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Qui Parle, Volume 18, Number 1, Fall/Winter 2009

Vol. 18 | No. 1 | Fall/Winter 2009


Muslim Jews
Gil Anidjar

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

"Conversion," argues Gauri Viswanathan,

is arguably one of the most unsettling political events in the life of a society. This is irrespective of whether conversion involves a single individual or an entire community, whether it is forced or voluntary, or whether it is the result of proselytization or inner spiritual illumination. . . . With the departure of members from the fold, the cohesion of a community is under threat just as forcefully as if its beliefs had been turned into heresies.

Conversion, in other words, requires that we consider not only the limits of the community, its internal and external dynamics, its cohesion and beliefs, indeed, its political nature and its life; it requires as well that we follow the event of conversion and its subject (who appears provisionally here as individual or community in their fragile identity). For one conversion alone, the parting of one individual might be sufficient to qualify as "one of the most unsettling political events" a subject is said to undergo. But what precisely is this event, and how are we to think it? Calling on us to "avoid the danger of confusing word with concept and concept with practice," Talal Asad explains that "it would be better to say that in studying conversion, one was dealing with the narratives by which people apprehended and described a radical change in the significance of their lives," or, indeed, in the lives of others. Navigating uneasily between word, concept, and practice, I will soon turn to one such narrative, but for now I want to reiterate this benign finding: conversion—word, concept, or practice—takes the form of a narrative turn.

Read now at Duke University Press

Blind Spots and Failed Performance: Abortion, Feminism, and Queer Theory
Jennifer Doyle

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

A friend, a deeply committed feminist scholar, asks me what I am working on.

"Abortion," I write.

"Yuck," she writes back.

She was, of course, kidding—but only partly. I know what she means. I am sick of the topic before I start. Abortion is the one subject I stay away from in the classroom. Like many, I avoid keeping company with student fundamentalism on this issue, and, more disturbingly, I do not trust the institutional apparatus to support how I would teach such a subject even as I count on that same institution to support (in its own way) my teaching of art and literature that engages nearly every other issue of importance to queer studies. My hesitancy to take up the topic in the classroom reflects not only a suspicion that academic freedom does not extend to the conversations about abortion I would like to stage, but a deeper disciplinary issue regarding the place of abortion as a subject within queer theory as it is practiced in the humanities.

Read now at Duke University Press

Reincarnating the Knowing Subject: Scientific Rationality and the Situated Body
Hélène Mialet

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

The new anthropology, history, and sociology of science tend to describe science in terms of action, cultural practice, social construction, or, better still, as an entanglement of multiple actions, practices, and socio-technical realities. In doing so they have eliminated the presuppositions of an implicitly or explicitly recognized epistemology of rationality (and/or a diffusionist model of science) that takes for granted the dichotomy between knowing subject and known object. In short, by offering a new definition of rationality, these studies make it possible to reflect anew upon the nature of the knowing subject. To understand how such a question becomes relevant again, my aim in this essay is to describe the deconstruction of scientific knowledge and simultaneously to suggest ways that we might fruitfully return to—and reassess—our analysis of the knowing subject. Thus, we shall see the omnipotent and bodiless knowing subject of the rationalist tradition brought into the light of day, at the same time that he or she loses his or her monopoly of action. This is the paradox that I wish to explore. Drawing on an empirical study of the practices of an inventor, I shall try to paint a new picture of the subject: a subjectivity not at the origin of the constitution of an object, but emerging from a collective consisting of heterogeneous elements—that is, a subjectivity that is both distributed and situated in a singular body. Can we talk about incarnation at the heart of science?

Read now at Duke University Press

The Interesting
Mikhail Epstein

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

The interesting is a complex trans-disciplinary label often applied not only to works of literature, art, and sciences, but also to the phenomena of real life—persons, events, actions, relationships, and so on. In its evaluative scope, the interesting is hardly less universal than the beautiful or the truthful, and it seems to have become even more popular in our day. While in the past a literary or scholarly work was generally valued for its truthfulness and beauty, usefulness and instructiveness, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries it has been a work's primary evaluation as interesting that paves the way for any further evaluation, including critical analysis. Unless a certain work is "interesting," interpreting it is pointless. But the concept of the interesting does not only introduce the discussion; it often concludes and crowns it as well, through statements like: "In spite of a number of flaws, this article is interesting in that it . . ." or "The peculiar features of this work make it possible to explain the interest that it generated in the reading public." The interesting is simultaneously our initial, intuitive evaluation of the quality of a work and the resulting synthesis of all its analytical definitions.

Read now at Duke University Press

   Special Dossier:  For Further Accidents of Thought: Theoretical De-Europeanization

Peter Skafish

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

So many of us concerned today with thinking feel acutely the deep burn of what is doubtlessly one of its core problems. Still living, as we are, through the forced joining of the entirety of the planet into a political, economic, and rational system that continues to erode and destroy many of the traditions of thought, symbolic-aesthetic schemes, and languages—that is, the worlds—that once thrived there, we realize that thought, whatever it is conceived as being (critical theory, philosophy, "humanistic" inquiry, literature . . .), can no longer be undertaken solely through or in respect to those European traditions of knowledge that rarely manifestly opposed the colonial domination at the source of this situation, or else, as happened for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, showed to those crushed by it only cold indifference. We know full well that thought, if it is to be that at all, cannot simply go on reconstituting itself in relation to these traditions as if they were the only ones, as if there would be no violence in doing so, and as if the conditions of the catastrophes of the last centuries could really then be understood and a future in which they are no longer in place reached. But what we can nonetheless only dimly see is how thought might be reconceived. Just what, we struggle to ask, must it transform into if it is to understand the profound epistemic ethnocentrism undergirding not only the present global order, but even many of those discourses most opposed to it? What must thought become in order to help found another world without at the same time violently reinstituting the conceptual bases of the modern, "new world" whose current metastasis may yet consume those inhabiting it? And how can it be opened to those worlds presently at risk of passing away, so that conceptual transfers from them can begin to enter into and change it?

Read now at Duke University Press

The Magic Skin; or, The Franco-European Accident of Philosophy after Jacques Derrida
Bernard Stiegler

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

Philosophy, at the end of the twentieth century, is not French. There is, of course, something called French philosophy. There is, evidently, a French history of philosophy, and it seems clear that, at least as the second half of the twentieth century is concerned, philosophy passes into France, or in any case more or less takes passes through France—but it always maintains its relation to Germany and the Germanic countries, to Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Husserl, and in particular Wittgenstein and Heidegger, who are the main interlocutors of the French.

The combination of circumstances leading to the fact of philosophy's having traversed these roads certainly ought to be examined. In any case, this fact is an accident. Philosophy is not French: its "French" character remains, for me, an accident—a European accident.

If one must philosophize by accident rather than by essence, I wish to emphasize here that the "French" accident certainly counts, but the importance must not be overestimated; nor should it be forgotten that this French era is shot through with Germany and Austria, and that, lastly and most importantly, if philosophy can be accidentally French, this is because it is historically and intrinsically European. What makes Europe—that is philosophy. In saying this I do not mean to imply that what makes philosophy could be Europe. The question concerns the European accident and, nevertheless, its necessity . . . but in delayed action.

Read now at Duke University Press

The Liberatory Event in Paul of Tarsus
Enrique Dussel

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

In this work we hope to rethink a very timely subject for political philosophy in recent years. For epistemological reasons, however, we must deal in a different way with some themes common to the philosophy currently in vogue in Europe and the United States.

Today political philosophy has unexpectedly taken up a subject that had been ignored since the Enlightenment. Kant himself, in Religion within the Limits of Pure Reason, addressed the subject with some degree of precision. In The Conflict of the Faculties he distinguished clearly between the tasks of the faculty of theology and the faculty of philosophy (W, 9:263ff.). In his time the great university faculties (or disciplines)-both those of Latin-Germanic Europe and those in the Byzantine and Muslim worlds-had always consisted of theology and law. It was only with the Enlightenment (and above all with Humboldt's founding of the University of Berlin) that the faculty of philosophy would gain the status of the fundamental faculty within the university.

Read now at Duke University Press

Thinking between China and Greece: Breaking New Ground
François Jullien

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

An Interview with Marcel Gauchet.

This interview first appeared in French as "Penser entre la Chine et la Grèce: Nouveau chantier," Le Débat 143 (January–February 2007): 86–104.


You've reached a turning point in your career: you've thrown yourself into a new cycle of studies, the first volume of which has just been released: If Speaking Goes without Saying: On Logos or Other Last Resorts [Si parler va sans dire, Du logos ou d'autres ressources] (Seuil, 2006). What led you to relaunch your project? And what does the whole of this new undertaking consist of?


Let's recapitulate: my work might give the impression of a succession of books with quite diverse titles, with an internal articulation that's not always clear. But basically I've been writing one book, whose different titles constitute so many chapters intended to back up and prolong each other. One book that finds itself commanded by a fundamental question, or more precisely an inquiry, which has led me to pass through China—but without leaving Greece behind. The entire project is effectively borne by this uneasiness—in my view, a properly philosophical [End Page 181] one—about coming to attain, in its spirit, some degree of distance. For wouldn't there be two ways of conceiving of the practice of philosophy? The first consists of ostensibly taking a position and developing theses—thesis against thesis; the second consists of swimming upstream so as to bring to light the implicit choices in (one's) thought—those from which one thinks and that, precisely due to that fact, are never thought—those that one puts forth as evident without thinking to interrogate them. I choose this latter path: China provides me with the means for an oblique glance at the unthought of our thought.

Read now at Duke University Press

Cover: Trevor Paglen, Control Tower (Area 52). Tonopah Test Range, Nevada. Distance -20 miles. 11:55 a-m, 2006. More info.

Volume 18.1 is available at Duke University Press, Project Muse, and JSTOR. Qui Parle is edited by an independent group of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley and published by Duke University Press.