I am currently completing two monograph books, each a collection of essays.
Queer Finitude: Essays on Intimacy, Anonymity and the Unbecoming Community
Queer Finitude is a set of philosophical essays that presents a new thinking of intimacy in terms of anonymity and solitude, and the shared finitude with what of bodies, things, and scenes, remain infinitely unfinished and unconsummated. Exploring the erotic and aesthesis as two principal rapports with these edges (not ends), the book advances a conception of the ethical as inevitably impoverished unless it can account for and affirm what I theorize as an erotic sense of the common.
Queer Finitude is the third book in a trilogy on the “intimacy of the outside,” with a focus on the faculties of withdrawal and departure, following the previously published volumes, and their respective focus on the ethics, aesthetics, and erotics of attraction (The Logic of the Lure); and the ethics, aesthetics, and erotics of encounter (The Decision Between Us). Across the series, impersonal intimacy is theorized as always exposed to an in-appropriable Outside, and the Outside is in turn defined as the force and spacing of an originary intrusion, one that inaugurates (opens) the shared-separation and shared-finitude that—it is argued—is the condition of existence as always in-common.
Equally tied to the singular temporality of the moment, the surprise, the unexpected encounter, or the sudden departure, there is a choreography to the intimacy of the outside. It is an interplay of singularity and surprise that was vividly illustrated by David Salle in his description of the familiar and “uncanny sensation of being on a train and seeing, through the window, another train on a parallel track [attraction]; their windows intermittently align as the trains pass each other at different speeds, affording one a fleeting view directly into the other car [encounter], another parallel life, before, in the next instant, it disappears forever [departure].”
An erotic aesthesis or sense of the common joins an aesthetics of mere appearance (“looking away,” Rei Terada) with the passing, withdrawing, and departing that is the spacing of the ethical (“going away”). It pertains to a body’s minor quotidian movements, irregular rhythms, and elementary gestures: stepping, sleeping, drooling—in other words, to a body’s ethos (customs, habits, manners, uses) and its solitude (its singularity). Following Giorgio Agamben’s own thinking on intimacy, it is because this elementary ethos and this in-appropriable solitude are common, yet remain ungovernable, that I argue the re-envisioning of the political as well as a sense of justice begins here, as the erotic aesthesis of the common. “Gerund Theory” is the name that I give to this thinking of queer ethical-aesthetic existence as the “pure means” of finitude—the in-finishing of co-existence.
Thus, through this conception of intimacy, the ethical and the political are re-defined as partaking in the non-volitional movement of other bodies and things, and their exposure to what of existence is entirely other and in-appropriable (the Outside) yet remains equally and immediately proximate at any given moment. Such a queer sense of the common consists of the ecstatic disappearing and unbecoming of singularities—always more than one—in the overflowing fulfillment and sharing of their finitude. It is this that calls for us to think less in terms of the under commons (Moten and Harney) than of edgings of the common.
Extinction Aesthetics: Essays on The Collective Afterlife of Things
Extinction Aesthetics brings together an aesthetics of the unfinished and an ethics of collective care and use to address the issue of extinction and the lack of confidence in the long-term future of humanity. My project is driven by convictions that the art of living is the art of leaving; that at this historical juncture humanity needs to learn—collectively—how to exit collectively; and that a fundamental rethinking of art and aesthetics can provide one of the most potent means of doing so. I do this by arguing that there is an important yet largely overlooked aesthetic dimension to the force of extinction, and by looking at works of art that use this force as a medium, such that it can be said that they have “extinction built into them.” In these ways, my book ventures far beyond the representational logics of eco-aesthetics and environmental art and their belief that if only we had better images of the extinctions brought about my climate change and global heating, megafires and ocean degradation, then humanity would be able, finally, to do something effective to slow down if not arrest the damage. Eschewing both a nihilist/apocalyptic perspective, and a techno-capitalist optimism, my project asks not how to give in to, or to solve climate change, but how to live now, in the time of extinction. Which also means how to give up on two dominant fantasies or myths: of limitless extraction, growth, and expansion (the life-instinct), and of a final cataclysmic event-horizon (the death-instinct)—both of which are a matter of losing sight of our limitations, driven by a tragically heroic desire for completion. Instead, my project asks how to contend with the unfinished, the unlivable, the unsustainable, and irreparable, not in the form of resignation or mitigation, but by recognizing these conditions as defining the ecological and thereby enabling a radical re-thinking of aesthetics, ethics, and politics vis-à-vis the ecological. In this respect my project takes a speculative yet decidedly realist approach to the future of human life on the planet, and along with Jonathan Franzen, asks, “what if we stopped pretending?”
Extinction Aesthetics is about those forms of art not tied to life, its future, and the striving for immortality, but instead is interested in the collective experience of living the future of extinction, now, in the present. In its presentation of extinction as something experienced or lived and hence not even as a thought-experiment, extinction aesthetics enables acknowledging, and coming to experience and understand, the fundamental finitude of existence and all things in the world—human and inhuman, organic, and inorganic. Extinction aesthetics makes vivid the risks to earthly existence and involves collective participation in the ongoing sustaining of things in relation to their possible and always uncertain futures. It thereby enables us to imagine the risk to the long-term future of humanity and other species and things, and the role that we might play in advancing that risk or redressing it—yet in the latter case, precisely by living the risk of existence. This is what I refer to as “the collective afterlife of things” and the first and longest chapter of the book is dedicated to a thorough elaboration of this thesis. In doing so, I look at works such as Katie Paterson’s Future Library Project; Lucienne Rickard’s giant erased drawings of extinct species; The People’s Archive of Melting and Sinking; artist Emmett Gowin’s photographic catalogue of the moths of Central and South America; and artist Xavi Bou’s ornitographies (his photographic tracings of the invisible flight of the birds), amongst other artists, poets, and writers.