Many will already have seen the news of the amazingly foolish decision by the University of Middlesex to close what is probably the most vibrant and most important department of philosophy in the United Kingdom.

Here, for what it’s worth, is the letter of protest that I just sent:

French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies
797-1873 East Mall
University of British Columbia
Vancouver BC V6T 1Z1

April 30, 2010

Dear Professors Driscoll, Ahmad, House, and Esche:

I recently learned of the decision to close Middlesex University’s Department of Philosophy.

I share the grave concern already expressed by many colleagues worldwide about what appears to be a short-sighted policy that can only cause harm not only to the University but also to the reputation of British academia more generally.

Last year I had the good fortune to present a paper at the regular seminar hosted by the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy. I thus had the chance to experience the department’s extraordinary, and deservedly famous, atmosphere of intellectual engagement, with the lively participation of postgraduate students as well as academic staff.

The Centre, and the department as a whole, is very clearly a vibrant centre of research and postgraduate training. It is the very model of the critical thought and collaborative enterprise that should be valued by the University.

This is to say nothing of the prodigious contribution made by the department’s staff in their widely-disseminated research, in their leading role with the prestigious journal Radical Philosophy, in training a generation of young intellectuals in Philosophy and in inspiring others across a wide range of disciplines.

I can barely fathom the university priorities that allow this department, perhaps above all, to be selected for closure. It would send a terrible signal to the academic community in Britain and outside were this decision not reversed.

I implore you to reconsider.


Jon Beasley-Murray
Assistant Professor in Latin American Studies

Truly, British academia is in a sorry state when decisions such as this can even be contemplated. Apparently the given reasons are that the department “only” contributed 53% of its revenue to the central administration, rather than desired 55%, and that the university figures it can earn more of a financial profit from students on lab-based courses than from those in the Humanities.

What’s most incomprehensible is that this petty penny-pinching so damages the university brand that it is surely financially as well as intellectually an act (as Radical Philosophy put it) of “wilful self-harm” on every level.

There’s something more happening here than the simple marketization of academia, the encroachment of economic logic even in its most naked, neoliberal form. What we see here is an institution giving up altogether on the traditional vocation of the university.

Middlesex apparently no longer cares about its brand, its reputation, or even the neoliberal university’s recast mission to present itself as a center of “excellence” (to use that much-abused buzzword).

It is as though Middlesex aspires to be something other than a university. Sadly, it is not alone in this “aspiration.”


Some of the following has been lightly edited as I have been, quite rightly, reproached by Idelber Avelar in the comments. I haven’t completely revised this post, however, in part because I think that my basic point stands: for those interested in rethinking the field of Latin American studies, and encouraging new forms of communication, blogs are an obvious resource. And in part I don’t want to rewrite history to pretend that I didn’t indeed let a number of important blogs slip my mind when originally writing it, or that there are certainly others of which I have been ignorant. Perhaps my error, as Idelber implies, was indeed that I was thinking about the field in overly conventional ways.

One thing that occurs to me as I read some of Alberto Moreiras’s lengthy and thought-provoking comments to recent posts here is that he should start up his own blog!

I’m serious. Yes, Aberdeen’s Centre for Modern Thought does run a blog, and Alberto has used it on occasion, particularly in relation to specific events. See this comment on Esposito, for instance. But mainly the Centre uses its blog for administrative purposes, highlighting upcoming events, and comments such as Alberto’s soon get lost.

But on his own blog, Alberto could develop some of these thoughts informally. Others could respond. And there would be the opportunity for new connections. For instance, take Alberto’s important question: “What if biopolitical democracy is a contradiction in terms. What if there can and will be no biopolitical democracy? Where does that leave us?” This immediately links up with Jodi Dean’s current project of working through the classic texts on biopolitics, or some of Steven Shaviro or Nate Holdren‘s recent ruminations on the topic.

Of course, there are many reasons not to start a blog: lack of interest, lack of time (but for those evenings when there is no film worth watching at the video store…), and so on, and I’ve often enough been ambivalent about the process myself. Alberto should feel no compunction to take my advice!

I’m also struck by the fact that in the field of (broadly) Latin American literary and cultural studies, this here blog, Posthegemony, is one of relatively few out there. (But see update and correction below…) One example that immediately comes to mind is Idelber Avelar’s O Biscoito Fino e a massa. Horacio Legras briefly blogged at 13AVentana=13AWindow, but just at the moment his exuberance for Obama seems to have left him speechless. There are a number of Latin American Political Science blogs such as Greg Weeks’s Two Weeks Notice. Plus, more broadly in Hispanic Studies, I would be remiss if I did not mention Jorge Ledo’s elegant ficta eloquentia.

Yet, in the context of a discussion of the state of the field and how one might reinvent intellectual freedom within it, or despite it, one might think of taking a leaf out of the book of the many blogging denizens of Philosophy (surely, a far more hostile and fractured field). They consistently show, as in the current buzz around speculative realism, that this informal sphere of discussion and collaboration can, at least at times, prove very rewarding and productive.

Update: In comments, Idelber upbraids me for missing many Argentine and Brazilian blogs. Specifically, he mentions the following: Nación Apache, La lectora provisoria, Wimbledon, Contemporânea, and Odisséia Literária. He later also gives us: Pensar enlouquece, Tiago Dória (on culture and technology), Liberal Libertário Libertino (especially the posts on race) and Consenso, só no paredão (by Alexandre Nodari, a friend and student of Raúl Antelo’s).

It’s true that I was implicitly thinking of North American-based blogs of a certain type. And I thank Idelber to introducing me to blogs previously unknown to me. I welcome more suggestions.

So let me add the following, which I do follow, a couple of which are indeed based in the US, and which collectively show something of a Peruvianist bias on my part: alma matinal, Kolumna Okupa, Puente Aéreo, Río Fugitivo, Professor Zero, and the Página de Gonzalo Portocarrero.

Oh, and this reminds me that I should update my blogroll sooner rather than later. (Though I understand that they are rather passé these days.)

Further update: Rather than overburden this post with too much retrospective elaboration, here’s a link to a talk by Idelber himself on blogging and academia: “Cultural Studies in the Blogosphere: Academics meet new Technologies of Online Publication”. A longer version of this paper is to be found in Erin Graff Zinn’s The Ethics of Latin American Literary Criticism: Reading Otherwise.


I’ve been spending rather too much time recently trying to get at least a preliminary grip of so-called speculative realism. Apparently all the cool kids are into it these days.

However, a recent post by Nick at the accursed share points towards what troubles me about this movement.

As Nick puts it, “The turn towards objects, towards the absolute, and towards the real as indifferent, all imply that ontology must be independent of politics.” Indeed (as I say in a comment there), is not speculative realism part of a fairly thorough-going depoliticization… and perhaps not simply a depoliticization of ontology.

Nick continues: “The relative absence of politics in [Brassier’s] Nihil Unbound stems partly from the belief that we can study ontology without having to be concerned about its political effects. The results of such a study, as in Brassier’s work, can be rather disconcerting for politics – what if there is no such thing as agency?”

But doesn’t this miss the point about the politics of ontology à la Deleuze et. al.: that it doesn’t rely on a conception of agency? Indeed, throughout the rest of this post, Nick consistently talks about politics in terms of political projects. This would seem to be a rather drastic reduction of the political.

Indeed, surely Deleuze, Bourdieu, Negri, subalternism, and so on have very little time for political projects of any stripe whatsoever. And my point in Posthegemony is in fact that such projects, at least in the guise of hegemony, are if anything a distraction from the political.

Now, this may be a digression from a real interrogation of speculative realism and its implications for political theory, and I surely have plenty of reading still to do, but the reduction of politics to projects is perhaps symptomatic.

Meanwhile, Alex at Splintering Bone Ashes offers a rather different take, and one with which I have rather more sympathy:

In Speculative Realist terms, what is necessary is to think the in-itself of capitalism outside of any correlation to the human. Ray Brassier has already hinted at this in his original “Nihil Unbound” article on Badiou, Deleuze & Guattari and Capitalism. For surely what all analyses of capitalism have presumed to date is the capitalist ‘for-us’ (construed in positive or negative terms), whereas capital is ultimately a machine which has almost no relation to humanity whatsoever, it intersects with us, it has us as moving parts, but it ultimately is not of or for-us. Capital properly thought is a vast inhuman form, a genuinely alien life form (in that it is entirely non-organic) of which we know all-too-little. A new investigation of this form must proceed precisely as an anti-anthropomorphic cartography, a study in alien finance, a Xenoeconomics. Brassier himself has shied away in the last few years from a detailed discussion of capitalism, but I believe that the most interesting applications of speculative realist philosophy may well arrive with precisely a re-reading of both Marx’s and Deleuze & Guattari’s models of capitalism.

I need to look for the Brassier article mentioned here. (Presumably it’s “Nihil Unbound: Remarks on Subtractive Ontology and Thinking Capital,” from Peter Hallward’s Think Again.) And Alex opens up the can of worms that is accelerationism. See also schoolboy errors here and here, as well as k-punk arguing inter alia that “Nick Land needs to be counted as a speculative realist theorist” and (back to speculative realism again) Speculative Heresy’s Call for Debate on Speculative Realist Politics and Xenoeconomics.

Yet I’m still not convinced that “it is very much the issue of agency which is most crucial” or that “the pending question is the re-conceptualisation of agency that would destroy this Subject”, by which Benjamin at No Useless Leniency means capital.

Hmm. At the same time, I’m happy enough for the theory of the multitude to redeem subjectivity from its own disrepute. But I don’t see anything particularly humanist about that; quite the opposite.

More on this anon, I’m sure.


In his autobiography, The Future Lasts a Long Time, Louis Althusser twice provides the same capsule definition of materialism:

“My objective: never to tell myself stories, which is the only ‘definition’ of materialism I have ever subscribed to” (169)

“‘Not to indulge in storytelling’ still remains for me the one and only definition of materialism” (221)

[“‘Ne pas se raconter d’histoire,’ cette formule reste pour moi la seule définition du matérialisme.”]

I like this definition, for reasons I’ve hinted at before. The real follows no narrative; stories are always elaborated around, and an inevitable distortion of, the real.

photo by Martin ParrMeanwhile, Susan is getting excited about boredom. (Catchphrase: “boredom, not as boring as you think.”) It’s in part an elaboration of her suburbs project. (Catchphrase: “suburbs, not as boring as you think.”) She’s enjoying A Philosophy of Boredom. (The Times: “Lars Svendsen (boring name), a professor of philosophy (boring subject) from Norway (boring country), has written a quite fascinating book.”)

And I’ve mentioned boredom before, both as a kind of degree zero of affect, and in terms of Agamben’s discussion of Heidegger.

photo by Martin ParrBut if we think of boredom as a result of narrative failure–the point at which stories fail to entertain–could it not be recast as the materialist affect par excellence?

As Deleuze says, in what is one of my favourite lines of his (which I’ve also cited before): “Tiredness and waiting, even despair are the attitudes of the body.”

“These are tough times for boredom”, claims Michael Crowley. I’m not so sure. The fact that we endlessly seek distraction (Crowley mentions ubiquitous TV and the “wormhole” of the internet) signals less “boredom’s demise” than how easily distracted we are, precisely because of our underlying disaffection.

We flip through the channels and click through the pages, listessly, mechanically. We have an ever smaller attention span for the stories we are told. Are we then close to a “materialist way”?

The images in this post are from Martin Parr‘s “Boring, Oregon” project. Parr is today’s high priest of boredom, with Bored Couples and the Boring Postcards trilogy. See Jonathan Bell’s review and also a fine collection of Swedish boring postcards.

diagrams II

More on Douglas Oliver‘s Diagram Poems. NB that, as in the previous post, you can click on the images for larger versions.

I’m interested in the heterogeneity of these drawings. The top tends to be closer to a “pure” diagram. Moving down the page, we find representational images. Often (and we’ve seen this clearly in the first two diagrams) the same elements are reworked in different forms: a seemingly abstract tracing of movements through space becomes first an airman, then a vaccinated dog; here, a bird’s head as icon for a parrot is echoed below by fully-fledged line drawings of a stork, a goose.

Other elements hover between what Peirce would call the iconic and the symbolic. The line at the bottom right here, for instance, both continues the line of the diagrammed fire station wall above, and becomes part of a skeletal representation of a fire alarm, dotted lines symbolizing the klaxon’s sounds blaring to both sides, picking up the arrow above that indicates news permeating outside and inside.

Diagram 3
The diagrams encompass both the known and the unknown, the definite and the probable–better, the virtual and the actual. Near a semicircle containing the denotation “P.C.s hide,” presented as a record of the raid, is the word “wife” with a question mark hovering above. Is a wife located there, perhaps separated out from the crowd on the left-hand side? Is it a woman, who may or may not be somebody’s wife? Or is there nobody at all? Or not yet, for the diagram notes future as well as past: just below the line that divides upper from lower, (floor) plan from artistic (execution), is the bird symbol and the observation “Old man + parrot (to come).” When are this pair to come? How will they enter into the action?

The diagram is the record of the plan, the virtual marshalling of guerilla forces, but also the record of its actualization, and the way in which actualization entails the elimination of incompossible worlds: the virtual is a garden of forking paths that can enfold divergent outcomes, in one of which, say, all adversaries are neutralized, in another of which mistakes occur and a back-up plan has to be sought; as the plan is actualized, at all these points of divergence only one outcome can ensue, either neutralization or back-up.

The next diagram in the series depicts (or draws from) a raid on a telephone exchange. Again, the visual plane is split between a more fully diagrammatic top third, and a more representational lower two thirds. Again, however, there are echoes and resonances between the two sections. A pregnant woman appears first as symbol, then as icon: first, that is, as a conventional sign, like the images representing gender on bathroom doors; second, as a sign that seems to garner its meaning more through resemblance, as though it indicated a specific woman, rather than woman in general.

Diagram 4
The cut cables are also duplicated at top and at bottom, but again with rather different connotations: first to locate the site of sabotage; second to indicate a more fundamental communicational impasse between the woman and the bearded man with a cane. But perhaps the image now also suggests a cut umbilical cord? It’s a cut that’s at the centre of the generalized flashpoint that envelops the larger part of the diagram, echoing the flash at the top at a street corner subject to a complex network of spectatorship and surveillance.

In the accompanying poem, “Central,” Oliver entwines the story of the Tupamaro raid with a dialogue with his dead child, Tom: a strained, broken, and finally impossible communication.

[. . .] I saw the airman signal and I got it. I heard Tom’s voice as from a distant receiver and I got it. Seven guerrillas tying up the telephone exchange expertly. then Tom’s voice said, “Hallo Central,”
from the booth of death.

[. . .]

Tom, go ahead.
and I’d like to have friends on these streets, friends
who’d look for me in creations of total emergency
in or out of dreams . . . Cut . . . A guerrilla command tone:
“Place the pregnant
woman into the temporary prison with the 40
communication functionaries and consumers. Get on with this.
Cut other connections yourself but obey
the voices that come from long distance, obey sound and feeling.”

Tom, go ahead.
But my Tom’s in a frightener cell
of the night of youth
where old and young eyes shine and are grey
and the ears fold in
to the internal sounds.


Deleuze articulates the core of Difference and Repetition, and perhaps of his work as a whole, with the following declaration:

In short, the negative is always derived and represented, never original or present: the process of difference and differenciation is primary in relation to that of the negative and opposition. (207)

Here, succinctly, is both Platonism overturned and Hegelianism rejected.

Immediately thereafter, Deleuze forestalls those who suggest that dispensing with negation would also mean doing away with critique, those who worry that giving up on the dialectic implies an acceptance, say, of the end of history. No, Deleuze states, the negative was never intrinsic to Marxism. Deleuze stands by an anti-dialectical Marxism, in tune with Althusserianism:

Those commentators on Marx who insist upon the fundamental difference between Marx and Hegel rightly point out that in Capital the category of differenciation (the differenciation at the heart of a social multiplicity: the division of labour) is substituted for the Hegelian concepts of opposition, contradiction, and alienation. (207)

A footnote to Reading Capital follows.

It’s worth noting en passant that Deleuze’s Marxism in Difference and Repetition is surprisingly orthodox, at least in so far as he holds to the base/superstructure model:

In all rigour, there are only economic social problems, even though the solutions may be juridical, political, or ideological, and the problems may be expressed in these fields of resolvability. (186)

But in what is almost an aside, Deleuze then notes:

Clearly, at this point the philosophy of difference must be wary of turning into the discourse of beautiful souls: differences, nothing but differences, in a peaceful coexistence in the Idea of social places and functions . . . but the name of Marx is sufficient to save it from this danger. (207)

This is an odd but crucial clarification. It also contains a significant ellipsis. Not the only one in the book, but no doubt the most symptomatic. (Compare xx, 26, 63, 72, 75, 85, 117, 155, 163, 187, 188, 191, 223, 228, 246, where in most cases the ellipsis is fairly trivially associated with a list.)

For the point is that overturning Platonism and rejecting Hegelianism are insufficient. Representation, the One, negation, etc. are false problems. Once their insubstantiality is shown, the real problems persist. And is “the name of Marx” really enough to save us from a functionalist celebration of the immanent? It certainly hasn’t stopped Manual de Landa, for instance, from employing Deleuzianism for an apologia for the market.

To put this another way, the end of hegemony is scarcely a liberation. It is only the beginning of the task facing posthegemony.

Girl Refuting Hegel's Dialectic Model of History“Girl Refuting Hegel’s Dialectic Model of History,” by Michael Laster


I suspect that most people who read Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition–and there can’t be many of them–are reading the book through the lens provided by his and Guattari’s later Capitalism and Schizophrenia. And indeed, many of the elements of the later work are already in place here, not least the affirmation of difference and multiplicity, and the refusal of negation and representation.

The productivist ethos of Anti-Oedipus is on display: “In every respect,” Deleuze tells us, “truth is a matter of production, not of adequation” (154). As is the refusal of lack, and so implicitly an incipient anti-Lacanianism: “The unconscious is neither an unconscious of degradation nor an unconscious of contradiction; it involves neither limitation nor opposition [. . .]. The celebrated phrase ‘the unconscious knows no negative’ must be taken literally” (108).

Moreover, surely the syntheses of the later work (connective, disjunctive, and conjunctive) are anticipated in the discussion of Habitus, Eros, and Thanatos, the “three syntheses which must be understood as constitutive of the unconscious” (114). This triad reoccurs in a number of variations in the first half of the book: as present, past, and future (but also as different modalities of the past, and of time itself); and as “coupling,” “resonance,” and “forced movement” (117).

And although Deleuze’s concerns are not (yet) fully social, fully political, there are indications of both possible and actual connections with social critique. For example:

What is a thought which harms no one, neither thinkers nor anyone else? Recognition is a sign of the celebration of monstrous nuptials, in which thought “rediscovers” the State, rediscovers “the Church,” and rediscovers the current values that it subtly presented in the pure form of an eternally blessed unspecified eternal object. (135-136)

Indeed, and this is another of those subterranean connections to Bourdieu that interest me, the struggle against Philosophy’s “image of thought” is also a struggle against doxa, a posthegemonic analysis of a common sense that lies beneath or beyond ideology: “The image of thought is only the figure in which doxa is universalised by being elevated to the rational level” (134).

And I had forgotten that Deleuze attends so much to “the mystery of habit” (73), which he even discusses under the rubric of Habitus. There is something primary about habit in Deleuze: it constitutes the first synthesis, of connection or “contraction” (73). (Could one imagine a counter-contractarian tradition, then?)

larvaeHabit establishes the “larval self,” or the larval selves that inhabit us, “the primary habits that we are; the thousands of passive syntheses of which we are organically composed. [. . .] We speak of our ‘self’ only in virtue of these thousands of little witnesses which contemplate within us” (74). Habit is always already multitudinous. Or, again:

This living present, and with it the whole of organic and psychic life, rests upon habit. [. . .] We must regard habit as the foundation from which all other psychic phenomena derive. [. . .] These thousands of habits of which we are composed–these contractions, contemplations, pretensions, presumptions, satisfactions, fatigues; these variable presents–thus form the basic domain of passive syntheses. [. . .] Selves are larval subjects; the world of passive syntheses constitutes the system of the self, under conditions yet to be determined, but it is the system of a dissolved self. (78)

The issue, then, is how the Self, the Subject, is composed as an abstraction from and imposition on this teeming world. Whence the One, now all too recognizable, that stands in for this multiplicity? Deleuze here asks this question of Philosophy. And it is Plato who is the villain of the piece, though this is complicated by the fact both that Platonism has subsequently been compounded by (particularly) Descartes, Kant, and Hegel, and also that Plato at least is ascribed the virtue of having in some way failed to secure the victory of the Idea over the copy: “Was it not inevitable that Plato should be the first to overturn Platonism, or at least to show the direction such an overturning should take?” (68).

As such, an alternative tradition opens up, a fissure that runs through even the most canonical of philosophers. And it is tracing that fissure, and the larvae that spill from it, that is the object of so much of Deleuze’s other philosophical work.


There is much overlap between Deleuze’s Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation and de Bolla’s Art Matters. What unites them is their interest in the affective. Deleuze argues that “there are no feelings in Bacon: there are nothing but affects: that is, ‘sensations’ and ‘instincts'” (39). And so “sensation” is an entry into the material, the immediately corporeal, against narrative: “sensation is that which is transmitted directly, and avoids the detour and boredom of conveying a story” (36).

Thus Deleuze, like de Bolla, stresses the physicality not only of the painting itself, which still retains the traces of the hand, but also in our viewing of paintings. Compare de Bolla’s observation “that closing one’s eyes the better to see is no bad thing” with Deleuze’s statement that “painting gives us eyes all over: in the ear, in the stomach, in the lungs” (52).

No wonder the LRB asked de Bolla to review Deleuze’s book [subscription required]. Here, de Bolla picks up particularly on Deleuze’s chapter “Body, Meat and Spirit” and his suggestion that the painter “goes to the butcher’s shop as if it were a church, with the meat as the crucified victim [. . .] Bacon is a religious painter only in butchers’ shops” (qtd. 20).

In some ways, this is only obvious. See the third of Bacon’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion

The theme is also discussed by Wieland Schmeid, quoted here. (And Schmeid notes this a crucifixion without transcendence: “there are no redeemers or saviours to be found.”)

But where de Bolla takes this expanded affectivity as also an expanded terrain of representation (“now I think I can see how Bacon’s paintings also smell of different things [. . .]. Perhaps this is on account of a deeply rooted mimetic affect” [20]), Deleuze insists on contrasting mimesis and affect. In his painting of sensation Bacon is waging a near-heroic war against the representational. The point is always to ensure that the Figure does not become mere figuration, and so inevitably cliché; that sensation does not become the sensational; that the visual field is not reduced to spectacle.

Resemblance is painting’s great temptation. Indeed, the clichéd image is in a sense originary. At least, we find ourselves now more than ever among such images. Clichés are already there, “on the canvas, they fill it, they must fill it, before the painter’s work begins” (96). Painting is not a question of application, of adding an image to a blank canvas. The canvas is teeming from the start; the painter is part of it, immanent with it. The problem is “how to get out of it, thereby getting out of cliché” (96). And yet without reconstructing a new transcendence, a new distanciation between masterful gaze and inert object.

This is a matter of establishing rhythms and resonances rather than likenesses. Relations of affect rather than identity. It’s a question of drawing a diagram, which is “the operative set of traits and color patches, of lines and zones” (102). For it’s only through the diagram that a “haptic” space, of contact rather than contract, convivial rapport, can be affirmed.


Further as to whether boredom is affect or affectlessness: Giorgio Agamben’s reading of Heidegger in The Open ascribes to boredom (“profound boredom”) a privileged role in the anthropological machine producing humanity from animality.

Boredom is the site of “an operation enacted upon the not-open of the animal world” (62) by which (what will come to be) the human suspends its animal captivation with its habitual stimuli, the “carriers of significance which constitute its environment” (41). It is in that suspension that the living being “awaken[s] [. . .] to its own being-captivated” (70). And it is this awakening, this “anxious and resolute opening to the not-open, [that] is the human” (70). “Dasein,” Agamben concludes, “is simply an animal that has learned to become bored” (70).

This is what separates us from the beasts: our sense of tedium, both the tedium of having nothing especially to occupy us, and the tediousness of what does occupy us, what enables us briefly to forget how much we are enclosed by our habits.

Boredom, in this sense, is a non-relation. Or rather, it is the estrangement of our relationship to our normal preoccupations, our captivated relations with our environment. As such, then, it is either pure affectlessness or, perhaps better, a kind of degree zero of affect: the affect proper to the Body without Organs?

But how to relate this boredom, as a functional part of the anthropological machine, with the post-anthropological figure of “otium” or “workless [. . .] inactivity” (87) that for Agamben defines our post-anthropological predicament or possibility? This “human nature rendered perfectly inoperative” (87) would also seem to be far distant either from captivation or from any determinate affect.

Agamben’s figure for otium is a painting by Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, itself a reworking of an earlier Titian, The Three Ages of Man.

The Three Ages of Man
Drawing on the work of Judith Dundas, Agamben suggests that Nymph and Shepherd is “in a darker, more despairing key” than the earlier painting (86). He says that its atmosphere is simultaneously “both exhausted sensuality and subdued melancholy,” and he quotes Erwin Panofksy to the effect that it is “fraught with emotion,” too much so for any allegorical interpretation, but this is an emotion that is “restrained and somber” (85).

Nymph and Shephere
In this image of inactivity, then, rather than a degree zero of affect, we have something like its surplus, its excess beyond habit or function: an affect that manifests its resistance to narrative, to allegory.

Agamben argues that in their “mutual disenchantment,” the figures in Titian’s painting have entered “a new and more blessed life, one that is neither animal nor human. It is not nature that is reached in their fulfillment, but rather [. . .] a higher stage beyond both nature and knowledge, beyond concealment and disconcealment” (87). Theirs is a “zone of non-knowledge” (91) that is also a fundamental disarticulation of the machine that produces humanity from animality, and so also of the machine that lies at the heart of (bio)politics.

Against the articulations of hegemony, then, the disarticulation of some blessed post-humanity, marked by its otiose surplus of affectivity.

But again, this post-historical, post-human heaven, in which nothing ever happens: well, won’t it be rather boring?

For more discussion of The Open, see The Weblog’s reading group archive.