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Perception, Jurisdiction, and Valorization in Colonial Modernity. On the Nexus of Accumulation, Race, and Aesthetics

In Zusammenarbeit mit Ruth Sonderegger (Akademie der bildenden Künste, Wien) und Pablo Valdivia (Europa Universität Viadrina), gefördert durch die Volkswagen-Stiftung, Aufbruch – Neue Forschungsräume für die Geistes- und Kulturwissenschaften (2022-2025)

Placing a special emphasis on theories of (universal) rights, property, and aesthetics, our research project scrutinizes the epistemic violence of European philosophy between the 16th and 18th centuries. The project focuses on three universal legitimization narratives of Western Europe’s transatlantic colonial expansion: the legal defense of the Iberian colonial project; the natural right and natural law justifications of land grabbing, colonial war, and slavery in classic contract theories; and the exclusion of the colonized from the world of sublimation, taste, and moral civility in Western aesthetics. We aim to focus particular attention on the long-neglected processes of racialization and their complex entanglement with economic valorization, patriarchal power, and the domination of nature. On a critical level, our project asks whether and how this epistemic violence is still in effect today, and which partitions and practices of the sensible break with the schemata of possessive universalism and valorization.

The extended theoretical framework of the project is connected to contemporary debates concerning the processes of capitalist accumulation. We conceive of accumulation as a warlike process underpinning colonial modernity and its aftermaths. Moreover, we understand accumulation to be a historically extended, aleatory dynamic between different societal instances, which run in unpredictable superimpositions while nevertheless remaining interlinked. Formulated in opposition to teleological narratives of progress and (civilizational) refinement – which are as essential for early modern Western aesthetic theories as they are for various strands of Marxism – our project seeks to suspend hegemonic notions of historical time, agency, and universality. Instead of narrating the history of modern Western aesthetics as a history of autonomy and liberation, the project reconstructs how the “freedom” of the modern aesthetic subject cannot be understood independently of the colonial grammar of European expansionist politics and its attendant legal and economic practices. Said grammar enabled racial capitalism to reduce the colonized to a mere resource, ‘detritus’ or ‘waste,’ one which only Western legal, proprietarian, and aesthetic interventions were capable and allowed to valorize or discard.

Based on analyses concerning the manner in which aesthetic, legal, and value-based conceptualizations of liberty feed into each other, our project poses the speculative question of whether and how an emancipatory notion of the aesthetic can bring decolonial and poststructuralist, Deleuze-Guattarian minoritarian traditions of thought and perception into a new and liberatory constellation. By critically examining the foundations of colonial modernity, the project aims to envision a heterodox politics of the sensible that breaks with the concepts of autonomy, subjectivity, and the logic of economic value.

Forschungskooperation: Protests, art practices and culture of memory in the post-Yugoslav context, University of Ljubljana, Department of Philosophy (Leitung Dr. Gal Kirn) (seit 2021)

The project researches the role of artistic practices, the culture of memory and protests in the last period of post-socialist transition in the post-Yugoslav context. If the first decade of transition was marked by ethnic wars and demise of socialist welfare state, then the last decade was marked by the rise of authoritarian neoliberalism and a strengthening of social inequalities. What was once held high as neoliberal utopia in the pursuit of individual happiness through entrepreneurialism has been brought to an end, and with it, one of the flagships of the post-socialist transition also fell: the belief that the transition is leading to an "open", democratic and more just society. This project starts from a key premise of critical theory, which argues that transition is (has been) neither a homogeneous nor a neutral process, but a process marked by a series of contradictions and even regressions, which at the most extreme point manifest themselves in wars and rehabilitation of local fascism. The research focus is based on the case studies from Slovenia, but also includes an analysis of some important cases and events from the selected post-Yugoslav countries. The project addresses three main sets of questions: (1) What are the key commonalities and differences of transition in the post-Yugoslav context? How have alternative politics and art responded to the collateral damage / negative effects of the transition? (2) How did alternative practices mobilise emancipatory traces of the past (Yugoslavia, partisan struggle, self-management) that go beyond nostalgia? (3) Who were the real agents of democratisation, and in which places and with which demands did the protests and uprisings succeed in shaking up the hegemonic constellation, and in which places did they merely support the status quo?

Weitere Informationen:

After 1968. On the Notion of the Political in Post-Marxist Theory (2007–2012)

In light of the diagnosis early formulated by Socialisme ou barbarie that in Marx’s philosophy the question of politics has been partially obscured by evolutionist, teleological or economist theorems, the research project examines different approaches to instigate a re-politicisation of Marxism undertaken in contemporary currents of French philosophy, particularily in (post)-structuralism, deconstruction and left-Heideggerianism. These undertakings belong to a series of heterodox Marx readings, in which Marx is read through concepts not derived from the critique of political economy, German idealism, or early French socialism, but referencing rather unexpected authors like Epicurus and Lucretius, Spinoza and Descartes, Nietzsche and Sorel, Bataille and Heidegger. Departing from Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe’s work at the Centre de recherche philosophique sur le politique the research project focusses on a critical reconstruction of post-Marxism’s key concepts like class and mass, labour and desire, value and crisis, causality and event, clinamen and den, bio- and necropolitics, subject and assemblage. The project pursues a symptomatic reading strategy in which particular attention is payed to the conceptual fractures, aporiae and equivocations articulated in contemporary French reconstructions of Marx’s critique of political economy and its concomitant idea of politics.

Conferences, workshops and seminars with Miguel Abensour (University of Paris-7), Nathan Brown (University of California, Davis), Andrea Cavaletti (Iuav University of Venice), Roberto Esposito (University of Naples), Filippo Del Lucchese (Brunel University, London), Giorgos Fourtounis (Panteion University, Athens), Christian Kerslake (Middlesex University, London), Mikko Lahtinen (University of Tampere), Michael Löwy (EHESS, Paris), Matteo Mandarini (Queen Mary University, London),Warren Montag (Occidental College, Los Angeles), Vittorio Morfino (University of Milano-Bicocca), Rodrigo Nunes (PUCRS, Porto Allegre), Michaela Ott (University of Fine Arts, Hamburg), Jacques Rancière (University of Paris-8), Jason Read (University of Southern Maine), Miguel Robles-Duran (Parsons, New York), Martin Saar (Goethe University of  Frankfurt/M.), Thomas Seibert (philosopher, Frankfurt/M.), Ruth Sonderegger (Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna), Panagiotis Sotiris (University of Mytilene), Kathrin Thiele (University of Utrecht), Caroline Williams (Queen Mary University, London), Frieder Otto Wolf (Free University of Berlin), Steve Wright (Monash University, Melbourne), and others.

The project was integrated in a three-part research network at the Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht, including the projects of Mladen Dolar (University of Ljubljana) on French Hegelianism and Dominiek Hoens (Circle for Lacanian Ideology Critique, Hogeschool Gent) on the future of Lacan.