15th May 2013

The first of three sessions scheduled for the Summer term will be presented by Paul Muldoon of Monash University- abstract as follows:

Citizens in Mourning: Politics, Loss and the Unmastered Past

Grief is commonly accepted as the appropriate, indeed the natural, response to loss. But this acceptance of grief is quickly withdrawn once it exceeds certain (usually unspecified) temporal limits. Grief, it seems, can have ‘its time’, but no more. Predictably the censure that protracted grief attracts is more marked when it spills over into the public realm or, as appears to be the case at present, becomes a prominent modality of politics (e.g. in form of truth commissions, public apologies, days of commemoration, memorials for the dead). In times of grief, the time allowed for grief appears to be even more closely scrutinised and censured for fear that it will have an enervating effect on political life. In this paper I interrogate the discourse that posits grief as a threat to politics. Drawing on Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Hamlet, I suggest that what is not uncommonly dismissed as ‘a useless brooding over what is past’ may not be so useless after all. In the post-Auschwitz world, when the times are ‘out of joint’, grief and the associated work of mourning may be less destructive of political action than its very condition of possibility.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS WILL BE IN AMORY 128– a change from our previous location.


13th March 2013

Lucy Forman will be presenting a selection from Hannah Arendt’s On Violence, which can be found here  Arendt_Violence

Lucy’s introduction is as follows:

In her essay On Violence, Arendt suggests that we need to distinguish between different
forms of how man rules over man. For Arendt, force is unintentional libidinal energy
released instinctively or naturally. Authority achieves obedience without coercion and only
requires respect for the individual or the office asserting it. Arendt describes strength as an
inherent property which belongs to an individual character and is essentially independent of other people’s strengths. Power, for Arendt is not about how man rules over man. Power, in Arendt’s conception, is an end in itself. It is always collective and relies on numbers, it cannot be owned by an individual, nor is it the sum of the individual strengths in a group.

For Arendt, power is more than the sum of the parts of a group. It can be created between
people when they talk, discuss, have new ideas, come to agreements and create unforeseen outcomes by the fact of their acting together without hierarchies, where each is equally responsible for participating without the coercion of leadership.
Violence is intentional and is always a means to an end but the unleashing of violence
carries the inherent danger of escalation where the means are likely to overwhelm the ends.

Arendt sees violence as threatening the creation of power and she sees violence as being
impotent without power. Arendt does not say that all power is necessarily applied for the
greater good nor that violence cannot be used effectively. She asserts however that the
continuous generation of power is central to all politics whereas violence, though sometimes necessary in the short term, creates silence and threatens the process of politics.

In On Violence Arendt is critiquing the glorification of violence (which she sees as inspired
by Fanon’s and Sartre’s earlier writings) apparent at end of the 1960‘s where minorities are increasingly believing (because of their conflation of the concepts of violence and power) that the use of violence will necessarily instigate the changes they desire.

February 13th 2013

February 13th sees Jose Ruiz-Vicioso present David Hume’s ‘Of the rise and progress of the Arts and Sciences’.


Jose’s summary is as follows:

Writing in mid-18th Century, Hume addresses in this Essay the issue of the rise and progress of the arts and sciences. ‘Why a nation is more polite and learned, in a particular time, than its neighbours?’ he asks.

Hume relates the rise and progress of the arts and sciences with particular political regimes. He opposes free governments (republics) and non-free governments (barbarous monarchies) to explain how the first rise of the arts and sciences is only possible in the former. However, in some civilized monarchies (like France and other states under absolute rule) imitation of the free states has in some way equated them, allowing the rise and progress of the arts and sciences.

On the other hand, Hume engages in a defense of gallantry, one of the major topics of the century in Europe. Republics are more likely to develop the sciences while monarchies are more likely to develop politeness. In any case, Hume concludes, when the arts and sciences come to perfection in any state, from that moment they decline and seldom or never revive in that nation.

*Related reading: Hume’s essays Of refinement in the arts and Of commerce; Rousseau’s Discours sur les sciences et les arts; Montesquieu’s De l’espirit des lois.

February 6th 2013

This weeks text is a section from Foucault’s History of Sexuality and will be presented by Ditte Madsen.

The relevant extract, Vol. 1 (Introduction Part I, and first two chapters from Part IV), is here-

and Ditte’s summary is as follows:

In The Will To Knowledge Foucault questions the way in which the relationship between sex and power is conceived as repressive and attempts to demonstrate the constitutive implications this has upon the subject in terms of their subjectification as knowable objects, which in turn is internalized, operating at the level of the body and the conduct of the individual. It is this process by which the individual has come to adopt the search for truth or ‘the will to knowledge’ as a form of liberation, which Foucault wants to trace in order to highlight how power is implicated in and inseparable from knowledge. More widely, Foucault argues for the need to understand and analyze modern forms of power as operating and effective not in terms of top-down repression, prohibition or limits, in the form of the juridical, but rather through productive techniques of examination, social norms and practices that are expressed in and give rise to a certain discourse, capable of modifying behavior and constituting subjectivities including that of ‘the other’. Power, for Foucault, in the form of social norms, operates to individualize and differentiate but at the same time, through the regulation of ‘populations’, becomes a dangerous and totalizing force. Foucault in turn conceives of resistance as multiple and necessary forces internal to the relations of power.              

Foucault’s nominalist stance and productive idea of power clearly has radical implications in terms of agency and the subject and his implication of power in all claims to knowledge and truth raises questions about our ability to justify any calls for change. However, Foucault’s ideas embrace radical plurality and difference in the sense that knowledge and truths on his account could always be otherwise. Not in a relativist sense but as a call for continuous questioning, debate and struggle, politics as truth games, he argues. As contesting truths, not arriving at truths…

Foucault HoS-1

January 30th 2013

The text for this session is Walter Benjamin’s Critique of Violence and is presented by John-Erik Hansson.

You can see the text here:  Benjamin – Critique of Violence

Writing in the context of the early years of the Weimar republic, Benjamin constructs here a moral critique of the idea of violence, and more specifically of political violence. In this text, he pays particular attention to the existing relationships between violence and the law. Political violence has therefore a law-making character, as well as a law-preserving character. These are embodied in various state institutions (the police, the army, parliament), but also in non-state actors: striking workers can be thought, in some circumstances, to be engaging in law-making violence. Benjamin closes his critique by distinguishing between mythical violence – and its law-making character – and divine violence, which is merely law-destroying and therefore operates at another, “purer” level.