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Politics and Ontology

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Organizer: Matthew Scully

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Politics, as that which relates to the organization of public life, and ontology, as the study of being, have long been intertwined. Left/right identity politics, for example, often ground themselves on an ontologized, or essentialized, identity. In contrast, many theorists view politics as the construction of identity. Jacques Rancière, for instance, insists that politics determines the ontological status of its subjects, rather than the reverse; no “human being” preexists the political act.

A critique of the human remains crucial today. With climate change and proliferating threats of mass annihilation, Claire Colebrook suggests, “The possibility of an actual end of ‘man’ has led to man’s resurgence and justification” (“Cinemas and Worlds” 40). Consequently, political determination of the human is obscured, and “it is no longer possible to question the human, or even reality.” Recommitting to politics might prevent this foreclosure of critical questioning.

Yet others do not grant politics the potential to engage in such a critique. Calvin Warren’s Ontological Terror, for instance, argues that anti-blackness constitutes ontology: the human always depends on the non-human, figured as black nonbeing. Politics is merely ontology’s symptom. The failure of “progressive legislation” and “political movements” “to transform black being into human being, from fleshless bodies to recognized ontologies” registers politics’ symptomatic inefficacy (48). These issues remain imperative given the continued mass incarceration of and state-sanctioned violence against people of color.

Where Warren grants politics no potency in affecting an always anti-black ontology, Lee Edelman and Alenka Zupančič grant (liberal notions of) “the human” no place in any rigorous discussion of either ontology or politics. Politics, in Edelman’s No Future, refers to the fantasmatic space that supplements the subject’s alienation and self-division. More recently, Edelman proposes to re-describe politics “as the insistence of a structural antagonism” (Sex, or the Unbearable 70). In alignment with this proposal, Zupančič argues that politics “impl[ies], depend[s] on, and deploy[s] something which is not of the order of being” (What is Sex? 22). A “Lacanian politics” therefore reopens rather than sutures ontological inconsistency.

Please submit 250-word abstracts by September 20. We welcome papers that intervene in a range of contemporary political and philosophical problems, including:

The politics of ontology or the ontology of politics
Anarchy and Democracy
Marxian theory
Recent political movements and crises (e.g., Black Lives Matter, left/right populism, fascism, migrant/immigrant rights)
Psychoanalytic interventions (e.g., the Ljubljana school)
Black Studies and Afro-Pessimism
Identity politics, Class politics
Specific author engagements (e.g., Fanon, Deleuze, Wynter, Badiou)

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