In this issue of Theory&Event, we inaugurate a new feature, “Conversations,” with a thought-provoking exchange between Judith Butler and Bill Connolly that begins with reflections on the impact of Gender Trouble and the political controversies that have followed from the critique of identity— not only gender identity — initiated in those pages, and moves on to discuss other possible troubles — such as, in the relationship of ethics to politics and universalism to cosmopolitanism.
Our symposium features an intervention by Stephen White into the politics of ontology. Developing a concept of “weak ontology” and identifying various thinkers as caretakers of this position to advance affirmative positions in regard to the politics of existence, White develops lines for both extending and criticizing a neo-Kantian liberal politics. We follow with responses by Ingrid Creppell, Jane Bennett and Mark Warren.
In a radical refiguring of the political theory of Thomas Hobbes, James Martel’s essay makes the case that Hobbes’s is, unfortunately for us, the path untaken by modern liberal theory. Martel’s Hobbes is a both a proto-Nietzschean thinker of the importance of willing for community, and a skeptic who is able to recognize the limits of skepticism in the exercise of power. Unlike Locke and Rousseau, whose theories tend to close out the possibility of a continued refiguring of the very bases of society, Hobbes becomes, in Martel’s exegesis, a subtle and flexible proponent of keeping open the foundations of political agreement.
Eric Wilson, reading Benjamin against one of his contemporary champions, Kaja Silverman, challenges her interpretation of the meaning of a key term in Benjamin’s political theory — the idea of the aestheticization of politics, through which Benjamin gained purchase on the depth and power of fascism’s relationship to capital. Connecting Silverman’s understanding of this term to the contemporary politics of recognition, Wilson suggests that there is another path one might take that more firmly adheres to Benjamin’s materialism.
Bill Chaloupka and Thomas Dumm, coeditors