Public Talk Series 

ANTHROPOCENE: A CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECOLOGY
Rohit Goel

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Tuesday, 13 September 2022 | 6:00 - 8:00 pm GST

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The title of the talk reformulates that of Marx’s mature social theory, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. In his 1867 opus, Marx argued that political economists – seeming analysts (scientists) of how capitalism produces value – are actually in need of analysis (subjects of capital), producers of capitalist value themselves. Homologously, Rohit Goel suggests that political ecologists/environmentalists – seeming analysts (scientists) of how humans produce nature – are actually in need of analysis (culturalists), producers of nature themselves.

Rohit Goel is Director/Professor of the Bombay Institute for Critical Analysis and Research (BICAR). He is the co-editor of Lacan contra Foucault: Subjectivity, Sex, Politics (Bloomsbury) and has taught courses in philosophy, critical theory, historiography, and politics at the University of Chicago, Sciences Po Paris, the American University of Beirut, and Jnanapravaha Mumbai.

AN EDIBLE GOLD
Moza Almatrooshi

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Bees have been collaborating with humans for at least 9,000 years, as a source of medicine and food as well as religious and cultural inspiration. Bees increase food quantity and quality through pollination; and there would be no cucumbers, mustard or almonds without bees. They play a vital part not only in agricultural production but also in forestry and climate regulation. Monocropping, pesticides and higher temperatures associated with climate change all pose serious problems for bee populations and, by extension, for us. Moza Almatrooshi’s works "There / This / Here is an edible gold" lyrically fuse the cares and conflicts that surround bees, their honey and their interactions with humanity. From the knowledge and experience of the beekeeper to the flora and fauna that make the perfect ingredient for honey, to carefully constructed travel cases through which the bees experience immigration issues, discrimination and identity crisis. This talk will take a closer look into the themes that arose as the artworks were coming together.

Moza Almatrooshi is a UAE based conceptual artist and writer. She obtained an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art in London, UK in 2019. Almatrooshi's practice operates within the study of erased mythology of the Arabian Peninsula, and correlates these myths with the structures that are upheld by the present regional political climate. 

THE DEATH DRIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD: FROM ANTI-NATALISM TO DE-EXTINCTION
Ben Ware

Tuesday, 11 October 2022 | 6:00 - 8:00 pm GST

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Immanuel Kant’s eighteenth-century invitation to imagine an ‘end of all things’ no longer feels like just a thought experiment. Faced with an accelerating climate emergency, ongoing deadly plague, and now new inter-imperialist conflict, it feels, at times at least, as if we are hurtling towards what the philosopher Günther Anders once termed a ‘naked apocalypse’ – an apocalypse without revelation or remainder. Taking the present moment of crisis as its starting point, this paper begins with a return to Freud. It moves through three stages. First, it offers a re-reading of Freud’s 1915 essay ‘On Transience’ and makes several new suggestions about what this text might teach us about the politics and ethics of extinction. Second, returning to Freud’s scandalously ‘speculative’ theory of the death drive, and highlighting some of its aporias and blind spots, the essay asks how we might think the notion of the Todestrieb today, in the era of the so-called ‘anthropocene’? Third, the paper highlights two (seemingly opposed) ways in which the death drive plays out today: ecological anti-natalism and resurrection biology (also known as de-extinction). Both, Ware suggests, are false exits from the current catastrophe; and the way forward will require a new way of thinking dialectically about ‘the end’.

Ben Ware is Co-Director of the Centre for Philosophy and Art at King’s College London. He is the author of Dialectic of the Ladder: Wittgenstein, the ‘Tractatus’ and Modernism (Bloomsbury, 2015); Living Wrong Life Rightly: Modernism, Ethics, and the Political Imagination (Palgrave, 2017); and editor of Francis Bacon: Painting, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis (Thames & Hudson, 2019).

FOUR MOMENTS FROM THE HISTORY OF SCENT
Meitha Al Mazrooei

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“Dry a wolf’s penis and pound it, then mix it with musk, cloves, and saffron of pure filaments. That is my advice, should you sense the need for supplementary aid,” he said. “Make sure to prepare it yourself; the scent will help. Swallow the compacted powder before the sun sets.” The context was 13th century Iraq. He was Ibn Al-Jazzar, the renowned physician (or was he a perfumer?). She was an anonymous woman searching for a recipe to help her conceive. For a headache, he asked her if she had any rosewater. If that was too expensive or unavailable, olive oil or warm water should do. “Apply it with a cloth on your forehead.”

 

Meitha Al Mazrooei's talk will reveal how fragrance played an essential role in the historical relations between architecture and capital that resulted from a cross-cultural knowledge exchange that was facilitated by a book-making industry in 13th century Iraq. The talk hopes to  show how the multiple rewriting and translation of documents could begin to reveal a dormant historical narrative that revolved in and around a dynamic sensual industry.

Meitha Almazrooei is a current Ph.D. student in History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She received her M.S. in Critical, Curatorial & Conceptual Practices in Architecture from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation.

ANTHROPIE: THE HUMAN ANIMAL BETWEEN ENTROPY AND KNOWLEDGE
Lorenzo Chiesa

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In what is arguably his most politically oriented work, Seminar XVII – The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969-70), Jacques Lacan coins the neologism anthropie in order to refer to a form of entropy – a degradation or loss of energy – that would be specific to the human animal. Lorenzo Chiesa's presentation will scrutinise this expression. 

 

First, he will introduce the notion of discourse, which is the main focus of Seminar XVII. Second, he will show how, in his early Seminars of the 1950s, Lacan already attempted to single out the peculiarity of the speaking animal in relation to other forms-of-life by pointing out that its potentially self-destructive death instinct is somehow anti-entropically contained through the concomitant production of information as an increase of “levels of differentiation”. Third, he will dwell on how Seminar XVII further articulates and rectifies this scenario. At this point, the symbolic order of language, discourse, and knowledge is no longer simply seen as a tentative solution to the “perturbed” biological nature of Homo sapiens but also as an integral part of its predicament. The very slowing down of entropy – the separation of linguistic life from animal undeadness – itself enhances entropy. There is a structural entropic feature of knowledge that attempts to totalise knowledge, or differentiation, which increasingly indifferentiates it in a chaotic manner. On the one hand, this endeavour – epitomised by the capitalist-bureaucratic capture of knowledge and its contradictory brandishing of the “happy life” as an elimination of loss – is itself inconclusive. On the other hand, the enhancement of entropy through knowledge may turn out to be truly irreversible and can already be given very concrete or at least evocative names, such a nuclear holocaust, environmental point of no return, global infertility, pandemic malware, super-intelligent AI takeover, and so on.

Lorenzo Chiesa is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Newcastle University, where he also serves as co-convenor of the Faculty Research Group in Critical Theory. He was previously Professor of Modern European Thought at the University of Kent, where he founded and directed the Centre for Critical Thought. He also teaches at the European Graduate School (EGS). His most recent books include The Not-Two. Logic and God in Lacan (MIT Press, 2016) and The Virtual Point of Freedom. Essay on Politics, Aesthetics, and Religion (Northwestern University Press, 2016). His new book, God is Undead. Agnosticism and Atheism in Psychoanalysis, co-authored with Adrian Johnston, is forthcoming. Chiesa is the editor of the book series “Insubordinations” at the MIT Press.

THE OIL IN THE BUNKERS, THE WIND IN THE TREES
Ho Rui An

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Prevailing international perceptions of Singapore as a postindustrial financial hub belie the reality of an economy built upon the successes of a robust oil industry. Likewise, the botanical lushness of its urban landscape—a legacy of a nationwide greening movement launched in 1963—has allowed the city-state to produce an image of itself as “a city in a garden” that obscures its centrality within the global fossil fuels trade. Situating the oil industry’s unlikely and little-examined development in Singapore against a scenography of the island city’s postcolonial repopulation by greenery, this lecture proposes a visual economy of the city-state that is premised upon the near-invisibility of oil and the spectacular visibility of trees. In this encounter between oil and trees, the vast bunkers that allow oil to be kept out of circulation in order to be sold for higher prices at a later time are the underside to the alluring views of nature in constant motion, as best observed by the American filmmaker D. W. Griffith when he famously invoked “the beauty of the moving wind in the trees”. If the latter has since been theorised within discourses of cinephilia as an instantiation of how contingent presences in the background of an image can become a source of visual pleasure, what modes of attention might in turn allow us to trace the material networks that enable oil’s always volatile emergence into visibility?

Ho Rui An is an artist and writer working in the intersections of contemporary art, cinema, performance and theory. Working primarily across the mediums of lecture, essay and film, he probes into the ways by which images are produced, circulate and disappear within contexts of globalism and governance. 

21st CENTURY VERNISSAGE, OR, NATURE'S SCREEN
Heather H. Yeung

Tuesday, 6 December 2022 | 6:00 - 8:00 pm GST

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This talk is the outworking of various audaciously super-condensed critiques of the logic of the aesthetic, bio(s)graphical, and curatorial modelling and finishing (off) of art-as-nature and the nature of the art (as) (art)work, as found in the poem and artists book ‘c.21st vernissage’.

 

In particular, the talk will take an abyssal perspective on the disorientations of the cracked screen and vanishing frame (a non-surface-based perspective on the varnish, the ‘finish’ of a work) – looking too closely at the problems of the cracks and their dimensionality, how works are ‘finished’ by de- or un- framing, and the variability of resultant light-effects – and move through numerous examples to think through, and begin to ‘see’ through, thereby, how an un-naturalisation of the model/work and finish/screen re-/trans-forms or re-frames an articulation of the question of the screen, perspective, or dimensionality, of so-called nature, all leading to and built upon a critique of the question and display of a perpetual personal in the human condition of how we see we are modelling a(nd) va(r)nishing (nature).

Heather H. Yeung 楊希蒂 is a poet, literary theorist, artists book maker, director of the literature training at the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities, and teaches in poetry and poetics at the University of Dundee. Author of On Literary Plasticity and Spatial Engagement with Poetry, large collections of her poetic and artists’ book works are held in the Scottish Poetry Library and National Library of Scotland.

UN-NATURE. DE-NATURA (RERUM)
Frank Ruda

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The distinction between nature and culture is, by its very nature, a cultural one  – since it is only cultural beings that (are able to) make and operate this distinction. It is thus a distinction that implicitly also distinguishes between beings that make this distinction and (a) being(s) that do(es) not. The concept of nature is therefore as concept a cultural and for this very reason an un-natural one. But how does the un-nature of any concept of nature come to the fore? The lecture will address this question by problematizing the diverse assumptions of structure and stability that we (cannot but?) make when we refer to the thing, to das Ding, called nature – and especially, today, when nature’s most stable feature is taken to be its inherent fragility and instability.

Frank Ruda is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Dundee, Scotland. He is also Professor for Philosophy at the European Graduate School (Saas Fee/ Malta). His publications include Reading Hegel (with Agon Hamza & Slavoj Žižek) (Polity Press 2022); The Dash – The Other Side of Absolute Knowing, with Rebecca Comay (MIT 20178); Reading Marx, with Agon Hamza & Slavoj Žižek (2018) and Indifference and Repetition (Fordham UP – forthcoming).