A journal of critical
humanities and
social sciences,
since 1985.


Copyright © 2024 Editorial Board, Qui Parle

Recent Issues

Vol. 32 | No. 2 | December 2023


The New Seriality
Shane Denson

Since at least the nineteenth century seriality and serialization have been among the most important formal and narrative strategies for popular media cultures and their negotiations with the radical changes brought on by industrialization and new communication technologies. Nothing less is at stake in popular seriality than the material and spatiotemporal ordering of the phenomenal world, with far-reaching political consequences. However, in an age of computation, predictive algorithms, and “personalized” media, the parameters of serialization are massively transformed. And because media forms and social formations are tightly intertwined, this transformation—or the shift from an “old” to a “new” form of seriality—brings with it crucial changes and uncertainties with respect to subjective and collective existence going forward. Centrally at stake in the new seriality is a set of techniques and technologies that aim to predictively “typify” subjects and preformat them vis-à-vis normative and statistically correlated categories of gender and race, among others. This article lays the groundwork for thinking seriality as a sociotechnics of typification, the scope and power of which is greatly expanded by algorithmic media.

Read now at Duke University Press

Strategic Masochism: Affective Costs of Semiperipheral Legibility in Stanisław Lem’s Solaris
Katja Perat

This essay examines how Stanisław Lem mobilizes the genre of science fiction to portray regional Central European concerns as structural conditions of semiperiphery. The essay centers on Lem’s interest in illegibility, which defines him as a novelist and a critic, showing how his argument against the US monopoly within the genre of science fiction is reflected in his novels. Focusing on Lem’s paralleling of female masochism and epistemological critique, the essay reads Solaris as a novel invested in inspecting the interrelatedness of systems of oppression.

Read now at Duke University Press

The Madhouse: Ecological Anxiety under Quarantine
Ian Fleishman

This essay theorizes an addiction to ecological anxiety that is characteristic of cultural reactions to climate change and made especially palpable in a time of pandemic. Borrowing from J. M. Coetzee’s identification in Franz Kafka of an epistemology of ever-evolving crisis, the essay surveys the growing corpus of scholarship on the Anthropocene, and, in particular, of quarantine writing, to examine the viral nature of first-person accounts of the ecocatastrophic, revealing a perpetual subjunctivity resistant to the ontological prioritization of the actual over the virtual. While such symptomatic thinking might seem to fulfill a psychologically inoculative function against impending catastrophe, the essay contends that it ultimately becomes a kind of autoimmune disorder: a prophetically self-fulfilling panic that makes it increasingly difficult to fathom, let alone to take action against, our current ecological and political crises.

Read now at Duke University Press

Stably Unusual: Artistic Labor and Aesthetic Autonomy
Thomas Waller

This article critically compares two recent approaches to the problem of aesthetic autonomy: Dave Beech’s Art and Value and Nicholas Brown’s Autonomy. By recentering the differences between these critics’ works around Marx’s categories of subsumption, it evaluates the fraught relationship between labor and aesthetics, economy and form, art and the market. Although Beech provides a persuasive account of art’s “economic exceptionalism,” his focus on the qualitative irreducibility of artistic labor risks losing sight of what is socially unique about aesthetic production. Likewise, and inversely, while Brown’s original account of art’s internal overcoming of the commodity-form provides a generative way to rethink aesthetics in modernism’s wake, it rests on a periodizing claim for the total domination of the capitalist market that equivocates on whether artistic labor can truly be “really subsumed” under capital. The article concludes by pondering the political dimension to these theories of autonomy, which mirror in important ways debates within communization circles over subsumption, programmatism, and the aesthetics of revolution.

Read now at Duke University Press


Political Mutations in Present-Day Russia: Ilya Budraitskis, Ilya Matveev, and Alexei Yurchak in Conversation
Ilya Budraitskis, Ilya Matveev, Alexei Yurchak, and Zachary Hicks

On April 17, 2023, Ilya Budraitskis and Ilya Matveev—both of whom were forced to flee Russia to avoid arrest for their open opposition to Russia’s war against Ukraine—sat down with anthropologist Alexei Yurchak to discuss the war, its origins, and its implications. How, in retrospect, might we trace a red thread from the authoritarian neoliberalism of the early Putin era to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and its pronounced dictatorial turn? What does this new form of Russian authoritarianism at home imply for the rest of the world? How useful are existing concepts from Marxism and critical theory—imperialism, Bonapartism, fascism, ideology—for understanding the situation both locally and globally?

What follows is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for readability.

ALEXEI YURCHAK: The first question I would like to address to both of you. You have written and spoken about the radical transformation of the political system in Russia...

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An Excerpt from Your Voice Saw/Your Voice Lives/We Go On (2019), by Habib Tengour
Anna Levett

The Francophone writer Habib Tengour, born in Mostaganem, Algeria, in 1947, likes to say that he lives “between Constantine and Paris.” Indeed, although Tengour writes in French, his French gives expression to the liminal space that exists around and between the literary and cultural traditions of France and Algeria. His poetry is equally likely to invoke The Odyssey as it is the muʿallaqāt of pre-Islamic Arabia, and his writings brim not only with the voices of other Maghrebi writers, like the Algerians Kateb Yacine and Mohammed Dib, but with the giants of French letters, like André Breton, Arthur Rimbaud, and Charles Baudelaire; German Romantics like Friedrich Hölderlin; medieval Sufi poets like Ibn ʿArabi; and on and on and on. Over almost fifty years, having published more than fifteen works of poetry, essays, and drama, Tengour has built a house of literature whose windows and doors are open wide to...

Read now at Duke University Press

        Review Essay

Theories of Sexual Violence, State, and Political Action in Abolition Feminism
Jess Fournier

A review of Angela Y. Davis, Gina Dent, Erica R. Meiners, and Beth E. Richie, Abolition. Feminism. Now. (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2022), and Françoise Vergès, A Feminist Theory of Violence: A Decolonial Perspective, translated by Melissa Thackway (London: Pluto, 2022).

Read now at Duke University Press

Cover: Egor Rogalev, Situation No. 29 (2011). Archival photographic print in various editions; dimensions variable. From the photo series Synchronicity. Courtesy of the artist. More info

Volume 32.2 is available at Duke University Press. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.

Vol. 32 | No. 1 | June 2023

        Special Issue: Totality and Culture

The Pot Still Boils: Introducing Totality and Culture
Nicholas Anderman and Zachary Hicks

This special-issue introduction historicizes and seeks to move beyond the antinomy between totality and culture that is today a mainstay of much contemporary critical theory. The introduction proceeds in three parts. The first examines a midcentury crisis of Marxism that, concomitant with major shifts in global capitalism, set the scene for subsequent scholarly accounts of culture that have privileged the fragment, the supplement, the remainder, the site, the margins, and the like over against the totality. The second part consists of an analysis of two works of art—by the American visual artists Allan Sekula and Ellen Gallagher, respectively—which we take to be exemplary of the affordances of art, literature, and other forms of cultural expression for accessing totality anew. The third part briefly surveys recent theoretical work that aims to put a revitalized concept of totality at the center of cultural critique. The introduction concludes with summaries of the seven articles included herein. The special issue covers a lot of ground in terms of subject matter, theoretical milieu, disciplinary framework, and style. What binds the articles together is, in effect, a shared working method, which involves thinking through the relationship between a specific cultural object (or set of objects) and the social whole in and through which it emerged.

Read now at Duke University Press

The Symptomatological Imagination: On Cultural Analysis as Historical Diagnosis
Kyle Baasch

Cultural and literary critics have begun to abandon a long-standing commitment to poststructuralist and deconstructive interpretative methods in favor of an ostensibly Marxist aspiration to comprehend cultural phenomena as symptomatic expressions of a social totality. This essay identifies some of the advantages and shortcomings of this symptomatological mode of interpretation by returning to a dispute in the German scientific establishment around the turn of the twentieth century concerning the applicability of biological conceptions of organic wholeness in cultural and social analysis. The dispute culminates in Max Weber’s nuanced defense of biological metaphors as indispensable heuristic devices for cultural inquiry that can nevertheless result in dangerous consequences when they are inappropriately employed. This essay ultimately argues that Weber’s contribution to cultural analysis remains an underappreciated and vital methodological resource for researchers who wish to rehabilitate the concept of totality today.

Read now at Duke University Press

Inverted Propositions: On Chinese Readings of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, Totality, and Transnational Bildung

Roy Chan

Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1828–89) is best known for his utopian realist novel What Is to Be Done? (1863). However, he was perhaps most celebrated as a literary thinker in China as a result of the Soviet canonization of the nineteenth-century “democratic critics.” This essay discusses two Chinese critics’ engagement with Chernyshevsky’s treatise The Aesthetic Relation of Art to Reality (1853). Here Chernyshevsky advanced the proposition “Beauty is life.” In the 1930s and 1940s the literary theorist Zhou Yang read Chernyshevsky and produced a Chinese translation in 1942. In 1963 the philosopher Zhu Guangqian published the History of Western Aesthetics, in which he devoted a chapter to Chernyshevsky. This article explores how both Zhou and Zhu responded to Chernyshevsky’s proposition on beauty and life, with particular attention to all three thinkers’ engagement with Ludwig Feuerbach’s “transformative method” in his critique of Christianity, which sought to invert the relation between subject and predicate. Both Zhou and Zhu alighted on how Chernyshevsky’s reliance on Feuerbach led to a one-sided interpretation that needed further articulation; they marshaled the insights of Marx and Hegel to reinterpret Chernyshevsky. Finally, the essay considers the issue of transnational Bildung between Russia and China and the teacher-student relation as expressions of totality along the lines of both Feuerbachian transformative critique and Hegelian speculative retrieval.

Read now at Duke University Press

The Horrible Work of History: Georges Bataille and the Actuality of Hegel
Alberto Toscano

This article critically surveys Georges Bataille’s multiple engagements with G. W. F. Hegel from the early 1930s to the 1950s. It homes in on how Bataille’s conceptual, experiential, and parodic demarcation from Hegel targets not the German philosopher’s aspiration to totality but (via Bataille’s dialogue with Alexandre Kojève) his action-centered framing of the movement of history and the character of actuality. Against the dialectical mastery of history, Bataille seeks to articulate an unpolitical image of sovereignty and play that is ultimately poetic or literary in kind.

Read now at Duke University Press

Literature and Totality: Kritik durch Darstellung and the Crisis of Literary Production
Alya Ansari

This essay foregrounds the hermeneutic purchase of totality in contemporary literary criticism. Responding to the recent proliferation of the “gig work” novel, the essay takes up two interrelated lines of inquiry: How might we rethink the conceptual affordances of “totality” for the ongoing project of the critique of political economy? What would a rethinking of totality’s position in the conceptual architecture of literary criticism offer in the way of new heuristics for the analysis of the novel? Through recourse to G. W. F. Hegel’s Science of Logic and Michael Theunissen, Hans-Friedrich Fulda, and Rolf-Peter Horstmann’s Critical Presentation of Metaphysics: A Discussion of Hegel’s “Logic” (Kritische Darstellung der Metaphysik: Eine Diskussion über Hegels “Logik”), this essay proposes a method of literary analysis that approaches the formal aspects of the novel as defined through the historical-material conditions for the writing of the text. The essay then puts a close reading of Hilary Leichter’s Temporary in conversation with Sarah Brouillette’s account of the decline of the English-language literary novel to suggest how the formal properties of the contemporary gig work novel respond to the general crisis of novel production in the twenty-first century.

Read now at Duke University Press

Totality in a Box: The Shipping Container from Commodity to Allegory
Filippo Menozzi

This essay proposes a reading of the American photographer Allan Sekula’s 1995 essay “Dismal Science” alongside The Forgotten Space, an essay film he directed with Noël Burch in 2010. These works are still resonant today because they suggest the possibility of picturing the totality of capitalist modernity. Sekula’s representations of the shipping container and the subsequent shifts in maritime economy recuperate the prospect of a panoramic, totalizing view in an era marked by a prevalence of detail and data over meaningful grand narrative. The totality the container embodies and represents, however, is not the whole of a frictionless and seamless accumulation of capital but a nonsynchronous, polemical, and critical totality of struggle and antagonism. Sekula turns the shipping container from a stand-in for a system of commodity circulation to an allegorical sign of the continuing fight between labor and capital. Rather than envisioning this totality of struggle as a merely thematic concern, Sekula’s compositions eschew commodification on the level of form by delving into the constitutive tensions of realism and reintroducing a living context of militancy and resistance into the matter of representation itself.

Read now at Duke University Press

Abolish the Oikos: Notes on Incapacity from Antiquity to Marxist Feminism, Black Feminism, and Afro-pessimism
Sara-Maria Sorentino

Apparent similarities between Marxism and Afro-pessimism on questions of abstraction, social reproduction, and abolition have curiously not marked the beginning of a conversation. To gauge the dimensions of this halted conversation, this article explores the uses of the oikos in theorizing the demands of the present. Drawing from conflictual interpretations of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Politics and reading against the grain of Marxist feminism, this article proposes a general theory of incapacity that identifies the role of capacity in reproducing the problem of slavery, the tensions of the oikos, and the inadequacies of capitalist critique. Afro-pessimism both mimics the capitalist totality by replacing it with slavery and exceeds that totality by staying with the dissolving quality that the slave qua incapacity comes to impossibly represent. This article argues that the collapse of race into a form of “reduced capacity,” like class or gender, is the way antiblackness articulates itself for political economy, but the slave’s incapacity cannot then be reducible to capital or critical reconfigurations of social reproduction. The oikos, in this reading, becomes a generative terrain for thinking tensions in intersectionality as well as antagonistic figures of liberation, from the abolition of the value-form, gender, and the family to the proposition of the “end of the world.”

Read now at Duke University Press

From Fetish to Totality: The Work of Art in the Age of Real Abstraction
Jaleh Mansoor

This essay argues that the artwork’s opacity and purposively purposeless quality are a tacit refusal of the compulsory division between intellectual and manual labor, which afford the artwork a unique capacity to access an otherwise occluded totality. By analyzing conceptual work by the artist duo Claire Fontaine—who deploy Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s notion of market exchangism in their work—in relation to twentieth-century intellectual debates around representation, abstraction, and social synthesis, the essay develops a model of totality in a descriptive rather than prescriptive register. At issue is the artwork’s potential for dereification, whereby a given work of art may provide perceptual experience of the transactional logic that underpins and structures the social field.

Read now at Duke University Press

        Review Essays

Dispossession and Totality
Christopher Geary

A review of Daniel Bensaïd, The Dispossessed: Karl Marx’s Debates on Wood Theft and the Right of the Poor, edited and translated by Robert Nichols (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2021), and Robert Nichols, Theft Is Property! Dispossession and Critical Theory (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020).

Read now at Duke University Press

Beyond Desire: Anticapitalism, Gender, and Sexuality in Eastern European Marxisms
Ruth Averbach

A review of Keti Chukhrov, Practicing the Good: Desire and Boredom in Soviet Socialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020), and Bogdan Popa, De-centering Queer Theory: Communist Sexuality in the Flow during and after the Cold War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2021).

Read now at Duke University Press

Cover: Ellen Gallagher, Ecstatic Draught of Fishes (2019). Oil, pigment, palladium, and paper on canvas, 97.6 x 79.5 in (248.0 x 201.9 cm). © Ellen Gallagher. Photo: Thomas Lannes. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. More info

Volume 32.1 is available at Duke University Press. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.

Vol. 31 | No. 2 | December 2022


Religious Distinctions: Rethinking Said on Religion, Criticism, and the Secular
Philip Balboni

This essay works to clarify Edward Said’s writings on religion, criticism, and the secular, arguing that this clarification has serious implications not only for Said’s project of “secular criticism” but also for understanding the workings of what he called the “critical consciousness” within a “purely secular view of reality.” The essay holds that there are not one but two concepts of the religious operative in Said’s work and maintains that most commentators on Said have ignored the second concept and have therefore misconstrued secular criticism’s relationship to what it nominates as religious. By reexamining Said’s writings on religion, criticism, and the secular, as well as his early studies of modern literature, this essay contends that a secular criticism aware of its commitment to both concepts of the religious allows for a more nuanced and powerful account of the manner in which such criticism can call itself secular. It suggests, furthermore, that this account not only clarifies the workings of Said’s own critical consciousness but also provides a likewise more nuanced view of the “method” or “rationality” such a consciousness deploys in making sense of human life, ingenuity, and history. 

Read now at Duke University Press

Reorienting Visual Reading: From Colonial Visions to the Subtexts “Facing Us”
Liron Mor

This essay explores visual reading and its colonial aspects by analyzing the novel Ze ʿim ha-panim elenu (The One Facing Us, 1995), by Ronit Matalon, an Israeli Jewish author of Egyptian descent. In this novel Matalon displaces the dramas of Mizrahi Jews (Jews originating from the Arab and Muslim world) to Cameroon, thus stressing her protagonists’ uneasy positioning within the colonizer-colonized, West-East divides and connecting Zionist racialization to broader, global processes of colonial capitalism. By exploring her elaborate readings of photographs in the novel, the essay reveals two rival traditions of reading the visual: the first involves what might be described, following Matalon, as a certain “intending toward” the photograph—a colonial reading practice through which a subject converts her absence from the photographic moment into a visionary, intentional presence. In this Barthesian tradition, the image is an empty land to be colonized, and Oriental subjects are racialized by being fetishistically associated with both authentic matter and theological aura. The second tradition, typified in the novel by the protagonist’s Egyptian mother, is a laborious collective practice of reading photographs that is attentive to subtext, nonverbal communication, and social codes. The essay argues that this reading practice has nothing to do with postcolonial or Levantine hybridity or with a “migratory state of mind”—concepts that govern scholarship on Matalon—and that its subsistence requires in fact a solid, counterdiasporic sense of home.

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An Afropessimist, Antidisciplinary Rejoinder to History, Its Human, and Its Anti-Blackness

David Ponton, III

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds have been critical of history’s vision of itself as grounded in empiricism, its function as a secularist theodicy, and its commitment to humanism. Meanwhile, Black studies has exposed the Human as a sociopolitical construction masquerading as mere ontological fact. Yet historians remain committed to the fiction as if it were fact, occluding the ways that narrating the Human requires evading full recognition of the ubiquity and permanence of anti-Blackness in the modern world. Indeed, this article argues, this is the unstated function of history, conceived here as a discipline, or constraint, on what it is possible for historians to think and register as significant as they bring order to chaos in the form of narrative. Against empiricism and the humanist compulsion to explain suffering rather than abide in its meaninglessness, this article suggests an embrace of antidisciplinarity. By shifting perspective through Afropessimism, embracing methods such as critical fabulation, and inventing the past through cross-disciplinary borrowing, autobiography, and explicit empathy, the article demonstrates the implications of an antidisciplinary approach to historical inquiry. It engages the historiography and archives related to the Houston Police Department’s attack on Texas Southern University students in 1967 and in doing so exposes the incoherence of historiography that speaks of peace in an anti-Black world and that relies on an ontological certainty of the Human as a simple fact of existence, alongside its attendant codes, specifically those of linear time, gender subjectivity, and agency.

Read now at Duke University Press

        Dossier: A Farewell to Sufficiency (In Memory of Jean-Luc Nancy)

Introduction: A Farewell to Sufficiency (In Memory of Jean-Luc Nancy)
William Morgan

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

To speak of life, of life in the context of death, is to speak of too little and not enough. As you know, Jean-Luc Nancy died in August 2021 at the age of eighty-one. Nancy’s celebrated academic career is a matter of record; his many works are widely available in both French and English, among other languages. From 1968 until 2004, Nancy was professor of philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. During that time he published The Experience of Freedom (1988), his dissertation for his doctorat d’état, adjudicated by two individuals familiar to readers of so-called French theory, Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard. Nancy’s close relationship with Derrida is commemorated in Derrida’s On Touching (2000), one of a select few manuscripts penned by the philosopher on the subject of a living contemporary. The vastness of Nancy’s philosophical contribution is inarguable, to say nothing of his esteemed art...

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Under Construction: Interventions
Jean-Luc Nancy; Patrick Lyons

Jean-Luc Nancy published four times in Qui Parle during his lifetime: once in 1987, once in 1989, and twice in 2017. “Under Construction: Interventions” marks the first English translation of his first publication in this journal, in its second-ever issue. In this short piece, written five years after his groundbreaking La communauté désoeuvrée, Nancy takes up the question of teaching and its inherent entwinement, as he argues, with “the work of thought.” Teaching is here understood much like Nancy’s community: not as what stems from collaboration but as comprising a series of mimetic displacements, reproductions, gestures. Teaching thus magnifies the possibilities at “the limit of sense.” As Nancy puts it: the reconfiguration of those listening students will continue its reach where a teacher’s mastery has reached its finitude. Amid contemporary conversations about collaborative learning and pedagogical missions, Nancy’s brief missive offers a compelling intervention—an alternative model to that of master and pupil—but envisions a classroom community built on layers of displacement.

Read now at Duke University Press

The Commencement of Jean-Luc Nancy
Divya Dwivedi

Jean-Luc Nancy was concerned with commencement at several levels, of several kinds, in several senses, because he could speak of commencement with affirmation, which means with audacity. From the hospital in July 2021 he completed his last essay, which was intended to commence the project of “the other beginning of philosophy” envisaged by him, Shaj Mohan, and Divya Dwivedi, and he titled it “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking.” In and through it are gathered all of Nancy’s critical reflections on destiny, on the antisemitic components of the Heideggerian history of being, on the ends of philosophy that we must reckon with, on origins and archaeophilia, on the an-archique essence of philosophy and democracy—and this means for us, on another sense of commencement than arche, which could allow us to prepare another beginning of philosophy than the Heideggerian one, and to respond to Nancy’s wager “Pourquoi pas en finir?” Nancy has not left us; rather, we are only now commencing with Nancy. 

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Nancy’s Prophetic Voice
Ian James

This article gives a personal recollection of discussions with Jean-Luc Nancy and offers a reflection on these together with a philosophical analysis of texts written by him that were published in 2020 in the volume La peau fragile du monde (The Fragile Skin of the World). It engages with Nancy’s novel understanding of prophecy to understand his own writing as a form of “prophetic voice” receptive to the emergence of the present and its opening onto the future. A meditation on time, the loss of history, and on the need to be receptive to what comes to us as the real and from the real, the article outlines Nancy’s singular, generous, and open praxis and ethos of thought.

Read now at Duke University Press

The Surprise: Of the Event
François Raffoul

In his ontology of the singular plural, Jean-Luc Nancy makes the claim that nothing preexists the event of being: no principle, arche, or prior substance. With such a statement, a thinking of the event emerges: not preceded by any principle or ground, and no longer referred to any prior substance, being is nothing but the event of itself. Thus preceded by nothing and grounded in no essence, the event of being can only come as a surprise. This essay explores Nancy’s thinking of the event as surprise. Indeed, for Nancy, far from being an occasional accompaniment of an event, the surprise is a constitutive feature of the event. An event, he states, is surprising, or it is not an event. In the end, as Nancy puts it, thinking the event, the surprise of the event or the event as surprise, will amount to thinking being surprised, or “over-taken” (sur-prise) by the event, for the event always exceeds thinking while also each time happening to it.

Read now at Duke University Press

Deconstruction and Anastasis
Shaj Mohan

Deconstruction was the beginning of a disassembly of metaphysics that now proceeds toward anastasis through the openings created by Jean-Luc Nancy. Deconstruction remained classical in the sense of its reliance on classical laws of thought, of which it remained the self-critique. With Nancy, however, the rejection of the classical laws of thought emerged. Anastasis is the other beginning that opens philosophy to the experiences covered over by the classical laws.

Read now at Duke University Press

Sense, Orientation, and World Creation: A Dialogue between Jean-Luc Nancy and Sara Ahmed
Kevin Inston

This article stages a dialogue between Jean-Luc Nancy’s postphenomenology and Sara Ahmed’s queer phenomenology to examine the conditions, ethos, and politics of world creation as well as the habits, obstacles, and inequalities that resist it. It argues that Nancy’s understanding of sense as the event of the mutual exposure of bodies reveals what exceeds dominant worldviews, how bodies extend the world beyond prevailing spatializations, but that it does not sufficiently examine what prevents us from sensing that event as a call to world creation. Conversely, Ahmed analyzes how the spatial orientation of bodies restricts exposure, causes uneven access to the world, and suppresses Nancean sense. Her account of disorientation illuminates how we could experience the world as ungrounded and susceptible to creation but struggles to explain what would enable the sharing of this event so that it does not reconfirm the dominant orientations of whiteness and heterosexuality. Reframing disorientation in terms of Nancy’s relational ontology and its spatial conception of justice rethinks the nonalignment of bodies and spaces as freeing the circulation of sense so that alternative worlds could appear. In this way, disorientation can be read as potentially opening the passage from injustice to justice, from orientation to creation.

Read now at Duke University Press

Indices of Departure
Joseph Albernaz

This text on Jean-Luc Nancy engages his interest in the motif of departure to reexamine and register the importance of some of his central contributions. Along with returning to Nancy’s singular rendering of key concepts like finitude, sharing, communism, and resurrection, the essay stages a passing encounter between Nancy’s thought of parting and the poetry of Walt Whitman.

Read now at Duke University Press

Les Amours Partagées
Phillip Warnell; Jean-Luc Nancy

This is a creative dialogue between artist-filmmaker Phillip Warnell and author-philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. It explores, among other things, their film, text, and research collaborations spanning more than a decade.

Read now at Duke University Press

Cover: Ming of Harlem: Twenty-One Storeys in the Air (dir. Phillip Warnell, 2014). Image courtesy of Big Other Films. More info

Volume 31.2 is available at Duke University Press. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.

Vol. 31 | No. 1 | June 2022

        Special Issue: The Paranormative

Introduction: The Paranormative
Editorial Board

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Over two years later, a “return to normal” remains the pandemic’s most enduring political promise, a token of hope to hedge against continued death and precarity. Held within this recursive promise, however, is a prima facie condition that deserves interrogation. What, exactly, is the “normal” to which we will return? Will capitalism and its attendant crises no longer demand our attention absent a continual state of emergency? The coherence and stability of the “normal” eludes us. Georges Canguilhem sees the normal as itself a chimeric category that, from the perspective of medicine and science, is not so distant from the “pathological” it is meant to foil.

In the contemporary moment, what we might term paranormativity has further infringed on our so-called norms, unfolding in internet circles, blue-chip art institutions, and scenes of communal mourning.

Read now at Duke University Press

Poetry, Ghosts, Mediation
Jack W. Chen

This essay takes the example of a poem composed by a ghost in the Tang dynasty—one of many preserved in literary anthologies and treated as actually having been authored by the dead—as an entry point to ask broader questions of ghostly haunting and poetic presence. What the essay demonstrates is how both the ghost and the poem are informed by logics of analog mediation (rather than representation): how the ghost finds purchase in the world only through bodily possession, spatial haunting, material displacement, and psychic transference and how the poem effects the transmission of mind through the channels of linguistic form, meter, and rhyme. Neither the ghost nor the poem exists except in or as its mediations, yet through these mediations, both the ghost and the poem become present and are communicated into the world. While contemporary media theory has identified the intertwined discourses of technology and spiritualism, the focus has almost solely been on the nineteenth century and later, on the age of electric and electronic telecommunications. The medieval ghost poem, as an exemplary case, complicates this account, showing how poetry has long served as a necrotechnology that mediates the dead and returns ghosts to presence.

Read now at Duke University Press

Two Poems by Cristina Peri Rossi

Translated and Introduced by Liz Rose

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Cristina Peri Rossi was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, but has lived in Barcelona since the early 1970s, when she went into political exile. The only woman associated with the Latin American Boom, Peri Rossi has continued writing despite political repression, tenuous immigration status, and linguistic discrimination. She has published nineteen books of poetry and earned many literary prizes, most recently the 2021 Premio Cervantes.

My translations focus on the theme of lesbian intimacy as it relates to queer concepts of home in exile. Peri Rossi’s portrayal of exile is woven with eroticism, affection, and affect made manifest in corporeal experience. Yet her work highlights what is in excess of the corporeal, especially what is beyond normative body/spirit and human/animal distinctions.

Read now at Duke University Press

The Para-Worlds of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky

Delali Kumavie

This essay argues that Lesley Nneka Arimah’s collection of short stories, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, evokes para-worlds that reveal and contend with the world and its norms. Examining the collection’s entwinement of magical, mythical, and animist modes with science, technology, and innovation, the essay shows how Arimah’s work creates its own metagenre, which functions as a paranormal frame that disrupts the common sense of existing interpretive frameworks of progress and difference. The paranormal in Arimah’s work is a space where the illegible significance of Blackness exists. These para-worlds, the essay contends, are paranormal because they function as parallel, ancillary, and barricading structures that reveal the spatial and temporal continuums that order the world. Viewing the norm as the world-constituting structures instantiated in 1492, the essay contends that Arimah’s para-world functions as a continuum to reveal the ever-present structures of violence.

Read now at Duke University Press

The Devil Finds Use: Black Queers Do The Exorcist
Brandon S. Callender

Beginning with James Baldwin’s critique of The Exorcist in The Devil Finds Work (1976) and ending with campy allusions to the film in the works of three contemporary black gay authors, this article argues that the aesthetics of possession helps articulate queer forms of desire that blur the lines between agency and passivity. Deploying José Esteban Muñoz’s theory of disidentification, it shows how black and queer subjects disruptively locate themselves in the horror genre by drawing on their racial affinities with the genre. The first section proposes that the most prevalent claim in black horror studies today—that black life is more frightening than the supernatural—actually originates with Baldwin’s 1976 rebuke of the film. By disidentifying with horror, Baldwin shifts attention away from paranormal evils and onto a more horrifying normative world. Sketching enthusiastic alternatives to Baldwin, the latter half of this article examines idiosyncratic attachments to the film that are routed through the demonic. By disidentifying with the possessed child, the narrators of Larry Duplechan’s Eight Days a Week (1985) and Blackbird (1986), James Earl Hardy’s B-Boy Blues (1994), and G. Winston James’s Shaming the Devil (2009) all articulate fraught performances of desire.

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Poems by Oksana Vasyakina and Elena Kostyleva
Translated and Introduced by Helena Kernan

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Oksana Vasyakina and Elena Kostyleva are contemporary Russian poetesses who contribute to Ф-письмо (F Letter), a digital platform that publishes, critiques, and celebrates feminist writing.1 Their work is testament to a generational change in Russophone poetry, which has seen a decline in the certainties and declamatory style of the previous generation in favor of all-embracing polyphony and linguistic experimentation, an ethical commitment to decolonization and leftist politics, and a strong focus on diverse spectrums of gender and sexuality.

Vasyakina’s “Girl” is the latest in a series of poems that trace the trials, tribulations, joys, and hopes of the author’s own biography. The poem was published not long after her debut novel, Рана (Wound), a hybrid text that includes essays, poems, and novelistic plot devices and enters into dialogue with several female thinkers, both past and present.

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The Prion As Nature’s Undead
Kathleen Powers

The prion is a self-replicating protein that infects the central nervous system. This essay applies Georges Canguilhem’s criterion for life, biological normativity, to the prion for the purpose of arguing that the existence of the prion within living systems requires attention to how biological matter uses space. Without the involvement of DNA, the prion protein is physically capable of transforming nonprion proteins into prion proteins—a capacity afforded by the specific characteristics of the energy landscape it propagates within, which in turn is determined by the specific arrangement of atoms in its molecular architecture. Like a hammer that is a mirror, the prion compresses and folds surrounding proteins, making its environment identical to itself. This essay studies how information exchange occurs for the prion for the purpose of arguing for a philosophy of biology premised on the analysis of space with attention to form over the analysis of language with attention to genetic code.

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Starships and Slave Ships: Black Ontology and the UFO Abduction Phenomenon
Jonathan Jacob Moore

Evidence suggests that the UFO/alien abduction phenomenon is exclusively experienced by white people in the United States. But while scholars have probed abductee narratives to surface political and symbolic anxieties for decades, none have thought of the phenomenon’s whiteness alongside the archival absence of Black abductees. Using abductee accounts, interdisciplinary studies of the UFO abduction phenomena, and critiques of Black subjectivity, this article attends to the ontological anxieties that permeate UFO abduction narratives and their choreographic resonance with the psychosomatics of Black life. This article begins by examining the exceptional narrative of Barney Hill, America’s first and thus far only popular Black abductee. Then it brings into focus UFOlogy’s aporetic negation of racial subjectivity and suggests that the UFO abduction phenomenon is, a posteriori, inaccessible to the Black nonsubject. Finally, it returns to Hill’s experience and offers speculative implications of a libidinal relationship between the starship’s technics and the slave ship’s terror.

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Cover: An Aspiration to Enfold All, from Thought-Forms: A Record of Clairvoyant Investigation, by Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater (1901). © Sacred Bones Records. More info

Volume 31.1 is available at Duke University Press. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.

Vol. 30 | No. 2 | December 2021


RE: [No Subject]––On Nonbinary Gender
Marquis Bey

This essay attempts to imagine what nonbinary gender might be through an autotheoretical and imaginative email exchange between the author, as “X,” and the author’s gender as nonbinary. Indeed, theorized conversationally throughout are the difficulties and potentialities of nonbinary gender, or nonbinariness as a refusal of gender.

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Skulls, Tree Bark, Fossils: Memory and Materiality in Georges Didi-Huberman’s Transvaluation of Surface
Magdalena Zolkos

Studies of material objects in the field of memory studies have followed diverse epistemological and disciplinary trajectories, but their shared characteristic has been the questioning of philosophical assumptions concerning human relations with inanimate things and lower-level organic objects, such as plants, within the Aristotelian hierarchy of beings. Rather than accept at face value their categorizations as passive or deficient in comparison to the human subject, critical scholarship has reformulated the place and role of nonhuman entities in culture. This essay examines the nexus of materiality and memory in the work of the French philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman, with the focus on the questions of mnemonic affordance of things and plants. The essay proposes that Didi-Huberman’s project can be approached from the perspective of “undoing” the key binaries of Western historiography of art and material culture: surface/depth, exteriority/interiority, visibility/invisibility, and malleability/rigidity. Focusing on imaginal representations of memory objects in Didi-Huberman’s two essays Bark and Being a Skull, the essay situates these texts within the context of his philosophical reading of Aby Warburg’s iconology, and argues that Didi-Huberman’s undoing of the binaries that have traditionally structured thinking about materiality and memory could be productively approached as a philosophical project of transvaluating surface.

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Index and Image: Benjamin, Héring, Heidegger, and the Phenomenology of History

Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús

Although Walter Benjamin anticipated a confrontation with Martin Heidegger regarding the theory of historical knowledge, this confrontation was never fully elaborated. This essay contributes to filling out this lacuna by arguing that Benjamin’s concept of the dialectical image was conceived as a phenomenological corrective to Heidegger’s historicity. To clarify the phenomenological sources of Benjamin’s conception of the image, it reads the traces of Benjamin’s engagement with the early phenomenologist Jean Héring in the first sentences of entry “N3,1” in Das Passagen-Werk, where Benjamin presents his notion of the image in explicit opposition to Heidegger. The essay argues that Benjamin relied on Héring’s notion of phenomenological essences as indexically individuated to conceptualize the historical index of the image and to provide a better (i.e., more concrete) way of “saving history for phenomenology” than Heidegger’s historicity. By tracking Benjamin’s debts and departures from Héring, this essay prepares the ground for a reconstruction of Benjamin’s confrontation with Heidegger and argues for the relevance of Benjamin’s conception of history for contemporary critiques of historicism.

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“Les Hypothèses Trop Hasardées”: Synecdoche and Speculative Method at the End
of the Rougon-Macquart

Justin Raden

This essay argues that the difficulties Émile Zola faced in closing the Rougon-Macquart novel cycle reveal a political imaginary whose notion of a clean line of progress depends on a technical supplement it disavows. At critical points Zola’s method exposes the disavowal of this technical supplement that functions as the prosthetic by which man overcomes a hereditary deficiency, his original psychosis in Zola’s account, and is also the means by which he allegorizes history as progress. But this supplement must also disappear from view, or operate as a vanishing mediator. Because, for Zola, the immediate political problem of engendering the right kind of political subjects for the Third Empire must be integrated into a larger evolutionary history, the rational overcoming of the original psychosis takes the form of a necessary and indeed automatic process. What is at stake here is not the inhumanism of generalizing the “Anthropos,” which has come under recent scrutiny, but the inhumanism integral to any humanism that imagines itself as teleologically or historically oriented—the inhumanism in humanism that subtends any imaginary of evolution or progress, because such a humanism must have recourse to technical prosthesis.

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From Exile to “Retro-Utopia”: A Yugoslav Writer’s Return
Djordje Popović

The act of writing ensures that exile is never permanent in the mind of the writer even if it is an abiding feature of his or her reality. Dubravka Ugrešić explores this paradox in much of her work, suggesting that migrant writers experience “double exile”—first on account of displacement and then because they are forced to reflect on the condition of being displaced, in effect, staging their alienation in the act of commenting on it. This dialectic of permanence and impermanence alone hints at a more developed relationship between home and exile than is usually allowed in the ontologically inflected interpretations of Ugrešić’s work. Instead of valorizing exile as a desirable, paradigmatically human condition, this article shows Ugrešić breaking with exilic literary and theoretical conventions by advancing the possibility of a return to what she calls “retro-utopia”—a place glimpsed in an unfulfilled past and a home to which a community based on shared positions, not identity, can return. The argument is based on an exegetical approach to an ur-document in transnational post-Yugoslav literature, Ugrešić’s 1997 novel The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, as well as on a key distinction in Edward Said’s secular criticism between filiative and affiliative social bonds.

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The United States at the Center of the Action
Jane Komori

A review of Mark W. Driscoll, The Whites Are Enemies of Heaven: Climate Caucasianism and Asian Ecological Protection (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020).

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Better Problems: Neoliberalism, Strategic Achronicity, and the Experimental Games To-Be-Made
Doug Stark

A review of Patrick Jagoda, Experimental Games: Critique, Play, and Design in the Age of Gamification (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020).

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Why Medieval Allegory?
Bernardo Sarmiento Hinojosa

A review of Katharine Breen, Machines of the Mind: Personification in Medieval Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021) and Nicolette Zeeman, The Arts of Disruption: Allegory and “Piers Plowman” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).

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Cover: Laura Frantz, Shandaken 10 a.m. (2013) More info

Volume 30.2 is available at Duke University Press and Project Muse. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.