Expert Seminar (March 2014)

Capital(s) of Critique: Terra Critica III

Our third meeting  takes place within the framework of the ACLA 2014 at New York University from March 21 to March 23, 2014. In line with the ACLA style and its conference theme ‘Capitals’, Terra Critica holds a seminar entitled ‘Capital(s) of Critique’: one three-day seminar (‘Capital(s) of Critique I’) and one two-day seminar (‘Capital(s) of Critique II’). Both seminars are interlinked and will continue the discussion from our second expert seminar in November 2013.

Just like the expert seminar 2013, ‘Capital(s) of Critique’ I and II take as joint basis for discussion the texts Three Guineas (1938) by Virginia Woolf and Three Ecologies (1989) by Félix Guattari. Building on and expanding our discussion from November 2013, the participants will present 15-20 minute papers.


Kiene Brillenburg Wurth (Utrecht University)
Rosemarie Buikema (Utrecht University)
Mercedes Bunz (Leuphana University of Lüneburg)
Annemie Halsema (Free University Amsterdam)
A B Huber (New York University)
Birgit Kaiser (Utrecht University)
Sybrandt van Keulen (University of Amsterdam)
Alicja Kowalska (New York University)
Timothy O’Leary (University of Hong Kong)
Paola Marrati (Johns Hopkins University)
Esther Peeren (University of Amsterdam)
Anne Sauvagnargues (Paris Ouest Nanterre)
Kathrin Thiele (Utrecht University)
Iris van der Tuin (Utrecht University)
Dorothee Wiese (Utrecht University)


Friday, March 21, 2014

Capital(s) of Critique I – morning (chair Kathrin Thiele)

Anne Sauvagnargues, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre
Clinical Critique

The impressive practice of collective, impersonal writing in Deleuze and Guattari’s collaborative work changes the status of literature, art and philosophy, writing and critique. It ultimately results in the theory of a ‘collective assemblage of enunciation’. The assemblage transforms the notions of ‘structure’, ‘system’, ‘form’ and ‘process’ by increasing the formally articulated nature of the system or structure in a pragmatic process that opens onto ‘heterogeneous’ elements – an ecology of signs. It acts in accordance with a logic of signs, a semiotics, which is not exclusively intellectual, discursive, or linguistic – i.e. human – but consists of coexisting rhizomatic signs, diverse and therefore hererogeneous, material, biological, political and social. It is of collective enunciation when involving the demarcation of a non-subjective impersonal mode of literary creation beyond individuated instances of enunciation. It is not reducible to the author or individual genius. Literature must no longer be considered the matter of an exceptional individual, revealing personal memories and other ‘dirty little secrets’, but an impersonal experimentation of langage that explores social becomings. As such, minor literature strives toward a clinical critique and a symptomatological definition of literature. This marks the urgency of a semiotics of art: Semiotics requires a philosophy of art that is no longer exclusively reducible to the order of signification and discourse. It seeks to express a sensorial art experience without translating it into discursive langage, or reducing it to models of interpretation. Literature thereby becomes an experimentation: the concept of machine, criticizing literary theories, psychoanalysis and structuralism, leads to a new form of clinical critique.

Birgit Kaiser, Utrecht University
Writing and singularizing: rephrasing existential refrains with Cixous and Guattari 

My paper brings together Hélène Cixous’ notion of writing – along with her ideas of poetry, the feminine and the unconscious – and Félix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies, especially the notion of mental ecology. Both Cixous and Guattari articulate a compelling critique of the Subject and rewrite in the act a modus of subjectification that is yet to be filled with life; in a sense a creative critique, which brings into existence – resonating with Deleuze’s point (in ‘To have done with judgment’) that the trick of any critique might lie in the effort ‘to bring into existence and not to judge’ (135). The critique (of theories) of the Subject (in Guattari’s case directed at Lacanian psychoanalysis, in Cixous’ case directed at phallocentric, hierarchized sexual difference theorized via lack) is accompanied in both by a stress on the possibility to rupture, divert, rephrase, invent new modi of existence. This possibility averts the mechanisms of what Cixous calls the ‘appropriative economy’ (Sortie 79) of the ‘(Hegelian) schema of recognition, [where] there is no place for the other, for an equal other, for a whole and living woman’ (79). They are interested instead in what Guattari calls ‘existentializing ruptures of meaning’ (TE 29) – ‘[a] singularity, a rupture of sense, a cut, a fragmentation, the detachment of a semiotic content […to] originate mutant nuclei of subjectivation […] entities that have no prior existence’. (TE 18)

Annemie Halsema, VU-University Amsterdam 
The Subject of Critique. From hermeneutics to poststructuralism 

For Guattari in The Three Ecologies a new ecosophy implies that subjectivity exceeds the limits of individualization and stagnation, and installs itself in the environment, social assemblages, landscapes. Starting from Guattari’s radical resingularization, this paper aims at thinking through the relation between subjectivity and critique in hermeneutics and poststructuralism. For Ricoeur interpretation includes distanciation, which implies the possibility of critique. Distanciation is implicated in the fixation that is implied in writing in the material sense, but also because the text is autonomous 1. from its author, 2. with respect to the cultural situation and sociological conditions of its production, 3. and its original addressee. Yet, in Ricoeur’s ontological hermeneutics, the subject also comes to understand itself in confrontation with the text. That implies exposing oneself to the text: “It is the matter of the text that gives the reader his or her dimension of subjectivity,” (From Text to Action), and: in reading “I unrealize myself”. This intricate relation subject-matter of the text, in which the subject finds itself as subject in the discourse that is autonomous from it, is scrutinized in poststructuralism. Foucault in his famous “What is Enlightenment?” defines criticism today: “a historical investigation into the events that have led us to constitute ourselves and to recognize ourselves as subjects of what we are doing, thinking, saying.” (315). Ontology becomes critical ontology, critique entails critique of what we are and of the historical analysis of the limits imposed on us, i.e., working on our limits.

Capital(s) of Critique II – afternoon (chair Birgit Kaiser)

Paola Marrati, Johns Hopkins University
Immanent Problems

Cavell and Deleuze understand the critical task of philosophy as exploring what it would look like to inhabit the world under the condition of immanence, i.e. when accepting that the world has no beyond or that such beyond will not take care by itself of the task of living (in) the ordinary. They do not quite understand the “acceptance of immanence” along the same lines, mainly because the very idea of immanence resonates differently for them. But they certainly agree that “acceptance” should not be confused with consent. Rather than implying some peaceful or resigned consent to the present state of culture and society, both take the acceptance, or affirmation, of immanence as a call for resistance and dissent, for transformation and becoming. Immanence does not provide the “answer” to our ethical and political predicament, but instead raises new problems and challenges for a critical philosophy. From this perspective, two problems emerge: what do morality and politics look like when no transcendental ground is available; and what sustains, or awakes, our desire for moral and social change and transformation from within such a world? It is no longer a matter of an eventual reward for “dutiful actions,” but the problem of what motivates the quest of a better self, and a better world, what inspires resistance to the present – to debased forms of democracy (Cavel) or the stupidity and dullness of our culture and souls (Deleuze/Guattari). The paper discusses how both address the necessity for philosophy to be simultaneously critical and clinical, or therapeutic, pairing the critical stance toward the present with the care of the self, with the attempt to cultivate attitudes and sensibilities better suited to resist resentment, toward ourselves, one another, and toward life.

Kathrin Thiele, Utrecht University
On ‘Three Dots’ of Critique: Indirection, Indifference, Transversality

My paper engages with the ‘capital(s) of critique’ in a Foucaultian manner, and this means as being concerned with ‘the art of not being governed like that’ (Foucault 1978). Continuing critical thinking and critical engagements in this manner today does for me not mean to reclaim a realm ‘outside of power’ or an end of ‘critical conditions’. It means instead to affirm a fully immanent approach and engagement with the matters at stake, in a com-passionate manner (Ettinger 2009, Haraway 2008), and acknowledging constitutive implication and entanglement (Barad 2007, Kirby 2011) in the critical endeavors we’re negotiating. ‘On ‘three dots’ of critique’ investigates specifically how critique and criticality take shape when conceptualized thus, and it follows both Félix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies and Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas as critical engagements concerned with precisely such a complex art and concern of ‘not being governed like that’. What I want to bring to the table of this seminar’s discussion are three to me significant aspects of (their) e/affective criticality: indirection, indifference, transversality. With each of them I want to move towards a different ‘critical semiotics’ and/or ‘critical theory’ that cuts across dualist divides between subject/object, individual/collective, and theory/practice.

Mercedes Bunz, Leuphana University
Towards a Multiplication of critical capital: On Affirmation as Critique

Regarding techniques of critique Virginia Woolf’s essay Three Guineas is an interesting case: Instead of arguing against the war, or for the emancipation of woman, controversial views get discussed; they are also woven into each other. The voice of the author isn’t reporting her view, but a variety of voices. She also involves different media like photos or newspaper articles. Analysing this mode of critique – affirming a problem – my paper explores its relation to negative critique with the help of Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche, which points us in an interesting direction. For to be more than the negation of negative critique, the concept of affirmation as critique can’t just be different but needs to be “different in itself”. To get to the bottom of what this could mean, my paper follows closely Deleuze’s thinking of affirmation. Understanding affirmation as an active force, Deleuze is interested in not reacting to a problem. Instead of focussing on a solution, he puts the problem as a point of departure: “it is the problem which orientates, conditions and engenders solutions”. (DR, 268) Affirmation as critique is “created as affirming difference” (DR, 55), in other words: affirmation is posing the problem. Turning back to Three Guineas, we can now see the technique of critique from Woolf’s letter-essay more clearly: affirming all those different voice, allows to form the problem – the role of educated women – in a new way: it becomes a problem of society.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Capital(s) of Critique I – morning (chair Kathrin Thiele)

Sybrandt van Keulen, University of Amsterdam
Creation and critique, both with a lowercase c. The writing of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s practicing of critique is deeply rooted in her talent to call into question ceaselessly the two particular categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’, without prioritizing one over the other. This makes her not much of a militant feminist, but indeed, as Morag Shiach expresses it accurately, Woolf ‘explores the imaginative and political resources of the concept of androgyny’ (xvii). In this respect Woolf should be regarded as a writer who practices transcriticism. This concept is closely connected to Foucault’s definition of the artistic practice of Constantin Guys (Baudelaire’s hero): ‘His transfiguration does not entail an annulling of reality, but a difficult interplay between the truth of what is real and the exercise of freedom’. Foucault hints at the open duality of critical and creative aspects in the movement of self-transgression when he, in the first place, states that for ‘the attitude of modernity, the high value of the present is indissociable from a desperate eagerness to imagine it, to imagine it otherwise than it is’. Shiach, Morag (2008). Introduction in Virginia Woolf (2008), Oxford World’s Classics. Woolf, Virginia (2008). A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. Oxford World’s Classics. Foucault, Michel (1984). ‘What is Enlightenment?’ in The Foucault Reader, (ed. Paul Rabinow), Pantheon Books, New York.

Alicja Kowalska, New York University
Foucault’s Reading of Kant-Critique as the Method of Possible Reversal

In my paper I would like to revisit Foucault’s reading of Kant’s “Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?” Foucault takes up the discussion of Kant’s text, claiming that the question posed by Kant in 1784 still pervades modern philosophy in the form of the question “What is critique?”. One of the aspects of Kant’s text that Foucault discusses is the way in which Enlightenment can be understood as critique. Critique constitutes itself always in relation to something, and, according to Foucault, this feature of critique as that which cannot be essentially pinned down to anything, “makes it a function that is subordinated in relation to that which is positively constituted by philosophy, science, politics, morals, law, literature, and so forth.” In other words critique is a tool of questioning the status quo that is posited by various fields of knowledge and expertise that dominate our lives. On this basis Foucault calls critique “an instrument, a means for a future or a truth that it will not know and that it will not be; it is a gaze on a domain that it wants very much to police and where it is incapable of laying down the law.” My reading of Foucault’s notion of critique will explore its fruitfulness for the conditions of the 21st century as well as its relation to the interventions made by Woolf and Guattari.

Timothy O’Leary, University of Hong Kong
On the Genealogy of Ecological Sensibilities: Three Notes

I bring together Woolf’s demand that we keep thinking the nature of our ‘civilization’, with Guattari’s call for a ‘revolution’ that will be concerned with the small things; in particular, the domain of sensibility. If, for Woolf in 1938, the threat was global war, then for us today the threat is, as Guattari argues, “ecological disequilibrium” on a planetary scale. Woolf, in response to the threat of a world war, suggests a three-pronged strategy involving women’s education, professional life, and ‘outsider’ political action. Guattari, in response to the threat of a different global catastrophe, suggests a three-pronged strategy involving new forms of subjectivity, new practices of sociality, and new forms of environmental intervention. In effect, I suggest, both thinkers place their hopes in the human potential for subjective transformation. Here I will focus on one area in which we see this transformability: the historical variability of moral sensibility. What happens to the sentiments of care, responsibility, and love, when their objects are oceans, forests, eco-systems, a planet? And what is, or can be, the role of critique in understanding these historical shifts? I will begin, firstly, with a note on the idea of “sensibility” and what role it can play for us today. Second, I will consider Guattari’s approach to the transformation of sensibilities, within the context of the project to promote a “re-singularization” of subjectivity. Third, I will take up broader questions about genealogy and critique – within a Nietzscho-Foucauldian framework.

Capital(s) of Critique II – afternoon (chair Birgit Kaiser)

A.B. Huber, New York University  
In praise of poor theory  

Suppose that the Duke of Devonshire stepped down into the kitchen and asked the maid: “Stop your potato peeling, Mary, and help me to construe this rather difficult passage in Pindar” (from V. Woolf, Three Guineas) This paper considers what one with an aching, and perhaps not entirely voluntary, intimacy with potatoes can say about Pindar, the Duke now standing in her way, and the human prospects for peace that worries the pages around her appearance.  What does poor theory as a form of critique have to do with the material conditions, and / or a political account, of poverty? What might a potato peeler have in common with her contemporary, the ragpicker, and what model of critique or resistance emerges from their lives, labors and insights?   The poor theory I invoke is indebted to Benjamin’s notion of gleaning, but also to Hito Steyerl’s “poor image,”  Julio García-Espinosa’s “poor cinema,” and Gianni Vattimo’s “weak thought.”  But we begin and end with Mary, clairvoyent of the ordinary, the low, and the unpoetic- potato.

Iris van der Tuin, Utrecht University
Signals Falling: How Does Reading Woolf and Guattari in Conjunction Generate a Diffractive Reading?

Following the task set by the organizers of Capital(s) of Critique, I have read Woolf and Guattari “in conjunction” (Shaviro 2009) in order to find out that the result was a “diffractive” reading (Barad 2003, 2007). Hence, in my paper, I will be taking a methodological stance with regards to the question of critique and approach the ontology which emerged from my reading of Three Guineas & A Room of One’s Own and Three Ecologies through an epistemological register (in Karen Barad’s terms, I will work ‘onto-epistemologically’). I will argue that both Woolf and Guattari “open[…] up processually from a praxis that enables it to be made ‘habitable’ by a human project” (Guattari [1989] 2008: 35), whereas they acknowledge, too, that “adultery of the brain” (Woolf [1938] 2001: 191-2) is an actualization of the same praxis. What comes out of the diffractive reading of Woolf and Guattari, therefore, is an ecological epistemology which strives for incorporation (a “for-itself” says Guattari; an “androgyny” says Woolf), but this is a Bergsonian ‘virtual past’ which may actualize in externalizing manners that are harmful for “the destiny of humanity” (Guattari [1989] 2008: 44), of non-humanity and of the non-human in us. Given this entanglement of critique and creativity (cf. Rosi Braidotti), what exactly happens when reading is done conjunctively? How are conjunctive and, more importantly given their distinctively posthuman nature, diffractive readings ‘critical’? Do these methodologies have predecessors in the Humanities and if so, which ones?

Kiene Brillenburg Wurth, Utrecht University
Criticality and Creativity: Rethinking the Humanities in Education

Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas (1938) presents a critique of the structure of education as part of the public order. One of Woolf’s main concerns is the disentanglement of education and domination: when students enter the educational system, they threaten to be corrupted by the norms Woolf aligns with Fascism. As an alternative, she envisions an experimental education in a college founded on youth and poverty that enables women to earn their living and think critically. Such a critical education is for her a condition of possibility for an ethical self-forming activity. In the late 1960s, Marshall McLuhan proposed that our educational system was reactionary in so far as it was modeled on the 19th-century factory method, uniform sequential patterns, and classified information. Recently, experts like Sir Ken Robinson have likewise criticized mass education in the UK and US for its tendency to stifle creative thinking and self-formation, failing to meet the challenges of the present. In this paper, I show how the concept of critique is entangled with creativity. I argue that we will need to refocus on creativity in education to explore the ways in which critique can be adjusted to the 21st century.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Capital(s) of Critique I – morning (chair Kathrin Thiele)

Rosemarie Buikema, Utrecht University 
The feminist, pacifist and postcolonial capital of Virginia Woolf 

A Room of Ones Own and Three Guineas are two of Virginia Woolfs manifests which not only deeply influenced feminist thought but also had an impact on the genre of cultural critique as a discursive practice depending on form as much as on content. Focussing on the revolutionary rethorical strategies and analytical methodologies in the design of Woolfs dazzling arguments I will claim that Virginia Woolf can be read as a postcolonial semiotician avant la letter who while inserting fiction meticulously analyses affects produced by visual images and untold stories.

Doro Wiese, Utrecht University
The Semiotics of Subjectification in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead

In Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Almanac of the Dead, it is the set-up of characters that shows how forms of subjectification need to be scrutinized transversally as an interplay of economic, social, and subjective layers. Through story-telling, Silko thereby makes a semiotics of subjectification available as analyzed in Félix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies. In the latter essay, Guattari lays out how an Integrated World Capitalism (IWC) structures three inseparable, intertwined, and permanently interacting registers: the environment, social relations, and human subjectivity. In a similar vein, Silko shows how colonialism is a way of doing things, rather than an autonomous ideological realm that belongs to the past. Colonialism is a lived reality in which affected and affecting embodiment centrally perpetuates ongoing forms of economic, environmental and psychic exploitation. In my paper, I want to show how Silko’s set-up of character provides us with a notion of colonialism as an affective force. Furthermore, I explore how Silko’s almost flat characters are used to undermine the novel as form that transmits bourgois ambitions, social longings, and legitimations. I will demonstrate how Silko subverts the novel form, only to make room for indigenous epistemologies of being that criticize sharply the capitalist-colonialist conditions of our time.

Esther Peeren, University of Amsterdam
Critical Perspectives: Beyond the Capital

This paper considers the way in which both Woolf’s Three Guineas and Guattari’s The Three Ecologies emphasize the perspectival nature of critique – the way it inevitably unfolds from a particular embodied and situated position. Woolf uses a visual vocabulary and repeated references to the medium of photography to develop this point, building a convincing case for a multiplication of critical perspectives that, rather than merging together, should retain their difference. Asking who is looking and from where, and which perspectives are – or are not – recognized as critical (in both senses of the term) is particularly vital in our unevenly globalized world. What is equally crucial, however, is to take critique beyond the capital – as the head or center of power. At one level, this entails challenging the notion of critique as being capital, as being of the head (caput) – containing both the mind and the eyes – and associating it with other bodily senses and affects. Woolf and Guattari each move in this direction. However, at a different level, their texts remain capital critiques in that they emerge from centers of economic, political and educational power: Europe, London, Oxford, Cambridge. Through a close reading of Woolf’s and Guattari’s texts, this paper asks what a critique beyond the capital – in all its senses – would entail and how it might be cultivated.

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