Abstract submission deadline: May 30 2018
Editors: Mateusz Janik and Ewa Majewska
Cooperation: Mikołaj Ratajczak
The concept of the common has inspired the radical imagination for many years. Discussed by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt as an alternative to private property on one hand, and a narrow, state-oriented conception of public property on the other, the common transcends the capitalist horizon of determinism and separation.
The common does not merely constitute another form of property, emphasizing the common good and the commons as its most important formats. The word „common” does not only point to a particular form of community, it also expresses the everyday commonality and perhaps even the triviality of a common form of life, the ordinary and the everyday. It is therefore a recollection of the community and common people, of the excluded and the exploited, of the wretched of the Earth and those who have nothing to lose but their chains.
Drawing upon Walter Benjamin’s formulation in On The Concept of History of a “weak messianism”, we might consider the common as a form of “weak” subjectivity. Doing so would imply a reference both to contemporary theory and practice. Given the contemporary dominance of heroic political logics and discourses, it is only natural to look to theories and political and artistic representations of ‘weakness’ for alternatives and forms of resistance.
Viewed as a central attribute of femininity, weakness is also a form of resignation, refusal or an incapacity for the use of force. It might also denote homelessness, poverty and experiences of exploitation in their most atrocious forms. Weakness is also a form of ontology in which political agency is not framed solely in the terms of a masculinized, individualized Western subjectivity nor the sociality that emerges from it.
In this issue of the Praktyka Teoretyczna Journal we would like to examine the notion of weakness as it appears in various forms of political agency, community and the visions or forms of life they generate.
In the political context, theories of weakness and weak resistance have held a marginal status. Yet they have influenced peripheral, decolonial, antiauthoritarian and feminist perspectives on resistance and protest. For instance, James Scott wrote of struggle and resistance in Weapons of the Weak; Vaclav Havel’s essay The Power of the Powerless inspired a number of people to build structures of the “Solidarność” independent labor unions and to participate in grassroots, proletarian counterpublics. The practices of weak resistance have also been important for the constitution of alternatives to capitalist logics of accumulation and appropriation of the commons.
As it is depicted in the ethnographies of capitalist peripheries and ruined social landscapes portrayed by Anna Tsing and Tomasz Rakowski, confronting capital’s violence is always intertwined with the emergence of alternative forms of collectivity and survival which are the domain of the powerless. The political and economic creativity of life and survival strategies in the social landscapes devastated by capital is also connected to debt, among the key tools of control and normalization in the neoliberal arsenal. The community of the indebted and the forms of resistance they create suggest a transformation of the concept of political agency away from appropriation and domination to practices of solidarity.
Weakness also constitutes a tangible form in the capitalist, patriarchal distribution of visibility and the narrative logic of the history written from the perspective of the winners. History depicted from a minoritarian point of view is a particularly important element of the concept of weakness as we understand it. It can amplify voices of the powerless and signal other dimensions of collective life. This sort of historical agency of the weak, expressed in the fight for the commons, can be found in the forms of resistance to the practices of enclosure and colonialism, depicted by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker in The Many-headed Hydra
In aesthetics weakness is at times discussed as a form of universalism. This has been done by Boris Groys, among others. In his essay Weak Universalism Groys discusses the early twentieth century Russian avant-garde as searching for a common attribute for experiences of oppression and emancipation, one which would undermine class divisions. The weak are also present in contemporary artists’ research and work, as is evident, for example, in Hito Steyerl’s search for “the wretched of the screen” or other weak subjectivities
In feminist and queer theory, the turn towards weakness emerges in research concerning agency within popular cultures and reactions to hate speech. In this context, the work of Jack Halberstam and Judith Butler is crucial, as are theories developed in the “affective turn”, such as the work of Eve Kosfsky-Sedgwick’s. Here the closeted identity determines an epistemology of the excluded, similar to bell hooks’s “epistemology of the margins”. Sara Ahmed’s theory of “willful subjects” expresses the power of non-conformity of those who are constantly refused the status of subects and agency – children, queers or persons experiencing violence who generate their politics of disagreement in their persistence within the oppression they have to endure.
These and other forms of weakness will be developed in our issue of the Praktyka Teoretyczna Journal. We will build upon theories of weakness in aesthetics and film studies, feminism, queer theory, social and political philosophy. We invite abstracts (until 30 May 2018), articles (only after a positive decision concerning the abstract, until 30 September 2018). The issue will be published on-line in Spring/Summer 2019. You can also send us reviews (until 30 September 2018). This issue will accept articles in Polish and in English, we might also publish some translations (into Polish) of texts important for the topics covered in this issue.
This call and the following events and texts about weak resistance were initiated by the Weak Resistance Conference at the ICI Berlin, coordinated and invented by dr Rosa Barotsi, dr Walid el-Houri and dr Ewa Majewska in May 2015 and continued in the Weak Resistance 2 conference, also hel dat the ICI Berlin in July 2016.
Suggested problems and areas of inquiry:
- weak messianism: political theory after Walter Benjamin;
- after heroism: messianism, history and renaissance of romantism in the making of herstories and plebeian counterpublics;
- weak precarious subjects, homeless and monstrous: political agency in times of transformation;
- history should not be written by the winners: vindications of agency in historical narratives;
- masses, classes and privilege: subaltern counterpublics and plebeian classes;
- the wretched of the Earth: anti-colonial and post-colonial narratives concerning weakness;
- weak resistance and the power of the powerless in Vaclav Havel’s work; the guilt and faith in Jacek Kuroń and other semi-peripheral narratives on weakness;
- the ordinary in the weak: Negri’s and Hardt’s theory of the common; peripheries and gender;
- beyond the productivity’s fetish: the common and the commons in the context of the feminist critiques of the political economy;
- weak thought: Derrida, Vattimo, Agamben and the revival of dialectics;
- queer art of failure as resistance to neoliberalism: Halberstam, Butler and semi-peripheral kwir;
- weakness after the human: posthumanism and transhumanism;
- weak avant-garde, the art’s black matter and its emancipations;
- weak screen and weak images: the film experiments of Hito Steyerl and other artistic interpretations interpointerpretationon weakness.