Readers
Autonomy
9 essays
Compiled by Felice Moramarco

From Immanuel Kant to Margaret Tatcher, the (neo)liberal notion of autonomy has coincided with one’s independence from external agents. With the widely adopted policies to contain the Covid-19 outbreak—self-isolation, dismantling of social bounds, and desertification of common spaces—this model of autonomy seems to have found an unexpected ally for its ultimate realization, although simultaneously unveiling its total unsustainability. It has become in fact evident that in order to be autonomous, humans need to be in constant interaction with other agents, rather than independent from them. Thus, contrarily to what (neo)liberalism has professed for centuries, autonomy implies an absolute openness towards the other.

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Elizabeth A. Povinelli
After the Last Man: Images and Ethics of Becoming Otherwise
Originally published in May 2012

Politics and art, like forms of knowledge, construct “fictions,” that is to say material rearrangements of signs and images, relationships between what is seen and what is said, between what is done and what can be done … They draft maps of the visible, trajectories between the visible and the sayable, relationships between modes of being, modes of saying, and modes of doing and making.
—Jacques Rancière, The Distribution of the Sensible

Yuk Hui
Cosmotechnics as Cosmopolitics
Originally published in November 2017

Dao is not a thing. It is not a concept. It is not the différance. In the Cixi of YiZhuan (易傳‧繫辭), Dao is simply said to be “above forms,” while Qi is what is “below forms.” We should notice here that xin er shang xue (the study of what is above forms) is the word used to translate “metaphysics” (one of the equivalences that must be undone). Qi is something that takes space, as we can see from the character and also read in an etymological dictionary—it has four mouths or containers and in the middle there is a dog guarding the utensils. There are multiple meanings of Qi in different doctrines; for example, in classic Confucianism there is Li Qi (禮器), in which Qi is crucial for Li (a rite), which is not merely a ceremony but rather a search for unification between the heavens and the human. For our purposes, it will suffice to simply say that Dao belongs to the noumenon according to the Kantian distinction, while Qi belongs to the phenomenon. But it is possible to infinitize Qi so as to infinitize the self and enter into the noumenon—this is the question of art.

Reza Negarestani
The Labor of the Inhuman, Part I: Human
Originally published in February 2014

Inhumanism is the extended practical elaboration of humanism; it is born out of a diligent commitment to the project of enlightened humanism. As a universal wave that erases the self-portrait of man drawn in sand, inhumanism is a vector of revision. It relentlessly revises what it means to be human by removing its supposed evident characteristics and preserving certain invariances. At the same time, inhumanism registers itself as a demand for construction, to define what it means to be human by treating human as a constructible hypothesis, a space of navigation and intervention.

Reza Negarestani
The Labor of the Inhuman, Part II: The Inhuman
Originally published in March 2014
Franco “Bifo” Berardi
The Second Coming
Originally published in June 2017

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

—W. H. Auden, “September 1939”

Neither Autocracy nor Automatism: Notes on Autonomy and the Aesthetic
Originally published in January 2016

Over the last few decades, an increasing identification of autonomy with the imperialist and colonialist autocracy of Western subjectivity has led to philosophical flirtations with the rejection of both the concept of autonomy and often that of the subject, for example in various strands of posthumanist thought, the works of Latour, and sundry object-based ontologies. The Enlightenment subject has been unmasked as nothing but a male bourgeois rights holder and property owner, casting large parts of his humanist entitlements into the netherworld of abject near-objecthood. Autonomy has also gotten a bad name in the field of art. In the US in particular, the association of the concept of autonomy with Clement Greenberg’s restrictive understanding of modernism has made the term seem toxic and beyond reappropriation. However, Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, with its dialectical account of the artwork as being both autonomous and fait social, is itself a trenchant Modernist autocritique.

Achille Mbembe
Difference and Self-Determination
Originally published in March 2017

The plantation regime and, later, the colonial regime presented a problem by making race a principle of the exercise of power, a rule of sociability, and a mechanism for training people in behaviors aimed at the growth of economic profitability. Modern ideas of liberty, equality, and democracy are, from this point of view, historically inseparable from the reality of slavery. It was in the Caribbean, specifically on the small island of Barbados, that the reality took shape for the first time before spreading to the English colonies of North America. There, racial domination would survive almost all historical moments: the revolution in the eighteenth century, the Civil War and Reconstruction in the nineteenth, and even the great struggles for civil rights a century later. Revolution carried out in the name of liberty and equality accommodated itself quite well to the practice of slavery and racial segregation.

Isabell Lorey
Becoming Common: Precarization as Political Constituting
Originally published in June 2010

The discourse on precarization that has emerged in the past decade, primarily in Europe, rests on an extremely complex understanding of social insecurity and its productivity. The various strands of this discourse have been brought together again and again in the context of the European precarious movement organized under EuroMayDay. This transnational movement, in existence since the early 2000s, thematizes precarious working and living conditions as the starting point for political struggles and seeks possibilities for political action in neoliberal conditions. What is unusual about this social movement is not only the way in which under its auspices new forms of political struggles are tested and new perspectives on precarization developed; rather—and this is striking in relation to other social movements—it is how it has queered the seemingly disparate fields of the cultural and the political again and again. In the past decade, conversations concerning both the (partly subversive) knowledge of the precarious, and a search for commons (in order to constitute the political), has conspicuously taken place more often in art institutions than in social, political, or even academic contexts.

Irmgard Emmelhainz
Self-Destruction as Insurrection, or, How to Lift the Earth Above All That Has Died?
Originally published in December 2017

My taxonomy of images of alterity from the twentieth century—ethnographic, militant, and witness—is not opposed but rather transversal to Rancière’s. What I am interested in, firstly, is tracking the kinds of discourses underlying images of Western alterity in the aftermath of the postcolonial critique of the ethnographic image, the demise of the third-worldist militant image, and the exposure of the limitations of the witness image, which often serves to perpetuate the figure of the “victim.” These visibilities have perhaps become the “visual” in Daney’s sense. Second, I wish to consider the possibility of an image of soulèvement—in the sense of an image of an other that could threaten Western imperialism and capitalist absolutism, a system this is consensually driven by the desire and need for visibility, and that legitimates social Darwinism with racism and misogynist speech in the public sphere.

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