Gary Hall on Fri, 14 Aug 2020 18:11:15 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> notes on cancel culture


Thanks for your post on William Davies’s recent contributions to the London Review of Books. Enjoyed it.

The mention of Carl Schmitt brings to mind another critic of liberalism, Chantal Mouffe, and her philosophy of hegemony and antagonism, itself greatly influenced by Schmitt’s account of the friend/enemy relation. For Mouffe, the political is a decision that is always ‘taken in an undecidable terrain’. This is because social relations are not fixed or natural, but rather the product of hegemonic articulations: that is, of contingent yet temporary decisions involving power and conflict. (Which has the advantage that these hegemonic articulations can be disarticulated, transformed and rearticulated as a result of struggle between opponents.)

Now, I realize this may seem a rather counter-intuitive question to ask - particularly for readers of the London Review of Books! But I do worry, is there a risk that using terms and concepts like ‘argument’, ‘careful judgement’, ‘knowledge’, ‘democracy’, ‘public’ as datum points in this way is itself a form of affective politics that ‘“precedes debate, precedes argument, precedes speech”’? Might it, too, be a ‘decisionism’, “an acting out or performance of some prior act of identification”’ - one in which the question of what it is to be political, especially in relation to ‘cancel culture’, is not taken in an undecidable terrain, but is rather decided in advance of intellectual questioning?

Here’s a less subtle (and less philosophical) version of the concern that’s troubling me and that I'm not expressing as well as I'd like: How do we as ‘net critics’ avoid coming across - especially to certain of those progressive or marginalized voices who may have found themselves associated with cancel culture - as merely activist/artist/geek versions of the liberal signatories to the Letter on Justice and Open Debate that appeared in Harper’s Magazine at the beginning of July and that Geert also refers to in his piece on cancel culture?

Cheers, Gary

On 14/08/2020 13:24, David Garcia wrote:
The whole world Cancel culture gets an even more sinister twist than usual when put through the filter of the title of a recent article by William Davies entitled “Who am I Prepared to Kill? In which he explores aspects of Nazi Jurist and philosopher Carl Schmitt influential reduction of politics down to the base distinction between friend and enemy and ultimately realised in the grim question "who am I prepared to kill and who am i prepared to
die for?”. Some see this distinction as the foundation of populism.

In a podcast (link below) Davies further develops this theme describing a politics that is worse than simple ‘factionalism’ which he characterises in terms of extreme forms of cultural identification where existential identification becomes the very foundation of political difference. "And this political difference is expressed through an acting out or performance
of some prior act of identification”.

An affective politics of this kind that "precedes debate, precedes argument, precedes speech” In this extreme Schmittian landscape cancel culture is the only logical outcome. In this world in which politics has no space left for the epistemic, in place of argument we are reduced to the decisionism of picking a side. Not much space left for the careful judgement between rival truth claims.

Given this reality I am puzzled that the extensive knowledge and work and examples of successful forms of experimental inclusive deliberative democracy such as citizens assemblies and sortition has gained such little interest or traction. Why is

Without such formations there is no possibility of a knowledge democracy in which citizens, stake holders and experts deliberate on the issues of public concern..And all we are left with is a slide towards a Hobbsian war of all against all. Maybe politics like journalism now finds itself unable to shake off the old adage ‘if it bleeds it leads’. Is there democratic life beyond the fog of war?

I am imagining some kind of curatorial landing zone in which Evidential Realists join forces with Dialogical artists of the "social turn” to forge some kind of transitional bridge to a less toxic public sphere. Any thoughts?

David Garcia

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