The State of Things brings together essays by Franco Berardi, Leo Bersani, Judith Butler, T.J. Clark, Jan Egeland, Fawaz A. Gerges, Jacques Rancière, Saskia Sassen, Vandana Shiva and Eyal Weizman as commissioned by OCA as part of Norway’s official representation in the 54th edition of the Venice Biennale. The State of Things aims to tackle the ‘state of things’ today, drawing from the speakers’ fields of activity and research, and from what they consider the intellectual and political priorities of today. The overall programme took its cue from the Nansen Passport, created by Norwegian diplomat and explorer Fridtjof Nansen at the end of World War I in an attempt to enable refugees to move across borders in search of political and intellectual shelter.
The State of Things is edited by OCA’s director, Marta Kuzma and OCA’s associate curator, Pablo Lafuente, together with Peter Osborne, director of the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University, London. This title has been published in association with Università Iuav di Venezia’s Research Unit ‘Venice Biennale Study Group – Fare Mostre’ and with the support of Fritt Ord.
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Jacques Rancière – In What Time Do We Live?
The state of things is always a state of time. Issues of domination and emancipation are encapsulated in some basic questions: in what time do we live? To what form of historical evolution does our present belong? What futures does it open? From this point of view, this paper analyses the paradigms of temporality that ground the dominant descriptions of our present, and the ways in which political action and artistic invention can reframe and disrupt them.
Leo Bersani – Illegitimacy
'The state creates us by naming us.' These words, which conclude Pierre Bourdieu's Pascalian Meditations, condense the lessons of Bourdieu's lifelong work of exposing the hierarchical classifications by which the social order identifies and legitimises our social existence. To what degree might an effective resistance to oppressive social orders depend on our making ourselves unnamable? And to what extent does this in turn depend on our refusing to be socially, morally and sexually legitimated by the networks of power we inescapably inhabit? With references to Bourdieu, Jean Genet and Todd Haynes's film Safe, this essay examines strategies of negativity as pre-conditions for inventing what Michel Foucault called 'new relational modes'.
Vandana Shiva – The War Against the Earth
Why does the dominant economic model fail to meet the needs of so many societies and communities? Why is success measured by economic growth, so intimately related to increased poverty, hunger and thirst? As the dominant economy myopically focuses on the working of the market, it ignores both nature's economy and the sustenance economy, on which it depends. Not only does the dominant growth model ignore nature, it is based on a war against the Earth. This essay will speak about this war, and propose instead manners of making peace with the Earth through the notion of 'Earth democracy'.
Jan Egeland – Ten Lessons from Ten Peace Processes
On behalf of the Norwegian Government, the United Nations and several NGOs, Jan Egeland has been a facilitator or mediator in numerous peace efforts in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Latin America. He was part of the team behind the secret Norwegian Channel between Israel and the PLO that led to the Oslo Accords in 1993, and was involved in the Guatemala Peace Accords in 1996. Although each war and conflict party is unique, there are some general lessons that can be drawn from every peace effort for the benefit of a more effective approach in the future. This essay takes such experience as the basis for ten hard-won lessons.
Fawaz A. Gerges – How the Arab Uprisings Beat al Qaeda
A month before he was killed in a U.S. Navy SEAL team raid on his compound in May 2011, Osama bin Laden described the Arab Spring uprisings as a 'tremendous event', according to a cache of letters and documents seised from the al Qaeda leader’s hideaway and recently released by American authorities. The documents, show that bin Laden was deeply troubled by an apparent loss of Muslim public support, and a few months before his death, he considered changing the name of al Qaeda to allow it to better exploit the Arab revolts of 2011.
Eyal Weizman – Material Proportionality
In this essay Weizman examines the concept of 'lesser evil' and its powerful influence on Western philosophy and modern politics with its dark side of pragmatism. Through a forensic-architectural investigation of sites of contemporary conflict: the relief centres set up by Médecins Sans Frontières during its intervention in Ethiopia in the 1980s; the legal debates around the building of the separation wall in Israel–Palestine; and developments in the application of international human rights law in Bosnia, Palestine and Iraq, Weizman unravels the relation to Israel’s domination of the Gaza Strip. It is in Gaza where the principle of the lesser evil is invoked to justify a new type of humanitarian violence, and a proper noun for the horrors of our humanitarian present.
Judith Butler – Bodily Vulnerability, Coalitions, and Street Politics
Although some have argued that the politics of the street has been replaced by new media politics, it seems that the public sphere within which politics takes place is now defined by a specific mode of bodies interacting with media. Hannah Arendt once argued that there could be no exercise of freedom without the creation of a 'space of appearance' and even 'a right to appear'. How do we understand those new forms of democratic insurgency that form alliances that are not in coalitional forms? Who is the embodied 'we' on the street transported through media, and yet in place and at risk?
Franco Berardi – Pasolini in Tottenham
In 1968 the relation between Pier Paolo Pasolini and the Student Movement in Italy was a troubled one. In the midst of the controversy, Pasolini was accused by the students of being a populist representative of a backward culture, nostalgic of a legendary pre-modern time. This essays argues that, from today's perspective, things seem different, and Pasolini can be understood not to have been looking to the past but to the distant future that is now our present: an age characterised by barbarianism and of ignorant aggressiveness. Today, in the age of the televisual and financial dictatorship, reading Pasolini is a way to retrace the genesis of Italy's present.
Saskia Sassen – Urban Capabilities: Crafted Out of Challenges Larger Than Our Differences
Cities have long been sites for conflicts, including wars, racism, religious hatred and exclusion of the poor. And yet, while national states have historically responded by militarising conflict, cities have tended to triage conflict through commerce and civic activity. Major developments in the current global era signal that cities are losing this capacity, and becoming sites for a whole range of new types of conflicts, such as asymmetric war, urban violence and acute environmental challenges. Further, the dense and conflictive spaces of cities, overwhelmed by inequality and injustice, can become the sites for a variety of secondary, more anomic types of conflicts, from drug wars to the major environmental disasters looming in our immediate futures. All of these challenge the traditional commercial and civic capacity that has allowed cities to avoid war more often than not, when confronted with conflict, and to incorporate diversity of class, culture, religion and ethnicity.
T.J. Clark – The Experience of Defeat
Whether or not the present Restoration is invulnerable, the Left in advanced capitalist countries has lived for the past two decades looking failure square in the face. The disappearance of a Left alternative from the space of politics, or even from the space of political imagination, remains the great fact of our time. Taking its title from Christopher Hill's great study of radical writing after the English Civil War, this essay is concerned, as part of that work, with the Left's sense of progress. It asks what it could mean to a Left politics for it no longer to consider itself 'on the side of history' – not to imagine its task, in other words, as the realisation of the baulked potentials of capitalism and/or modernity, not to see its eventual victory written into the DNA of an economic order, not to posit some version of utopia, not, in a word, to 'have the future in its bones'. Is a Left with no future a contradiction in terms? If not the future, then what? Is it only the Right that can (imaginatively, politically) dispense with the myth of freedom in full possession of technics? What aims and imagery might there be for an 'un-modernity' to come?