The Nonhuman: Aesthetics and Politics of Personhood

Announcing my fall graduate seminar. Download syllabus as PDF.

Harvard University
Department of Visual and Environmental Studies
The Nonhuman: Aesthetics and Politics of Personhood (VES 232)

FALL 2016

Professor Alexander R. Galloway
Office Hours: Thu 4-5pm & Fri 10-11am
Time: Thursdays, 2 - 4pm
Location: Carpenter Center 401

From climate change and infrastructure to objects and animality, the nonhuman realm exerts a growing influence on contemporary life. In this seminar we consider persons as things and things as persons, but also peer beyond the human into a world devoid of humanity. What does personhood mean in the age of the posthuman? Themes include proletarianization, animality, new materialism, posthumanism, pessimism, and the commons.

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Meditations on Last Philosophy

To ask the question “What is philosophy?” typically requires that the philosopher return to the origins of thought, to plumb the depths of being in pursuit of its foundations. This is what Kant does in the Critique of Pure Reason, what Heidegger does in Being and Time, and even what Deleuze and Guattari do in What Is Philosophy? It is the most emblematic philosophical chore, to return to first principles.

François Laruelle, however, does no such thing. This kind of question is the very question he refuses to answer, refuses even to pose. Not what philosophy? Not how philosophy? Not even where or when philosophy? If Laruelle asks anything, he asks Why philosophy? And, more important, Why not? Why not no philosophy? Continue reading

Badiou's Gauntlet

Badiou's Gauntlet, the challenge that Badiou issues to any kind of philosophy, is that the categories are three. No more than three, but also no less than three. Badiou's Gauntlet is that there are bodies and languages, but also truths.

The challenge permeates all of Badiou's work. One particularly clear expression of it comes at the start of Logics of Worlds, where Badiou differentiates cleanly between the two-category thinkers and the three-category thinkers. The two-category thinkers claim that there are only bodies and languages, only two basic categories of existence. These “bodies and languages” may appear under any number of alternate names. Some philosophers talk about objects and relations, others about extension and thought. Some contemplate matter and mind, others wrestle with things and information. The names are not as important as the commitment they entail, that there are only two basic things in the world, only real entities and the languages through which they interrelate. Continue reading

Ending the World as We Know It

I recently interviewed Andrew Culp about his new book Dark Deleuze. Read the whole interview here.

Alexander R. Galloway: You have a new book called Dark Deleuze (University of Minnesota Press, 2016). I particularly like the expression “canon of joy” that guides your investigation. Can you explain what canon of joy means and why it makes sense to use it when talking about Deleuze?

Andrew Culp: My opening is cribbed from a letter Gilles Deleuze wrote to philosopher and literary critic Arnaud Villani in the early 1980s. Deleuze suggests that any worthwhile book must have three things: a polemic against an error, a recovery of something forgotten, and an innovation. Proceeding along those three lines, I first argue against those who worship Deleuze as the patron saint of affirmation, second I rehabilitate the negative that already saturates his work, and third I propose something he himself was not capable of proposing, a “hatred for this world.” So in an odd twist of Marx on history, I begin with those who hold up Deleuze as an eternal optimist, yet not to stand on their shoulders but to topple the church of affirmation.

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History is What Hurts

In 1997 I quit my dot-com job and moved to North Carolina to study with Fredric Jameson. Nearly twenty years later I've managed to write something about him and explain why I find his work so valuable. It's been published in a special issue on Jameson published at Social Text. Read my piece "History Is What Hurts: On Old Materialism" along with excellent contributions by Jonathan Beller, Sulgi Lie, Amy Villarejo, Jennifer Bajorek, and Alberto Toscano, as well as an interesting new interview with Jameson conducted by issue editors Nico Baumbach, Damon Young, and Genevieve Yue. (If you're blocked behind the paywall just email me.)

Jodi’s Infrastructure

One might query any contemporary artist and, as a kind of litmus test, ask the following series of questions: Do you think of yourself as primarily working “on” the digital or primarily “within” it? Is the computer incidental to your work, a tool like any other? Or is the computer at the heart of what you do? Shall art orient itself toward the digital? Or shall art merely live inside the digital, while concerning itself with other topics entirely?

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Being Is a Computational Mode

An experiment: Let's take the Principle of Sufficient Reason extremely literally. A common but unfortunate way of understanding the principle is to turn it into an explanatory narrative for how things were made or where they came from. “For any entity, there is a narrative that will explain why it exists and why it exists in this manner.”

Such an interpretation confuses the principle of sufficient reason and limits its utility. It reduces facticity to causality. It reduces givenness to a lurid narrative of origins. It shackles appearance to logic.

To avoid such an interpretation, the principle should be taken literally, that is, in terms of the co-presence of being and thought. “No actual entity, then no reason” (Whitehead). Being in the world requires thought in the world. Being-given requires thought-given. An entity requires a reason. To be with means to think with. Thus to follow the path of being also means to follow the path of co-thought, or com-putation. Continue reading