Kent Summer School in Critical Theory

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Davide Tarizzo

Ever since Freud’s seminal essay on Group Psychology, philosophers and social scientists have attempted to apply psychoanalytic categories to historical and political phenomena. Today we witness a renewed interest in this line of research; in what might be labelled the Lacanian turn in political theory (Laclau, Zizek, Badiou). Recent inquiry concentrates on three crucial questions: What is a political subject (Badiou)? What is a political discourse (Laclau)? What is a political phantasy (Zizek)? During the seminar, each of these questions will be addressed from a resolutely Freudian-Lacanian point of view. The seminar will intertwine the psychoanalytic approach to political-historical issues with more traditional approaches developed in the field of political science (Nationalism Studies), history of law (Villey, Legendre) and modern history (Morgan, Bazcko, Macpherson, Mosse).

Along the lines traced by these questions, a new theoretical perspective will be gradually sketched out, which will implicate a new definition of democracy as well as a new definition of fascism. If, relying on psychoanalytic inquiries into “collective subjectivities” (Lacan), we can distinguish two different paths to modern democracy (the European and the American), we can also identify two different exits from modern democracy, that is, two types of fascism: “old” fascism and “new” fascism (to adopt Pasolini’s idiom). Although the new fascism shares some basic features with the old, it is nonetheless distinct enough to be unrecognizable as such. This is one of the reasons that the new fascism enjoys the quality of being almost invisible—so that it becomes mandatory to ask: Do we live in a fascist regime today?

Indicative Reading List
Badiou, Theory of the Subject
Freud, Group Psychology
Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
Lacan, Écrits
Lacan, Of Structure as an Inmixing of an Otherness
Laclau, On Populist Reason
Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism
Morgan, Inventing the People
Mosse, The Fascist Revolution
Özkirimli, Theories of Nationalism
Polanyi, The Great Transformation
Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology

Peter Goodrich

In a recent study carried out at New York University School of Law the researchers divided the students at the end of their first year of legal study into two groups. The first group argued a case, the exercise being one of advocacy, in a formal courtroom before a judge in robes. The second group argued the same case in a classroom temporarily re-arranged as a courtroom before a judge in regular clothes. The first group, arguing in a traditionally embellished and classically ornate forum were significantly more likely to view the process as legally appropriate, the judge as authoritative and the outcome as just. The plastic and visual context, the architecture, the inscriptions, the portraiture and panels, the judicial throne and costume evidently played an significantly persuasive role in this adversarial appearance of law and in this expression of desire for justice. Law is in this example more than its texts and exceeds the bounds of its reasons. It is this dangerous supplement, this visiocratic transmission of justice and judgment, that ‘Inventing Law’ will pursue, divagate and elaborate upon.

A text, as Lacan puts it, is always an enigma, a mi-dire, meaning a half-said, namely a reference to everything else that authorizes the statement, inscription or judgment. The name of the statute, the signature of the judge, the reputation of the author are simply references to everything else impounded and implied by the particular case, the curlicue or line exacted – further cases, other texts, the compilations, collections, codes, writings, inscriptions, imagery, statuary, portraiture and further hieroglyphs and enigmas that compose the tradition, the plasticity and presence of what is in our case termed common law. Using the (recently translated) work of the classicist and analyst Pierre Legendre, while glibly dancing across the grammatology of Jacques Derrida, the scribbles of Peter Goodrich, the contropiano of Susan Byrne, the juridical theology of Giorgio Agamben, the course will take up the mantle of legal humanism and trace the plenitude and comedy of law in the specific times and spaces of its invention. This is light hearted and so most serious and irenic of undertakings.

Topics to be excoriated, adumbrated, concatenated and ratiocinated will include:
Legal openings
The spaces of tradition
Legal emblems
Amity and legality
Blindness and insight
The melancholy of law
Juridical portraiture
Rhetoric and hermeneutics
Exegesis and legal literalism
Affect and judgment
Cnutism or the ravages of the tides
Supplements and marginalia


In this lecture I examine Derrida’s preoccupation with sovereignty in his late seminars and published works.  I show, taking examples especially from Rousseau, how sovereignty is always already failing, affected by what Derrida calls “auto-immunity”.  In the light of this analysis, I point to some curious omissions in Derrida’s account, around Aristotle, Bataille, and Heidegger.

Geoffrey Bennington is Asa G. Candler Professor of Modern French Thought at Emory University and Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School.  He is the author of 15 books and over 120 articles and chapters on philosophical and literary-theoretical topics.  His books include Jacques Derrida (co-authored with Jacques Derrida, 1991), Legislations: The Politics of Deconstruction (1995), and Frontières kantiennes (2000). His most recent books are Not Half No End: Militantly Melancholic Essays in Memory of Jacques Derrida (2010) and Géographie et autres lectures (2011).  He has translated many works by Derrida and other contemporary French thinkers, and is General Editor, with Peggy Kamuf, of the English language edition of The Seminars of Jacques Derrida at the University of Chicago Press.  His translations of the first two volumes of the seminars to be published, The Beast and the Sovereign I and II, appeared in 2009 and 2011.  He is currently completing a book of deconstructive political philosophy tentatively entitled Scatter.

This lecture will explore the presence and potential of a playful state through the somewhat paradoxical example of the international legal drama currently taking shape over conservative Christian refusal to treat gay sexuality equally. Play is a practice rarely associated with states – whether they are conservative or progressive. And yet, different kinds of playful state performances regularly occur. Focusing on neoliberal states with equality laws, this lecture will explore the diverse ways in which states play. Through the legal drama of conservative Christian refusal (and the reciprocating refusal of state bodies as they pull resources, contracts and jobs from resistant Christian bodies), the lecture will centre on play’s potential to provide a mode of action and ethos through which a more socially just state might take shape.

Davina Cooper is Professor of Law & Political Theory at the University of Kent. For 25 years her work has addressed different conceptual and cultural aspects of a transformative politics, focusing in particular on the state, sexuality, and adventures in grass-roots governing. Her books include: Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Everyday Utopias (Duke, 2014); Challenging Diversity: Rethinking Equality and the Value of Difference (CUP, 2004); and Governing out of Order: Space, Law and the Politics of Belonging(Rivers Oram 1998). She has also participated in state governance from the “inside” as a local politician and as a magistrate.

Roberto Esposito (1950, Piano di Sorrento) is Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Scuola Normale Superiore. He has held numerous lectures and seminars at Universities around the world, in America (including Harvard, UCLA Los Angeles, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Duke and Michigan), and in England, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Japan, Argentina and Chile. He is co-editor of Filosofia Politica, published by il Mulino, and of the series ‘Comunità e Libertà’ for Laterza, and he is a philosophy consultant for Einaudi. His work has been translated into English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and Korean. Amongst his many books appearing in English are Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy (2008), Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community (2009), Immunitas: The Protection and Negation of Life (2011), and Third Person (2012). Forthcoming in English translation include Categories of the Impolitical (2015, Fordham University Press) and Persons and Things: From the Body’s Point of View (2015, Polity Press).

The ‘Great Thoughts’ or, in a lesser translation, the Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by judge Daniel Paul Schreber are a remarkable account of the psychosis of the President of the Saxon Court of Appeals. To read the Memoirs as a record of madness is relatively easy and has been lengthily pursued. To interpret this remarkable work as legal discourse, as a successful litigation of the judge’s release from the asylum and as a radical jurisprudence is more a novel undertaking and will be proposed here.

Professor Peter Goodrich

What is artificial life? How is it possible to think through such a thing at the dawn of the third millennium? The answer does not lie within artificial life itself (that is, within the domain of IT and computer science research), but is rather concealed within the invisible assumptions that unceasingly drive two different sciences: biology and economics. As Christopher Langton explains, artificial life “attempts to synthesize life-like behaviours within computers and other artificial media”, and both biology and economics make behaviour their epistemic a priori (as biologist John Maynard Smith and economist Gary Becker confirm). But this, of course, begs the question: what is behaviour?

Professor Davide Tarizzo