Lectures & Events

In a curious statement several years ago, Giorgio Agamben claimed that “the fundamental ontological-political problem today is not work but inoperativity [inoperosità].” Yet, even if he goes on to unfold “the poetics and politics of inoperativity” in terms of potential and use, the meaning of this term remains elusive. It would seem to translate Maurice Blanchot’s formulations in his literary criticism and fiction of “désœuvrement,” designating at once “worklessness” and “unworking,” as later reelaborated by Jean-Luc Nancy, among others. But it also resonates with a sequence of motifs turning around the problem of nonwork more generally, such as leisure, expenditure, play, erotics, fugitivity, inertia, revolution, sabbath, failure, etc. We could venture that the diffuse semantic field of inoperativity suggests on the one hand varied modes of refusing, undoing, or deactivating given operations and structures. And, on the other hand, it implies another way of doing or being in common—that is, other ways of coexisting or living in the world—no longer captured by the powers of appropriation, re-production, and rational instrumentality otherwise presiding over the work of modern humanity. For this seminar, we invite papers that think through arts, literatures, or theories of inoperativity across the disciplines, with a particular emphasis on its ethical and political stakes.

Fun With Agamben! – The New Inquiry

Michael Krimper and I are organizing this seminar (panel) for the next American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) conference, which will take place online from 8-11 April, 2021, with Montreal being the host city.

Abstracts are due by October 31st.

Submission instructions are available here:

On Friday, August 7th, 2020 at 2PM (EDT) via Instagram Livestream, I’ll be in conversation with Adam Barbu, for a discussion of “queer solitude and non-reparative curating.”

Lucas Michael, Audiences Fortunas Iuvat, sculpture, 2011

We’ll return to Barbu’s recent exhibition Empty History (Vtape, 2019), now in the context of the COVID pandemic, and the current and ongoing degradation and dispossession of so many lives. Juxtaposing two theorists: Eve Sedgwick on “paranoid and reparative” reading, and Gilles Deleuze on “living in a world without others,” we’ll discuss an ethics and aesthetics of queer solitude as non-paranoid and non-reparative modes of being in the world. You can join the livestream here:

Instagram: @vtapevideoart

From the Vtape press release:

Late in 2019, Vtape presented the exhibition Empty History curated by Adam Barbu. This exhibition questioned histories of queer singularity and progress and was an elegant exploration of what he referred to as the “everyday”.

This conversation is a chance to revisit that exhibition and consider it in relation to the unprecedented conditions that surround us all. There is a short video currently available on the Vtape website that is a walk-through of the exhibition when it was installed in November-December 2019 in the Bachir/Yerex Presentation Space at Vtape.

Works in the exhibition
DEIRDRE LOGUEHome Office, video, 2017, 03:33
LUCAS MICHAELFixed Kilometer, video, 2018, 46:35
LUCAS MICHAEL – Audiences Fortunas Iuvat, sculpture, 2011
PAUL WONG – Perfect Day, video, 2007, 7:30

Adam Barbu is an independent writer and curator based in Ottawa. He holds an MA in Art History from the University of Toronto. In 2015, he was the recipient of the Middlebrook Prize for Young Canadian Curators. Some of his past exhibitions include The queer feeling of tomorrow, Art Gallery of Guelph (2015-2016), A minimal doubt, Videofag, Toronto (2015), and The Circle Won’t Be Broken, Visual AIDS, New York City (2015). He has contributed to publications such as Canadian Art, Esse, Espace art actuel, Momius, and the Journal of Curatorial Studies.

Thanks to Christine Shaw for the screen capture!

I am one of 1,000 people who have been invited by Andrea Rosen Gallery and David Zwirner to manifest Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work, “Untitled” (Fortune Cookie Corner), 1990. I will serve as one “place” as part of one total “site” (the world) of an expansive exhibition, curated by Andrea Rosen, that will run from May 25 – July 5, 2020.


cookie1 tiny


My “place” is designated as: John Paul Ricco, Toronto, Canada. The manifestation of the work, in the form of an installation of a pile of individually-wrapped fortune cookies (original number: 1,000), will take place in the lobby of my condo building.

I decided to locate the work in the building’s lobby, in order for residents and their guests to have the opportunity to live with the work, and to be able to take pieces from the work—as stipulated in the core tenets that guide the work. While respecting social-distancing protocols that are still in place here in Toronto, the installation finds a built-in audience in the building’s residents and guests, who make up the day-to-day traffic, as they enter and exit, check their mailboxes, retrieve deliveries, and speak with the concierge.

Take-out delivery food orders arrive at the building on a daily basis, and as many of these meals are coming from local Chinese restaurants, the placement of the pile of fortune cookies in the lobby accrues particular meaning, structured around issues of public and private space, the paid-for commodity and the gift, uncertainty and future fate or fortune, eating in isolation and communal partaking in individual treats.

For a copy of the press release from Andrea Rosen Gallery and David Zwirner, which also includes a copy of the invitation to participants, including core tenets of the work, guidelines for its manifestation, and questions to consider, go to:



I will be adding documentation of the presentation, to this blog post, over the next six weeks. Please check back!

Ricco COVID poster

Join the Centre for Ethics for The Ethics of COVID, an interdisciplinary series of online events featuring short video takes on the ethical dimensions of the COVID crisis.

Isolation, Loneliness, Solitude:

The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Brought Us Too Close Together

In this brief talk I discuss how distance is the spacing of the ethical, isolation is the evacuation of that space, loneliness is the deprivation of the self, and solitude is what we need to reclaim as the only means by which an ethical sense of the common might take place. Drawing upon the work of Arendt, Agamben, Blanchot, and Foucault, I proceed to explicate how it is that the COVID-19 pandemic has actually brought us too close together.

This is an online event. It will be live streamed on the Centre for Ethics YouTube Channel at 3pm, Friday, May 29. Channel subscribers will receive a notification at the start of the live stream.

For registration:




Drawing from Giorgio Agamben’s identification of impotentiality as the most proper power of the human, in this short presentation I argue that in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, resistance to the political-economic logic of neoliberalism and to the bio-political effects of bare life, lies in our potential to not-do and not-be. That is, to live in ways that affirm the in-appropriable singularity of our existence, and a commonality shared by each of us, to be some-one other than simply a productive subject.

I want to express my thanks to Jérôme Lèbre for providing me with the opportunity to participate in his project.

In conjunction with her recent interview with me for her podcast “View to the U,” Carla DeMarco has also published a short profile article, “Art in the time of COVID-19: finding ways to render the invisible visible.” 

Here’s a short excerpt:

There has been an abundance of art and creativity bursting onto screens and into living spaces through platforms like Zoom, livestreams and over social media in the last few weeks of lockdown, but Professor John Paul Ricco is not surprised because he has borne witness to past social upheavals and health crises that have inspired artists.
“I do think this speaks generally to the value of art in all of its various forms, and that it is probably our principle and most developed way of being attuned to the world,” says Ricco.

You can read the rest via the link above.

View to the U: An eye on UTM research · John Paul Ricco

I was recently interviewed by Carla DeMarco for “View to the U,” the podcast that she produces and hosts out of the Research Office at UTM. In our conversation, framed in terms of “the value of art in times of social upheaval,” we talked about my research, and “how past health crises have shaped art movements” and artistic practice. As Carla goes on to describe: “We also talk[ed] about some of the ways in which this current pandemic may influence artists now and in creations to come, and what kinds of things [I have been] doing in this time of solitude.”

If you are curious about social distancing as an aesthetic proposition, or how walking in the city today has taken on a whole new choreographic quality, have a listen.

Here is a link to The New Yorker article that I mention toward the end of the interview:

A New Doctor Faces the Coronavirus in Queens

On Tuesday evening last week (Feb 11th), I landed in Cape Town, there to give two talks at the University of the Western Cape’s Centre for Humanities Research. In the lead-up to my talk (see previous post), scheduled for Thursday morning (just 36 hours after having arrived), I anticipated needing to say something—as part of my opening remarks—about the affects that jet lag might have on my state of mind, given that my body would be reminding me that the 11AM start time for the lecture actually felt more like 4AM Toronto time (and I’ve never given a public talk at 4AM before). What I could not have expected is that such remarks would end up including an even more substantial caveat by way of anecdote about a lighthouse. But nonetheless that’s what happened, thanks to a thick fog that descended on the coast of Cape Town Wednesday night—the eve of my talk Thursday morning.

I was staying at a tiny hotel at Mouille Point, in the south-eastern Green Point neighbourhood, in a hotel room overlooking the beach and the Atlantic. Almost directly across the street from the hotel is the Green Point Lighthouse, candy cane-striped and—as I was soon to discover—still very much a working lighthouse.


Around 1AM, as I was still struggling to fall asleep, my body and mind still very much attuned to the time zone that I had left behind two evenings ago, I heard a loud, mechanical moaning sound. The sound returned and was repeated every 30 seconds, and while at first I was not sure what it was, or where exactly it was coming from, not before long I realized—having gotten out of bed to look out the large sliding glass doors of my room—that it was the lighthouse’s foghorn.

Already worried that I would not be able to get the sleep needed in order to be bright and alert for my talk at the university the following morning, it was now certain that unless I took whatever measures I could to dampen, or better yet, to block this awful repetitive noise, there was little-to-no-hope of getting any rest whatsoever. So I dug out my ear plugs, only to discover that they were barely effective. At which point I thought: I’ll put on my noise cancelling headphones, and wear them OVER the earplugs. Still, no relief from the horrible, insistent moan of the horn.

At that point I was pretty much at my wits end. More than an hour having passed without any relief and feeling even more awake and annoyed. Texting my partner back in Toronto, he suggested that I try to create some sort of white noise. I dutifully downloaded an app on my phone, only to discover that it was subscription-based. Since I had no intention of needing to make this a regular part of my sleeping regime, I decided not to sign-up. What next? What were my (seemingly last) remaining options?

I remembered that I had an album of “Long Ambients. Calm. Sleep,” on my phone. Four hours in length, it was a series of 11 tracks that, for some reason, I had never bothered to listen to. Now was my chance. The tricky thing was to adjust the volume such that the music blocked the noise of the foghorn, yet was not too loud as to prevent me from dozing off. That took a bit of time to modulate, but at some point I figured I had gotten it right.

A few hours passed, and yet while much more drowsy and relaxed, it was clear that I was still not asleep. At that point I started to think about lighthouses and the purposes of foghorns. The way in which the latter were needed to send out alert signals and warnings from the coast; to ships out at sea that would not be able to see the shoreline and its rocky, shallow and hence treacherous waters in such thick fog. This lead me to think about shipping, and sounds that take the place of visibilities, and of hearing things in the absence of being able to see them. Curiously, this was one of the motifs of the talk that I was to give the following morning: on the auditory sonorous sound of the invisible flight of animals. As my reluctantly awake mind turned and churned under headphones, earplugs and ambient music, it started to make further connections between these things, such that the image of the great white whale of Melville’s epic tale came to mind: that enigmatic creature that largely eludes the seeing of Captain Ahab, but that might be understood to be heard in the fog of night, sending its own signal of warning, like the lighthouse and its own whale-like moan.

The lighthouse’s foghorn calls out to the ships, neither able to see the other, and yet still in a sort of resonance, one with the other. Since my paper is also about calling, including in the form of naming, but also in the sense of vocation, my mind inevitably returned to the Melville novel and its famous opening lines: “Call me Ishmael.” Melville here is re-writing the opening of the Gospel of John (“In the beginning was the Word”), now making clear that in the beginning the word was also the name, and specifically the latter’s exigency or demand: “call me…”

It might then come as less of a surprise if I tell you—thoroughly amused as I was by this further remarkable coincidence—that the set of ambient tracks I was listening to were put together by Moby, the pop musician and DJ, whose nickname was inspired by him being the great-great-great nephew of Herman Melville.


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