Monday, July 6, 2009

Welcome to JWTC 2009

In July 2008, the highest point in Johannesburg became the site for an extraordinary conversation. In preparation, Johannesburg-based students and scholars spent the early months of last year in a reading group called ‘Future Tense.’ And then from across the world, scholar-friends journeyed here into conversation.

The question that called us together was ‘how do we think the future from here?’ Here in South Africa and in the South. Now: in the ebb of the violence of Xenophobia; now: in the shadow of the wall against Palestine. It was a conversation that was not a conference. Barely recorded, sometime barely contained, we used Bloch to launch ourselves.

Here are some fragments of my recollections. We talked through time, and the ways in which a possible future might relate to the present when we are increasingly sure that revolution is not possible. We asked ourselves how to be political actors when we know that we are not fully the architects of our intentions, where we cannot foresee their results.

We asked ourselves – do we, do others, want to be elsewhere? What would happen if, instead, we were to stay here, together; if we were to recognize the horizon of earth and its resources? Instead of trying to create a new possible future (singular - utopia), is it not possible to create heterotopias, multiple possible futures and hopes layered in the same space and place?

We spoke about the multiplicities of time and space. We explored places occupied by multiple times in regimes of ghosts and haunting and ancestry, and spaces that are nothing but displacement. We examined those spaces, replicated across the globe, on which privileged imaginaries of elsewhere are built - the Tuscan Villa, the Casino, the theme park accommodations. We rushed in speculation on the future; attentive to the ways in which the future had already been gambled already in the bubble economy that has since burst into recession.

And we spoke about the relationship between violence and love: What is to be done with the turn towards ethics in political philosophy, and the productions that Levinas’ work has provoked in a new wave of scholarship. What do we love? What kinds of violence does it entail?

Perhaps the most exciting part was the dialogue between philosophy and anthropology. In the meeting of these forms of attention; bodies and economies of the South were made manifest.

There are many questions left. What would now constitute a radical politics, and how would it be different from a politics of expediency? What forms of politics are emerging? What is the role of social theory in this politics, and how can it relate to politics of piety, social movements, and of greening. Speaking now, in the midst of an economic crisis, an environmental crisis, a change of American presidency – we must ask these questions again.

The citizenship of friends is its own politics, giving birth to other possible futures. Our conversation just one year ago has given rise to the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism. It will bring friend-scholars to Johannesburg again. We are called forth by the next question: how do we think the political under Late Capitalism from here in the South?

We look forward to welcoming you here in person or online.

Annie Leatt