We are pleased to introduce Issue 18.3. This is the last issue that will be co-edited by Davide Panagia who will be stepping down at the end of this summer after a five-year stint as co-editor that began in January 2010. Beginning with Issue 18.4, Kennan Ferguson will join Theory & Event as the new co-editor. This will be a bittersweet moment as Davide will be sorely missed, and Kennan will no doubt make an exciting debut.
Issue 18.3 has several special features including two essays, a symposium on William Connolly’s The Fragility of Things, and a multi-media production of a radio play by Walter Benjamin.
The first essay is K.B Burnside’s “The Ethics of Alienation: On the Question of Normalization and the Practice of Capital Defense.” Burnside takes a novel approach towards methods for defense attorneys in capital cases as well as larger questions of thinking about justice in contemporary legal practices. Opposing methods of empathy and normalization, she offers that such means displace and supersede the defendant (wherein, empathy becomes a way to make the defendant a projection of the law’s own phantasms). Burnside offers instead a defense of alienation as a method of engagement. Normally alienation is seen as a bad thing but in Burnside reads it via Brecht as a kind of counter-practice. She sees that it is in a sense only by abandoning the appearances of a rational and “normal” self (i.e. alienating from this self) that other forms of legal subjectivity can emerge. The larger implication of this essay is that radical possibilities can be made available even within the heart of existing legal and political systems and that in seeking a sense of humanity about capital defendants we can rethink our definitions of humanity more generally.
Jean-François Bissonnette’s “Resisting the Discipline of Debt: the Unfulfilled Radicalism of the 2012 Quebec Student Strike” revisits the events of the so-called “Maple Spring” in Quebec. In this paper, Bissonnette examines the role of debt in both fostering and constraining the student uprising at the heart of this phenomenon. Although, as Bissonnette writes, debt structures both the desires and the social controls that the students confronted, the student groups (especially CLASSE, the most radical and active of the organizations contesting the tuition hikes in 2012) were able to articulate demands that directly addressed and challenged this situation. They opposed not higher tuition per se, but more particularly greater debt insofar as this becomes the means by which populations are subordinated and rendered quiescent in our time. At the same time, the author shows how the debt regime is not so easily avoided and that the ongoing presence of debt based politics (in particular “the replacement of social rights by debt-inducing freedoms”) lessened the impact and radical outcomes of the student strike along with many other forms of political opposition.
The symposium on The Fragility of Things, Kellan Anfinson and Timothy Hanafin have drawn from papers at an earlier 2014 symposium at Johns Hopkins and edited them for publication. Their introduction, which can be accessed here, does a great job of describing each essay and contextualizing the symposium. To briefly introduce the introduction, these essays muse on “life in the middle of things,” the idea that human and non-human forces are constantly (and increasingly) interacting and forming the context in which we must operate as political subjects. Connolly’s book exposes the fragile and often tragic dimensions of the human context and the authors of the symposium reflect and expand upon these dimensions in their own work. The essays range in subject matter from considering the new “Anthropocene” age to a consideration of precarious lives in the river deltas of Bangladesh. William Connolly himself writes the final essay in this symposium, responding to his respondents and calling for a new form of radical pragmatism.
The radio play “True Stories about Dogs” is a multi-media project edited and produced by Ira Allen and Anita Chari. The specific object is a radio production made by Walter Benjamin that they have translated and produced in audio and musical format for Theory & Event. As the authors note, their contribution here is not merely textual but offers a set of “web-based multimodal compositions.” This is a highly original and exciting piece of scholarly intervention and we are delighted to be able to present it to our readership.
In their introduction to the podcast, Allen and Chari describe the context in which Benjamin’s radio broadcasts occurred. They were made live and we unfortunately have no record of Benjamin’s voice in these recordings but only his notes. Nevertheless, Allen and Chari locate these broadcasts in terms of Benjamin’s theory about radio and the radical possibilities for this medium. They bring the recordings to life in a way that belies the absence of the author’s original voice. Their purpose is not merely to bring this unique admixture of scholarship and artistry to our attention but also to connect it to contemporary modes of communication and, in particular, its relationship to the web and its media. Allen and Chari use Kenneth Burke’s notion of a comic frame to indicate what Benjamin is doing in his radio plays, a way to think about a particularly Benjaminian form of dialectic which is at once contingent, playful, and messianic. The accompanying five-part track is a wonderful and beautiful set of recordings with an eye towards maximizing both their political and affective impact.
Issue 18.3 concludes with five book reviews: Steven Swarbrick reviews Knox Peden’s Spinoza Contra Phenomenology: French Rationalism from Cavaillès to Deleuze; Vicki Hsueh reviews Lida Maxwell’s Public Trials: Burke, Zola, Arendt, and the Politics of Lost Causes; Joel Alden Schlosser reviews Matt Brim’s James Baldwin and the Queer Imagination; Nicholas Tampio reviews Jacob T. Levy’ Rationalism, Pluralism, & Freedom; and, Ted H. Miller reviews Torrey Shanks’ Authority Figures: Rhetoric and Experience in John Locke’s Political Thought.