Redemptive Constellations: Irish-Palestinian Relays in Emily Jacir’s Notes for a Cannon

Spatial fragmentation is the fundamental condition of Palestinian life, whether under occupation, or under siege, or in the global dispersal that has been the fate of refugees, denied their right of return to historic Palestine. Palestinian artist Emily Jacir’s work inhabits this space and time of fragmentation, committed to the redemption of the fragments of violently broken histories. Working in the mode of assemblage and installation, she pieces together into constellations of memory and correspondences the overlooked objects and damaged archives that bear historical memory and future hope. This article explores this dialectic of fragmentation as a response to the conditions settler colonialism in Palestine that draw lines of solidarity with other sites of colonialism and resistance. The article focuses on her recent site-specific installation, ‘Notes for a Cannon’ (2016) at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which explores the intervention of British and Israeli colonial regimes into temporality itself.

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From the Critique of Violence to the Critique of Rights

This essay addresses Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence” to draw out the implications of the paradox he notes, that an exercise of a right, if it calls into question the legitimacy of the legal order, can be perceived by the state as violent, even where it is, strictly speaking, nonviolent. Benjamin theorized this in relation to the general strike, which reveals “an objective contradiction in the legal situation” that is nonetheless fundamental to the problematic constitution-in-violence of the state itself. His meditation on the strike can be extended to boycott, divestment, and sanctions as nonviolent exercises of a right that are understood by the state as destructive acts of violence: they present a challenge to the legitimacy of the state precisely in their will to abolish a condition of exclusion and differential rights that is constitutive of the state. In this respect, the observation that BDS seeks “the destruction of the state of Israel” finds its rationale and its limit within the logic of the “Critique of Violence” but also points beyond the institutions of rights, states, and law.

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The Racial Thing: On Appropriation, Black Studies, and Thingliness

This essay is intended as a thinking-in-conversation with the black radical tradition and with the question of “thingliness” that emerges in the work of Fred Moten and Denise da Silva in particular. It hopes to extend my recent book Under Representation’s arguments regarding the Subaltern and early reflections on painting, theatre and the thing that I did in a previous book, Beckett’s Thing. It works through the opening chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, “On Sense Certainty”, in order to recuperate from his characterization of the pre-objectival thing something that might be called a resistant “social life of things”, to borrow a phrase from Moten. Hegel’s subsumption of the thing into self-conscious perception appears rather as a form of appropriation through representation. The essay ends with a reading of a passage in Toni Cade Bambara’s short story, “Broken Field Running”, that seems to exemplify the thinking as well as the dialogical form of this “social life of things.” Kerstin Stakemeier’s response, “An Unromantic Art”, follows.

The Social Life of Black Things

I want to identify not with creaturely life but with the stolen life of imagining things.

Fred Moten, ‘There is no Racism Intended’

Fred Moten’s three-volume collection of essays, consent not to be a single being, draws together some fifteen years of his consistently inventive but widely dispersed work in Black Studies, thus allowing his reader finally to begin the task of grasping it in its ensemble as something like a whole. 1 That task is complicated by precisely what makes the reading so exhilarating, namely the form that the work mostly takes. These are essays that, as African American poet Nathaniel Mackey aptly notes in his endorsement of the second volume, Stolen Life, each constitute ‘what John Coltrane called pursuance, in flight and toward something … an unremitting search prone to unexpected turns.’ Their construction is – as befits a critic who is also a poet and performance artist – poetic, in the sense that their flight often operates by way of association and through condensations and displacements of meaning which, though working at a high level of theoretical engagement, obey a logic of resonance and turn, recurrence and dispersion rather than gradual exposition. They remain in the problematic they engage with rather than seeking resolution and exit.

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Breath Crystals: A Vestigial Poetics of Breath in Beckett, Celan, and Arikha

This essay draws out some largely unremarked aesthetic convergences between Samuel Beckett and two Romanian-Jewish, German-language contemporaries of his: the poet Paul Celan and the painter Avigdor Arikha.

Nomos and Lyric: On Poetry and Justice

Nasser Hussain often attended to the relation between law and poetry and this article begins with a reading of his brief paper “Auden’s Law like Love.” In a famous essay, “Nomos and Narrative,” Robert Cover linked the communication and the application of legal norms to narrative. This article presents an alternative, anti-normative, and anti-narrative, notion of the relation between poetry and justice that one might call “a-nomos and lyric.” It argues that an alternative conception of “poetic justice” persists in the fundamental, paradoxical sociality of a poetic language that resists consumption and subsumption as it does coercion. In its very redundancy, in both the semantic and economic senses of the word, poetry renders to us an apprehension of what “justice” might be as opposed to law. Where law determines, decides, and pronounces sentence, justice opens the space of attentiveness that necessarily suspends the decision of the law. This idea of poetry unties the knotting of nomos to narrative as it stages the indeterminacy of the sentence and of the bounds of experience. Through its redundancy, condensation and proliferation of meaning through tropes, and its delay of the arrival of sense, poetry offers a different understanding of the relation of law and literature than arguments based on narrative can attain. It offers a model of justice beyond the law.

Kant’s Examples

AT THE CONCLUSION OF “The Methodology of Taste,” the closing section of the first part of The Critique ofJudgement, Kant evokes as an exemplary moment a cultural situation that resembles what a series of cultural thinkers, notably Georg Lukaics and Mikhail Bakhtin, will conceive to be the moment of epic:

There was an age and there were nations in which the active impulse towards a social life regulated by laws-what converts a people into a permanent community-grappled with the huge difficulties presented by the trying problem of bringing freedom (and therefore equality also) into union with constraining force (more that of respect and dutiful submis- sion than of fear). And such must have been the age, and such the nation, that first dis- covered the art of reciprocal communication of ideas between the more cultured and ruder sections of the community, and how to bridge the difference between the amplitude and refinement of the former and the natural simplicity and originality of the latter-in this way hitting upon that mean between higher culture and the modest worth of nature, that forms for taste also, as a sense common to all mankind, that true standard which no rules can supply. Hardly will a later age dispense with those models.’ It is a moment of appealing utopianism in a heretofore rigorously theoretical work, one whose appeal can scarcely have been negligible in the disintegrating postfeudal condition of late-eighteenth-century Germany. It can be taken as a document for an historic compromise between an intellectually powerful bour- geoisie with a comparatively underdeveloped economic base and a traditionally powerful but embattled aristocracy confronting the specter of bourgeois revolu- tion. As such, this passage may appear as a blueprint, if not the blueprint, for defining the political function of aesthetic culture.2 For this idealized represen- tation of cultural harmony marks the turn of a “disinterested” aesthetic into an interest that is not merely moral-for the explicit function of judgment is indeed to mediate from sense and understanding to ethics and reason-but also political.