The concept of ‘failed states’ is ubiquitous in political idiom and theory, extending well beyond its methodical appearances in recent global security vernaculars. Continue reading
As is more or less well-known, Kant’s writings on the university, collected under the heading of The Conflict of the Faculties, are preoccupied with establishing limits, borders — above all the limits to conflict. On the one hand, there is the distinction between philosophy (which includes the ‘life sciences’ and sociology) and what he refers to as the ‘higher faculties’ of law, theology and medicine — ‘higher’ because closer to sovereignty.
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.”
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).
Discussions of the state of emergency so often render the world in dismal and bloody hues sketched by some transcendent hand that they function as little more than occasions for lyrical indignation or, worse, simply fuel the exquisite sense of urgency that drives the activist — and therefore putatively transcendent — economy of demonstrations, symbolic protests, etc. To be sure, times are grim. But they have been so for most of the world, for a very, very long time. And neither pessimism nor optimism will enable this moment to be seized for what it might be. Nor, as someone once said, do we lack communication. What seems to me glossed over in usual accounts of the state of emergency is a proposition that may seem too terrible to consider but which, if one is inclined to embrace politics as risk and not retreat, is also a chance. My first suggestion is simple: if it appears to ‘us’ as if the present is an exceptional moment in the history of the world, this is not because it is indeed an exceptional experience for the world, but because ‘we’—what it means to say ‘we’—have come unusually close to a sense of the world.
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.
World War returned. To be sure, wars never really ended, in that they continued to lay waste to much of the world since the Second World War was declared over and, ceremonial announcements aside, in that the war in Iraq has been ongoing since 1991. And yet, it is still I think true to say that war has returned as World War—war as the blunt instrument with which the world is given form and meaning. […] Continue reading
There are two undeniable facts. The first is that the rallies in Australia which preceded the bombing of Baghdad were enormous. Precise estimates of attendances in Sydney and Melbourne — ranging from 100,000 to double that figure — are impossible to verify but, in any case, situate those mobilisations as among the largest in recent Australian history. The second is that any assessable anti-war sentiment declined rapidly, particularly once Australian along with US and British troops entered Iraq.