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Deconstruction

I am so pleased to have my essay “The Commerce of Anonymity,” published in the latest issue of Qui Parle. Here’s the abstract, followed below by a short excerpt. You can access and download a copy of the entire article here: Ricco, “The Commerce of Anonymity” (Qui Parle, June 2017)

 

QUI_new_pr

 

Always “within distance of” oneself and others: this is our place,

and to write or to draw is to discover and sustain (to varying degrees

of duration) that distance. In its proximity this distance is the source

of pleasure and the mark of intimacy—but it is also the measure of

the exact equality between one passerby and another. No longer

even in terms of the being-other of the stranger, this is more a matter

of the spacing of passage in its passing, the place that is abandoned

by and that abandons the passerby, in his or her passing, to the outside,

including the outside of identity.

 

There, where the studio meets the street and the street meets

the study, and the desk meets the drawing table and the drawing table

meets the urban signboard, “each face has value and refers—or

leads—to one human identity that is equal to another” (Genet). To which

we might add: each face leads toward an exact and absolute equality

that renders each of us not identical but incommensurable. Each

time with each other, it is an experience that affirms the essential anonymity

of being-together and the risks and pleasures of our ethical

and aesthetic commerce.

 

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Markus D. Dubber, Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto, has invited me to participate in a workshop on “apologies” that he is organizing to be held in fall 2017. He tells me that it is “partly inspired by a recent report in which EGALE [Canadian Human Rights Trust] called on the Canadian government to apologize for ‘Canada’s History of LGBTQ2SI Persecution.'”

Here is the abstract of the paper that I have proposed to present at the workshop.

“On Queer Forgiveness”

John Paul Ricco

Following “On Forgiveness,” the translated and edited version of Jacques Derrida’s response to a series of questions put to him by the French intellectual journal Le Monde des débats in 1999, my paper argues that the concept and act of forgiveness is essentially queer. Derrida persuasively argued that true forgiveness consists in forgiving the unforgivable. Which means that the logic of forgiveness is structured as a relation to the impossible, to that which is without code, norm or end. It is in excess of any measure or finality. An ethics of apology, in which the State seeks forgiveness for its violence and persecution of its lesbian, bisexual, gay, queer, transgendered, two-spirited and questioning citizens, therefore requires forms of queer forgiveness that exceed the judicial logic of reconciliation. For if queers forgive the State of its violence and negligence, do they not also and at the same time abdicate the future possibility of acting in ways that the State would deem unforgivable? Say in the face of future injustice and in the name of justice yet to be had? Or perhaps in terms of erotic and indeed unconditional pornographic excess that re-conceptualizes sovereignty as unmistakably queer. In both cases: as that which transcends norm and law through a notion of sovereignty that we inherit from Georges Bataille. In other words: is the queer acceptance of the State’s confessed guilt also a normalizing of the queer within a stated-based juridical-theological discourse of rights? Must we not remain vigilant in our attention to the ways in which reconciliation is its own form of normalization? In doing so, we need to affirm the limits of the common, and of the ways in which while language itself is shared it is so, only as the very enunciation of separation. Alterity, non-identification, the unintelligible—in a word: queer—restlessly resides at the heart of apology and forgiveness. By returning to my theory of a disappeared aesthetics of erasure and the ways in which such aesthetics attests to the indelible absence of those who—unforgivably—have been disappeared and are no longer here to receive an apology and to forgive, I argue that this is one way to conceive the ethical scene of forgiveness.

…in a forthcoming issue of the journal L’Esprit Createur.

Irving Goh. The Reject: Community, Politics, and Religion after the Subject. Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press, 2015.

There is no better indication of the failure of the actual practice of critical theory in the academy today than the extent to which those who claim to be theorists remain wholly attached to “the subject” and “subjectivity.” Regardless of the ways and the extent to which poststructuralism and deconstruction have fundamentally put into question its ontological, political, and ethical status over the past fifty years, the subject remains incredibly resilient to critique; it is central to queer and affect theory; to disability, gender, and race studies, and it is undeniably present in the work of the most revered and cited of contemporary thinkers.

In The Reject: Community, Politics, and Religion after the Subject, Irving Goh not only traces the persistent presence of the subject in the work of Badiou (“the faithful subject of the event”), Rancière (“the uncounted subject”), Étienne Balibar (“the citizen-subject”), Rosi Braidotti (“the critical post-human subject”), and Katherine Hayles (“the flickering post-human subject”), he also provides clear and reasonable arguments as to why, in each case, this presence poses serious problems for their respective attempts to think community, democracy, religion, love, friendship, the post-secular, and the post-human in wholly new ways. More important, through his brilliant theoretical conceptualization of “the reject,” Goh offers one of the most rigorous and carefully articulated responses to the question “who comes after the subject.” Jean-Luc Nancy posed that question thirty years ago in a letter to fellow continental philosophers. Their responses were published two years later in the journal Topoi, and subsequently in Who Comes After the Subject (1991). Reading this book during my first year of graduate study, I distinctly remember the excitement I felt by the gauntlet thrown down by Nancy’s question. Over the past 25 years, I have consistently recommended the book, always a bit surprised to realize how little known it has become. Goh is thus owed a debt of gratitude for returning us to this groundbreaking volume and the seismic critical theoretical question it inaugurated.

Goh structures his discussion according to three distinct valences (or “turns” as he calls them) of the reject, which can be defined as follows: “passive rejects” are those who are rejected (e.g. refugees, sex workers, black bodies, the indigenous, et al.); “active rejects” are those who reject others; and “auto-rejects” are those who ‘self-reject,’ by rejecting the a priori subjective autonomous self and its hypostatization. While the first two rejects will be familiar to any reader, the originality of Goh’s argument – and hence the potential un-familiarity of its figure or image – lies in his conceptualization of the auto-reject. Not to be confused with any form of auto-critique, de-subjectivation or the nihilism of the abject, the auto-reject is predicated upon the a priori abandonment that is the originary force of existence. Singularities are born out of this abandonment of being to existence, thereby becoming the rejects that they are in relation to others. In its rejection of self, the auto-reject sustains this infinite abandonment, perhaps right up to the point at which neither the auto- nor the reject can be sustained, where they are abandoned and rejected, and some other unforeseeable form of being-in-common is generated.

Without being immune to being a passive or active reject, according to Goh, the auto-reject breaks their dialectical cycle of rejection by “keeping in mind that there is always the possibility that one is a reject in the eyes of others” (8), and thus in doing so, at times “sidestep[s] to an adjacent space” as a way to abandon any asserted self-positioning and effectively ‘getting over itself.’ However, lest this be confused with some liberal acquiescence toward the other, Goh further specifies that this “shift or sidestepping to an adjacent space further requires that the auto-reject respect the other’s desire to not fill the space left by the auto-reject.” In that respect, “the auto-reject rejects in itself the demand for the other to arrive. It recognizes that it is always possible that the other rejects coming to presence, that is to say, rejecting appearing in the presence of the auto-reject” (8). The auto-reject is the one that abandons itself to the possibility of the other’s non-response; of the other departing and walking away, and without explanation, rapprochement, reproach or even resentment. Indeed, the auto-reject is the rejection of these very responses and imperatives. Thus Goh has outlined what might be described as a non-imperative ethics, one that is without demand (or obligation, responsibility, mutuality), or even an ethics conceived as infinitely demanding.

For one of his scenes, Goh turns to contemporary digital-network technologies and social media platforms in order to underline the extent to which the reject is the exact opposite of the subjective self or “selfie” produced by Instagram, Facebook, and the like. As he notes, the selfie subject as inward-solipsistic-me is the subject that is in constant need of approval, exposure, notoriety, trackability, and the immediacy of connection, gratification and addictive ‘updating.’ In terms of queer theory, it is interesting to note how Goh’s conception of the ethics of the reject resembles the rejection at play in the impersonal erotics of cruising and anonymous sex spaces, where it is not assumed that others will always respond or be attracted, and where the art of the consummate cruise partly lies in the subtle and at times seductive techniques of the auto-reject.

Based upon his close reading of Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, along with Catherine Clément and Luce Irigaray, Goh identifies the friend who leaves town, the syncopic lover, the nomadic war machine, the animal-messiah, and the becoming-animal as various figures and trajectories that traverse the inoperative community of the reject. In our reading of Goh, we might not only begin to acknowledge ourselves to be the rejects that we are, but, in doing so, share in the impossibility of a single totalizing social unity or community ever being possible – or desirable. It is this shared impossibility (or “incompossible” as he terms it, drawing from Deleuze) of any common measure or commensurability of incommensurables, that distinguishes Goh’s uncommonly ethical and political sense of community, friendship, and the post-human. At which point we are left to ask: what comes after the reject?

 

I recently got around to reading the conversation between Tim Dean and Robyn Wiegman on the question of “critique.” It was published in a special issue of English Language Notes (51.2, Fall/Winter 2013) under the title, “What Does Critique Want? A Critical Exchange.”
Based upon their dialogue, and in light of a few other things that I have read this summer, I’ve put together the following notes on theory, queer theory, subjects/objects, reading, Foucault, aesthetics/ethics, and extinction.


In giving up on “critique,” one must also give up on all forms of the “subject” (beyond merely in terms of the critical mastery of the sovereign subject) and “objects” (including the notion that as thinkers/theorists, we have “objects” and hence that our thinking is always predicated upon, as the saying goes, “one’s relations to one’s objects”—which may or may not be distinct from “object-relations” [psychoanalysis] or “object lessons” [Wiegman]). Which would also mean re-thinking the political, outside the categories of subject and object, all the while retaining a commitment to thinking the relational (Foucault, Nancy) as the spacing of the political—irreducible to—and that which exceeds the domains of—subjects or objects, identities or things (and the “identity knowledges” that they produce). Hence the relational as always already non-relational. This entails radical re-definitions and conceptualizations of the “political” (spacing) as well as of the “ethical” (relational), in which neither would operate in the mode of being “critical.” In other words: can there be political and ethical thinking that is not, at the same time, critical—yet without being naive or without rigour?

In this regard, paranoid or reparative readings are not the only options or reading strategies available. There is also, for instance: deconstructive (inoperative, un-made) readings (which are not necessarily to be aligned with paranoid reading), and those aesthetic, literary or poetic modes of reading in which affect and sense (along with pleasure, desire, erotics) are central. Yet in ways that remain impersonal and transitive, rather than deriving from, or returning to, the individual subject who feels and becomes—the nexus of the critical and the personal (Sedgwick, et.al.) that is its own form of “performative narcissism.”

It is this strand that makes so much queer theory today not only reparative but therapeutic in its form and implicit intent. Queer Theory today has all too often become a project of coping (with life, affects, feelings, others, etc.), which is its own compensatory move vis-a-vis resentiment. In fact, what is the relation between the latter and critique—especially in terms of the ways in which critique is deployed in the humanities today (and in particular in queer theory) in the name of the political? Examples of this resentment (and its implicitly accompanying misogyny) cited in this dialogue include: why doesn’t she love us (asked by feminists about Sedgwick); critical theory and its lack of commitment to women (Gender Trouble); academic feminism using theory in order to feel smart and sexy; the aggressivity of Women’s Studies.

So also then, there is (once again) a fundamental rethinking of gender and sexual differences, and the difference these make to thinking, doing, making, and being-together outside the dialectic of subject-object—which might also be outside of gender and sexuality. The fact of the matter is that what Irving Goh has done for dominant critical theory in his recent and brilliant book, The Reject, needs to be done for hegemonic queer theory. Namely: to elucidate the extent to which it remains utterly beholden to the concept of the subject, and the ways in which Butler most especially, but also Sedgwick and a whole second generation are responsible for this unrelenting hold that the concept of the “subject” has had on the field.

This also points to the extent to which Queer Theory has betrayed the work of Foucault, which not only was a genealogy of the modern subject, but also an attempt to think “who comes after the subject” (in various forms of an ethical self in relation with others). Indeed, Nancy’s question from the late-1980s—asked after Foucault would have had a chance personally to respond—equally could have been written: “who comes after Foucault?” This is where Tim Dean’s quotation of Paul Veyne on Foucault is so incredibly important and useful. Veyne writes: “Foucault’s philosophy is not a philosophy of ‘discourse’ but a philosophy of relation…Instead of a world made up of subjects, or objects, or the dialectic between them, a world in which consciousness knows its objects in advance, targets them, or is itself what the objects make of it, we have a world in which relation is primary.” Of course this is also where the work of Leo Bersani comes in, and its commitment to thinking about ethical-aesthetic relationality in neither paranoid (aggressive) nor reparative (redemptive) ways. Further: we need to imagine the inorganic as beyond the human, and to think art and aesthetics in the absence of, and after life and the human. So not the traditional notion of art and its relation to immortality and the future, but art in relation to extinction and the posthumous. What I have been calling “the collective afterlife of things.”

It is in this respect that we are also dealing with questions of discourse and knowledge, which is to say, the  limits of knowing, and that is the primary task of theory—properly speaking—to trace. Including  in terms of that which exceeds gender and sexual categories and identities, and that as an experience of non-knowledge exceeds the epistemological (including epistemological mastery and the production of knowledge).

Theory is one of our principle relations to not-knowing, to epistemological erasure, and to extinction (ontological erasure). It is committed to thinking praxis as always inoperative (post-Marx and Arendt) and is a valence onto that which is unbecoming, un-livable and unimaginable. Such that the aesthetics of existence is the art of becoming-imperceptible and disappearing—but never enough. And where ethics wholly entails attesting to the fact that we—together-apart—are already living the time of extinction.

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).
University of Chicago Press, March 2014.

University of Chicago Press, March 2014.

The Decision Between Us combines an inventive reading of Jean-Luc Nancy with queer theoretical concerns to argue that while scenes of intimacy are spaces of sharing, they are also spaces of separation. John Paul Ricco shows that this tension informs our efforts to coexist ethically and politically, an experience of sharing and separation that informs any decision. Using this incongruous relation of intimate separation, Ricco goes on to propose that “decision” is as much an aesthetic as it is an ethical construct, and one that is always defined in terms of our relations to loss, absence, departure, and death.

Laying out this theory of “unbecoming community” in modern and contemporary art, literature, and philosophy, and calling our attention to such things as blank sheets of paper, images of unmade beds, and the spaces around bodies, The Decision Between Us opens in 1953, when Robert Rauschenberg famously erased a drawing by Willem de Kooning, and Roland Barthes published Writing Degree Zero, then moves to 1980 and the “neutral mourning” of Barthes’ Camera Lucida, and ends in the early 1990s with installations by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Offering surprising new considerations of these and other seminal works of art and theory by Jean Genet, Marguerite Duras, and Catherine Breillat, The Decision Between Us is a highly original and unusually imaginative exploration of the spaces between us, arousing and evoking an infinite and profound sense of sharing in scenes of passionate, erotic pleasure, as well as deep loss and mourning.

“Through a compelling, lucid, and wonderfully suggestive reading of Nancy’s writings, we are exposed throughout The Decision Between Us to numerous scenes of seduction and abandoned existence, scenes at once erotic and funerary, intimate and desolate. An incisive contribution to the ways in which Nancy’s writings might be read today, the sense of sharing at the heart of the argument is both transformative and intensely ethical.”

Philip Armstrong, Ohio State University

“Ricco’s The Decision Between Us is a beautifully executed book on the execution and extension of being-in-relation. Its articulation of sexuality theory, deconstructive philosophy, and queer art opens up different idioms to each other the way lovers open to each other—excitedly, productively, and yet always enigmatically, pointing beyond what seems present. Ricco is also a brilliant close reader. An enrapturing read.”

Lauren Berlant, University of Chicago

“Reopening ground broken by Jean-Luc Nancy, The Decision Between Us traces the paradoxes of relational being across a range of artistic, literary, and philosophical ‘scenes.’ Through a series of startling juxtapositions, Ricco weaves together scenes of exposure, erasure, and unmaking to reveal the inseparability of aesthetics from ethics.  This is an original and challenging work by one of our most brilliant philosophers of visuality.”

Tim Dean, State University of New York at Buffalo

 

 

On March 7 & 8, 2013 I will give a lecture and lead a seminar based upon my current book project: Non-consensual futures: pornographic faith and the economy of the eve. I am honored by the invitation extended by Professor Deborah Harter and her graduate students in the Mellon Seminar:

Frames of the Beautiful, the Criminal, and the Mad: The Art and the Science of Excess

Faculty leader: Deborah Harter, associate professor of French studies

Student participants: Sarah Seewoester Cain (linguistics), Linda Ceriello (religious studies), Kristen Ray (English), Nathaniel Vlachos (anthropology), and Rachel Schneider Vlachos (religious studies).

Seminar Description
Reflecting on representations of the “excessive” in science and in art of the modern period – madness, genius, criminal, eccentric, beautiful, and pathological – this seminar welcomes students from all fields in the humanities and social sciences. We will consider the aesthetic with scientific, the ethical with the historical, and play havoc with all usual boundaries of disciplines, period, and genre.

PURE BLOCK, TRANSPARENT

(Fordham University Press, 2008)

Multi-session workshop on Jean-Luc Nancy’s
On the Commerce of Thinking: Of Books and Bookstores,
as facilitated by John Paul Ricco.
Realized in coordination
with the exhibition Sediment at G Gallery, Art Metropole
and Of Swallows, Bookshop.

The three sessions of this workshop will cumulatively
involve a close and direct reading of this short book by
Jean-Luc Nancy. Each session will begin with 3-4 sections
of On the Commerce … being read aloud by workshop
participants with subsequent group discussion of the text,
led by John Paul Ricco.

Details for the three sessions are as follows:

Session 1: January 26 2012 at G Gallery, 7-9pm (sections 1-3)
On the Commerce of Thinking, Of Books and Bookstores
The Idea and Character of the Book
The Book’s End in Itself

Session 2: February 2 2012 at Art Metropole, 7-9pm (sections 4-6)
The People of the Book
Interminable Reading
The Publication of the Unpublished

Session 3: February 16 2012 at Of Swallows, Bookshop, 7-9pm (sections 7-10)
Book Open and Closed
The Scents of the Bookstore
The Commerce of Thinking
The Matter of Books

Those interested in attending the workshop are asked to
RSVP as soon as possible as there will be a limited number
of spots. Individuals that wish to RSVP are asked to
do so with the intention of attending all three sessions in
order to provide continuity and depth to the discussions.

To RSVP and for other information, please contact
Shane Krepakevich at skrepakevich(at)gmail(dot)com

G Gallery *NEW LOCATION*
134 Ossington Street (Entrance on Foxley Pl, rear of building)
Toronto, Ontario M6J 2Z5
info@sidecentre.com

Gallery Hours: Friday to Sunday 12 – 5pm

G Gallery location

G Gallery and sidecentre.com are generously supported by the College of Arts
and the School of Fine Arts and Music at the University of Guelph.

http://www.sidecentre.com/nancy.html

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