Since 2003, the Critical Inquiry Visiting Professorship has been held by some of the world’s most renowned scholars. The CI Professor is in residence at the University of Chicago for an academic quarter, where he or she teaches a graduate seminar and offers two public lectures. Previous visitors have included Jacques Rancière, Julia Kristeva, Ian Hacking, Fredric Jameson, Samuel Delany, N. Katherine Hayles, Raymond Bellour, Saidiya Hartman, and Wendy Hui Kyong Chun. This year, we are proud to welcome Catherine Malabou.
Catherine Malabou is a professor in the philosophy department at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University and of European languages and literatures and comparative literature at University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity (2012) and Before Tomorrow: Epigenesis and Rationality (2016), and most recently, Morphing Intelligence: From IQ Measurement to Artificial Brains (2019).
In contemporary Western philosophy, deconstructive gestures of metaphysics have been presented by prominent thinkers such as Levinas, Derrida, Schürmann, Foucault, Agamben, and Rancière as liberating “anarchic” ways of thinking. The possibility of questioning and acting beyond the “arkhè”—that is beyond the principle (commandment and beginning at the same time)—has opened new perspectives in ontology, ethics, and politics. Levinas, for example, characterizes the relation to the Other in terms of “an-archic responsibility.” Surprisingly, however, philosophical concepts of anarchy have always been strictly distinguished from those of political anarchism. On their end, thinkers and activists like Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin never presented themselves as philosophers. The two traditions (metaphysical and political) have never merged and still continue to ignore each other in their most contemporary versions. Philosophers advocate for an anarchy without anarchism, and anarchists for an anarchism without philosophy. To what extent and why should we envisage a reconciliation of both trends? What are the signs, in the current global political situation, justifying a new interrogation of anarchy? The class meets twice a week through February and the first week of March.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about registering for the Winter 2022 class.
Political Adventures of Meaning 1: What Is a Hegemony?
The term hegemony has a long and complex history. Hegemonia (supreme command or supremacy) initially belonged to the vocabulary of classical Greek history and designated all forms of military and political hierarchies. It was then deliberately revived in the nineteenth century, first by Karl Marx, then by Antonio Gramsci. Endowed with a new signification, it henceforth characterized the strategies of power at work in revolutionary movements between the different groups involved. For Marx, the proletariat, even if led to cooperate with other classes (petite bourgeoisie, peasants, and others), was the hegemonic actor, the “universal” one. For Gramsci, hegemony was to be understood as a synthesis of the political actions of different groups. More recently, Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, while maintaining the Gramscian sense, have insisted upon the symbolic dimension of hegemony. The current political struggles don’t have any common referent or essential meaning. They nevertheless rely on hegemonic, terms (democracy, intersectionality, and others) acting like “floating signifiers,” temporarily privileged words. After retracing the main steps of this history, I will ask myself what remains of the link between politics and words in our time, when the symbolic has lost its hegemony.
Friday, 11 February, 4:30pm CST. RSVP here.
Political Adventures of Meaning 2: What Is a Floating Signifier?
In the Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss (1950), Lévi-Strauss presents his theory of “floating signifiers,” according to which some words in all languages act as empty squares that, even if devoid of specific meaning, allow signification to circulate. Such a theory has opened the reign of the “symbolic," defined as an autonomous universe separated from nature and, more particularly, from biological determinations. Consequently, the current philosophical definitions of the speaking—and thus political—subject remain deprived of any empirical determinations. Such a vision is strongly challenged by contemporary biology. Epigenetics for example is revealing the existence of material crossings between the symbolic and the biological. Developing this point and pursuing the conclusions of the first lecture, this second presentation intends to challenge the idea of an independence of the symbolic and question new possible relationships between politics and language.
Friday, 25 February, 4:30pm CST. RSVP here.
Past holders of the CI Professorship are:
Joan Copjec 2009-2010
Leo Bersani 2011-2012
Samuel R. Delany 2013-2014