Wednesday — Political Animals — Conversation with Vinciane Despret

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Wednesday — 10.16.13 — Political Animals — Conversation with Vinciane Despret

0. About Wednesday Night
1. A Letter to Vinciane
2. Useful Links

0. About Wednesday Night

What: Conversation
When: 7:00 October 16, 2013
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor
Who: Free and open to all

We would like to invite you to a conversation with philosopher of science Vinciane Despret.

We will attempt to conjoin her own work and research with some of our most recent inquiries in the space. And the idea came to try to bring those questions together in the form of a letter (below).

At the heart of this conversation may be our understanding of politics and whether displacing the anthropocentrism of political conceptions and exploring our rapport with other forms of life, and with “nature”, may aid in reanimating other possibilities for how life may be lived and politics may be enacted or conceived.

Please refer to the letter below and the linked texts for some introduction.

1. A Letter to Vinciane

Dear Vinciane,

We have been thinking about your visit and looking forward to it. We wanted to give you a sense of the kinds of questions we have been asking in general in this last period, especially trying to share them with friends and a wider public in the city.

We have been exploring for some years now with others the possibility of bringing together disparate struggles around a perspective of the common(s). Common(s) as the basis of our social and material reproduction and a point to resist processes which increasingly enclose upon and threaten the bases and premises of life. From the worlds of knowledge and culture to that of seeds and genes, we are witnessing a rapid expansion of these processes of enclosure (through the regimes of property and privatization), so some of our efforts have been to organize various kinds of reflections, research, and conversations which would deepen and challenge our understanding of what a politics of a common(s) could become.

In these kinds of inquiries into the common(s) and non-capitalist forms of life, we find a multiplicity of theorizations and differences in practices. Among these divides, one could examine differences between the ecological side, the digital side, and those who come at both of these from a more articulated anti-capitalist understanding of the common(s).

In all of these cases however, we see some limitations of our imagination for a politics that could include non-human actors and non-human relations as part of a broader set of considerations. (Of course, efforts like attempting to secure “Nature’s Rights” are interesting attempts, but they seem, similar to cabon trading schemes or other such attempts, to try to resolve a set of problems through a logic that itself may be the cause of the problem.)

We have also been thinking about this verb commoning, which could be simply a process of putting something in common, or to maintain something common, to be shared, to be put to common use. It could also be understood as love.

In fact, we had an evening with Michael Hardt a little more than a week ago, and he was trying to share this reflection on a political concept of or relation to love. He was attempting to break the divisions of Eros and Agape and trying to think a love that could always be opening to an outside, always opening to difference and engendering multiplicities rather than a “love of the same.”

But even when attempting to speak of the love of difference, the question of other animals or life forms seemed difficult to access. And so it emerged as a question, this possibility to destroy the foundations of humanist and anthropo-centered traditions and ask from this “love of difference”, how non human life could be part of this love, part of our understanding of politics, and how this could be imagined and understood. How to be open to another understanding of politics.

And we started thinking about our last meeting and some things you had said.

First, on the heading of openness, you invoked William James, and you asked “what makes openness turn to the open?”

And you answered by saying, “It makes her or him feel and love contradictions, hesitate on the origin of actions.” And you said something to the effect that no one is an agent without an other one making her or him an agent.

And so you spoke about the power to be affected. What makes openness to the open, transforms he and she into an it or a they. And “I” is transformed into an “it”, or “they”, or even a “we” sometimes.

Borrowing the term of Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze, you spoke of becoming a part of an “agencement” (you don’t like the translation of the term into assemblage), one thing, touching the other, inextricably linked to being touched.

You said that for you, rather than speaking of initiatives, we should speak of initiators. And like this, rebuild the notion of agency, and move away from the subject. The product of an agencement. Subjectivity, you said, was too straight a frame.

You turned to art, as a space to think about this question of agency and referred to the work of Alfred Gell and his book ‘Art and Agency.’ Following Gell, art objects are social beings, can charm you, captivate you, they have agency, and they give agency to the one who is taken, captured, seduced. But for you Gell did not go far enough. You mentioned another philosopher, whose name escapes us, and you invoked his aesthetic theories, where there is a tracing of the relation of agency between the artist and the art object.

Following this thought then, an artist cannot be said to be the author of the art object. An artist can only be responsible for the art object, because she answers to the request of the art object to be created. Before being an art object, it has an existence, as material, as time, as paint, as idea, as a stone, as ink, as graphite… And this material begs to change its mode of existence, to become a work of art. And the artist has to respond to the request. “The work” then requests its becoming into existence and its achievement. The work requests, appeals for its fulfillment in another form of existence.

Building, creating, constructing, laboring, means to learn how to become sensitive to the pressures of multiple agencies, where none of them is really in common. Especially the maker, who is trying … and then, you used a word, instauration (maybe we can speak about this word together further).

In some way, it would seem that art can help us understand the kind of political diagram or story you are sketching out, or Gell and others are helping you sketch out. It is not a question of building relations per se, but seeing how those relations are there. And processes of becoming porous, sensitive, available to what one may be called to do, to experience, experiment, and enter processes of fabulation, even political ones.

How else to resist the imposition of a reality that is neither dead nor living. And as if all of this was not enough, we also wondered how politics today, not only cannot conceive of our relations with other animate things, but it is completely closed to relating with those things which/who have parted.

And your lack of fear to pass between these divides of materialism and immateriality and spirituality. Your thinking problematizes or renders inoperative these divisions, because you are looking for conjunctions, “and” instead of “or”.

So it would seem this question of our rapport with other living things is also reflected in our rapport to entities which are thought no longer alive or living. And even if it is true – that we live in a time when the only object of contemporary politics, outside of the vivification of money, seems to be death – humans have never been so disconnected from the dead and thus from what is called ‘history.’

Maybe we will talk about one of these things, maybe all of them. Maybe some people interested in these questions, will join us.

We imagine so.

1. Useful Links

Unruly Creatures: The Art and Politics of the Animal

Responding and suffering bodies in human-animal worlds

Sheep do have opinions

Ethology between Empathy, Standpoint and Perspectivism: the case of the Arabian babblers

The body we care for. Figures of anthropo-zoo-genesis

Culture and Gender do not Dissolve into how Scientists “read” Nature: Thelma Rowell’s Heterodoxy