The issue opens with Elisabeth Weber’s keynote lecture, an unparalleled essay that treats the theologically informed political-subjective concept of sovereignty as pre-eminently the power to decide over life and death. She adds significantly and provocatively to our understanding of sovereignty and its inseparability from today’s two “ages” of cruelty. The thirteen additional contributions to this issue are diverse, intelligent, creative, and important. This is an issue of which Mosaic is proud.
Read the issue introduction
14 essays, totalling 224 pages
Ages of Cruelty: Jacques Derrida, Fethi Benslama, and their Challenges to Psychoanalysis
For Jacques Derrida, one of the most urgent tasks of philosophy today is to think “sovereignty” and the ways in which it is inseparable from the two “ages” of cruelty of today’s wars: one techno-scientific, from which the “cruor” of blood seems to have been wiped away, and another, bloodily “archaic,” reacting savagely to the first. Derrida and the French-Tunisian psychoanalyst Fethi Benslama assert that these two “ages” of cruelty are closely intertwined, and that for both of them, today’s media play a crucial role. For Derrida, the “revolution of psychoanalysis” would consist in addressing cruelty without alibi, without political, moral, theological, or other justifications, while refusing to neutralize ethics and politics, that is, the specific geo-political realm in which psychoanalytic theory and practice intervene. In this spirit, Benslama attempts an analysis of the particular new cruelty some Middle-Eastern countries are confronted with today.
Between Life and Death: Representing Trafficked Persons in Chris Abani’s Becoming Abigail and Justin Chadwick’s Stolen
Human trafficking is a global, highly profitable industry in which persons exist between life and death. Using Judith Butler’s reflections on "precarious life," this essay argues cultural texts provide sites that open up the possibility of seeing trafficked persons not merely as passive victims, but as singular individuals with concrete agency. The texts challenge readers to imagine and be open to the lived experience of others.
A Sense of Time: Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Heidegger on the Temporality of Life
William A. McNeill
The phenomenon of movement in the broadest sense appears to be essential to any and every understanding of life. And this would seem to imply that all life is constituted by temporality as its very condition. Yet does this entail that everything that lives also has a sense of time? Aristotle in several places writes of a “sense of time”; yet it is only certain living beings, not all, that possess this sense of time, he claims. Nietzsche gives us the famous image of the grazing cattle that are completely absorbed in the moment and, having no sense of time, are completely content. Heidegger, in the context of the issue of affection, identifies as a crucial problem the question of “whether and how the Being of animals is constituted by a ‘time’,” yet it is a question that he deliberately neglects to pursue in his most detailed analyses of animal life. In this essay I explore some of the stakes in the question concerning a sense of time, with reference to the three thinkers mentioned.
Queer Children, Queer Futures: Navigating lifedeath in The Hunger Games
This essay revisits Lee Edelman’s work on the futurism of “the Child” by examining contemporary cultural spectacles about dead children, exemplified in The Hunger Games. I will re-evaluate the symbolism of “the Child” a decade after Edelman’s No Future by thinking about the intersections between queer children and killer children.
Lifedeath and Suicide
David Farrell Krell
When someone we know ends his or her life we are banished to the silence of the outside; uncomprehending is too weak a word for this extrusion. Among the matters of lifedeath, suicide is perhaps one of the most compelling, if not one of the most avidly discussed. I will touch on the debate surrounding “assisted suicide,” although this is not my theme. My theme is the radical exteriority and the silence to which we others are abandoned in virtually every instance of suicide. The outside and the silence have something to do with writing.
‘A vital, unliveable force’: Rhythm through Nathalie Sarraute and Schizoanalysis
Nathalie Sarraute, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari, particularly in Entre la vie et la mort and A Thousand Plateaux, present an idea of rhythm that attunes us to a non-signifying dimension of language. The force of rhythm at once sustains creation and reveals the common lifedeath matter from which both words and bodies (the writer’s, the reader’s) are made.
L’apoptose selon Claude Régy : un dispositif scénique
Phénomène cellulaire de sculpture du vivant par la mort, l’apoptose est adaptée au théâtre par le metteur en scène français Claude Régy. Cet essai analyse les conséquences poétiques, scéniques et spectatorielles de cette adaptation à travers trois créations, où l’apoptose en scène devient un dispositif artistique.
Lines of Flight of the Deadly Nightshade: An Enquiry into the Properties of the Magical Plant, its Literature and History
David J. Carruthers
Writing of his encounters with a Sonoran sorcerer, Carlos Castaneda describes his experience of flight under the influence of datura. To the question “Did I really fly, don Juan?” his benefactor explains that, while in flight, Carlos’s corporeal body was “in the bushes,” raising questions on the relationships of consciousness to corpse, body to perceptual environments, and human mind to nature’s pharmacopoeia.
Life(and)death in Harry Potter: The Immortality of Love and Soul
The essay examines various features belonging to the liminal area between life and death in the world of Harry Potter. Being fantasy novels, Rowling’s works are free of the reins of empirical thinking. The border they posit between possible and impossible may be displaced; still, it is more or less firmly set.
‘Advancing necessarily askew’: The Technology of Mourning in Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking
I take up the concept of mourning as what Derrida calls “work”: an active labour that is nonetheless construed as automatic, and therefore technological. Through a discussion of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, I suggest that mourning requires an oscillation in which looking back also means confronting, head-on, the inescapability of death.
Le demi-vivant : figuration critique d’une mutilation épistémique
Étudiant des représentations narratives de la vie réduite ou lacunaire, cet essai montre comment ces figures épistémiques polémiques sont destinées à infirmer des définitions extra-littéraires du vivant stigmatisées comme déficientes et permettent aux écrivains de s’insérer dans le débat aujourd’hui ravivé de ce qui mérite le nom de vie.
‘Modern Death’ in Don DeLillo: A Parody of Life?
This essay aims to carve out an uncharted space to critically reflect on death in our times. It problematizes the existentially absurd and paradoxical nature of death by focusing on Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous Socratic questioning and the undecided relationship Don DeLillo’s characters have with the actuality of their own death.
Conceiving the Subject of Mutation: Event, Plasticity, and Mutation
Bringing together the constitutive phenomenon of mutation, concepts of the event, plasticity, the subject, hospitality, and love, this essay draws on the philosophies of Alain Badiou and Catherine Malabou to consider the possibility of becoming a subject of mutation.
Charles E. Scott
I will speak of livingdying, speak in attunement with that neologism. Such attunement is poetic in its manner and connects, always I imagine, experientially and autobiographically with the person thinking, speaking, and writing. This perspective is guided by how livingdying happens in its immediacy. I will speak of livingdying as I look for a discourse to speak of what cannot be said directly. Stories and poetry (especially that of Robinsons Jeffers) will be important for what I say: I am saying now that what I say will not—cannot—say livingdying directly, and that impossibility is intrinsic in the way of speaking of livingdying if we want—if we desire to draw closer to livingdying in the sense we make as we speak. The desire to draw closer to livingdying will permeate my remarks. This engagement will have no conclusion.