Join us for an Inter Chicago Circle for Experimental Critical Theory (InterCcECT) workshop with Professor Arne De Boever. The reading is circulated in advance; request it here. Arne De Boever’s new work on art history’s contribution to the philosophy of sovereignty invigorates and severs the too easily assumed connections between Walter Benjamin and Susan Sontag that organize contemporary discourses of image politics. His article deals with the afterlife of Walter Benjamin’s comments on the state of exception—specifically, his distinction between the state of exception and what he calls a “real” state of exception that would dismantle the former—in Susan Sontag and Hito Steyerl’s theories of the image. It argues, first, that Sontag’s theory of the image, while conceived in Benjamin’s wake, insists on the reality of an outside-image that always risks to create new states of exception. While Steyerl, also working after Benjamin, goes a long way towards dismantling this risk, she too recreates it in her casting of the unreal people in spam images as those who will do the dirty work of imaging for us so that we, the real people, can withdraw from representation. This logic of substitution, which does not change what Steyerl in her work diagnoses as the “exceptional” conditions of contemporary imaging, does not succeed in bringing about the real state of exception that Benjamin called for. For this, the logic of substitution would need to be abandoned. Benjamin himself suggested this in his discussion of strike in his essay “Critique of Violence”. After the strike, Benjamin argues, it is us—i.e., not someone else—who go back to work. But the work has been “wholly transformed”.
Arne De Boever teaches American Studies in the School of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts, where he directs the MA Aesthetics & Politics program. He is the author of States of Exception in the Contemporary Novel (2012) and Narrative Care (2013). He edits Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy and the criticaltheory/philosophy section of the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is also an Advisory Editor for boundary 2.