My article on Jacques Rancière and the Death of the Author out in Philosophy and Literature

I am delighted to be able to report that my article “Rewriting the Death of the Author: Rancièrian Reflections” is finally available in Philosophy and Literature.

Abstract: For decades now, critics of the “death of the author” thesis have worked themselves up about a paradox that supposedly undermines Barthes’s and Foucault’s treatment of the theme: these French theorists cannot banish the authorial voice from their own writing. Taking a lead from Jacques Rancière, this article tells a different story of the death of the author, one that makes better sense of this supposed case of double standards and that uses Nietzsche’s ideas on authorship to show that Barthes and Foucault are doing something much more powerful and interesting than simply contradicting themselves.

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Update on current books: _The Human Remains_ and _Humanity After God_

Photograph: Durham University/PA

Photograph: Durham University/PA

Since giving a brief sketch of my current research project in January 2014, the focus of The Human Remains has tightened and developed. I have moved the material on the imago dei motif out of this book and into a new project in which I want to look at eikon and mimesis, image and imitation, as twin figures of the human in the Western tradition, teasing out the theological implications of both, as well as their relation to each other. The project will draw heavily on Quentin Meillassoux and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, inter alia. The tentative title of this book is Humanity After God.

That leaves The Human Remains with a more focused argument about the complexities of situating the human, along with its attendant notions of dignity and equality, in the landscape of contemporary French thought. THR will have chapters on Jean-Pierre Changeux, Catherine Malabou, Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, Jean-Luc Nancy, Paul Ricoeur and Michel Serres.

Ex uno plures!

Current Research: The Human Remains

Leonardo skullI am currently working on a book provisionally entitled The Human Remains: French Philosophy in the Image of God. The first part of the book looks at the ways in which the imago dei motif is explicitly taken up in contemporary French thought. The second, longer part takes debates from the philosophical reception of the imago dei motif and uses them to provide a fresh comparative reading of contemporary French philosophical anthropology in its humanist, post-humanist, neuroscientific and ecological guises. Chapters discuss Catherine Malabou, Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Pierre Changeux, Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jean-Luc Marion and Michel Serres. The book’s thesis is that the human persists in contemporary thought, however radically altered its trace might be from traditional philosophical understandings. In order to argue that point it shows how reading contemporary thought through the lens of the imago dei motif helps us see how very different accounts of the human can be made to talk to and critique one another.

Thinking Equality Today: Badiou, Rancière, Nancy

French Studies

My article ‘Thinking Equality Today: Badiou, Rancière, Nancy’ has just been published in French Studies. You can click through to a PDF version from this page.

The article is part of the project on humanism and anti-humanism I am working on at the moment. I argue that Badiou and Rancière both end up, despite themselves, with problematic understandings of equality because they both hitch their understanding of the human being to the wagon of a particular determinate capacity. Nancy, on the other hand, in seeking to decouple the human from any determinate capacity or capacities, has to address a different set of problems in relation to equality. In the article I conclude with a preference for Nancy’s set of problems, but the wider question raised by the article’s analysis, and that I deal with in the broader project, is whether it is possible to understand the human neither as hostage to determinate capacities nor as detached from capacities altogether, and so avoid both sets of problems laid out in this French Studies article. I think you can, but I don’t think that Badiou, Rancière or Nancy give us the tools to do it.

Abstract: Recent work on Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière has rightly identified equality both as a central theme in their own thinking and as the key notion in contemporary radical political thought more broadly, but a focus on the differences between their respective accounts of equality has failed to clarify a major problem that they share. The problem is that human equality is said to rest on a particular human capacity, leaving Badiou’s axiomatic equality and Rancière’s assumed equality vulnerable to the charge of having a blind spot for some of society’s most vulnerable. This article introduces an alternative understanding of equality drawn from the thought of Jean-Luc Nancy, an equality that does not rely on a human capacity to guarantee or verify it but rests on Nancy’s notion of sense. The article explores the advantages of Nancy’s account of equality in relation to sense over and against an alternative reading that focuses on Nancy’s evocation of the suffering human body, before addressing, in conclusion, the problems with which Nancy’s idea of equality will have to grapple, and why, despite these problems, it is still preferable to the Badiouian and Rancièrian approaches.

Rewriting the Death of the Author with Jacques Rancière

BarthesI was pleased to hear this week that a piece I’ve written on the death of the author has been accepted by Philosophy and Literature. The article is entitled ‘Rewriting the Death of the Author: Rancièrian Reflections’ and it re-thinks the death of the author in the light of Jacques Rancière’s little essay ‘Auteur mort ou artiste trop vivant?’: ‘The death of the author or the life of the artist?’ in Chronicles of Consensual Times (London: Continuum, 2010) pp. 101-105. This reading of the death of the author will eventually provide part of the groundwork for the project on humanisms (including post- and anti-humanism) in contemporary French thought.

Here is the abstract:

For decades critics of the death of the author have worked themselves up about a paradox which supposedly undermines Barthes’ and Foucault’s work on the theme: these theorists cannot banish the authorial voice from their own writing. Taking a lead from Jacques Rancière this article tells a different story of the death of the author, one that makes better sense of this supposed case of double standards, refutes the paradox thesis and uses Nietzsche’s ideas on authorship to show that Barthes and Foucault are doing something much more powerful and interesting than simply contradicting themselves.