An essay on stillness.
This article presents a new account of the relationship between Michel Foucault’s work and neoliberalism, aiming to show that the relationship is significantly more complicated than either Foucault’s critics or defenders have appreciated in the recent controversy. On the one hand, I argue that Foucault’s salutary response to some of Gary Becker’s ideas in the lecture course from 1979 should be read together with the argument of Discipline and Punish. By means of this contextualization I show that Foucault’s sympathetic response to Becker is limited to the domain of penal practices, specifically concerning the question of how to resist their rationality of normalization, and thus it involves no broader commitment to neoliberal economic theory or its political implications. On the other hand, however, I argue that there is a strategic allegiance between Foucault’s work and the ascendance of the neoliberal rationality of governing, although it has nothing to do with his sympathetic engagement with Becker’s work. Instead, I explain how Foucault’s focus on the political stakes of subjectivity has helped to congeal, in the posthumous neoliberal context, a conception of politics that leaves out the topic of economic equality. To explain how Foucault’s work has had this unintended yet lasting effect, I introduce the concept of topical exclusion. It designates a social mechanism of producing ignorance, which operates by directing attention instead of creating false consciousness. The strategic relationship between Foucault’s work and neoliberalism today illustrates that this type of explanation is essential in the analysis of power relations. Thus, my account motivates the adoption of topical exclusion as a conceptual supplement that equips the Foucaultian framework to study cases in which relations of power harness, produce, and sustain ignorance, not knowledge.
Ten years after the popular uprising that became a brutal war, Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian authors are engaged in the struggle to craft a historical consciousness that can acknowledge and mourn for their recent revolutionary past without reifying it. As they write in and of material, political, and social ruin, their works echo collective traumas in regional memory: the Palestinian nakba, the rise of Syria’s Assad regime, Lebanon’s civil war, the 2003 occupation of Iraq, and more. The ruin appears cruelly recursive, yet it is arrested in the corpus of works discussed in this article: poetry by Firas Sulaiman and Osama Esber; prose by Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Samer Yazbek, and Ra’id Wahsh; and documentary film by the Abounaddara Collective. Drawing on Arabic poetic modernism and regional politics, I argue that ruin imagery—ranging from war’s rubble to ancient artefacts—carries distinctive structures of temporal anticipation in Syrian literary and cultural memory. The writers and filmmakers discussed deploy formal and thematic means of stasis and repetition, displacement and accumulation, to summon these temporal structures—only to refuse, interrupt, and reroute them. I argue that such poetic engineerings of the images of ruin assert the singularity of the Syrian present within broader collective memories of ruin. As such, they raise a historicizing challenge to the current academic dominance of reading ruin imagery, notably from the Middle East, through an imperial lens.
This article intervenes in recent formalist and ecocritical debates, drawing on the philosophy of Charles Darwin and Édouard Glissant to develop an ecopoetic theory of relational form. Gathering perspectives from ecocriticism and new materialism, literary criticism and comparative literature, the history and philosophy of science, postcolonial theory, critical race theory, and Black studies, it reads form as an interdisciplinary object that is part of the world, rather than an imposed feature of human language or perception. In this way, it produces a relational theory of form that is not hylomorphic or defined through the relation between form and content but, rather, is defined by the relation between a content and extant and, so, an interaction of relation and repetition. Drawing on the history of ecological science, it further explores how forms combine, how they amplify and interfere with each other, and how they support relations of harm and care. Finally, it uses this ecopoetic theory of form to read the histories of racial violence and migration in Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” (1867) and Helen Oyeyemi’s White Is for Witching (2009).
This article draws together two works created in late fifteenth-century Mantua. Although radically different in kind, they were borne from the same acts of violence: Andrea Mantegna’s Madonna of Victory and a responsum about Jewish religious law by Rabbi Joseph Colon. Mantegna’s altarpiece, painted to commemorate the bloody battle of Fornova as a Gonzaga victory, was paid for by Daniele Norsa; Norsa, a Jewish banker, was accused of destroying a prior Christian icon and ordered to finance the new altarpiece as reparations for this crime, under threat of death. Colon’s responsum addressed the permissibility of creating a Christian image under duress—idolatry being one of the sins for which a Jew must sacrifice their life rather than transgressing. We explore the remarkable artistry and distinct craft practiced by the painter and the rabbi—image making in the one case, legal reasoning in the other—as modes of describing, interpreting, and creating reality. Both works address problems of religion and idolatry, faith and coercion, victory and violence, and triumph and lament. Together they reveal the dynamics of a fascinating iconoclash, a conflict of culture waged over the struggle between making and breaking images.
The article suggests that the best examples of textual work in the computational humanities are best understood as motivated by aesthetic concerns with the constraints placed on literature by computation’s cultural hegemony. To draw these concerns out, I adopt a middle-distant depth of field, examining the strange epistemology and unexpected aesthetic dimension of numerical culture’s encounters with literature. The middle-distant forms of reading I examine register problematically as literary scholarship not because they lack rigor or evidence but because their unacknowledged object of study is the infrastructure of academic knowledge production. Work in the computational humanities is approaching a point at which the scale of analyzed data and data analysis washes out readings, the algorithms are achieving opaque complexity, and the analytical systems are producing purposive outputs. These problems cannot be addressed without attending to the aesthetics of data-driven cultural encounters, specifically the questions of how we produce readings/viewings and how they change our perceptions and characterize the interesting, critical theorization on method and meaning that make the best work in the computational humanities legitimately humanistic. I contribute a working example: a recommendation system for passages within the Shakespearean dramatic corpus, built using a large bibliographical dataset from JSTOR, a counting/ranking algorithm used at large scale. The system returns passages as intertexts for the passage a reader has selected. I explain how and why this system provides meaningful intertextual connections within the Shakespearean dramatic corpus by tracing the legible structural effects of disciplinary knowledge formation on the shape of this dataset. I close by suggesting how the computational and more traditional methods in the humanities might begin to stop debating past one another.
The article’s aim is to clear the ground for the idea of aesthetic archaeology as an aesthetic analysis of remote artifacts divorced from aesthetic criticism. On the example of controversies surrounding the early Cycladic figures, it discusses an anxiety motivating the rejection of aesthetic inquiry in archaeology, namely, the anxiety about the heuristic reliability of one’s aesthetic instincts vis-à-vis remote artifacts. It introduces the claim that establishing an aesthetic mandate of a remote artifact should in the first place be part of a quest after the norms of engagement an artifact’s kind signaled to the intended audience by its appearance. Rather than advocating for a new subdiscipline, the concept of aesthetic archaeology serves to bring into theoretical focus an aesthetic engagement with an artifact’s appearance under circumstances that rule out any acquired competence in distinguishing its aesthetic mandate perceptually—and thus rule out any aesthetic expertise.