Frederico Luisetti: Here be primitives, savages, and barbarians

Date: January 22, 11-17hrs
Place: Bungehuis, room 101, Spuistraat 210, Amsterdam
EC: workshop 1 EC, expanded tutorial* 6 or 12 EC
Contact: Joost de Bloois (j.g.c.debloois@uva.nl)

Biopolitical Countergenealogies and Contemporary Alternatives

Keywords: biopolitics, primitivism, ecology, anti-capitalism, decolonialism, cosmopolitics, protest movements.

Workshop and public lectures with Federico Luisetti (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and Maria Boletsi (Leiden University).

1 EC/Research Master Tutorial (6/12EC*)

January 22nd, 11-17hrs, UvA, Bungehuis 101 (Spuistraat 210, Amsterdam)

Public Lectures 11-13hrs; workshop 14-17hrs

Summary:
From Nietzsche to Lévi-Strauss, from Foucault to Clastres and Deleuze-Guattari, within European thought various kinds of primitivisms, savagery and barbarism point to a reinvention of the threshold separating the ecological, bodily and affective constitution of subjectivity from the economic, political and juridical machinery of anthropocentric modernity. Rethinking debates within philosophy, anthropology and biopolitics concerning the concepts (and hierarchies) of primitivism, savagery and barabarism will allow us to re-activate the imagination of alternative states of nature beyond the boundaries of the social contract tradition and to initiate the struggle over the state of nature, seeking an alliance with those movements – such as decolonial thought and political ecologies, cosmopolitical approaches and non-Western indigenous knowledges – that are eradicating the taming of life devised by the political theologies of Western modernity. In this workshop the concepts of primitivism, savagery and barbarism will be discussed in-depth as a counterforce to processes of neoliberal globalization and capitalism and an expression of the desire to begin anew and imagine new subjectivities and systems of governance. (Re)conceptualizing the primitive, savage and barbaric can thus help us understanding the potentiality of recent and ongoing uprisings, riots, and protest movements (the ‘Occupy,’ the ‘Indignants,’ the Gezi park protests in Istanbul etc.).

The one-day workshop consists of two public lectures by prof. dr. Federico Luisetti (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and dr. Maria Boletsi (Leiden University), and a seminar.

For further information and registration, please contact NICA (nica-fgw@uva.nl) or Joost de Bloois (j.g.c.debloois@uva.nl)

Abstracts:

Federico Luisetti:
Notes on the Biopolitical State of Nature
In his notebook, the Zibaldone, Giacomo Leopardi observed that: “Mankind grows away from nature, and therefore from happiness, by means of every kind of experience he should not have, and which nature had not expected him to have” (December 22, 1820). Leopardi’s primitivism is just one instance of a far-reaching and widespread questioning – on the background of a colonial world-order, human carnage and predation of natural resources that has shaped the forms of life of Western modernity – of the dispositif of the state of nature. From Nietzsche and Leopardi to Lévi-Strauss, Clastres and Deleuze-Guattari, within European thought various kinds of primitivisms and orientalisms, the imagination of alternative states of nature beyond the boundaries of the social contract tradition, point to a reinvention of the threshold separating the ecological, bodily and affective constitution of the anthropos from the economic, political and juridical machinery of humanitas. Rethinking Foucault’s notion biopolitics and his privilege of barbarism over savagery, the task of contemporary thought may be to re-activate the struggle over the state of nature, seeking an alliance with those movements – such as decolonial thought and political ecologies, cosmopolitical approaches and non-Western indigenous knowledges – that are eradicating the taming of life devised by the political theologies of Western modernity.

Maria Boletsi:
Barbarism has a complex genealogy. It has been employed as the negative outside in a dyadic spatial structure separating a civilized interior from a barbarian exterior; as the middle term in-between savagery and civilization in temporal structures delineating an evolutionary process; as a (repressed) internalized aspect of the civilized psyche (Freud) or, in the work of radical thinkers, as inextricable from, and concomitant with, civilization (Benjamin e.a.); and as a term that confuses hierarchical structures and fixed notions of space (eg. Deleuze and Guattari). Barbarians have been the negative other in a traditional binary, but also conceived affirmatively, as agents of change and regeneration, both in philosophy (eg. Nietzsche) and in avant-garde art. Many of these ‘genealogies’ of barbarism are rekindled today in different contexts, often through the use of related topoi. The popularity of the topoi of “barbarian invasions” or “barbarians at the gates” in current Western political rhetoric is a case in point.
Another recurrent topos since the 1990s, and especially since “9/11,” is that of Waiting for the barbarians, introduced by C.P. Cavafy’s homonymous poem (1904). This poem is regularly evoked in public rhetoric, cultural theory, and artistic contexts today. As an allegory for contemporary predicaments, a critique of Empire, or a call for a new start and radical change, this topos responds to specific desires and anxieties amplified after 9/11. It captures the fear of ‘others’ or toward the ‘unknown,’ but also the desire for alternative worldviews and communities, especially against the backdrop of the current financial crisis.
Unraveling the disparate genealogies of ‘barbarism’ evoked by Cavafy’s poem, helps us probe both the problematic ideological workings of barbarism in contemporary civilizational rhetoric, as well the potential of its affirmative deployments today in theoretical and artistic contexts (eg. as the theme of the 2013 Istanbul Biennial, entitled “Mom, Am I Barbarian?”). Regarding the latter deployments, we can particularly explore barbarism as a counterforce to ‘barbaric’ processes of neoliberal globalization and capitalism and an expression of the desire to begin anew and imagine new subjectivities and systems of governance. In this context, Waiting for the barbarians can offer us an entrance to understanding the potentiality of recent and ongoing uprisings, riots, and protest movements (the ‘Occupy,’ the ‘Indignants,’ the Gezi park protests in Istanbul etc.).

Bio’s:

Prof. dr. Federico Luisetti is professor and head of department of Italian Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of three widely acclaimed books on the philosophy and aesthetics of vitalism (The Anomie of the Earth. Duke University Press 2014; Una vita. Pensiero selvaggio e filosofia dell’intensità, Roma: Mimesis, 2011; Estetica dell’immanenza. Saggi sulle parole, le immagini e le macchine) as well as numerous articles in a.o. Diacritics, Rethinking Marxism and The Minnesota Review. He is internationally acclaimed as a specialist on contemporary philosophies of life and biopolitics. In his work, Luisetti proposes critical and innovating readings of post-Kantian thought, vitalism and naturalism, the notion of ‘the savage’, ‘critical exoticism’ and Italian post-Marxism. In particular, he addresses issues of (the epistemology and aesthetics of) globalization and decoloniality through the prism of vitalism and biopolitics.

Dr. Maria Boletsi Boletsi is Assistant Professor at the Film and Literary Studies Department of Leiden University. Her book Barbarism and Its Discontents was published by Stanford University Press (2013).

* please contact Joost de Bloois for further information: j.g.c.debloois@uva.nl