Unlearning Dystopia

Beginning this Saturday (February 10th), Rit Premnath and I will be convening three new meetings in collaboration with Art in General on the topic of “unlearning dystopia.” The events are part of our ongoing series Learning and Unlearning, and will be led by three exciting artists/activists/thinkers over the next three months:

Saturday, February 10, 4–6pm
“Ecotopias” with Terike Haapoja

Saturday, March 17, 4–6pm
“Black Utopias” with Steffani Jemison

Saturday, April 14, 4–6pm
“Queer Utopias” with Zach Blas

More info available here. The space is accessible and the events are open to all.


Also opening this week at Hunter’s 205 Hudson Gallery is an exciting show of contemporary Latin American art, “Copy, Translate, Repeat.” Some years ago, I had the pleasure to help translate one of the works in the show: B., a wonderful video work about Walter Benjamin by Leticia Obeid.


Fall Update 2

My book, The Global Origins of the Modern Self, from Montaigne to Suzuki, is now under contract with SUNY Press. We’re hopeful for publication by late 2018/early 2019. (The book’s former title was Unbearable Identities.)

A treatment for a screenplay I wrote about community organizing in the wake of 1960s race riots was also purchased by a small production company, and I am beginning work on the full screenplay.

The film comes out of my ongoing interest in the arts and organizing, about which I have just published an essay in ASAP/J, available here.

My essay on the history of alliances in anti-violent struggle has been translated into Farsi, and a Swedish translation is being prepared.

This Saturday Rit Premnath and I will launch our second series of Shifter discussions. Building on our work with The Dictionary of the Possible, we are now beginning a new series on “Learning and Unlearning.” The first selection of events will be on “Unlearning Work” at Art in General as part of an exhibition by Danilo Correale.

Research Service has been invited to give presentations at Bard Graduate Center in January and CAA in February. More information on that soon.

And, finally, a project I am doing with Anthea Behm about gentrification has been selected by 14×48 for a public billboard project in spring 2018.

Histories of Alliance

There is a long history of activists committed to nonviolent principles trying to find common cause with those on the same side of their struggle who choose violent means. I published an academic essay about this last year, and have written a more popular version in light of Charlottesville for Truthout. This new version lacks some of the subtlety and complexity of the original (and I’d prefer a different title), but the point remains the same: those of us who oppose all forms of violence (by individuals, or the state, or corporations, and in forms personal or systemic or environmental) have to be able to hold alliances with people who engage in violent acts who share our ultimate aims of ending the ongoing violence of racism, fascism, environmental destruction, and other forms of oppression. We can oppose violence without opposing each other, this long history teaches us. These two pieces explore the tradition of this position from William Lloyd Garrison to Gandhi to Du Bois to MLK to clergy today.

Fall Update

A few projects have come out over the summer, and some new ones are on the horizon. My essay on Meleko Mokgosi (originally published in ARTMargins) has been reprinted as the catalog essay for his show at the Williams College Museum of Art. I also published an essay on contemporary photography and the politics of art criticism in Temporary Art Review, as well as a short review of the work of Alexandre da Cunha in Flash Art. Finally, I was a participant in a forum on Michael Allan’s In the Shadow of World Literature on the Social Science Research Council’s Immanent Frame blog with the contribution, “The Contested Worlds of World Literature.”

On the horizon: my essay “Performing Conjectural History (Of Hegel and Others)” will be included in Intersubjectivity Volume 2, edited by Lou Cantor and Katherine Rochester, available from Sternberg Press in early 2018. A few short essays, one on political organization and art criticism and another on the history of non-violence, will be out soon and linked here. Research Service, my academic-artist hybrid group with Danny Snelson and Mashinka Firunts, is returning for a panel at CAA in February, organized by Carmen Winant. Mashinka and I are also organizing a panel about criticism and politics for ACLA in March. Abstracts are due by September 21 — interested participants can find out more here. Last but not least, my manuscript of Unbearable Identities is advancing through the review process, and I hope to have an update on that soon as well.

In the meantime, I have returned from my research period in Brazil and taken up my position as Lecturer in the Writing Program at Princeton University. My theme for this year’s seminars is “American Intellectuals.”

New Writings

A few new essays are now available: one on the politics of Buddhist philosophy in the work of Joseph Conrad (here); a review-essay of the complex paintings of Meleko Mokgosi (here); and my brief reflection on the need to move past content and think about “Performative Scholarship” (here).

Carlos Motta at PAMM

My review of Carlos Motta’s show at PAMM (Miami) has just been posted online at the Miami Rail. You can read the full article here. And here is an excerpt: In Carlos Motta’s video Deseos/ تابغر  (co-written with Maya Mikdashi), a slow pan of the camera moves up the side of a moldy and abandoned hamam in Beirut. The film is narrated through fictional letters exchanged by Nour, in Beirut, and Martina, in Colombia, and is based on nineteenth-century archives. As Nour describes to Martina her passionate love for Aisha, and her fear of Aisha being taken away from her by patriarchal demands, the camera moves from the decaying wall to a kaleidoscopic series of skylights. While Nour’s story moves from passion to fear, the camera appears to work at cross-purposes, moving from decay to beauty. Motta’s skill in moments like these is placing our positions and values in turmoil. The mold on the wall (distinctly vaginal in shape) is not only decay here, but also representative of the space where we are left alone to grow and develop our own logic. The skylight not only depicts beauty, but also the way in which claims to beauty and harmony can deny what Edouard Glissant called “the right to opacity.”

Global Buddhism Project Update

My essay, “Buddhism between Worlds: Contested Liberations in Kipling, Salinger, and Head” has just been accepted for publication in Religion and Literature. This essay is part of my new book project, Fragments and Ruins: Buddhism in the World. The book traces how modern writers, artists, and thinkers around the world have engaged with Buddhism over the past century. It argues that while Buddhism remains a vague, utopian idea for many critics, the complexities of its worldly history have been central to the literary and artistic imaginations of modernity. Further, it suggests that Buddhism’s varied history should guide us to think more deeply about the relationship between theoretical advancements and the difficulty of their potential institutionalization. One essay (on Severo Sarduy) from this project is available on my publications page. Two more are forthcoming, including a brief theoretical reflection on the project in Politics/Letters. I also gave a presentation about my research into contemporary artists who work with fragmented sculptures of the Buddha while at the Fountainhead Residency in Miami. this past month.

Dictionary of the Possible Launches

The Dictionary of the Possible, the culmination of a two-year project I co-organized with Rit Premnath, has just launched at the New York Arts Fair Book Fair at PS1 MoMA. A second launch is current being planned at Regards Gallery, Chicago for November. You can read more about the Dictionary on our website, and on my “Practice” page. And here is the list of wonderful contributors, who made the project possible! — Abhishek Hazra, Adam Spanos, Alison O’Daniel, Allan deSouza, Amanda Parmer, Andrea Geyer, Andrew Weiner, Yannik Thiem, Arlen Austin, Atul Bhalla, Billy Galperin, Brendan Fernandes, Brian Block, Cassandra Guan, Chelsea Knight, Chitra Ganesh, Colin Jager, Colleen Macklin, Danilo Correale, Devin Kenny, Dominic Pettman, Dwayne Dixon, Francesca Coppola, Edward Schexnayder, Eric Angles, Gabriel Rockhill, Géraldine Gourbe, Henry Turner, Hong-An Truong, Jane Jin Kaisen, Jaret Vadera, Kajsa Dahlberg, Kanishka Raja, Keith Tilford, Lana Lin, Lauren Denitzio, Leah DeVun, Lindsay Benedict, Liz Park, Margarita Sánchez, Mari Cruz Alarcón, Matthew Metzger, Mériam Korichi, Mimi Winick, Mira Schor, Molly Dilworth, Mylo Mendez, Naeem Mohaiemen, Nick Keys, Oliver Kellhammer, Philipp Kleinmichel, Pushpamala N, Railbird, Raphael Zollinger, Raqs Media Collective, Rebecca Alpert, Research Service, Rey Chow, Roger White, Shadi Harouni, Siddhartha Lokanandi, Steffani Jemison, Sudha Premnath, Tara Kelton, Terike Haapoja, Thom Donovan, Tyler Coburn, Veronika Zink, Will Lee, Yamini Nayar, and Zac Gunter

New Work in Art Criticism

A short essay I wrote on the work of Shadi Harouni and a critique of some recent writing about abstraction is now online at On Verge. Other reflections on contemporary art criticism occasioned by responses to the Berlin Biennale is now up on Temporary Art Review. I am also preparing a brief essay on ideas of reality in contemporary photography that should be out by the end of Summer, as well as a short review of excellent new works by Carlos Motta. I was recently on a Danish Arts Council grant for research in Northern European art, especially around long histories of globalization, and am also excited to announce I’ll be a writer in residence at Fountainhead, Miami, for October.

New Publications

Two new essays are now available on my publications page: an essay on the concept of a global conscience in the work of Henry David Thoreau, and a discussion of the role of Buddhism in Severo Sarduy’s novel Cobra. Both essays continue my interest in understanding how global influences are handled and understood by modern writers. The Thoreau essay is particularly significant for me as it also gives a teaser for the extension and critique of Michel Foucault’s late work that I discuss at length in my book manuscript, Unbearable Identities.