of the political, the ethical and the aesthetic in our formula, we must also always include the erotic: logos + eros (including but not limited to sex and sexuality) or more broadly, otium (ease or pleasure). This also underscores the importance of pleasure in our thinking of the poltiical-ethical-aesthetic, especially if we think of otium (ease or pleasure) as that which is closely aligned with that other comportment, namely negotium (engagement with the world, primarily in the mode of work). While in ancient rhetoric and ethics, these two terms structured an oppositional dichotomy—which can be perceived in the latter: neg-otium, literally the negation or no to leisure and that which is merely for pleasure—I think they can also point to the non-oppositional connection between pleasure and the ethical. In the sense that forms of praxis as care and transformation of the self (otium) are always to be measured in terms of that self’s relation (negotiation) with others in the world. As in conversation and dialogue, within a republic of letters, in which language and literature are common things—res communes. It is from this that such notions as civil society and the citizen, are derived, with an emphasis on the very places where conversation can take place. What Nancy has referred to as “the commerce of thinking.”

This is the video of the symposium organized around the book launch of Nancy and the Political, edited by Sanja Dejanovic (Edinburgh University Press), held at Beit Zatoun, Toronto, on July 11, 2015. It features presentations by Dejanovic, Marie-Eve Morin, and me on our respective contributions to the volume, as well as a presentation by, and discussion with Jean-Luc Nancy, who was present via video link.

Edinburgh University Press, 2015.

Edinburgh University Press, 2015.

Here are some prefatory remarks along with a schematic outline of the three-part configuration of the political, ethical and aesthetic that I think we derive from our reading of Nancy.

The work of Jean-Luc Nancy has always been driven by the question of community; that is, of the commune, the common and common things. Common things in the sense of res communes: precisely those things that are not “things” (res) in the reified sense, and thus things that cannot be appropriated, sacrificed, but that can only be either destroyed or shared. For example: atmosphere, the spacing of the “with,” friendship, and son. Each of these, along with language (logos) is a figure of the outside, and like the others, language is only ever the sharing of voices (of words, letters, speech). Nancy’s thinking, like that of other ethical philosophers, is driven by the question: what kind of life do we want to create and partake in together? In which partaking is understood as the praxis (doing, acting) of shared-separation (Fr. partager), such that the self-with-others exposed to the Outside, are transformed together in the mutual heterogeneity that is co-existence. Again, this praxis of partaking is the sharing not in things per se, but in separation “itself,” meaning, that spacing outside and between any two more more bodies, places, and things. In our invocation of the commune, the common and common things, we might hear the sense of res communes as being at once political, ethical and aesthetic. If so, the question then arises how, in our reading of Nancy, we can begin to outline a formulation for this tripartite configuration of the sense of co-existence.
Relatively recently in his book, The Truth of Democracy, Nancy theorizes the rapport between these three spheres or axises in terms of “the condition of nonequivalent affirmation.” Meaning, I think, that in their mutual affirmation of each, none of these is equivalent to any other, but instead remains incommensurable. So for instance in the opening lines of the chapter “A Space Formed for the Infinite,” he writes:
The condition of nonequivalent affirmation is political inasmuch as politics prepares the space for it. But the affirmation itself is not political. It can be almost anything you like—existential, artistic, literary, dreamy, amorous, scientific, thoughtful, leisurely, playful, friendly gastronomic, urban and so on: politics subsumes none of these registers; it only give them their space and possibility.

In my article for the recently published collection, Nancy and the Political (Edinburgh University Press, 2015), titled, “The Separated Gesture: Partaking in the Inoperative Praxis of the Already-Unmade,” I tried to outline the formulation of this configuration. In the most schematic of ways, but deliberately for the purposes of enabling an initial observation and understanding of their alignment, here is what I take to be Nancy’s thinking about the connections between the political, the ethical and the aesthetic.

Political: logos + polis (outside of politics in the conventional sense of the term) > space or better, form-of-place (locus) of the in-common, of being-together, and toward.
  • The political is access and opening, it is about making room.
  • The political is the retreating of signification, figuration, identification, substantiality, ground, and totality.
  • City/Polis/ res publica (public thing; republic).
Ethical: logos + ethos (outside of ethics) > form-of-life. Stance or disposition in relation to and in rapport with the decision to share in the praxis of sustaining this spacing of separation amongst and between bodies, things and places (that is, sense, of co-existence).
  • The ethical is a qualitative relational bond, non-codified and informal ties and decisions between us (actual proximities, friendship, rapport with the anonymous other,  the passerby, the stranger, the commerce of anonymity).
  • Peri-performative (i.e. dis-enclosed) scenes (not ethos as securitized oikos, dwelling or abode—as in the Heideggerean sense).
Aesthetic: logos + aisthesis (outside of aesthetics) > form-of-sense. Gestures and techniques, forces and forms, configurations of sense, and sensuous conjurations of partes extra partes (the part that is not part of the whole). In an upcoming post, I will provide further elaboration of this definition of aesthetic praxis.

  • I take these ways of thinking the political, ethical and aesthetic to be figures and affirmations of the Outside. There is no essential or necessary principle that joins and unites all three. Except perhaps the thought from the Outside.
  • No one sphere is more privileged or prioritized, supplementary to, determined by, or reducible to either of the other two. There is no unsurpassable political, ethical or aesthetic horizon, including one that would be the ultimate measure and limit for the others.
  • Politics does not provide signifiers for art, art does not provide a figure for the political, and operating without a given signification or figuration, the ethical is deprived of the pre-given foundation by which to prescribe a particular stance in relation to this political place and aesthetic gesture of shared-separation. Indeed, the ethical is the very space of separation, which we infinitely share as the decision just between us (some bodies with some other bodies and some things).

06FFG2011spatialprofilingVanFrancisco-Fernando Granados, spatial profiling – after Margaret Dragu’s Eine Kleine Nacht Radio  (2011). Performance, site-specific drawing; performed at VIVO Media Arts Centre for the LIVE Biennial of Performance Art, Vancouver. Photographs by Jesse Birch and Francisco-Fernando Granados

Here is a short description of a paper that I will be working on for the next few months, as a keynote that I have been invited to present at a conference on “Aisthesis and the Common: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere” to be held at McGill University, Montreal, in March 2016.

Bodies are exorbitant extremities, and not enclosed and discrete or “embodied” entities. This is just one of the reasons why we do not speak of a body having a center or margins.  Ontologically speaking, any material-physical thing that is open and always in excess of its limits is a body. Thus not only are there non-human and inorganic bodies, just as there are human bodies, but the matter of bodies and how they come to matter and mean, happens in those indeterminate and undecidable zones where it is often impossible to know where one body begins and another ends. Edge is the name that we might give for this shared spacing, there where bodies partake in a sense of the intimacy of the outside. In my paper I consider works by three contemporary artists: Francisco-Fernando Granados, Shaan Syed, and Sarah Kabot, in which a performative praxis of drawing traces the non-mediating line of the edge as the space-time of the common—its tense, tension and extension. In the public performance of repetitively tracing a facial profile (Granados), or a portrait of lost lover posted on city streets (Syed), or in which all of the lines in a public bathroom are shifted by half-an-inch (Kabot), these works peri-performatively open up spaces around bodies, and places and things. Spaces that are virtual rather than possible, inoperative rather than productive, anonymous rather than identitarian. Indeterminate zones but never empty voids, these edgings are where appearing and disappearing, becoming and unbecoming persist as the immeasurable infinities that they are. The sense and experience (aisthesis) of the common lies in the pleasures and risks of our affinities to these edges.


Published in the recently released book, Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies. Edited by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin (Open Humanities Press, Critical Climate Change Series, 2015).

You can read and download the entire 400+ page volume here:

Art in the Anthropocene

Published in the latest issue of the online, open-access journal World Picture, on the theme of abandon. You can read and download my essay and the others in the volume, here: World Picture 10: Abandon

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