Edited by Etienne Turpin

Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy

    Matters of Cosmopolitics: On the Provocations of Gaïa

    Isabelle Stengers’ varied research interests, compelling publications, and breadth of influence make her one of the most important writers of our time. Her early training as a chemist and her collaboration with physicist Ilya Prigogine allowed her to productively and critically intervene in the discourses and practices of scientific knowledge production. She has published extensively in collaboration with other writers on topics including psychoanalysis, politics, feminism, philosophy, and science, although her primary concern remains the relation of the latter two. Attending to the specificity of laboratory work, Stengers considers this model of knowledge production to develop what she calls an “ecology of practices,” thereby situating scientific knowledge as specific, local, and evolving, while extending the idea of practices and practitioners to other fields through her notion of “cosmopolitics.” “One aspect of the cosmopolitical proposal,” according to Stengers, “is thus to accentuate our own rather frightening particularity among the people of the world with whom we have to compromise.”[1] The strength and breadth of Stengers’ force as a writer comes from her training as a philosopher, particularly her careful explications of the thought of Alfred North Whitehead and William James. From these early pragmatists, she has retained efficacy as a central, guiding political principle, against more popular notions of choice or free will.

    This philosophical position is also why her call to return to a notion of Gaïa, and her corresponding suspicion of the Anthropocene thesis, requires further consideration, especially among architects and designers. If the Anthropocene thesis repositions “Man” as the terrible end-fate of his own destiny, such a claim, in Stengers’ reading, problematically retains the narrative of the “reign of Man.” Instead, her thinking calls for a hesitation—an interfering idiocy, in Deleuze’s sense—that can slow down the thrill of acceleration, while also insisting that what we, as humans, are facing is Gaïa, a force that interrupts our all-too-modern dreams and aspirations; Gaïa cannot be ignored, nor assimilated into our ideas of progress and knowledge. As in nearly everything Stengers writes, she is quick to indicate the consequences of a practice, and she is not afraid to discern between the worthwhile and the worthless. It is the striking movement of her thinking that is so compelling, for she carries with her a thorough understanding that it is the world that makes experience, and that has consequences; she is thus unafraid to fight for this world. We are extremely grateful to Isabelle Stengers for making the time for this interview, which took place over email following the “Gestes Speculatifs” Colloque du Cerisy in July 2013, an event she co-organized with Didier Debaise.

    Heather Davis & Etienne Turpin We would like to begin with the question of education, or, more importantly, learning. In your recent books, including Au temps des catastrophes and Capitalist Sorcery, your writing is quite accessible; you take especially complex philosophical thoughts, and the paradoxes of contemporary political realities, and write about them in a way that is open and engaging. This resonates with us, and we read it as an attempt to move beyond the solipsism of the university system. As you are about to retire—we were told you are about to officially leave the university—would you reflect on the position of the university in relation to philosophical thought today? What concerns you at the moment regarding the university as a relay of philosophical thought?

    Isabelle Stengers The books you name are indeed meant to engage thought, not to discuss philosophy. To me, this does not mean going beyond “the solipsism of the university” because there is no solipsism involved in the only thing that matters in my university job: contact with students, attempting to convey with and for them what makes philosophy worth doing. In other words, teaching philosophy involves arousing students’ appetite for the free and demanding creation of problems that matter, being engaged by the consequences of the manner of creation, regardless of the disciplinary boundaries you may happen to transgress (not for the sake of transgression itself, but because unfolding the problem asks for it). Teaching is an oral practice: intonations, laughter, hesitations, even off-hand treatments of respected philosophers are part of my practice. My job is to make students feel that thinking is a vital business; that you should never lend to philosophical authorities the power to tell you what is worth thinking. That being said, I am not sure the university is the adequate relay for philosophy, at least for the kind of philosophy that turned me into a philosopher. Reading was the crucial relay for me, and it will remain the main relay for philosophy. Oral teaching can do no more than awaken the taste for thinking, which is a prerequisite for philosophical thought, but demands that students then find their own way of doing philosophy.

    Coming now to the two books you name, they are also meant to awaken thought, not to try to relay what philosophy does to thought. But books also present problems that an oral practice escapes from. I have seen physicist Ilya Prigogine, with whom I worked for a long time, enthral an audience with really arcane, technical, physico-mathematical problems; his passionate relation with the problem crossed the seemingly insurmountable gap. However, in writing, artificial gaps can very easily be created. Without even willing it, an author easily selects her readers. For example, a reference to a philosopher may be sufficient for some to feel that since they do not know him or her, the book is not for them. And those readers are precisely the ones you wish to touch, not the “happy few” who use the references in order to identify and situate you. In Au temps des catastrophes and Capitalist Sorcery, there are no author references; rather, there are references to situations and experiences that the readers these books address will likely be familiar with. This is the selection principle. They address experiences which are mostly questioning ones, when one feels there is something wrong, inefficient, even lethal in the way a situation is addressed, not by the “establishment”—this is trivial—but by those who present themselves as struggling against it. Neither Capitalist Sorcery nor the Catastrophe book is about “the” situation in and of itself. They are “intervention” books, each corresponding to the conviction, right or wrong, that something may be “added” to the situation, something that could provide a line of escape from dilemmas that take us as hostages. I am thus not writing “as a philosopher” in this case, even if philosophy is an irreducible part of what enabled these interventions. Only the effects of the intervention matter, and if they work, they must be able to be relayed without philosophical references.

    HD&ET Your influence within academia is substantial, and still increasing in North America as more of your work becomes available in translation. To return to our question above, we are curious about your own desire to influence, shape, or support non-academic discourses, especially those related to contemporary political struggles. Do you see your work as migrating toward, or perhaps entering into conversation with, more explicitly political assemblages outside the university system?

    IS Philosophy, as I learned to practice it, is very different from philosophy as it is practiced in the English-speaking academy. There, it has always thrived on what you call “conversation” with non-philosophy, with questions and practices that come to matter at each epoch. But in reality, the philosophical tradition involves not so much a “conversing with,” but is rather a risking of itself, risking its very meaning. In France, the question “What is philosophy?” or “Is philosophy still worth doing?” is asked again and again. My own starting point was to think in close contact with scientific practices. For me, it was never “philosophy of science,” or “epistemology.” It was about learning how to become a philosopher while not accepting the usual philosophical positions about sciences—neither judgment, nor rivalry, nor submission. Contact with political assemblages came partly through addressing the political role of sciences, partly through my discovery of how important empowered groups (i.e. illicit drugs users) could be as interveners in a situation appropriated by “experts,” and partly through political conjecture, during a time when the Marxist-dominated rhetorical struggle weakened in Belgium, where I’m from, allowing for the exploration of alternative ways to inherit ideas from Marx. But again, I never had the impression of being “outside the university system.” Matters are changing now with the new “management,” with ranking, evaluations, etc. The trap is closing. But to me the outside was always what made me think, just as philosophy was always what enabled me to think with the outside, or try to…

    HD&ET Would you comment on the direction of contemporary philosophy outside the university system, particular in aesthetic debates in the art world? We have recently seen an efflorescence of new philosophies, including the rising popularity of “accelerationism,” “thing-power,” and “object-oriented ontology,” among other trendy brands of philosophy (and so called “non-philosophy”). Many of these upstart schools seem, at least to us, especially reactionary and politically naïve, not least because of a certain dismissive chauvinism in relation to the imminent effects of our current ecological collapse. Do these directions of contemporary philosophy concern you?

    IS They do not concern me in the sense that they would interest me. I’m sorry that the art world is so vulnerable to “trends” and “brands.” It seems that the so-called “French Theory”—a pure export product—has a lot of “indigenous” successors, rivalling each other to conquer such a market. But to me, they are mainly parasitic symptoms of the quite unhealthy environment we are living in, where master-discourses proliferate.

    HD&ET Regarding contemporary politics, the uprisings and protests that are spreading daily to different regions of the world, especially during the past couple of years, tend to start out with a very clear demand; then, as the movements recognize the interconnections of their demands, and perhaps the incommensurability of the various demands themselves, move toward “no demand in particular.” Instead, we hear a collective enunciation more along the lines of your example, with people stating, “We are not happy at all.” How do you understand this tendency in contemporary politics, that is, the tendency towards claiming a collective position that refuses to clearly identify demands (demands that could then be met, or partially met, and therefore pacified) in terms of what you call “political creation”?

    IS One of the only references to a philosopher I never hesitate to use is Gilles Deleuze’s (oral) definition of what differentiates “left” and “right.”[2] He defines the left through a crucial need that people think; that is, that people produce their own questions, their own formulation of problems that vitally concern them. To cry out “we are not happy at all” may then be the necessary starting point, together with the determinate disavowal of “pre-formatted” problems of order or priority (what the “right,” including classic forms of revolutionary mobilization, needs people to accept). Obviously, the demands may then seem “incommensurable”—the need for some kind of arbiter will then be claimed. But incommensurability has nothing final about it; it simply signals the need not to identify with initial formulations, to transform one’s demands into vectors that enable one to learn and connect. I like the term “divergences,” as used by Deleuze, who wrote that only diverging lines communicate (meaning that communication here is creation, not redundancy). But diverging is not “from something.” It designates what matters for you, and how it matters (in the positive sense), and therefore allows for symbiotic alliances, always lateral, never grounded on a “same” that would transcend or reconcile them.

    Now, I know the new lateral character of the movements is something like an identity card, as well as the subject of many academic dissertations. But I would beg to slow down and not be so easily self-satisfied. The trap may be a certain cult for a phantom, transversality, devoid of consistence, where people connect and then disconnect, while happily claiming that “seeds” have been planted, as if no active concern for what is planted was needed. Some use the image of the rhizome, but they take it, I’m afraid, in a rather individualist manner. These connections cannot be taken for granted: once created, they need to be cared for. This does not mean that clearly identified, unifying demands should not be formulated—every demand matters. But the test—creation is always testing—is enduring, trustworthy connections, liable to produce forms of innovative mobilization for people to gather around an issue which a priori did not concern them, but which, they have learned, matter. Capitalism is very innovative and divisive; to become able to resist it requires becoming innovative as well. This is why I never intone refrains lauding the “new transversality”—it is still to be created. I prefer to speak about those movements, the neo-pagan reclaiming of witches, for instance, that have succeeded in enduring and connecting with others for the past thirty years.

    HD&ET We are also interested in the concept of “protection,” partially in relation to self-protection, but also as a question of selection, evaluation, and decision. We are particularly taken by your articulation of the way in which one must engage with the horrors that exist in the world without letting that same horror destroy oneself. How do we engage in practices of protection that resist this vulnerability to capture?

    IS The idea that we do not need protection typically refers to an idealistic conception of truth: if we have truth on our side, it will protect us. One way to circumvent this habit of thought is to never divide people into good and bad, but to start instead from the fact that we all live in an unhealthy environment. We become especially vulnerable if we believe we are, by some miracle, undamaged. The rituals of neo-pagan witches are both a protection and a resource for action, for collectively becoming able to decipher what is “now” the “work of the Goddess,” while never believing that they by themselves possess the capacity to determine it. But the rituals are also needed to turn horror into power. Twice I felt the need to end a book with one of their ritual songs:

    Breathe deep

    Feel the pain
    where it lives deep in us
    for we live, still,
    in the raw wounds
    and pain is salt in us, burning
    Flush it out
    Let the pain become a sound
    a living river on the breath
    Raise your voice
    Cry out. Scream. Wail.
    Keen and mourn
    for the dismembering of the world.[3]

    HD&ET In our estimation, the concept of protection is also related to the various ways in which one could read our differential, anthropogenically transformed global ecology—perhaps in the sense that Félix Guattari would have imagined it—in terms of psychic, social, and environmental components. Do you see the concept of protection as a necessary aspect of political practice in the era of Gaïa?

    IS Guattari’s Three Ecologies concurs with contemporary social justice movements by proposing that we think and feel with a triple devastation: psychic, social, environmental. This means giving central importance to the unknowns of a situation, as the way we formulate questions may well derive from the absence of the many voices that have already been irreversibly destroyed or silenced. Staying with the trouble, as Donna Haraway formulates it, seems to me very necessary, as does paying attention to what stories tell stories, which she takes from Marilyn Strathern.[4] The story that serves as the matrix for our stock of rather worn-out stories may well be equating Guattari’s triple devastation with a kind of progress, whatever its storied versions, putting “us,” their story-tellers, in a position of “guardians of truth,” regardless of what this “truth” might be. Protection is, in this context, critical to helping us get along. So, I am rather dubious about the new Anthropocene story from this perspective. Who is anthropos?

    HD&ET This concern is related to the reconsiderations of James Lovelock’s Gaïa hypothesis in recent theoretical inquiry, especially in relation to the Anthropocene thesis. You turn to Gaïa as a way of figuring our current ecological crisis, as both an entity that demands a particular response and a personalization that is a form of address, as well as a way to undermine the masculinist narrative that re-centres the human as the ultimate form of destruction. But we are curious about what Gaïa, in particular, suggests, as opposed to Donna Haraway’s concept of multi-critter “Becoming-with,” for example? What work does this particular concept do for you? Do you think it is undervalued in most contemporary philosophy? And how does this concept resonate with what Bruno Latour calls a “political theology of nature”?

    IS Gaïa does not suggest anything opposed to becoming-with. Haraway and I are both inheriting, from James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, resistance stories that feature Man as this dangerous abstraction, as the ultimate anything. We both pay the utmost attention to scientific stories that complicate “the story” and give insistent presence to the messiness that our “theories” so easily forget. I am deeply grateful to Haraway and her innumerable and densely entangled critter stories—she daringly explores what needs to be thought, imagined, and speculated with. My use of Gaïa, as the one who intrudes, is rather addressed to our deeply ingrained habits of thought. It is distinct from Latour’s “facing Gaïa.” I make a strong distinction between a “Latourian us” to be composed, who might possibly become able to “face” Gaïa—that is, face the difficult task of participating in an entanglement, the ticklish, touchy character which we are just beginning to understand—and the “us” (moderns, Euro-Americans, Western, whatever) for whom the very idea of this task distastefully intrudes, for those whose hairs stick up when they hear the word Gaïa. The Anthropocene, it should be noted, is much more agreeable for the moderns, lending itself to meditations that respect their position as thinking ultimate thoughts about Man, far, far away from the sordid situation we have created for ourselves and other earthbound critters. “My” Gaïa also intrudes upon the use of the Anthropocene in trendy and rather apolitical dissertations.

    HD&ET Do you think that the hesitations about Gaïa in much contemporary political theory—for example, in the political trajectory from Derrida to Rancière to Badiou, where the “environment” remains a backformation for more fundamental “human-centred” politics—are a result of a lingering modernism in philosophy? More precisely, why, in your thinking, are many political theorists so afraid of ecological positions that accept the inestimable complexity of earth systems?

    IS As soon as you say the word “theory” you are in a modernist (or modern), human-centred position. Modernism is not lingering; it has many versions which concur in a quasi-negationist stance, regularly implying that what we should beware of is not the recently discovered instability of what was taken for granted, but rather the fact that this discovery could give strength to their traditional theoretical enemies. This is why I use this name Gaïa, in a deliberately provocative way, in order to incite these “modernists” and their implicit or explicit strategy of denial (their urge to deny) to come out into view. They feel that the intrusion of an Earth—no longer “ours” to protect or to exploit, but gifted with daunting powers to dislodge “us” from our commanding position—is very dangerous; not dangerous, that is, in the usual terms, but dangerous because She has no right to do so! Gaïa, as the bastard child of scientists and paganism, is encapsulating everything they gave themselves the duty to guard “truth” against. She must be taken as a trick of the Enemy, not as a question to be answered; it is part of the idealist character of theories, especially theories haunted by the salvation/damnation dualism, to identify what might confuse their perspective with such a trick. Their duty is to keep steering the rightful course, to resist the temptation to betray it. Better death than betrayal!

    HD&ET In a recent article about “accelerationist aesthetics,” the critic Benjamin Bratton suggested that the horizon for political thought today is thinking the “post-Anthropocene,” because this trendy new diachronicism, at least in his estimation, would signal a move away from the human-centred view of the world.[5] It seems problematic, for us, that many theorists believe that we humans can so quickly slip out of the centre of things that we have so carefully and intricately placed ourselves in. In fact, given the relationship between these extensive support infrastructures and the species itself, it seems quite naïve to assume humans could exit the centre stage without serious, devastating consequences. Do you believe that this—what we could call “fear of anthropocentricism”— is creating a series of reactionary and ethically dubious positions within theory today?

    IS Well, it depends on what you call “humans.” Again, who is anthropos? Gaïa clearly heralds—the very meaning of what I call her “intrusion”—that those who believed they were at the centre desperately mess up what they, and many other earthly critters, depend upon. Now those of us who were told stories since birth that there is something really special in being “human” are at a bifurcation point: either we furiously keep to that narrative, or we accept that if there is a post-Anthropocene worth living in, those who will live in it will need different stories, with no entity at the centre of the stage. This does not preclude “responsibility,” but carries the sense of being able to respond. That being said, the link between “aesthetic” and “critic” you use is not inspiring to me. The position of the critic will not get humans out of the trap. On the contrary, it will probably produce new ways of commenting on art, in a trendy race for the most radical manner of moving away from a human-centred view. This is exactly what I fear with the Anthropocene thesis; it proposes a “future perfect continuous” tense, which puts theorists into a very agreeable position. The mess can now be forgotten, swallowed in a continuity that can be theorized in a single shot. Abysmal aporia will flourish, happily confronted by theoreticians hunting down shades of anthropocentrism in other theoreticians’ writings—a beautiful prospect for generations of doctoral students and aesthetic ventures in the art world. To me, science fiction is much more sustaining in this respect, from the works of Ursula Le Guin to David Brin’s last novel, Existence. I do not perceive a race in such science fiction for the “cutting edge,” but rather a cooperative imaginative and speculative exercise addressed to readers who do not need critics to grasp what is at stake in a novel.[6]

    HD&ET Although often not explicitly stated along these lines in your writings, you propose a profound engagement with feminism, the necessity of a feminism that addresses the new ecological reality in which we find ourselves. What relation do you think feminism has in philosophical accounts of irreversible and catastrophic loss? What does it enable us to do in the face of Gaïa?

    IS Feminism was a constitutive and vital part of my educational and affective trajectories. In the 1980s, before its theorization, eco-feminism marked the crucial beginning of “transformative politics,” which has inhabited my thinking and yearning ever since. It seems that the feeling of irreversible and catastrophic loss indeed offers affinities with feminist thought, which attempts to weave together thinking, imagining, and practically enacting; that is to say, it can revitalize thinking around stakes which are irreducible to a matter of academic rivalry. I would say that the effective existence of feminism (beyond post-, queer-, and all that) depends on a culture of resolute disloyalty for those abstractions which Virginia Woolf described as turning a beloved brother into a “monstrous male, loud of voice, hard of fist, childishly intent upon scoring the floor of the earth with chalk marks, within whose mystic boundaries human beings are penned, rigidly, separately, artificially.”[7] Such disloyalty must be protected in order not to produce other chalk marks, other mystico-academic boundaries. But feminism may indeed help to face what is threatening us because it dis-habituates, it dispels the anaesthesia that academic abstractions produce.

    HD&ET While “accelerationists” such as Nick Land imagine that we might need to speed up to cross a threshold of capitalist exploitation, there are several reasons to remain suspicious of such a position. First, it assumes that we can tell the direction we are heading, and whether or not we are even speeding up, which seems difficult to ascertain with any definitive evidence; second, the violence produced by such an increase in velocity, if it is possible, would no doubt be levelled against the most vulnerable and the most poor, as it has been throughout modernity. Do you have concerns about the ethical tropes of political, aesthetic, or ontological accelerationism? How would you define cosmopolitics against this nihilistic heroism and its neglect of its own privilege?

    IS I decline contrasting Cosmopolitics, whatever its shortcomings, with that trash—they are male chauvinist pigs, that’s all. I am only sorry for the memory of Félix Guattari, which they deface.

    HD&ET Is this why you insist, in much of your writing, on slowing down thought? We understand how this may guard against an overzealousness or a presumptuousness of knowledge and action, but we are not sure exactly what “slowness” is for you, particularly in an age when the Earth (biosphere, geology, etc.) is transforming faster than previously imaginable. How do we know when we are speeding up or slowing down? Even these referents seem capricious. In other words, what quality of slowness is articulated by the idiot, in Deleuze’s sense, or the interstice, for Whitehead? Is this rather a kind of disjunctive speed, a speed that may or may not be “slow”? Why is the idea of slowness important to you, especially in relation to the relative velocity of the Anthropocene?

    IS When I am speaking of slowing down, I am equating speed with mobilization. A mobilized army is an army that crosses the land with only one question—can we pass?—indifferent to the damage it causes. Whatever may inspire hesitations or attention must be banished within this framework of mobilization. What slows the army down is seen only as an obstacle. And, indeed, I see as a major challenge this sense of urgency that the fast transformation of the Earth may produce—we must stop quibbling, no time for that, we must act! This approach seems parallel to the demand to act in order to be competitive, to control market shares, or to rank our institutions. Since the nineteenth century, the sciences have been mobilized, have become “fast” sciences, with researchers regarding whatever concerns that do not directly contribute to “the advancement of knowledge” as a sinful waste of time. Now, within the knowledge economy, fast sciences are perceived as not fast enough; they are making patents and launching fabulous promises of technological revolutions that are attractive for investors but do not need reliable knowledge. The apotheosis of this paradigm is geo-engineering, the mobilization of technology against the Earth. It can also be seen as a bureaucracy deciding who deserves to live, as, for example, in Starhawk’s science fiction book, The Fifth Sacred Thing. Slowing down, on the other hand, is multi-critter thinking, caring for entanglement, learning the art of paying attention. And it is also a matter of joy, sometimes dolorous joy, but joy indeed, when you feel your thought and imagination affected, put into (e)motion, attached to what was previously indifferent.

    HD&ET There seems to be an insistence in your writing to think from within the historical present, from within our situatedness, or what Foucault called—quite provocatively at the time—the historical a priori. How has this insistence on the present and on a temporal immanence influenced your concept of an ecology of practices? In other words, what is the link between time, how we think about time, and how time influences thought as a practice?

    IS I understand Foucault’s historical a priori as a matter of resistance: we must give the present the power to resist the past. This also means revitalizing the past, giving it the power to escape its classification as part of the progressive history that leads to “us.” All the chapters about physics in Cosmopolitics were written from within the historical present, turning what is heralded as the progress of physical science discovering the laws of nature into passionate, contingent, amoral reinventions of physics. I felt the need to do so in order to resist without deconstructing, without bringing so-called “progress” back to a monotonous comedy of illusions. Resistance was needed in this case because of the strong hold of the pseudo-ontology associated with physics, with all the implications about “us” being able to earn the title of the “thinking brain of humanity.” But the point was to address this hold “now,” with the question: “Is it possible to do so without rekindling the disastrous science war?” My bet was that physicists could give up physics as the epitome of rationality if the adventurous, demanding, and surprising character of their history, as I try to tell it, came to interest them. The concept of practice is part of that challenge. I do not mean practice in a general way, but in a speculative one; that is, against the idea that physics is a practice like any other, I try to speculate about the possibility of practitioners able to present their practice as diverging, separated from any general attribute, irreducible to other practices. Your question of thought as practice is thus a much too general one.[8]

    HD&ET While many of Deleuze’s concepts were quite quickly taken up in architecture discourse and practice, there is a return to his work today with a much more careful and measured sensibility. A key concept for practitioners today, and we use this term in the widest sense, is that of immanence, which is also important in your work. A second term, which is becoming increasingly important for thinking through the implications of the Anthropocene thesis (as with Bruno Latour) is intensity. Does intensity figure in your thesis on the ecology of practices? Do you agree with Latour when he suggests that the new horizon of exploration will be intensive? And, if so, how does this relate back to the concept of immanence?

    IS Quickly taken up indeed! I am one of those for whom it was a matter of great unease, even suffering, as we could only imagine what Deleuze would have felt. For him, as you know, concepts could certainly migrate out of philosophy, but as tools to be engaged with, and thus transformed by the problems they would help create. And once this transformation occurs, they would have a new life, that is, a new necessity of their own, without reference to philosophy. Some concepts from Deleuze I am able to take as tools for problems rather foreign to him, problems concerned with divergence or minority, or those of instauring a plane. Immanence is a concept I learned to think with, but cautiously, as it too easily turns into a privilege of philosophy. I take it as a constraint for the manner of divergence of philosophy. Intensity, until now, has not been a tool for me. I understand it, but using it would be like raising a Deleuzian banner. I would be grateful to hear the problems architecture faces that require immanence and intensity, as it would be an interesting manner to approach their own practice. As long as they are not banners putting them in a position of thinking through the implications of the Anthropocene thesis… And never forget that in my town, Brussels, architecture is an insult.

    HD&ET In your writing about the cosmopolitical proposal, as you call it, you suggest that the difference of a cosmopolitical approach is that practitioners must learn to laugh “not at theory, but at the authority associated with [it].”[9] We are struck by the fact that you use laughter rather than another emotional or analytic response, such as anger. However, later on you describe this relation as a shrug, and then in Capitalist Sorcery, as a cry, writing, “We were wrong to have laughed.” [10] What role do these various emotional and affective registers have in the cosmopolitical proposal? What “spell-casting” power might they have?

    IS There are many kinds of laughter. The first one you allude to is the one I learned thinking and living with the feminist adventure, in my twenties. Women thinking under the rubric of the “personal is political” were laughing (and crying) together as they felt the weight of judgments and of abstract ideals dissolving away. The second one, a derisive one, is much more common. It was the laughter shared by people who “know better,” judging on their own terms ideas which were indeed stupid, but this approach caused them to overlook the obstinate working of the machine which was capturing and dismembering their world. Only Foucault, as we have learned from the published Cours du Collège de France, did not laugh. He was unable to deal with the theme of his lesson of 1978–79, coming again and again to what he had discovered the previous year, and what was to shape the new horizon of “truth” in the years to come—truth, the question of which he would think with until the end of his life.


    1. Isabelle Stengers, “The Cosmopolitical Proposal,” in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, ed. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005), 999. return to text
    2. Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations: 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 126–127. return to text
    3. Starhawk, Truth or Dare (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990), 30–31. return to text
    4. See Donna Haraway, “Cosmopolitical Critters, SF, and Multispecies Muddles,” (paper presented at the Colloque de Cerisy, France, 3 July, 2013); and Marilyn Strathern “Taking Care of a Concept: Anthropological Reflections on the Assisted Society,” (paper presented at the University of Cambridge, 13 November, 2012). return to text
    5. See, for instance, e-flux #46 (June/2013) on the theme of accelerationist aesthetics. return to text
    6. For a further elaboration of Stengers’ position in relation to science fiction, see “La science fiction comme exercice speculative,” March 13, 2013, http://www.erg.be/erg/?lang=fr. return to text
    7. Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938), 160. return to text
    8. For a further elaboration of Stengers’ concept of an ecology of practices, see “Introductory Notes on an Ecology of Practices,” Cultural Studies Review 11, no. 1 (March 2005): 183–196. return to text
    9. Stengers, “The Cosmopolitical Proposal.” return to text
    10. Isabelle Stenger and Philippe Pignarre, Capitalist Sorcery: Breaking the Spell, trans. and ed. Andrew Goffey (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 4. return to text