- Broken?Notes toward 2067
As academics, activists, and artists, the signatories of "Staying with the Breaks" and I are engaged in the urgent need to respond to anthropogenic climate change. We share similar intellectual formations and languages. Our engagement with critical theory, cultural studies, philosophy, history, and political struggle displays significant overlaps. In other words, their response to my essay does not demonstrate an intellectual or ideological disagreement. It is not a denial of my claims about climate change or a defense of entrepreneurial capitalism against my critique of it, nor is it a diatribe against me as a social justice warrior of postmodernism. What, then, is it?
My belief is that their response enacts what my essay addresses: the difficulty of praxis across political lines. I am speaking not just about the obvious chasms between Right and Left but also the lines that divide the contemporary Left. In my call for a solidarity that is not based on sameness but that attempts to "jump the breaks" between differences, I speak about the form of accumulative possessive individualism that undermines political collectivity and emancipation. I draw upon scholars such as Jodi Dean, Nancy Fraser, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Gayatri Spivak, Angela Davis, and Judith Butler, all of whom address the fractures that have vexed progressive politics for decades. Though I cite others, I write from a vulnerable and intimate first-person position because I do not believe that I am outside of the dominant ideologies that I seek to [End Page 176] address. I point my finger first and foremost at myself, acknowledging my limitations and biases and exposing my own anxieties about possessive individualism, generational misunderstandings, and the urgent need for a timely response to impending devastation.
Though I am disappointed by the ad hominem nature of "Staying with the Breaks," I appreciate what I have learned from it. The signatories are articulate writers, and I am grateful for the wording of their call for "a more militant universalism adequate to the challenge of confronting and transforming this world [that] might require the embrace of a heterogenous, uneven, and uncontainable form of collectivity that develops out of, not despite, difference." This is a cogent and more articulate way of stating what I tried to work through in the final section of my essay, in which I took the risk of imagining a solidarity across heterogeneity, difference, and disagreement.
What is at issue in our debate is the question of how politics is performed. A politics of solidarity is about creating a space in which individuals can be challenged and accepted at the same time. Practices of sociality and collegiality can start from a place of generosity and willingness to learn from each other. This allows for dialogue as well as dissensus. The signatories describe their commitment to building such political capacity through collective action and praxis. However, their response is based on critique as exclusion—in which people can be dismissed or shamed because of their supposed "uninterrogated whiteness" or fear of "contamination." The signatories are, in my reading of their personalized argument, closing themselves off from the challenges and discomfort that other people can pose. This does not constitute the goal of political action.
This response did not surprise me, since its mode of exclusionary critique was already apparent in the behaviour of the signatories as they participated in the five-week residency Banff Research in Culture (BRiC) 2017. BRiC, which has run nine consecutive years, aims to bring together a wide range of people across disciplines from different geographic locations and levels of experience and provides a subsidized situation in which participants can work with one another on the constitution of new ideas. As a coorganizer, I have a role in selecting participants from a large pool of qualified applicants, so I am always eager to get to work with the participants, whose stimulating proposals I admire and respect. The problems that ensued because of the 2017 group's actions cannot be discussed in a public forum, but suffice it to say that they had deep repercussions for the program and for the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. [End Page 177]
As I wrote...