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CFP: The Aesthetics of Necropolis

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Call for Contributions to an Edited Volume

As a conscious and unconscious, sustained, even efficient effort at ‘making and letting die’ (Mbembe), necropolitics is systemic to capitalism. The grand-scale destruction of the earth’s ecosystems, the overt and covert forms of genocide (the so-called ‘war on terror’ or the ‘refugee crisis’), the feeding of dead poultry to genetically modified legless pigs, or the more recent ‘ecological’ inventions such as biocremation in which human remains are used to produce heat for leisure centres (Rumble) are only some of the familiar examples. Given that necri-fice (sacrifice without sanctity) is built into the first principle of capitalism – instrumentalisation, the subjection of one thing or being to another with the speculative aim of producing some future ‘good’, regardless of how limited, dubious or noxious this ‘good’ may be – it comes as no surprise that in the age of ‘absolute’ (limitless) capitalism (Bifo) the necropolitical tendencies have ramified as well as intensified.

This is due to at least seven factors: 1) the post-political rejection of radical difference and all forms of negativity which may stand in the way of accelerated financialisation; 2) the implosion of public institutions and the responsibilisation of individuals through the regime of ‘ethical’ self-constitution as consumer citizens (Beck); 3) the erosion of educational structures and enslavement by debt; 4) the disappearance of temporal continuity formerly manifested in the changes of season and durable (rather than disposable) objects; 5) the progressive exteriorisation of knowledge resulting in cognitive proletarianisation and the reduction of desires to drives (Stiegler); 6) the loss of linguistic content to linguistic efficacy (Ahmed); 7) the performative subject’s project-ification, the result of which is an unprecedented rise in anxiety disorders, depression and suicide (Ehrenberg; Han).

And yet, despite these obviously lethal tendencies absolute capitalism has a profoundly phobic relation to death and destruction. The steady rise of ‘senseless violence’ is not seen as a surface irruption of deep, structural violence (Schinkel) but is attributed to individual psychopathy. Suicide bombers are denied the very possibility of a different belief (the belief in eternal life of which death is but a minor component) and are portrayed as immature and deluded instead. Physical death is removed from view and entrusted to professionals – medical staff and morticians – much like properly political decisions are turned into cultural or personal issues and outsourced to ‘experts’ (Furedi; Žižek). Flowers, fruit and vegetables are crossbred with fish genes to ‘look healthier’ and last longer (Rifkin), much like surgically modified humans function as billboards for the cult of vitality, which has, historically, always gone hand in hand with extreme destruction (Han).

The main concern of this volume is, for these reasons, not with the overtly necropolitical (policies, laws, corporate decisions) but, rather, with necropolitics as an emergent category – a process, a temporality, an action, reaction or iteration. Two notions are central to this approach: Lazarrato’s ‘asignifying semiotics’, in which humanist subject-formation and its key arena – consciousness – are superseded by networked assemblages, shaped to a far greater extent by information flows and systems design than by interpellation, and Rancière’s notion of politics as the ‘distribution of the sensible’ which determines what is seen, heard, sayable and doable, and, conversely, what is not seen, heard and is not sayable or doable.

In addressing the constitution of identities, socio-digital assemblages and environments as necropolitical, this volume raises questions such as: what are the technologies of reduction, over-simplification, denigration and ‘systemic carelessness’ (Stiegler) embedded in the current modes of doing, making, showing and saying? To what extent has the neoliberal appropriation of philosophical concepts, e.g. Guatarri’s chaosmosis (the continuous disruption of existing knowledges and methodologies) or Arendt’s vita activa (a doer’s approach to life) contributed to the steady rise of self-exploitation, based on the subject’s self-perception as achiever of quantified targets? How has the digital (i.e. fast and far-reaching) linguistic performativity modified notions of truth and falsification? Can (some of) the current artistic practices be seen as relationally necropolitical in the long term – for example, the practice of dialogic art (Kester) whose chief purpose is to mend what fanatical neoliberalism (Bifo) continues to destroy with great efficacy? To what extent is the naïvely romantic belief in technology (Turkle) responsible for the denigration of old age, ‘salvaged’ through the portrayal of the elderly as unusually physically agile rather than as experienced, knowledgeable and wise?

Proposals might address but are not limited to the following topics:

• The aesthetics of anxiety, fear, depression, amok and self-immolation
• The relation between disposability, expendability and truth as a temporal category (the repetition of the same in the eternal ‘now’)
• The ‘outsourcing’ of remembering to ‘literally recording’ gadgets
• The gimmick as the dominant cultural trope embedded in software, adverts, mash-ups, tunes and gestures
• Social and affective kitsch; the tyranny of likeability
• The multi-presence of one’s digital personae and social hypochondria
• Edutainment (education-cum-entertainment)
• The micro-politics of institutional denigration through quantification
• Grinding dynamics in digital design (which force users to repeat actions ad nauseam to achieve simple goals)
• The gamification of everyday actions (running, shopping) and the over-writing of neuronal circuits with ‘quantified achievement’ grids
• The subsumption of transgressive artistic practices under friendly politics and the logic of short-termist usefulness
• The rise of the digitally mediated collectivity and the depletion of solidarity
• The tyranny of positivist knowledge – the specific, the local, the provable
• The relationship between monism, speed and hegemony
• Urban life and the insertion of ever-new surveillance mechanisms (spycams on lampposts) between citizens and civitas
• Necro-tendencies in architecture, interior and object design
• Bio-art and bio-capitalism
• Hyper-work and the performative subject’s self-exploitation
• The anthropocene climate and the aesthetics of catastrophe

Please send 500 word proposals for 7000 word chapters with the subject heading ‘The Aesthetics of Necropolitics’ and a 300 w bio to Natasha Lushetich: N.Lushetich@exeter.ac.uk by June 10th 2016.