The ‘event’ has been marked as exceptional and momentous in postwar philosophy and theory. The recent spate of exhibitions, books, and conferences commemorating May ’68 from the hindsight of fifty years has reiterated that exceptionalism; as period nostalgia, political flashpoint, revolutionary reboot… ‘Eventalness’ – distinguished by singularity, rupture, the break, the interval, the void, the moment (Patrice Maniglier’s identification of ’68 with ‘le moment philosophique’) – coalesces into a grand aporia of the Political. What does it mean to take exception to this exceptionalism of the Political (a politics worthy of the name)? Félix Guattari’s writings on micropolitics and ecosophy answer this on the oblique by scoring sensate environments: intensities of power and desire; the viscosity of social atmospherics, psychic pulsations, and drives. These sensible materialities blur the sharp outlines of epic turning points that structure theories of the Political, blurring the perception of what politics is or where it happens, opening up other ways of naming the ‘matter’ of politics (a central concern of Apter’s book Unexceptional Politics: On Obstruction, Impasse, and the Impolitic, Verso 2018).
‘Micropolitics’, adduced as a fluid concept with reference to Guattari’s molecular ‘micropolitics of desire’; Foucault’s cellular ‘microphysics of power’; Antonio E. Casilli’s ‘microlabour’ (microtravail, a term applied to digital labour, work outsourced to machinic taskers like Amazon Mechanical Turk or Clickworker); and Grégoire Chamayou’s ‘micropolitics of privatization’ (a tactic by which the Thatcherite state put the micropolitics of ungovernability to neoliberal ends), grows into other glossaries: Sara Ahmed’s ‘atmospheric walls’ of social inclusion and exclusion; Achille Mbembe’s force-fields of ‘nanoracism’; Kris Manjapra’s ‘colonial entanglements’, which focus on political alignments sidelined in grand narratives of imperial domination; or the late Hayden White’s historical construct of ‘the practical past’ which refers to tactics of living, archived memories, affects, and dreams. Whether it is in small group associations that reorganize socioeconomic relations in the context of labour, education, and care, or the practice of listening, questioning, and struggling to find a voice, (a crucial narrative of feminist consciousness-raising), or in political technologies of destratification that are deployed both right and left, energies are recovered. They emanate from practical, ordinary acts as well as the stuff of decomposition, impasse, obstacle courses of junk and detritus (the ZAD, la zone à défendre at Notre-Dame des Landes). The rich poesis of ecosophy, offering up a micropolitics of densified milieu, environmental déclenchements, and resistant jardinage, lies in the fallows of post-’68; becoming perceptible in the blurred retrospect on ‘the event’ of ’68.
Emily Apter is Julius Silver Professor of French and Comparative Literature at New York University and a Remarque-Ecole Normale Supérieure Visiting Professor; she has also taught at the University of California, Los Angeles; UC Davis; Cornell University; and Williams College. Apter is editor of the book series ‘Translation/Transnation’ from Princeton University Press and serves on several editorial boards. Her books include Unexceptional Politics: On Obstruction, Impasse, and the Impolitic (2018), Against World Literature: On The Politics of Untranslatability (2013), and The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (2006).
An ICI Berlin event in cooperation with The American Academy in Berlin
The lecture is part of the current ICI Lecture Series ERRANS, environ/s. There is hardly a discipline, field, or discourse within the natural and social sciences nor the humanities that hasn’t long been touched and transformed by the notions of milieu, environment, or Umwelt. The recent revival and proliferation of ecological discourses can be understood, at least in part, as a response to the increasingly complete immersion in technologically in-formed environments.
The transdisciplinary impact of these new concepts has not yet been captured, nor is it clear that it can be captured, but while the life sciences play a prominent role in them (having adopted, in the 19th century, concepts from physics and transgressed into the social sciences, for example, as racist discourses and social Darwinism), they don’t operate as the leading science in this transformation. Instead, this process appears to be a multidirectional, non-hierarchizable, and errant movement, itself constituting a complex ecology of knowledge.
ERRANS environ/s contemplates aspects of this frequently divergent, potentially errant, and certainly ongoing transformation of not only the sciences or cultures of knowledge, but also cultural and artistic production at large. It will investigate the ways in which an attention to environments can have the effect of dissolving boundaries or making them permeable, questioning clear-cut distinctions, undermining naive ontologies, decentring the subject, folding nature and culture, and producing complex political ecologies attuned to far-reaching entanglements.
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