Manifesto part VI: Activist Philosophy & Call for Input PAI 2016-2017

Last Friday we discussed Latour’s ‘What is the Style of Matters of Concern’, and Massumi’s ‘Semblance and Event’. Latour’s text is about the ‘two cultures’ which for a long time have been dividing universities by means of making a distinction between disciplines who investigate facts, and disciplines who are more interested in the subjective experience of these supposed facts. In previous sessions we already encountered Latour’s matter of concern. These might be described as matters of fact whose influence starts to extend beyond its normal borders, and for instance, interacts with politicians, health professionals, and academics. But in the text for this session, Latour’s argument seems to different. Instead of more or less affirming the distinction between matters of fact and matters of concern, he now explains that those matters of facts are not simply out there, ‘waiting’ to get drawn into a network full of actants, but:

“the extraordinary fragile and transient provisional terminus of a whole flow of betting organisms whose reproductive means have to be made clear and paid to the last cent in hard currency. Endurance is what has to be obtained, not what is already given by some substrate, or some substance.” (p. 49).

Or, put differently, only in highly artificial circumstances it is possible to speak about these supposed “ahistorical ingredients of the world” (p. 34), which are for specifically that reason, made part of an aesthetic for which we care, and which makes them matter, in a similar way as for matters of concern. Because, as Latour argues, matters of fact remain “an aesthetic, a way to draw things together” (p. 43). And here aesthetics came into the picture. For Latour, things are not out there in the world, to be analyzed with help of a theory of epistemology, but are always already part of a certain aesthetic helping to make sense of our experiences.

For Massumi, this emphasis on the mistake of thinking one could isolate things from their environment, is one of the building blocks of his book. Massumi presents an nonobjectivist, noncognitive, noncontradictory, nonconnective, and nonlocal ‘activist’ philosophy. But what’s left when it is neither of these things? What’s left isthe “quasi-chaotic something-doing that is the general condition in the world” (p. 4). Massumi talks not about subjects, not about objects, but about events: processes which are not experienced by subjects but are constitutive of ‘subjects’. Events are in other words self-creative (p. 8). The event can be described as follows:

“The “creative advance into novelty” runs from the objective vagueness of a quasi-chaos of activity already going on, to a terminal definiteness of an experience subjectively “satisfying” its enjoyment of itself in a final fulfillment knowingly felt” (p. 9).

We are constantly thrown into processes already going on which can only be retrospectively be identified and described. After describing it, the process to which we refer already transformed into something else. We are never able to completely grasp everything. The manner in which we try to make sense of these endless streams of experience, the manner in which we say ‘this is this and that event’, is the creative self-enjoying, aesthetic aspect of Massumi’s project. Because we do not create events on our own, but are in these processes part of different networks ourselves, our being-in-the-world (Heidegger) is to be characterized as political, according to Massumi (p. 12).

So, both Latour and Massumi present an interpretation of how we as individuals are small parts of a dense network of countless other things. The manner in which we (speculatively) try to make sense of this position is by using concepts which at least temporarily draw things together. For both authors, this is the aesthetic part of our being-in-the-world. And because we draw things together as collective, our aesthetic attempts of making sense of ourselves is inherently political.

At least, this is my speculative attempt of drawing Latour and Massumi together. There’s a high chance I now highlight parts which are for you less interesting or important. As usual, I invite you all to comment on it and take a stance in this discussion.

These is one statement for our Manifesto I wrote down:

  • Embrace the Paradox!

If you have got other statements, please let me know.


For now, I want to end with a call for input for our upcoming season on political-aesthetics starting in September. What do you want to read, watch, do and discuss? Note that we are not limited by one format (texts) only. As we did before, it is perfectly fine to watch a film, or even read poetry, novels, or go to the theater to finally get a grasp of what political theater means.

I think it is good to simply publish all the input on this blog. Before September, a first draft of the scheme of next sessions will be published on which you all can comment. I received the following proposals:

  • Latour – Toward a Philosophy of Design (2008)
  • Latour – The Key Success in Innovation part I (2002)
  • Latour – Spheres and Networks: Two Ways to Reinterpret Globalization (2014)
  • Latour – An Ant’s View on Architecture (2008)

Please note that I did not read all the input myself. I will update this list each time I receive new input.

2 thoughts on “Manifesto part VI: Activist Philosophy & Call for Input PAI 2016-2017

  1. Hardly speculative, Gijs, and thanks for the summary!

    Here are some suggestions of texts, widely construed, to continue our investigation of things via political aesthetics:

    –> Jacques Rancière’s “The Distribution of the Sensible” in his _The Politics of Aesthetics_
    –> Alain Badiou’s _Being and Event_, especially Chapters 3 (on “nature”) and 4 (on evental sites, with Mallarmé!)
    –> Hannah Arendt’s _The Human Condition_, especially Chapter 23 entitled “The Permanence of the World and the Work of Art”

    –> Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”
    –> Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell”
    –> Hayao Miyazaki’s “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind”

    –> Olafur Eliasson’s “Notion Motion”, perhaps as a comparative counterpoint to our previous discussions, currently on exhibition at Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam until 18 September
    –> Esther de Graaf’s “Branching Fields” for an empathic resonance in spatial structures of things, currently on exhibition at Groninger Museum in Groningen until 2 October
    –> Jean Tinguely’s retrospective “Machine Spectacle” for a playful mix of movement and sound to expand artistic definitions, on exhibition at Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam from 1 October 2016 to 5 March 2017

    Looking forward to seeing more comments and recommendations…


  2. This might also be interesting:

    “In A World of Becoming William E. Connolly outlines a political philosophy suited to a world whose powers of creative evolution include and exceed the human estate. This is a world composed of multiple interacting systems, including those of climate change, biological evolution, economic practices, and geological formations. Such open systems, set on different temporal registers of stability and instability, periodically resonate together to produce profound, unpredictable changes. To engage such a world reflectively is to feel pressure to alter established practices of politics, ethics, and spirituality. In pursuing such a course, Connolly draws inspiration from philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Alfred North Whitehead, and Gilles Deleuze, as well as the complexity theorist of biology Stuart Kauffman and the theologian Catherine Keller.
    Attunement to a world of becoming, Connolly argues, may help us address dangerous resonances between global finance capital, cross-regional religious resentments, neoconservative ideology, and the 24-hour mass media. Coming to terms with subliminal changes in the contemporary experience of time that challenge traditional images can help us grasp how these movements have arisen and perhaps even inspire creative counter-movements. The book closes with the chapter “The Theorist and the Seer,” in which Connolly draws insights from early Greek ideas of the Seer and a Jerry Lewis film, The Nutty Professor, to inform the theory enterprise today.”



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