Exceptional Times, Non-governmental Spacings, and Impolitical Movement

At the border, politics risks exposing itself to the impolitical, to a sense of movement beyond its conventional socio-political definitions, and to an expression of the political without a sovereign tone. One might say that it is this risk-which is also to say, this chance for a life otherwise-that a migratory politics seeks out. And yet, just as the prospect for movement seems to become ever more limited, such limits are reinforced by nostalgic repetition no less than through the proliferation of borders.

Full text. Co-authored with Brett Neilson, Vacarme 34, 2006. Republished in Michel Feher, (ed.), Nongovernmental Politics, New York: Zone Books, 2007, pp.469-481. In French as “De Woomera à Baxter: temps exceptionnels et espaces non gouvernementaux.”

Cutting Democracy’s Knot

In his first extended speech in the midst of the rebellions of the banlieues and an officially declared state of emergency, French President Jacques Chirac announced that the problem confronting France was ‘a crisis of meaning, a crisis of reference points and an identity crisis.’ Some time before this, Jean-Luc Nancy had remarked that ‘the “crisis of sense” is, first of all and most visibly, a “crisis of democracy”‘. If, in the events of November 2005 in France as in so many others, it is possible to discern the connections between Chirac’s crisis of meaning, foundation and identity, and that of democracy which Nancy alluded to, it is no less the case, we would argue, that such crises have become as constant as the emergencies that shadow them. Indeed, given that these crises proliferate with an unrelenting–not to mention increasingly militarised–assurance, their routine characterisation as the anachronistic re-appearance of totalitarianism (or sovereignty or fascism) in or against democracy seems incapable of offering more than platitudinous demands for a postponement of responsibility. Whatever else democracy might imply–which is to say, however emptied of meaning it and its formal correlate of citizenship might be–it neither finds nor seeks repose at one pole of the oscillation between a juridico-commercial emptiness and a totalitarian plenitude, between, in other words, the citizen and the subject, by turns more or less empty or more or less absolute. On the contrary, democracy is this very oscillation and, hence, this very ‘crisis’.

Full text. Co-authored with Brett Neilson, Culture Machine, Vol 8 (2006).

Polemos, Universitas

In discussions of the so-called ‘culture wars’, it is often the case that ‘war’ here implies the intrusion of polemic into the otherwise routinely civil exchanges of the universities or ‘the public sphere’, as distinct from war—polemos —as such. This notion of the ‘public sphere’—most memorably announced in the work of Jürgen Habermas (1989)—bears a striking resemblance to a ‘gentleman’s club’, an idyllic space of polite conversation in which there are no real conflicts because consensus on the fundamentals has already been achieved, more or less. In its actual functioning, agreement on ‘the fundamentals’ supposes a prior exclusion or suppression which installs a liberal hegemony as the only form of politics and communication.

Full text, co-authored with Brett Neilson, Borderlands, 4:1 2005.

An earlier version appeared as “The Physiognomy of Civilisation,” Arena Magazine, April-May 2005.