Issue 15.1 takes up systems, processes, and habits of power. Ranging from the geological scale of oil and glaciers to the personal scale of memory and habit, the articles in this issue confound conventional disciplinary determinations of what can be thought with what, of what belongs together. They creatively reassemble the components of contemporary theory to approach the capitalist economy as an ecology, expanded state power as an individual desire for freedom, memory as segregated, habits as volatile, and biopolitics as depoliticizing. As they engage Toni Morrison and Sigmund Freud, Felix Ravaisson and James Baldwin, to mention but a few, the pieces in this first issue of Volume 15 enact the expansive approach to political theory not only for which Theory & Event is known, but for which we advocate.
Our first article is by William E. Connolly, “Steps toward an Ecology of Late Capitalism.” Extending some of the ideas from his recent book, A World of Becoming, Connolly presents a view of the neoliberal economy as one imperfect self-regulating system in a cosmos of multiple open and interacting systems with varying capacities for self-regulation. One advantage of this conception is its deactivation of neoliberalism’s crude opposition between natural (and therefore good) self-organizing systems like markets and artificial, clumsy, and bad systems like the state. Once “self-organized” is understood as a characteristic of all sorts of different systems, systems that are fragile, interconnected and susceptible to changes fast and slow, the ostensible specialness of the claim for “self-organization” diminishes. Further, urging appreciation of the innumerable links between markets, states, movements, ideologies, and non-human force-fields, Connolly advises a militancy or resolve informed by a sense of fragility. Whether with respect to climate change, state borders, or middle-class consumption patterns, the fragility of systems often invites responses that aim to conserve, responses that we do well to understand in light of the complexity of their settings. Connolly notes the identity needs that dispose some contemporary subjects to cling to a neoliberal imaginary.
Elisabeth Anker argues that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States were particularly strong incitements in this direction. More specifically, in “Heroic Identifications: Or, ‘You Can Love Me Too – I am so Like the State,’” Anker considers the possibility that U.S. support for expansive state action in the wake of the attacks was an effect of individual identification with dramatic and violent forms of state power. Drawing closely and carefully from Freud, she sets out the ways that a desire for freedom develops into an identification with, and longing for, the mastery and unilateralism denied individuals under neoliberalism. Rather than a check on state power, as liberal political theory would have it, individualism leads to and legitimizes it.
P.J. Brendese also works at the interface of fragile, ruptured, identity and the state. He draws from James Baldwin to consider Barak Obama’s “More Perfect Union” address, given during the 2008 presidential campaign. “The Race of a More Perfect Union: James Baldwin, Segregated Memory and the Presidential Race” argues that Baldwin provides insights that counter the willful innocence regarding segregated memory in American politics. Brendese is especially attentive to the unconscious aspects of memory, noting, with Baldwin, the ways memory “lives and breathes beneath the surface of human interactions, rhythms, and aversions that shape our lived experiences of race.”
More than active recollection, memory persists in habits of disavowal. In “Agitating the Powers of Habit: Towards a Volatile Politics of Thought,” David Bissell tries to shake up images of habit and the habit-body that prioritize coherence. Bringing Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “The Zahir” together with the work of Felix Ravaisson, Bissell considers the habit-body as a site of erratic and unpredictable transitions. Most social science research (and some critical theory) relies on an altogether too competent image of the habit-body. In contrast, Bissell suggests attending to the volatility of habit – some ideas, rather than becoming dull over time, retain their capacities to stimulate and excite; some ideas do not become easier to bear. Their intensity participates in the force and movement of life.
Like Anker’s and Brendese’s articles, Gregg Santori’s is situated within some specifically American concerns. “Sula and the Sociologist: Toni Morrison on American Biopower after Civil Rights” reads Morrison together with the 1965 Moynihan Report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” This reading enables Santori to draw out the simultaneously biopolitical and de-politicizing effects of the report. By moving the impediments to black success from the structural inequality of the economy and the political inequality of the racist society (both enacted and guaranteed by state power) and to the family, Moynihan turns a political issue into a moral one. His biopolitical treatment of the family attributes racial inequality to a failure of discipline: the matriarchal black family can’t install the discipline necessary for achievement. For Santori, Morrison’s Sula rebuts the Moynihan report by flaunting a dangerous black mother. Challenging the moral absolutes of the report, the figures of material sovereignty are intensely political – neither absolutely good nor evil but necessarily in tension.
Issue 15.1 concludes with five book reviews. Joan C. Tronto reviews Brian Duff’s The Parent as Citizen; Jimmy Casas Klausen reviews Saul Newman’s The Politics of Postanarchism; Anna Terwiel reviews Cressida Heyes’ Self-Transformations; Anastasia Tataryn reviews Joanna Bourke’s What it Means to be Human; and Mark Coté reviews Jussi Parikka’s Insect Media.