Catastrophe: Critical Legal Conference 2017 @ Warwick – Call for Streams

Image: “Catastrophe” by Lala Gallardo

Thought this conference might be of interest to readers, and it’s happening here at Warwick:

“Ten years ago, the so-called ‘Invisible Committee’ urged that ‘It is useless to wait…. To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here. We are already situated within the collapse of a civilization. It is within this reality that we must choose sides.’ Over a decade before, Leonard Cohen had written; ‘This is the darkness, this is the flood. The catastrophe has already happpened and the question we now face is what is the appropriate behaviour.’ The 2017 Critical Legal Conference thus calls for streams, panels and papers that reflect upon ‘catastrophe’; on the catastrophes of our time and upon their interrelations; upon the questions of appropriate behaviours that might emerge and sides that might be taken. In particular we hope to encourage streams on:

  • Increasing brutality and violence of the carceral and security state;
  • War, migration, and refugee crises;
  • Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and countless forms of day to day violence;
  • On the atmospheres of violence under regimes of Modi, Temer, Trump, Brexit or Erdogan
  • Natural disasters and the effects of climate change in the anthropocene;
  • Forms of colonialism, neocolonialism and economic imperialism driven by capitalism and neoliberal ideologies;
  • Crises of care and depletion of the social reproductive capacities under global capitalism;
  • Rampant fear-mongering and the political exploitation of deprivation.
  • Catastrophe, disaster and crisis as modes of biopolitics, governance or accumulation

However, these catastrophes are only the most obvious effecting us today. Catastrophe does not necessarily imply a sudden fright or a grand world-historical moment that is evident to all. We also want to emphasise: the slow violence of catastrophe; the gradual and often imperceptible disintegration that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous; the ‘human catastrophes’ fostered by capitalism in its crises of social reproduction; intimate catastrophes, moments of collapse and calamity that concern the subject and the psyche, as well as the domestic.

Taking a cue from Bonnie Honig, we might identify the genre of this mode of critique as containing something of the dark romantics. The catastrophe is that chasmatic void into which we are about to fall (or perhaps we have already fallen). We are pervaded by a sense of the coming (or already arrived) doom. But despite this, catastrophe also suggests an opening to something beyond. It creates new spaces for resistance and solidarity, while potentially strengthening old ones. Catastrophe names the end in ancient Greek music and theatre, an unravelling and return to context. It was coupled with anakrousis – a sonorous explosion that was played at the beginning of a performance to clear the ears and so make space for a cosmos to be created. Catastrophe announced the overturning of that world and prepared the listeners to leave the theatre, to return to the street and to the context of popular life. Tolkien coins the term Eucatastrophe to signify the sudden positive resolution of a seemingly impossible situation. Thus, continuing from the hugely successful 2016 CLC focus on ‘turning points’, the theme of catastrophe asks us to consider the day after the moment of rupture, the period after the turning point.

What are the traps of thinking through ‘catastrophe’? Does catastrophe require redemption? Certainly modes of Christian theology imagine the katechon – the worldly suspension of the end times in which we are situated – as the holding-off of the justice of the end of the world. But by thinking our situation in other cosmologies, does the question of the catastrophe disappear, or appear differently? Or in a more profane sense, what are the problems of thinking through the lens of the catastrophe – is there a catastrophe (for us) in thinking catastrophe? Should we move away from the thought of the catastrophe and think more hopefully or joyfully?

Finally, we hope the question of catastrophe also invites a certain critical self-reflection. In liberal accounts, law seems to stand out against the catastrophe: the catastrophe is the perversion of legal rationality or the inability of pure legal norms to reach their proper context. Critical fields seek to undermine this claim, but to what extent and what effect? And what of the left’s own catastrophes, what of the co-option of resistance in human rights or development, or of the various collapses or exhaustions of left political and legal projects?

So we invite participants to the coming Catastrophe of the 2017 Critical Legal Conference at the Warwick Law School and in conjunction with the Social Theory Centre. It will take place on the 1st-3rd of September. Further details can be found on the conference webpage (Link). Please send your stream proposals to The closing date for streams will be the 28th of February, the call for papers will open after that.”

RITA Seminar: Imagining Caribbean Future Spaces

Montserrat, The Pompeii of the Caribbean
Courthouse and former Employee, Plymouth, Monserrat. Image: Christopher Pillitz

I am honoured to be speaking on the Future Environmental Spaces panel at the upcoming RITA (Race in the Americas) seminar on Imagining Caribbean Future Spaces. My presentation ‘Apostropher L’Apocalypse’ will discuss French-Caribbean poetic engagements with disasters and politics, and their invaluable contributions to Anthropocene discourse. The seminar is taking place on 31 October at the University of Birmingham and is organised by Patricia Noxolo, Adunni Adams and James Owen Heath. Attendance is free of charge. Speakers include Lisabeth Paravisini-Gebert, Fabienne Viala, Selwyn R. Cudjoe, Maria Cristina Fumagalli, Pat Noxolo, Louise Hardwick and Thomas Glave.

Here are the seminar details:

“[W]e need imaginations that are sensitive to inner-city decay and the lungs of the globe orchestrated into forests and rivers and skies. We need to build afresh through the brokenness of our world….”
— Wilson Harris

This one-day symposium looks at the ways in which the Caribbean and the future are imagined together. How has the future of the Caribbean been imagined and how is it being re-imagined at a time of environmental change and global insecurity? How does the future look when we imagine it in and through the Caribbean – is the Caribbean a space to imagine the future differently?

31 October 2014, 9am – 5.15pm

The University of Birmingham
Room 311
Geography Building
Birmingham B15 2TT

You can register for the seminar here. The programme can be viewed here.

Carribbean Future Spaces is funded by the Institute for Latin American Studies & the University of Birmingham.

The Challenge of Making Meaning – Visitor To A Museum @ BFI

Alternative link here.

This summer, the British Film Institute in London has been showing a lot of Russian Science Fiction. Unfortunately, I have been very busy, so I only managed to catch a couple of films. ‘Visitor to a museum’ by Konstantin Lopushansky was one of them. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the film raises questions about the ties between rationality, consumption, religion and meaning.

A visitor, who identifies himself (wrongly?) as being ‘from the city’, travels through miles and miles of rubbish to the coast of post-apocalyptic Russia to see a museum. Emphasising that he wants to touch it rather than just consuming pictures of it, he makes enquiries amongst the locals about the best way and time of getting there. As the museum, apparently a sunken city, is only accessible during a particularly long-lasting low tide, the visitor has to hang around for a bit until he can make his attempt at reaching the sunken city. We learn that it is mandatory to sign a register when one intends to embark towards the museum and that it takes 6 days to get to the museum there and back – exactly the duration of the low tide. It is not clear whether any one has actually ever made it to the museum, only that there have been failed attempts: people losing their way or giving up after wading through the toxic sludge that covers the sea floor. Luposhansky does an excellent job at making the sea appear dead, alien and invasive, in fact so invasive that one starts moving as far back as possible in one’s cinema seat…

Around this storyline, the viewer is introduced to the society of the future: at least 40% of children are born ‘degenerate’ (mentally and physically disabled) and are put into forced labour camps (‘reservations’), to mine or handle, as it appears, dangerous/toxic materials. The ‘degenerates’ have become deeply religious, waiting for a saviour to ‘let them out’. The remaining, able-bodied population – but degenerate in their own ways – are promoting a loop of mindless consumption and innovation in the name of ‘rationality’ (the latest fashion the film shows is black high heels and decorated black chokers for men, which everyone seems to go crazy for). The ‘pure’ people are actually so paranoid about the people from the reservation, that they keep fires burning in front of their windows to keep them out (apparently the ‘degenerates’ are afraid of fire).

It turns out that the couple owning the guest house the visitor is staying in is involved in their own social experiment (pursued by the man rather than the woman): to see if two degenerates can ‘progress’. We later find out that these slave-like servants are the couple’s own children. There is one scene in which the father teaches his son about society, asking what man has created – the son answering that ‘man has created a trash heap’. The father corrects him by proposing ‘a heap of goods’. When the son does not accept this, the father scolds him by pointing out that rational man must confront catastrophes, and not pray or be spiritual about them. In the father’s eyes, this constitutes regressive superstition.

During his wait, the visitor is increasingly drawn to the ‘degenerates’ and especially to their priests (Christian priests). The visitor himself manifests episodes of intense self-talk and displays of inner torment. The appearance of a bible in his luggage (from which he is able to quote freely) suggests that he may not be entirely ‘pure’ – or at least not unquestioningly buying into the ‘pure’ society. After the visit to a reservation-based priest, the visitor decides to abandon his quest. However, he is redirected back towards it through a dramatic occurrence: fitting the description of the degenerates’ saviour, he is claimed by them and prepared in a ritual to go out into the low tide. Stumbling disorientatedly towards the city, the visitor finally arrives at some ruins, which he does not seem to be able to make sense of. Even more miraculously, he returns – screaming and continuing to walk into the rubbish-strewn distance.

Coming out of the cinema, I overheard some people interpreting the ending as the visitor having taken on the pain of the world/its inhabitants in a Christ-like manner, sending out a note of hope that even the most hopeless situation can potentially be turned around. For me, the film appeared less hopeful, in that it suggested how meaning is tied to either consumption, progress, scientific rationality or religion, which all fail to provide it. Although, it could be argued that, rather than the film proposing that nothing most people believe in generates meaning, it tries to communicate that nothing generates meaning by itself without one’s own input: that meaning is not created by unquestioningly following patterns, but by critically examining them. For instance, the degenerates’ religion appears to give them strength, but at the same time, this strength seems pointless, because it is directed at diverting the effort to make meaning for oneself and changing one’s situation. Instead, it is aimed towards replicating a pattern. Everyone but the visitor seems to avoid building an understanding the world and one’s personal relation to it, and because of this, it remains unchanging and devoid of meaning. The visitor thus emerges as a boundary figure, about to break a pattern through being part of either spaces and putting them into question. That he ends up running around aimlessly, screaming could be taken as a sign that the search for meaning and change is such a challenge that it can end in real madness. Given what the rest of the population in this future is up to, one can almost safely say that any potential damage to oneself is a small price to pay – or that even losing one’s mind entirely might be a preferable state in the face of regimented insanity.