- The Other in the Same: Substitution, Identity, and Language of Politics after Levinas
The challenge of Emmanuel Levinas’ mature thought is the challenge to think my relationality or, as he would say, my proximity to the other, in such a way that the other is already in the same. Levinas calls this “ethics” or, more precisely, “substitution,” and he understands it as a relation like no other. In this paper I explore what I take to be new in this account but, departing from Levinas, I discuss in the closing sections its implications for the terms in which we understand politics. Does this ethics leave politics unchanged, as sometimes seems to be suggested? Is it enough to say that this ethics haunts politics, as is also sometimes said? Or, more radically still, does it not challenge the dominant language of politics? It seems that the narrative framework Levinas employs in Totality and Infinity can be assimilated to traditional conceptions of sociality, based as they are on a certain conception of the individual’s self-sufficiency, more readily than Otherwise than Being which takes us to an unfamiliar and troubling place. What are the terms of political engagement after Otherwise than Being?
- “Relationality and the Image: Of Sovereignty, Singularity, or Loneliness?”
This paper develops a concept of relationality that takes into consideration the way that the relationality characteristic of sociality and the political is increasingly mediated by images of the plight of others provided by photojournalists (or through social media). Why do some images of the plight of others inspire the kind of relationality that is consistent with Emmanuel Levinas’ notion of responsibility for the other, and on a global scale (eg. the image of the Syrian refugee boy, Aylan Kurdi, lying face down on a beach in Turkey), while other images of the plight of refugees provoke the closure of relations, of national borders, of hearts, and of minds (eg. countless images of asylum-seekers travelling to Australia by boat)? Of course the political commentary that surrounds these images makes all the difference to individual and political responses (ie. no relationality is free of cultural context and socio-historical meaning). But there is also something about the still image itself and its contents – its solitary, time-stopping features – that, paradoxically, can elicit hospitable responses and thereby transform a world. The model of relationality that the paper presents to explain this potential impact of the image is indebted to Levinas, but comes more directly from the work of Hannah Arendt, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Luc Nancy. This explains relationality in terms of something like the corporeal, affective “sharing of singularity.” On this account, relationality is paradoxical and never fully realized: subjectivity, sociality, and the political consist in separation through communion. Hence, on this account, there is nothing wrong with preferring solitude, and claiming sovereignty for oneself is merely a false claim of absolute separation without sharing, rather than anything unethical. What is unethical is stripping others of all relationality (or standing by and watching that happen) and thereby abandoning these others to “utter loneliness,” as Arendt puts it (HC 215). Perhaps it is the ability of an (apparently passive, distancing) image to depict such an “intolerable reality” that, again paradoxically, prompts the spectator into “living action” (Rancière, ES 86), action that attempts to restore relationality as separation through sharing.
David M. Goodman
- Technology’s (In)Visible Subject: Pornographic Relationship and the Impossibility of Risk-Free Desire
Through a re-interpretation of the Gyges myth, Emmanuel Levinas describes a positioning of subjectivity that repudiates vulnerability and valorizes distance and non-exposed relating. Levinas argues that this positioning of the subject dominates Western philosophy and that it’s “safety” is a ubiquitous temptation. Technological advances in recent decades, particularly the mediation of human relations through social media, have given new dimensionality and magnitude to this claim. Drawing from Sherry Turkle’s work Alone Together, Stephen Mitchell’s understanding of pornographic relating, and Levinas’ challenge to non-proximal experience, this author considers contemporary means of seeking “risk-free” methods of expressing and experiencing desire. It is argued that the trends in technology that appear to create distance and modulate proximity and vulnerability, in actuality, contribute to an ironic refashioning of subjectivity wherein experience dislocates from the personal and becomes a necessarily “visible” phenomena.
Ben Arcangeli & Abigail Collins
- Inclusion of Sexuality and Gender Identity in Health Education Curriculum: A Relational Imperative
From our earliest interactions, we are struggling to understand the intellectual and social space around us, adjusting our schemas as we incorporate new experiences. In the scholastic peer group, we are introduced to individuals whose experiences vary from our own, with the expectation of collaboration in developing both a community and individual understanding of identity.
In recognition of this, steps are taken to grant children the intellectual tools to consider the feelings of others. This is done to provide the faculties to relate to one another in a meaningful way and also reduce the likelihood of children doing psychological damage to one another. Basic lessons learned from the earliest days of institutionalized grouping of children, are part of nearly all Western early education curriculum. We try to teach them, by exposure to certain sociological principles, to have regard for one another. This is, however, not always the case.
Certain sociological concepts, such as those regarding non-heteronormative gender and sexuality seem to be missing from the list of essential ideas. As a result, individuals who may find that they identify in a way that is “other” than the cultural norm are effectively isolated within a benighted peer group unable to communicate, explore and discover in a relational way. Exposure to a peer group which has had the opportunity to learn about non heteronormative sexual orientations may come late, and emersion in a peer group that is wholly enlightened to ideas surrounding gender identity is likely never to come at all. In this model, ill equipped members of privileged groups may first be exposed to these ideas in settings where the social expectation is one of respect.
Recent health curriculums which attempt to educate children in a non-binary gender system have garnered international media coverage and a large share of controversy. The goal of this paper is to explore the imperatives surrounding this issue, drawing on the work of Judith Butler, Kelly Oliver, and various thinkers in the area of child development, to assert that, through earlier and more frequent exposure to complex sociological concepts, we can improve the relational experience of not only those who fall into marginalized groups, but all of our children and future generations of adults.
- Somatic Ethics: Three Dimensions of a Praxis of Response-ability
In light of the epistemic violence that characterizes histories of encountering ‘others’ on uneven discursive terrain, political theorists have increasingly shifted the focus from the right to speak to the demand and dynamics of listening across social difference. This shift from voice to receptivity is intimately linked to increasingly affective models of ethical encounter in political theory – what I call a ‘dispositional ethics’ that construes responsibility as responsiveness. Recent articulations of such an ethics of encounter, notably in the most current work of Judith Butler, James Tully and Ella Myers, highlight the connection of such responsiveness to situated practices of material bodies-in-relation, but often stop short of developing an account of what such practices might be. Given the situated nature of a dispositional ethics, our best and most overlooked resource for locating its conditions resides where bodies actually meet – where the praxis of responsibility as responsiveness is enacted, and can be observed. Based on field work with experts in precisely this domain – dancers and movement therapists for whom listening is primarily somatic and whose practices are designed to cultivate receptivity even as they challenge deeply held and often latent beliefs and values – I explore their potential contribution to our understandings of the role the body might play in our relative openness or refusal to listen. In doing so, I provide an account of three distinct and interrelated dimensions of a dispositional ethics in practice, and some of the concrete strategies available to cultivate the conditions for responsiveness in political life.
Vanessa Cameron-Lewis & Anna Parker
- Becoming with
Theoretical calls for relationality are typically based on a worldview where relations are prioritized as vital but are not considered primary. By primary we are meaning ontologically primordial where relations pre-exist the object. Barad (2007) posits such a relational ontology when she claims that every ‘thing’ in the universe is inherently connected by a fundamental continuum. Haraway (2014) makes similar monist claims explaining, “to be one at all you must be many… those who are have been in relationality all the way down”. Following Barad and Haraway this presentation propounds that one is unable to be independent from the world in “solitary self-enclosure”. Moreover, we argue that to adequately challenge notions of separation that lead people to think and act as if independent it is necessary to address the ontological. To illuminate these arguments we draw on our experiences of working in ‘arc’, a cross-cultural group of young activists committed to decolonisation and Treaty activism. In arc relationships were everything as we sought to decentre western colonial epistemology so as to foster a way of being together where the relationship embodied in Te Tiriti o Waitangi could be honoured. In this presentation we explore how arc was unable to fully achieve its goals because ontological differences in the indigenous-colonizer relationship were not addressed. In our reading arc was unable to move beyond the self-other dichotomy inherent to the dualistic logic of western colonialism. This presentation speaks to the way a relational ontology might allow us to rework the indigenous-colonizer relationship.
- Is Literary Criticism Ready for the Turn to Relationality? The case of W.G. Sebald’s Emigrants
In the pages of W.G. Sebald’s prose works a challenge issues forth: readers are invited not to foreclose the ethical scene of address that is invoked by his writing. This scene of address is enacted in the reader’s encounter with a form of representation “that fails to capture and deliver that to which it refers” (Butler 2004, 144); the reader’s position models that of an ‘I’ who is constituted through the enigmatic messages of the other and echoes the position of the narrator in Emigrants. However, in the face of such a scene of address, Sebald scholarship has been quick to interpret such so-called examples of textual indeterminacy as characteristic either of the good German writer who is over-determined by the Holocaust or of a romantic tradition that naively celebrates the artist’s melancholic state of exile. Such critical responses to Sebald’s work reveal that literary criticism may be ill prepared for a turn to relationality. Subject to its own subtle modes of transference, literary criticism continues to presuppose a “move from an established ego to a world of others” (Butler 2005, 74) when construing the subject’s relations to others and, thus, it simultaneously privileges a mode of reading that neglects what Jean Laplanche identifies as the first meaning of hermeneutics: a “hermeneutics of the message.” In this paper, I position Laplanche’s notion of the hermeneutics of the message alongside Emmanuel Levinas’s notion of ethics as first philosophy in order to foreground a mode of reading that brings forth a form of ethical responsibility that originates in the subject’s constitution.
It is all too easy to object that for literary critics such a mode of reading is old news. Haven’t we been here before in the glory days of deconstruction? Perhaps so? Perhaps not? For what the case of Sebald’s Emigrants so tellingly reveals is the way in which the mode we read can attend to or foreclose the “ethical scene of address which reveals that my life is, from the start, bound with others” (Butler 2005, 59).
Thomas Alexander Corbin
- Kant and Levinas on ‘Religion’
A hallmark of the ‘relational turn’ is that it places the thinking agent in the world; the agent is ‘involved’ as Emmanuel Levinas stated it and not an isolated observer who simply ‘contemplates’ events. In Levinas’ view an individual’s ‘involvement’ with the world grounds them in a state of ‘humanness’ and avoids the ‘alienating’ effects of mediating one’s existence through principles such as those which Kant provides in his Categorical Imperative. The difference then between these two perspectives is that whilst Kant’s approach allows an agent to see into the world, Levinas’ allows an agent to see from within the world. As Catherine Chalier and many others have pointed out, this difference in perspective makes Kant’s theory irreconcilable with that of Levinas, even though Levinas himself states that he feels ‘particularly close’ to Kant’s Practical Philosophy. In many areas this ‘irreconcilability’ seems obvious; however, it is not entirely obvious in all areas. Both thinkers for instance employ technical notions of religion or religious belief which are non-contemplative, immersive and crucially are foundationally supportive of their individual perspectives on human interaction. Whilst these views are clearly not identical, they do share key features which makes the relationship between them important to explore. By looking specifically at Levinas’ work in “Is Ontology Fundamental?” and Kant’s work in the Second and Third Critique clear parallels emerge which not only allow a valuable perspective on the relationship between the two thinkers but also allows a new handle on this hallmark of Relationality.
- On the Subject of Suicide
In some of Judith Butler’s discussions of subject formation and the function or process of alterity that animates it, a slippage or uncertainty appears between ‘address’ (in ‘scene of address’) and ‘interpellation.’ If Butler is not slipping and address and interpellation have become interchangeable, then ‘I’ become ‘I’ whether or not ‘I’ is/am formed through a normative ideological interpellation (Althusser) or through a more intimate relational and address (the psychoanalytic scene). If, on the other hand, Butler’s interpellation and scene of address are not synonymous but only related, then there are at least two processes of subject formation. If so, what are the implications or “the unthought” (Pierre Macherey) of Althusser’s and Butler’s modes of summons? To consider the differences between them, I will explore the subject of suicide. I want to discuss the notion of becoming “suicided by society” and what this suggests for interpellation and a (more) intimate scenes of address? I also want to think about what brings me to suicide and where responsibility lies for my suicide.
- Relationality and Life Essence
My work with Relationality started in 2007 when co-teaching a graduate elective at Yale University on the deeper meaning of ‘Care’ and subsequently in exploring how the ubiquitous nature of relationality can be applied to social and economic policy. In this paper I will argue that engaging the inherent relationality of existence is essential and to our advantage if we are to address deep seated issues negatively impacting society and the earth. A conceptual architecture of relationality is required that holds the simultaneity implicit in the relationship of opposites: unity and diversity, inclusivity and exclusivity. I believe this can be achieved when relationality is placed into the context of a life principle. The virtuality of inherent relationality is the life principle. Allowing such a conceptual foundation to impact our thinking opens the door to a dimension of creative engagement that honours the living value and dynamic proportionality of the collective and the particular. Such active participation and taking responsibility for the underlying reality of relationality represents a paradigm shift in how we understand and respond to complex issues facing us in the world today. I will show how this shift profoundly impacts our understanding of democracy, individual and collective identity, and social and economic value.
- Relationality and Disability: Transforming Philosophy’s Imagined Subject
This paper first outlines some of the promises and problems of relational theories of the self in relation to disability. The social model of disability has long stressed the relational and situational nature of ability and disability, and international disability rights law has introduced a conception of personhood as universally fragile, supported or undermined through relations with others. Disability studies has also highlighted the darker side of social, political and economic patterns of relationality. The disavowal of relationality has meant that those who are dependent on others for care as well as those who care for them are constituted as flawed subjects, profoundly other to the independent agent of modernity. More banal statements of human relationality such as affirmations of universal interdependence often fail to recognise the asymmetrical and non-reciprocal relations of dependence in which people with disability who have higher support needs are embedded.
The paper then explores how a relational, disability-sensitive perspective can disrupt foundational philosophical categories and arguments, focusing on the question of linguistic agency and people with intellectual disability. How do the problematics surrounding theoretical concepts such as representation, agency, personhood and responsibility get displaced and/or transformed by taking a different imagined subject – a relational one – as our starting point for philosophising?
Adam Doering & Jundan (Jasmine) Zhang
- Tourism and the World: Sense, Praxis and the Political ‘We’
Over the past ten years Critical Tourism Studies (CTS) has endeavoured to create a better ‘tourism world’ while also drawing attention to its ‘worldmaking’ force. The idea of ‘the world’, however, has escaped the critical lens of CTS. This paper raises the concern that unless we can renew the question of ‘the world’, CTS will remain limited to critiques of Othering, hopeful collectivisms, and dialectical reflections in a time demanding something different from us.
We begin with Jean-Luc Nancy’s (2015) proposition that the world today is confronted with three important transformations: it can no longer be represented holistically; it is devoid of any manageable and definite order; and it is pluralised like never before. First, we discuss the implications of Nancy’s claims that the world no longer has sense, it is sense. We argue that if the world as we ‘know’ it can no longer be conceived of as an enclosed subject/object, then Nancy’s (1997: 162) philosophy offers a relational and emergent ‘sense of world’ for CTS to consider, challenging us “to sense oneself as the engenderment of sense”. Secondly, we work through Nancy’s idea of the world as praxis to draw attention to the limits of the emancipatory praxis commonly characterised in CTS as a self-founding subject that transforms reality and constructs the world. Lastly, rethinking the world as praxis opens us up to the risk of saying ‘we’ in tourism, but a Nancean (2000) ‘we’ where what is shared is also what divides us. Rethinking ‘the world’ in this way is less about taking the road less travelled than about opening up unfamiliar routes to reinvigorate the critical and creative agenda that underpins CTS.
- Cartesian Narcissism
In his analysis of various philosophical “visions of narcissism,” David Michael Levin includes a brief discussion of Descartes’ Meditations, framing them as “a psycho-logic of moments in the symptom formation of narcissistic pathology.” This paper explores Levin’s proposed conjunction between the Cartesian cogito and narcissism from a Winnicottian perspective. In Winnicott’s “anti-Cartesian meditations,” authentic self-experience emerges not in isolation, as it does for Descartes’ cogito, but through an encounter with a trusted other who is reliably available. In fact, Winnicott fundamentally reconfigures Cartesian subjectivity, replacing the Cartesian formula of the self-founding cogito with a relational understanding: “When I look I am seen, so I exist. I can now afford to look and see.” Read through a Winnicottian lens, the Meditations hence present as symptomatic of pathological self-development: a narcissistic form of development in which what Winnicott calls “the overgrowth of the mental function” is a response to unsatisfying object relations. Instead of testifying to wholesome rational self-certainty, the cogito, under Winnicott’s analysis, may therefore more aptly be viewed as a defence response to relational trauma—a reinterpretation which, I propose, challenges us to reframe, and renegotiate, the Cartesian legacy in the Western philosophical tradition.
- The Ontology of Childhood and the Possibility of Political Change: An Essay on Relationality
Childhood is a relatively neglected area of study in the humanities, even as children have never before been as central a focus socially, culturally, and politically, in affluent nations such as Australia and New Zealand. The viability of childhood as an ideal form that children embody for us is regarded with increasing anxiety. And in recent years, the burdens borne socially by working class and Aboriginal children has also been an object of scrutiny, through inquiries into child sex abuse in religious and other institutions, as well as the inquiry into the stolen generations in Australia.
This paper argues that the figure of the child is in these and other instances the bearer of both significance and of harm, because its conceptual delineations so readily articulate an in-between state, or interval, through which the relation to an other is both enabled and avoided. Most obviously, this interval that the child embodies is the relation between the sexes; and Luce Irigaray has argued that the reification of the sexual relation in the figure of the child freezes and stultifies the possibilities between men and women, preventing a more open and fruitful negotiation between them. Likewise, in postcolonial politics, too, the ascendency of the child as a figure for the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, I will argue, fixes the terms of engagement in a potentially unproductive direction.
- Posthuman Relationality in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go
Individualism has been one of the cornerstones of Humanism. For many people the ethos of individualism has led to estrangement and alienation from themselves, other people, and indeed the world at large. One of the key interventions of the discourse of critical posthumanism is theorization of relationality as an alternative to individualism.
In this paper I seek, through critique of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, to make a contribution to critical posthumanism’s theorization of relationality. I am interested in deploying and developing the American feminist theorist and posthumanist Karen Barad’s theory of intra-action as a critical tool. For Barad “the universe is agential intra-activity in its becoming: the primary ontological units are not “things” but phenomena – dynamic topological […] relationalities.” It is my contention that Ishiguro’s novel, which is set in a community of clones, contests Humanism’s ethos of individualism, and thus too the idea of human subjects as distinct ontological units. Whereas a number of critics have read Ishiguro’s novel as an exploration of the ethical implications of using technology to create clones, I will argue that it is much more fruitful to read Never Let Me Go so as to support an understanding of posthuman relationality as a technology of intra-action.
Richard H. Hammond
- Relationality as ‘Suthentic’ Belonging-Together
Employing the concept of relationality can disrupt the notion of the autonomous cogito and weaken its grip on social, ethical, and political thinking. Relationality can productively be realized through what the early Heidegger called a de-struction of the social, ethical, and political frameworks that form the horizon from which ‘the subject’ initially emerges. One such framework is the patriarchal ideal of masculinity. Entrenched within neo-liberal, technological, and capitalist narratives – which can be conceptualised and critiqued with Heidegger’s notion of ‘the framework’, Ge-stell – the masculine ideal is largely characterized by violence and misogyny. The predominance of these characteristics facilitates the emergence of ‘rape culture’; the valorisation of the hyper-masculine as it pertains to gendered interactions, roles, and responsibilities. In light of this widespread rape culture, a re-imagining of subjectivity could not be more urgent.
Drawing on the later Heidegger, I will demonstrate that relationality can be productively understood as ‘authentic belonging-together’. In place of the willing, ego-driven self, this re-imagining of the self as the hyphenated Da-sein promotes a reflective, meditative acceptance of self-hood as constituted by others and the world. As part of ‘the Fourfold’, das Geviert, Da-sein can move beyond the metaphysical binary of ‘instrumental’ and ‘intrinsic’ value. Instead, reflecting on the event of appropriation, Ereignis, attributes a value to entities beyond their status as subject or object. Through this, a new masculinity can emerge which is aware of, and thus less determined by, oppressive and violent patriarchal norms.
- “Giving place to contiguity”: Relational Aesthetics
D. W. Winnicott proposes that art derives from childhood play. For Winnicott, the artwork is a sophisticated form of the transitional object—a child’s first toys, which foster the child’s growing independence as they make the transition from feeling united with the mother to viewing her as a separate entity. Reflecting this development, Winnicott writes that the transitional object becomes the child’s “not-me possession” as it occupies the liminal space in which the omnipresent mother is becoming a limited other, where “continuity is giving place to contiguity.” This relational impulse continues to manifest as the child becomes an adult and replaces the transitional object with cultural experience, which offers one access to “the common pool of humanity.” Winnicott thus argues that the transitional object, and, by extension, the artwork, is a relational object which represents the union of separate beings.
New Zealand author Janet Frame’s novel The Carpathians refines the Winnicottian artwork’s capacity to function as a relational object. Premised upon the narrator’s attempt to learn about his parents who died when he was young, the novel orchestrates a fictional encounter between a son and his absent mother via a fractured and paradoxical aesthetic—an aesthetic which, I suggest, interrogates the concept of the monadic “I” and thereby resonates with Winnicott’s assertion that the artwork is a “not-me possession.”
In proposing that the dis-integrated aesthetic of The Carpathians reflects a relational concern, I draw on the thought of Theodor W. Adorno. The fragmented aesthetic of the modern artwork is, for Adorno, an attempt to accommodate the irreducible particularity of that which it represents. It is an attempt to resist the “continuity” of the narcissistic ego, which sees the world as an extension of itself, by “giving place to contiguity.” Indeed, Adorno repeatedly compares an encounter with such artworks to an encounter with another person. Viewed within an Adornian lens, then, The Carpathians exemplifies the way in which one might consider the dis-integrated artwork, in its attempts to bring about a union with that which is “not-me,” to be a fundamentally relational object.
- Suicide, Relationality and Ethics
A person suicides. On the one hand, something about their will and capacity to die remains distinctly their own, shrouded by the privacy of the material act of suicide (in most cases). On the other hand, their will and capacity to die is often interpreted as irrational and selfish by experts in charge of making sense of suicide, and by those haunted by grief and loss. How do we respond to this conceptual schism generated by social and psychological accounts – a schism which more often than not contains deeply moralising overtones? How do we acknowledge the loss of those who grieve without undermining the agency of those who chose to die? In response, I will do something that may come across as either impossible or appalling. Keeping company with thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler and Emmanuel Levinas, I will conceptualise suicide as an ethical gift. I will begin by sketching the main trajectory of this conceptualisation. I will then consider the function of relationality on which suicide as an ethical gift depends – a function that binds the living to the lacunas left behind by the dead. In this sense, my purpose is oddly straightforward: to demonstrate that the agency of suicide is about the living as much as it is about those who chose death. If this is the case, then the accounts we give of the dead may very well be accounts of us, the living.
- The Capital Relation and Its Others
The primal scene in economics is that of the encounter of one with an other that follows from ‘the propensity to truck, barter and exchange’. If the relation to the other is known but not thought in economics, it takes centre stage in the critique of political economy which, rejecting atomism, the metaphysics of the one and the presupposition of ‘an abstract – isolated – individual’ stresses that capital is a relation and not a thing, and further, that each of the elementary building blocks of the capital relation (the commodity, the person) is in reality ‘the ensemble of social relations’. Turning to the capital relation offers, I will argue, important results for thinking relationality and in turn for thinking the present.
First, thinking the capital relation shifts the history and geography of relationality by bringing into focus the new forms of association that capital constantly produces but cannot bear. Second, focus on the capital relation and its relation to other relations emphasises that the relation to the other, so often cast as an ethical or subjective matter of freedom and discretion bound in a demarcated sphere of practical reason, is in fact a logical and above all ontological reality. Third, serious analysis of the capital relation draws attention to the limits of the way that thinkers such as Levinas and Derrida present the economy in terms of reciprocity and the circle, thus falling into the shallowest self-presentations of market society and foreclosing the exorbitant supplement for and through which the capital relation exists. Fourth, the fact that not only does capital encounter others and relations other than the capital relation but capital itself is an other, provides renewed clarity as to why, when and how we might seek to refuse relation or claim ownership of the results of relationality.
- Distant Reading: Franco Moretti’s Character Networks as Relational Model
This paper considers how Franco Moretti’s concept of character networks might contribute to broader understandings of relationality as an emergent paradigm. Moretti’s article “Network Theory, Plot Analysis” (2011) extended a larger project that he had commenced with the earlier publication of Graphs, Maps, Trees to visualise literary form by creating maps of data derived from the evolution of literary genres and devices. Calling this approach “distant reading” to distinguish it from the “close reading” that is commonly regarded as the defining method of literary studies, Moretti argued that maps can model entire systems and so produce a kind of “X-ray” exposing structural patterns. In “Network theory,” Moretti relates character to plot by mapping character interactions in Hamlet and other texts. In doing so, he strips out individualising qualities such as interiority, idiom, motivation, and even function from the analysis of character.
My questions in this paper are both practical and speculative. As a tool for literary analysis, what does such mapping reveal and conceal? If I map a character network in a contemporary novel, how will it complement, advance or challenge literary interpretation? More speculatively, and of more immediate relevance to the conference theme, how does the network model of relationality differ from, or improve upon, others that have influenced critical theory, most particularly the structuralist concept of system (with its tendency to prioritise rule-bound and repeatable elements), intersubjectivity (with its roots in depth accounts of subject formation), and ecology (with its biological determinants)?
- The “Good” and the “Bad” Mother: Transforming Fear in James K. Baxter’s Plays
James K. Baxter’s ambiguous and contradictory portrayal of women in his drama is well known, yet something beyond simple desire seems to pull him back to these figures. In this paper, I draw on attachment and object relations theory to explore how Baxter’s female characters may be seen as relational “objects” which act to displace and project troubling emotions within the fictive imaginary. For Baxter, sex, alcohol, and the transformative aspects of religion are both appealing and frightening because all of these involve the surrender of the self; in psychoanalytic terms, they offer a potential regression to a period when the individual was continuous with the mother. Linked to this ambivalence is his repetitive portrayal of the maternal imago who both nurtures and rejects; a “series of physical and psychic castrations” denying the desire for fusion. Drawing upon Melanie Klein’s concept of “splitting,” I argue that the central phantasy underlying Baxter’s female characters arises from the anxiety arousing inner presence of the destructive bad-mother. Considered in this light, Baxter’s dramatic oeuvre should not be seen as simply misogynist—though it is, certainly, at some level, this—but also as representing an attempt to come to terms with conflicting desires related to attachment and autonomy within the safe “transitional space” (in Winnicottian terms)” of drama. Thus suggesting how the creative work may grow as much from disruptions in wished for and feared states tied up with early experiences of “felt security,” or the lack thereof, as from early libidinal experience.
- Being-Object and Intercorporeality: Casting Anew the Ontological Violence of Racism
I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects. (Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 1967: 109)
The language of objecthood is often invoked in critical race and post-colonial discourse, and for good reason: it expresses the profound dispossession and de-subjectification in the lived experience of racism. Analyses of the racist gaze in Fanon and Sartre, for example, show how racialised bodies are reduced to a kind of being-object through the constituting power of the gaze. And yet, while this does important work in naming the violence of white racism, to what extent do the terms of this discourse re-inscribe a subject-object ontology which various philosophical efforts have sought to overcome? After all, the racialised body is seen, but also sees itself being seen; racialised embodiment entails a concomitant being-subject-and-object. In this paper, I turn to the resources of phenomenology, which in its less existentialist mood offers us various ways for thinking relationality in the lived body. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s account of flesh ontology and the chiasm, I argue that there is an important sense in which we are all co-constituted by others (places, and things). But this need not diminish the weight of claims regarding racial objectification; rather, it offers us the occasion to cast anew the ontological violence of racism: a violence not of one’s subjectivity as commonly argued, but a more urgent and profound violence of intersubjectivity.
- The Terror of Alienation: A Phenomenology of Shame
This paper outlines how shame is created and absolved. Within psychoanalysis there is a movement away from Freudian drive theory toward an intersubjective approach that views identity as the sum amalgamation of one’s relationships (Aron, Benjamin, Mitchell.) Intersubjective theory argues that shame is a result of the objectifying gaze of the Other. This parallels recent interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB) discoveries that provide neurological data for attachment theory and demonstrates the centrality of relationships for psychological health and flourishing (Cozolino, Schore, Siegel). The research in both of these fields indicate that shame should be understood as a fear of diminished personhood through the loss of relationship. Self-protection is an instinctual attempt to minimize the threat of depersonalization at the cost of relational intimacy. Though shame is pervasive there is hope. Drawing from intersubjective and IPNB research, I propose that the cure for shame is found through mutual recognition and empathetic attunement which transforms private alienation into shared grief. It is ultimately through relationships that shame is both created and healed.
- Body, Crown, Territory: Geocorpographies of the British Monarchy and White Settler Sovereignty
The possession and discovery of Indigenous lands in Australia and New Zealand was undertaken by imperial explorers and colonial officials under the imprimatur of the British Crown. Central to these acts was a body capable of exercising possession and discovery, a relational extension of the Crown’s inter-corporeal and scalar power. Such an exercise of authorial expansion exemplifies what Joseph Pugliese describes as ‘geocorpography’. In coining this term, Pugliese emphasises “the violent enmeshment of the flesh and blood of the body within the geopolitics of war, race and empire” (2007, p. 1). In analysing the Crown’s legal and cultural relationships with settler Commonwealth nations as geocorpographic, this paper draws attention to the racial and religious role of British bodies in securing the sovereignty of settler Commonwealth nations. I focus on recent changes to succession laws in the United Kingdom, which remove the presumption of masculinity for inheriting the throne, to explain how whiteness and Protestant Christianity remain crucial to the geopolitical relations of Crown authority even as this authority is rendered compatible with liberal secular conceptions of ‘equal rights’ and ‘gender equality’.
- The Critical Activity of Vulnerability
This paper will begin by shaping Levinas’ relationality as the saying of subjectivity. Through a focus on Otherwise than Being this paper will argue that Levinas’ relationality does not offer us a guide for how to better relate with others. Rather, relationality is an ethical responsibility that shapes the oneself as fractured. For Levinas relationality is an ethical responsibility that is always already there before we step into experience, before we designate meaning. From a definition of relationality as ‘responsibility’ this paper will then consider how Levinas defines his ‘phenomenological reduction’ as the ‘approach’.
As an approach that is toward the saying of subjectivity, Levinas’ ethical reduction does not try to get around assembled meaning, or navigate around ‘the said’. Rather, Levinas is arguing for a type of approach that protects relationality to meaning assembled: an approach that protects the trace of ‘the saying’ to ‘the said’. For Levinas one way this approach is achieved is through the giving of vulnerability. From the approach vulnerability can allow for the saying of subjectivity to chip back the assembling force of assembled meaning— ‘if only for a moment’.
For Levinas the approach is undertaken by a rigorous philosophy. However, from here I wish to argue the importance of Levinas’ ethics to contemporary art. An importance where an open art work is not free and open for the action of autonomous interpretation, but is rather open because it is able to hold the ethics of relationality. Perhaps the importance of a Levinas relationality has been lost in art to a congenial ‘relational aesthetics’ that focuses on presence? Or forgotten and overshadowed in a growing interests in ‘object ontology’? Perhaps an understanding of the criticality of Levinas’ relationality can help shape a specific critical voice for art?
- The Phenomenology of Trust and Interanimality
The distinction between trust and reliance has been used to sharpen accounts of trust as having moral provenance, yet in such accounts animal others occupy a hazy middle ground, being neither subject nor object. Yet there is clearly also the sense of overlapping lifeworlds and rhythms of behavior and the recognition that we do have some form of obligation towards this other with whom we stand in relation. In identifying trust, claims differentiating humans and animals are made, and, as such, we need to consider whether our ways of seeing trust contribute to the exceptionalism of the human species. I explore an account of trust that differentiates trust and reliance through Merleau-Ponty’s notions of depth, reversibility and institution. Recognising trust as a way of being-in-relation instituted through reversibility in depth exposes trusting as having its roots in pre-reflective being, in processes where self and being-in-relation are instituted, or gathered together as our openness to what is not ourselves. As a moral emotion, trust thus reflects and honors this reversibility at its heart. This also allows us to rethink the ethical potentiality of our bond with animal others. Acknowledging the depth of trust’s origins in or as an immemorial past experienced through carnal being suggests trusting (in some form) as belonging to such a life, and thus not only to the human realm. This recognition does not diminish trust’s moral sense; rather, it brings forth what makes our freedom, and our responsibility for our free acts, deeply moral.
- Against Visual Culture: Towards a Relationality of Light
Seeing requires immersion in light—that much is obvious. Curiously, however, light is largely absent from the study of visual culture. In the first edition of The Visual Culture Reader (1998), for instance, the editor (Nicholas Mirzoeff) suggests that the collection explores “the centrality of visual experience in everyday life.” Yet, there are but three references to light in the entire book. If visual culture is concerned with “visual experience,” as this book proposes, then how can the one medium that makes vision possible remain largely absent from its study? One thing to conclude from this absence is that visual culture and seeing are seemingly distinct practices, a point that British anthropologist Tim Ingold has recently made. The study of visual culture concerns the relationality of images, objects, and interpretations. Light is thus a means to an end, a way of connecting observers and objects in order to create “visual experience.” Such an approach to vision, I argue, is akin to closing our eyes in order to see. Sight becomes about the contemplation of static images rather than the fluidity of dynamic occurrences, like a cartoon strip in which images enfold into the next in order to create a seemingly linear experience. Using examples from the world of art, as well as my experiences from researching lighting environments at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, I put forward a model of visual experience, informed by Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, that incorporates both immersion in light and individual/collective interpretation. I propose that what we see is immanent to how we see. That is, in the physical act of sight, we are not making direct contact with things themselves. Rather, we are, first and foremost, experiencing light. As we do so, our visual experience is entangled amongst the variants of light and shade, and our interpretations of what we see ebb and flow amidst the currents of light.
Cindy Zeiher & Cherie Lacey
- A School for Love: The Role of (Real) Love in the Production of Knowledge
The well-known formula about love in Lacanian psychoanalysis is that it deceives. It is a very pessimistic view: love lies, it is illusory. In this understanding, love pretends to give something to the Other, but what it really wants to do is take it from them. Perhaps most damning of all is Lacan’s conviction that love is thoroughly linked to ignorance—it produces nothing less than ‘stupidity’ in the one who claims to be in love. Later in his teaching, however, Lacan speaks about a radically different kind of love. He comes to think of love (real love) as a relationship between two unconscious knowledges. Love recognises in the Other, in the beloved, how s/he is affected by the unconscious, and this recognition can lead the way towards (unconscious) knowledge. Love, then, has the potential to reveal knowledge, producing something that exceeds the imaginary relation (and stupidity!). In this paper, we will outline Lacan’s concept of real love, paying particular attention to the relationship between love and the production of knowledge, asking: what kind of knowledge we might confront in the state we call being ‘in love’?