Evening School Sem 1 2023

Five 12-week courses taught online March-June

The Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy is proud to present the Evening School Sem 1 2023 curriculum.  All courses are 24 hours in length.  All courses will be taught via Zoom. As always significant discounts apply for those enrolling in multiple courses. If you have any questions which aren't in our FAQs please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

When: 6 March - 9 June

Where: ONLINE. All courses will be taught via Zoom.  Video recordings will also be available within a few days after each seminar for those who can't make the schedule.  Readings are made available online before the school begins.  Links to the Zoom classroom are sent out with the registration email. All payment must be made via credit card during enrolment.  Also it's worth noting that Melbourne (AEST) is 10 hours ahead of UTC (5pm here is 7am in Berlin and 10pm in LA).

Fees (AUD):

Courses Waged Unwaged
1 $265 $180
2 $330 $220
3+ $370 $260


Evening School Program

2 hours per week for 12 weeks

Mon 6:30-8:30pm
Starts 6 Mar
Land and Death: Responses to Colonial Violence - Withdrawn
Lecturer: Valery Arrows
Tue 6:30-8:30pm
Starts 7 Mar
Visions of the Virtual: Deleuze, Wittgenstein, Whitehead
Lecturer: David Rathbone
Wed 6:30-8:30pm
Starts 8 Mar
We were dead before the ship even sank: reflections from undead life - Withdrawn
Lecturer: Lachlan Ross
Thu 6:30-8:30pm
Starts 9 Mar
The phenomenology of elementary form: Plato’s theory of knowledge and his method of dialectic - Withdrawn
Lecturer: Bernie Lewin
Fri 6:30-8:30pm
Starts 10 Mar
Technics And Time 4: Bernard Stiegler’s Unpublished Manuscript
Lecturer: Dan Ross


Course Descriptions

Land and Death: Responses to Colonial Violence - Withdrawn

Lecturer: Valery Arrows

Starts: Mon 6:30-8:30pm 6 Mar

Full Schedule: Mar 6, 13, 20, 27, Apr 3, Break, 17, 24, May 1, 8, 15, 22, 29

Location: Taught via Zoom online.

Our course sets off with an overview of modern and contemporary philosophers who critically engaged with colonialism as it transpired. As it happens, a number of key Western thinkers, in their conquests of knowledge, justice and influence, investigated a cluster of reasons that can be deployed as motives to subjugate whole peoples and cultures. Some philosophers would seek a spellbinding way out of contradictions, others would in the end defend colonial praxis under certain conditions, a few would outright condemn it. To be fair to this conundrum, the first cycle of classes begins at the outset of modern colonialism and capitalism, coinciding with the reign of European Renaissance:

1.1 From Aristotle to Sepúlveda and de Vitoria: a Colonial Renaissance

Colonialism in antiquity merits a full-length study, but it’s crucial to locate its clear-cut defence in Aristotle’s Politics (4BC). Further, following Christopher Columbus making landfall in the Bahamas in 1492, a Spanish humanist-misogynist Juan de Sepúlveda baptised and armed Aristotle’s “natural” argument, thereby conjuring up a modern philosophical apology of the empires’ ongoing quests for new lands and bodies in the Americas (A Second Democrates, 1547). From then onwards, colossal riches extracted from slave labour and land exploitation have powered rivalrous European economies, industries, and cultures. We’ll also pay homage to the founder of the School of Salamanca, and one of the early proponents of a consequentialist just war theory, Francisco de Vitoria, who wrote and taught about avoidable colonial cruelties. We’ll read his ‘On the evangelisation of unbelievers’, and conclude by focusing on the parallels and distinctions between colonialism and imperialism.

1.2 Montaigne on Cannibals and Breeches

Fortunately for us, one can always find a daring sceptical philosopher who can share their wisdom lasting over epochs and cultures. In the late Renaissance, one such sceptic is Michel de Montaigne, alone in his library-tower, musing about hollow social manners and the grassroots of barbarism (Essays, 1570-1592).

2.1 Commerce, and Cosmopolitanism: Locke and Kant

First, this week we’ll learn about the British colonisation of the Carribeans throughout the 17th century along a defence of colonial expansion professed by Sir John Locke in Two Treatises of Government (1689). We’ll then juxtapose Locke’s account with late Imannuel Kant, in his Toward a Perpetual Peace (1795), a scandalous text, where the German author suddenly appeared as a proponent of anti-colonialism, which is hard to reconcile with an advocate for racial and civilizational hierarchies evident in other works, e.g. Anthropology (1798).

2.2 Diderot on Common and Communal Senses

In the second half of this class, we’ll have an intimate look at Denis Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage published posthumously in 1796. The text was written just before the establishment of the American Declaration of Independence, which initially denied political rights to women, black people indiscriminately and white males with no property (the poor). Throughout this text, Diderot builds up a reputation as the most radical modern opponent of European colonisation and forced enlightenments. A creative ethnohistoric work, Diderot’s Voyage juxtaposes colonial tropes with those of native Tahitians. Serendipitously, fuelled by the French Revolution, the enslaved Tahitians rose up against a number of colonial regimes and armies, against the stigma of inferiority, and gained independence in a series of brutal events (1791-1804). The latter to date informs abolitionist and anti/decolonial movements, not least because the Tahitians responded with a constitution of their own making (Gurminder Bhambra, 2016).

3.1 Hegel on a Messianic Mission

This lecture first considers some passages from G.W.F. Hegel’s Lectures on The Philosophy of World History (1822-1830). Like Locke and Kant, Hegel gravitates toward a monotheistic worldview, entailing that an imposition of a higher on a lower – poly/pan/nontheistic – culture is warranted because it is “the sole condition on which these peoples can gain freedom in the longer term”, as Alison Stone puts it in a recent paper published in Hegel Bulletin (2020). Retrospectively, who can say with any certainty that a transition from poly/pan/nontheism to monotheism – choose your example – is necessary and progressive?

3.2 From Feudal to Bourgeoisie with Marx & Engels

On one hand, in The Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx & Engels diagnosed colonialism as a symptom of the capitalist regime’s expansion, which they urged to rebel against. On the other hand, in the pitches for the New York Daily Tribune (1853) concerning the colonisation of India by the British, while acknowledging the grave sufferings involved, Marx treats the Indian culture as essentially feudal – inferior – and in need of economic modernisation. This way, British colonialism crops up as an agent of change and progress.

4.1 Capitalism, Slavery, and Black Marxism

Published in 1983, Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism is considered to be one of the milestones in the Black revolutionary thought. Robinson introduces the term racial capitalism and argues that Marx & Engels did not properly understand the material force of racial ideology on bourgeois and proletarian ways of life. Another of Robinson's criticisms is that they misrepresented the European working class as the workers of the whole world. This way, to take one example, a class struggle between slaves and their owners and beneficiaries turns into a marginal intellectual matter.

4.2. A Lone Lion: Tolstoy and the Napoleon-Nietzsche Disroder

Unlike an anarchistic wild Nietzsche of the middle period culminating in the first publication of Zarathustra (1883), the discourse of “blond beasts of prey” and the master/slave types in Genealogy of Morality (1887) does indeed suggest a radical, arguably, racial turn to a higher/overman, soon hijacked by the Fascists. Glenn (2001) argues it’s an imperial artistic sentiment of sorts, one that can be matched by Nietzsche’s fascination with Napoleon, on one hand, and contrasted with a humble late life of Leo Tolstoy, a country anarchist, mingling with simple folk and the greatest minds of his time, hostile to nation-states and hypocrisy, a little like Nietzsche in fact. Anthropologically, isn’t it curious that, disenchanted with modern superstructures, many recent influential philosophers, including Heidegger, show great fondness for wild nature as a source of sacred insights?

5. Arendt and Heidegger: Reconciliation and Silence

In this session, we look at two central figures in 20th century Western philosophy. Both supremely talented, Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt offer starkly diverging views on mass-scale massacres during the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Of particular interest here are the fragments of Heidegger’s correspondence with Hannah Arendt, his student, the Holocaust survivor and author of Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Keeping in mind  some snippets from Heidegger’s Black Notebooks (2014-2021) and an extensive book Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities (Adam Knowles, 2020), we’ll try to understand why the rule of totalitarian violence did not destroy their caring companionship, lasting until Arendt’s death in 1975.

6. Camus and Fanon: Reconciliation and Resurgence

The last class in this round reviews the background of a violent conflict that took place in Algeria and resulted in a war (1954-1962), coinciding with the concluding periods in the relatively short lives of Frantz Fanon and Albert Camus. Coldly received, Camus’ Algerian Chronicles (1958) occupied a moderate peace-seeking position, while Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961) became an epoch-making text in anticolonialism. As the ongoing invasion of Ukraina shows, bare violence is the foundation of a colonial regime: does it entail that, inevitably, violence plays a vital role in its downfall/creation of emancipatory conditions? Can a war – on account of its cruel nature – be ever just?

Ultimately, however, our course intends to provide a space where one can engage with contemporary anti/decolonial scholars and practitioners who challenge the paradigms of sustained structural violence. Today, like never before, a sense of racial, economic and cultural superiority and complacency meets the critical, revolutionary zeal and creativity of the oppressed peoples, working toward the repatriation of indigenous lands and ways of life. In what follows, each session takes up a major type/example of colonial violence, showing how it works in the everyday, and then discusses a hands-on critical response to it:

7.1 Private Thoughts: White Education in the USA, 1950’s

7.2 Highlander Folk School: Monteaggle, Tennessee

Education is one of the perennial matters in philosophy. This week contrasts the US-based exclusivist education with the Highlander Folk School, oriented toward civil rights and participatory research, the school that provided guidance for the likes of Martin Luther King and that was subsequently and lawfully shut down by the state of Tennessee in 1961.

8.1 Imperial Policing and the Mau Mau Rebellion

One of the more acute global social justice issues today is the process whereby racial assumptions creep into the work of police officers. It may come as a surprise, but the spark of British racial police violence, for instance, can be traced back to lawless practices first deployed in colonies, like Kenya of the 1950’s.

8.2 Inverting Policing, Inventing Gangs

In this class, we’ll see how a trans-national transfer of British colonial police epistemologies was made possible. Throughout the massive migration waves in 1960-80’s, the local police forces subdued numerous urban riots – migrants in rage, advocating for equal rights and opportunities. These collisions laid the foundation of many radical movements, some of which are canvassed in Adam Elliot-Cooper’s Black Resistance to British Policing (2021). The problem is that instead of trying to prevent violent crimes and listen to the debased voices and communities, British (and American, and, increasingly, Australian) police units tend to resort to the logic of “gangs”, typically based on old racial and class assumptions (Patrick Williams, 2014), cemented in the Buckingham Palace.

9.1 The Art of Squatting as a Crime, now and then

In this session, we’ll consider philosophies of action that respond to a critical nexus between private property and poverty. In the first hour, we’ll learn from The Brixton Black Women’s Group, a socialist, feminist organisation operating in the 1970-80’s in London, emerging in the context of the anti-colonial struggle for free spaces one can call a home (Milo Bettocchi 2021).

9.2 Nothing to Lose: BLACK FIRST LAND FIRST

Criticising Achille Mbembe for turning Fanon into an academic-humanist (2019), sceptical about the prospects of decolonising academy in a colony (2018), the philosopher, activist, and politician Andile Mngxitama sums up of the ethos of his South African revolutionary movement as follows, “Focus on land return by any means necessary. We must organise ourselves and take back the land ourselves. When they took our land they didn’t talk about the constitution and laws. They took the land and made laws post the process to legalise the theft. Land or death!”

10. In Penal Democracy Carceral Powers Work

For those looking to learn about another real struggle, this week will focus on the prison system in the United States, a first world country, having the highest number and rate of incarcerated people in the world. While the majority of people living in the US are white, the vast majority of the incarcerated and policed is black and hispanic. What sensibilities enable this penal democratic state to flourish (Joy James 2007)? As a response, prison has become a site of original, radical discourse driven by the incarcerated intellectuals, such as Angela Davis and George Jackson. As a matter of fact, incarceration benefits not only the racial justice system, but also all kinds of businesses that take more interest in profits, naturally, than in rehabilitation. As a result, the term “prison-industrial complex” has been introduced, and scholars and activists like Dylan Rodriguez argue for its abolition (2000, 2008, 2018).

11. From Penal Colony to Liberal Colonialism: terra nullius as imperialist poetry, with Justin Clemens and Tom Ford - This class will be run as a Hybrid In-Person/Zoom session - Details TBA

In 1819, Barron Field, the supreme legal authority in the British colony of New South Wales, asserted the operation that we now know as terra nullius. Perhaps surprisingly, this doctrine was not directly targeting indigenous Australians – rather, it was directed at the unconstrained rule of sovereign power, of governor and king. It was, in fact, a self-conscious assault on British monarchy and warfare. In doing so, however, the doctrine doubled down on invasion precisely by pretending to deny it. This session affirms Andile Mngxitama’s diagnosis of the relation between land and law, in a different colonial context, and with different legal mechanisms

12. The State is a Thief and a Rapist, jineologi

Our concluding session will be dedicated to the titanic, emancipatory efforts of Kurdish people, the descendants of ancient Iranians, now inhabiting an autonomous region, Rojava or Kurdistan. We’ll trace back the origins of the separatist uprisings to the early 1980’s and the figure of Abdullah Öcalan, detained and imprisoned in 1999. Öcalan was one of the founding members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, fighting for the liberation of the Kurdish people and culture. It’s been a long, winding, full-blooded conflict. Öcalan and his supporters fight for a new libertarian socialism, based on non-hierarchical forms of social organisation; kurds have fought to establish a stateless socialism that first and foremost honours the rights of women and the land, on a territory wedged between Syria and Turkey! We’ll learn about the Kurdish Women’s Movement, an active form of militant ecofeminism, drawing from Öcalan’s jineologi, a science of woman and life, owing to which Kurdish people not only have recently resisted the second largest NATO army, but have also established the jineologi academy (Dilar Dirik, 2022).

Classes will be interactive, slides will communicate the crux of considered literature, and also illustrate relevant facts and events, e.g. via paintings, video, ad campaigns, and photography; all texts will be provided.

Visions of the Virtual: Deleuze, Wittgenstein, Whitehead

Lecturer: David Rathbone

Starts: Tue 6:30-8:30pm 7 Mar

Full Schedule: Mar 7, 14, 21, 28, Apr 4, Break, 18, 25, May 2, 9, 16, 23, 30

Location: Taught via Zoom online.

In this course we shall trace the evolution of the concept of the virtual from Bergson to Deleuze, before turning to consider the question of time in Whitehead, Russell and Wittgenstein. These various ways of thinking of time and the virtual will then serve as our guide as we consider the cosmologies of various "outsider"  physicists such as Eric Lerner and Julian Barbour and Ilya Prigogine. In conclusion we will consider whether we can find what Einstein and Goedel were looking for in their Kant reading group.

Lecture One - Proust and Bergson: or, why we were already virtual. Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, vol 1 pp 56-62 & vol 12 pp.222-290 (Chatto&Windus). Bergson, Time and Free Will: an essay on the immediate data of consciousness. Bergson, Matter and Memory

Lecture Two - Bergson continued.: or, how intelligence was always artificial. Bergson, Creative Evolution Bergson, "The Possible and the Real" and "The Perception of Change," chapters III and V in The Creative Mind.

Lecture Three - Deleuze on Bergson: or, the cinematographical mechanism of thought and the mechanistic illusion. Deleuze, Bersonism Deleuze, Cinema volume I, chapters 1 & 4; volume II, chapters 2-5

Lecture Four - Deleuze on Leibniz and Spinoza: or, back to the background. Deleuze, "On the Difference between the Ethics and a Morality" and "Spinoza and Us," chapters two and five in Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque chapter 6, "What is an event?"

Lecture Five: Time and the virtual in Deleuze's Difference and Repetition. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition pp.85-102; 208-221. (Columbia U.P. / Althone, 1994)

Lecture Six: Whitehead via Bergson: or, the philosophy of organism explained to a vitalist. Whitehead, Process and Reality (The Free Press corrected edition paperback, 1985) Part II Ch III Sec XI, pp.106-109; Part II Ch X Secs I - V, pp.208-215; Part III Ch I Secs I - III pp.219-222; Part IV Ch IVSecs IV and V pp.318-321.

Lecture Seven: From Whitehead to Wittgenstein via Russell: or, art shown to the artless. Reading: A Wittgenstein selection will be provided at the start of the course.

Lecture Eight: two unconventional cosmologists - Julian Barbour and  Eric Lerner. Is time really a dimension? Did the big bang really happen? Reading: Julian Barbour, The Discovery of Dynamics, esp. pref to pbk ed, (dated March 2001), and Ch12.8 pp.690-696; Julian Barbour The End of Time esp. Part 1 & Part 5; Julian Barbour The Janus Point esp. Chapters 8, 16 & 20. Eric Lerner; The Big Bang Never Happened. Chapters 1, 4, 6 & 7.

Lecture Nine: Time, Chaos and a new paradigm for dynamics? Reading: Ilya Prigogine The End of Certainty

Lecture Ten: will be devoted to convincing you that mathematics is not ontology. Reading: more Whitehead, more Wittgenstein selections will be provided.

Lecture Eleven:  Back to Kant with Wittgenstein as a guide; or, in search of a new set of metaphors. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason Aesthetic on time (A30/B46 - A49/B73), plus refutation of idealism (A218/B266 to A235/B294, but esp. B275).

Lecture Twelve: Time and the Virtual; or, can we find what Einstein and Goedel were looking for in the Critique of Pure Reason ? Goedel, "Some observations about the relationship between the theory of relativity and the Kantian philosophy," in Collected Works volume III, pp.202-260. Versions 1, 2 as well as the published version in Schlipp's Library of Living Philosophers volume on Einstein.

We were dead before the ship even sank: reflections from undead life - Withdrawn

Lecturer: Lachlan Ross

Starts: Wed 6:30-8:30pm 8 Mar

Full Schedule: Mar 8, 15, 22, 29, Apr 5, Break, 19, 26, May 3, 10, 17, 24, 31

Location: Taught via Zoom online.

This unit on necropower studies four basic themes: death being confounded with life; living death being created in both abject and alluring forms; the paradox of destruction of life in defence of life; and finally, the idea that work is death and all life has been subsumed into work. Along with Mbembe’s standard designation of necropower (that death as a technology of power has been redistributed and enhanced, rather than retired/replaced) the unit studies what it will posit are the three great necropolitical imaginaries that largely inform the thinking of modern liberal democracies: the will to undeath/unpower (delight in continuing the Socratic war against life), the will to unfreedom/false egoism (delight in tutelage to the dead), and the will to death/regression (delight in destruction of life/the planet). In the first, one is masochistically devoted to care (self harm is better than other harm); in the second, one is sadistically devoted to preservation (other harm is better than self/kin harm), and in the third, one is suicidally devoted to non-repression (one commits oneself to the destruction of imaginary threats to one’s existence in such a manner that the other and the self will surely die).

Alongside the usual work of necropolitical theory (critiquing power for creating zones of exception in which vulnerable people are dehumanised and have a much greater likelihood of ‘accidental’ death) this unit will examine Nietzsche’s claim that egalitarian liberalism (as the will to undeath mentioned above) is the apotheosis of necropolitics, and a genuine attempt to govern without violence, i.e., a significant necropolitcs of care is possible, one that finds killing repugnant. Growing public acceptance of the need to exclude or annihilate threats to a pure host culture is not, for Nietzsche, the latent or submerged violence of democracy rising to the top, it is rather a more patient and refined necropolitics (one actually invested in peace and non-violence) being challenged by a different, primitive, and less sublimated necropolitics (the indirect and highly painted violences of masochistic civilisation being rejected in favour of more convulsive, sadistic forms). That young modernity was brutal does not necessarily mean that democratic and liberal ideas have always had love of the power of death within them. We will examine this claim (and agree for much of the unit), but we will also entertain the Nietzschean thesis (that modernity is/was at heart a project of human domestication). For Nietzsche, though this proposition will give us trouble, it is ultimately not problematic to imagine that horrible atrocities could be a vital part of what is still a pacification process (though the hunger for them today suggests that this process has been disrupted).

If the Nietzschean claim is viable, politics in the Global North can largely be viewed as a battle between two highly attractive death cults: a cult of love and anti-retribution, and a cult of hate and enemy obsession. The first will be designated the will to undeath qua neo-Christianity (the fight against human beings being reduced to mere means/exploited/harmed/discriminated against, which is to say, liberalism concerned with the dignity of human life as well as its management), and the second the will to unfreedom qua neo-fascism (the primacy of free individuals along racialised/nationalistic lines, which is to say, ostensibly ‘legitimate’ conservatism that is more than ever a war on the poor, foreigners, etc.). The revolutionary cult of hate has been making progress since the 1980s, especially as regards to resignifying civilisation as ‘naturally’ being a brutal place of competition, rather than a space in which we ought to cooperate, but within this group the third voice howls, the unrefined will to death that demands absolute desublimation: usually into pure fascism (constant informal sanctions and microaggressions against the foreign, women, the differently able, coupled with limited use of camp logic, not being enough for them), total environmental destruction (again, semi-controlled destruction is not enough for them), or handing all power to capital without reservation (the fake ‘spontaneous order’ of the neoliberals is viewed, with partial insight, as a hidden rule of elites), so that those who fought for a somewhat less Christian/stifling/caring civilisation (missing the joys of killing some enemies) now have to deal with supporters who like this project far too much and who will accept nothing less than the full reinstatement of what they imagine to be the state of nature (falsely imagining that ‘freedom’ and ‘individuality’ are gifts of nature and not of Christian necropolitics/power). Or as Mbembe puts it: some want back some will to power by becoming half cruel and half virtuous, but the justifications for this (that the dominant are not dominant, but are rather in danger/disappearing/being ‘diluted’/contaminated/exterminated) are simply too well believed, and create a demand in some for more and greater pre-emptive/protective cruelty, ostensibly suspending the law to preserve the law, but in reality suspending the law because it is a hated barrier to dark gratifications.

The course studies alternate explanations as to why and how we might have become undead, from Christianity via Nietzsche to capitalism via Marx, and attempts to chart routes of escape back to life, beyond the necrotic choices that are ready-to-hand (capitalism to socialism/neo-Christianity; slave morality to anti-liberalism/neo-fascism). Those who fight for social justice will not be accustomed to entertaining the idea that they are super-Christian death cultists, just as Christian-identifying neoliberals and libertarians will be confused at best at the thought that atheistic socialism as it is usually conceived today is little but the word of Christ purified by being untethered from the Church. However, this idea will be presented and interrogated, as a part of a study of necropolitics that wishes to go beyond what is obviously necropolitical: Putin’s war, boat turnbacks, etc., and obviously necrocultural: love of guns, climate denial, eating your dead God and drinking his blood, device addiction, etc. The obvious necropolitical work is essential, and we will study the death-worlds where the young and healthy routinely wither and die, and where most talk is of death and being already dead, for example the ‘processing facilities’ for asylum seekers. But the dead bury the living in manifold ways. For both Marx and Nietzsche, in very different ways, the concept of equality is not the shovel we ought to use to free ourselves, and so we ought to consider that the primary alterative to cruel and obvious necropolitics today is a counter necropolitics of love: the old and slow burning version that for Nietzsche begins with Socrates, becomes Christianity, and is finally perfected as secular liberalism or socialism, wherever there is a call for ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’.

The course is animated by an argument between Nietzsche and Mbembe: for Nietzsche, humanism is fundamentally evil because at its core it is ‘good’: it wants to ‘improve’ (read domesticate) humankind; for Mbembe, humanism cannot but be evil because the human is always white, but cannot be the One without the other who is made to suffer every brutality she is imagined to desire to inflict upon the white. Depending on who is correct, liberal democracy is either showing the hidden face that has been there all along (as rages towards being in no way liberal or democratic), or, it is ‘good’, is/was heading towards a world of loving the enemy, and is being torn down by enemies of civilisation for that reason, i.e., recent history and the turn towards hate and enmity within ostensibly humanist nations is a nightmare version of Nietzsche’s transvaluation of values rather than democracy ‘becoming what it is’: not a showing of the necropolitical face on the other side of the humanist face, but a radical desublimation of the general necropolitics of civilisation, so that it can be said that civilisation is not proving that enlightenment is cursed by regression but is rather being usurped (though in a highly contested manner) by forces of anti-civilisation. It is commonly thought (from Weber to the Frankfurt School) that civilisation must devolve into barbarism as a matter of course. Nietzsche’s anti-thesis that civilisation will devolve into horrible peace and pathetic goodwill (if not fought by ‘free spirits’) is rarely explored: why he was mistaken deserves some meditation, especially on the question as to whether he was simply catastrophically wrong, or the more interesting thesis: that the necropolitical imaginary of slaves (the one of great love) became more vulnerable than expected as it neared success, not to ‘free spirits’, but rather to beings who like their necropolitics more bloody. Nietzsche will be to some extent brought into alignment with Mbembe via Marcuse: we can argue that it is not the case that the Sky News crowd are angry because, as they intimate, the world has gone too soft and correct. The ‘loony left’ are clearly not in power, and only make the ground they still do today because those who cathect to hate believe that they are ‘good’ also, and cannot always disagree with what is fundamentally Christian logic—though ideologically they would like to. The SNC are angry because we are allowed much violence but it is not enough for them. And because, for this kind of necropolitics, we owe those like us nothing, and those not like us have no rights and must be punished.

Part one: ‘life does not live’ (Kurnberger in Adorno).

Week one: Core concepts

This week provides the foundations for the unit. I will define biopower and necropower and then discuss the more recent roots of these concepts in alienation (Marx), the theory of the ultimate human (Nietzsche), and the death drive (Freud).

Living death will be defined as manufactured despair/dehumanisation/increased likelihood of death (Mbembe); living labour being instrumentalised into a means to serve dead labour (Marx); life in which the vital drives are prohibited and vitiated (Nietzsche); and life in which the natural drive to death casts too large a shadow on the ego (Freud). There are brutal undeaths that result from having ‘the wrong thinking’ (of terrorists); undeaths of yielding that have a semblance of human life (of the conforming, indifferent, and of the digital subject who conflates living and digital labour); unspectacular undeaths under the constant gaze of ‘active neglect’ (of the elderly, ‘low risk’ refugees, prisoners, etc.); and the undeaths of impotent and neurotic resistance that is smugly smiled at by those who are at home in the present regime of a kind of fascism that cannot possibly see itself as such. Humanity is dissolving in many ways, and bare life ‘exists’ on both sides of a razor wire fence—though it is vulgar now to suggest with Foucault that life is more bare for the coloniser ‘made to live’, it is also vulgar to assert the opposite, that those who fight camp logic have extricated themselves from power relations in the simple act of visibly demonstrating opposition. The freedom to fight is evidence of power—without it one is merely dominated.

Adorno defined progress in the 1960s as understanding that it is better and not worse if people do not fear and if there is not a total catastrophe on the horizon. Modern necropolitics thus demonstrates the opposite of progress in creating death zones of fear and despair as a normalised means of governing and in refusing to actively and directly avert the global climate crisis that is already intensifying.

The course aim is this week defined as achieving the most basic form of progress ever to be defined. The contemporary means mobilised in this aim will however be challenged for themselves engaging in counter-necropolitics instead of anti-necropolitics.

Readings: Foucault, Society Must be Defended, 17th March, 1976 (biopower lecture), and Mbembe, ‘Necropolitics’. Public Culture, Volume 15, Number 1, Winter 2003, pp. 11-40.

Weeks two and three: Nietzsche versus idealism

The following two weeks study what Nietzsche sees as a war on life and the real world. The antagonists are Socrates, Plato, Christ, Luther, and later, the ‘preachers of equality’ who inherit Socrates’ program of the war against life.

We will here ask the question what is life, and further, who hates it and why? Idealism, Christianity, liberalism, socialism, and social justice are all for Nietzsche one and the same thing: hatred of life and war against life. 

The two connected lectures have three basic moments. We study the Socratic hatred of life (the drive to death or castration, i.e., life is a sickness/malady), the Platonic confusion of death and life (death is when real life begins, i.e., life is not a sickness but it is not real life), and the evolution of these ideas into modern forms (the war against life ought not kill but make undead/pacify).

Social justice politics will be presented (with a Nietzschean eye) as giving in to the allure of living death through the very act of fighting the existence of bare life, as desiring the castrated state of being ‘ultimate’: the placid unlife that follows the victory of the war against life (a world in which the weak no longer need fear the strong). Later elements of the unit will problematise Nietzsche’s critique.

Readings: Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols. The Problem of Socrates; ‘Reason’ in Philosophy; How the Real World at last became a myth; Morality as Anti-Nature. pp. 162-176. Nietzsche, Zarathustra’s Prologue, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Part two: “Society is but a contract between the dead, the living, and those yet to be born” Burke.

Week four: “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living” Marx.

This week we move from a critique of modern egalitarian or utilitarian liberalism to a critique of anti- or neoliberal capitalism. We now have a working Nietzschean understanding of liberal egalitarian politics as a war against life that takes the form of a war against power, i.e., we desire the undead state of being at peace, curing the human animal of the will to power—and in the process curing her of life.

For Marx being undead is not about being tamed, but it is rather about being unfree. We thus move from a leftist drive to pacified life to a right wing formulation: the conflation of life and service of capital/dead labour, or, in other words, the devastating signification of living death as freedom. For Marx, as this week will explore, capitalism is a situation in which dead labour contains more life than the living: people become things in the service of things animated by crystalised human activity, and this situation of servitude is designated at ‘the end of history’ as being the only possible way for human beings to exist.

Readings: Marx, Capital. ‘The Fetishism of the commodity and its secret’.

Week five: living death as human capital

It is tempting to posit that the poor are the living dead, but in The Holy Family Marx starts a line of investigation that posits that it is the bosses who are really dead, though only they have a ‘semblance of human life’. This ‘semblance of human life’, the comfort that comes when one internalises the logic of the dead, is today spreading. This week marries Marx and Adorno to ask if it is still possible to live today, to be more than a debased appendage to a means of production.

This week also adds a Nietzschean caveat: those who resist capitalism today largely do so for the wrong reasons. Those who fight from egalitarian principles do so because it harms: suffering and want are deliberate and necessary products of capitalism. We ought to consider hating it because it is living death (thingified human beings serving their own dead activity), and then we will not exit this form of living death only to leap into another (the living death of the tame last human). Egalitarian resistance also frequently misses the core point of this unit, the Foucauldian point that the most complete and insidious forms of subjugation are invisible and painless.

Readings: Marx, The Holy Family, Chapter 4. Excerpts from Adorno, Minima Moralia, dedication, 6: Antithesis, and 137: Small sorrows, great songs. pp. 15–18; 26-28; 214-215.

Extra/optional: Foucault’s The Subject and Power.

Week six: life is a rare species of death

This week returns to core concepts, looking at Nietzsche and Freud to argue that (contra Marx) life has always been living death. It expands upon the week one work on the death drive as a groundwork for the next part of the unit so that we can discuss the drive to global suicide that competes with the more patient/sublimated drives towards living death on the left and the right.

Readings: Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Chapter 2, The Theory of the Instincts. Nietzsche, The Gay Science. Sections 108 through to 153. pp. 109-132.

Part three: the joy of killing

Week seven: Marcuse versus Freud

Freud argues that civilisation requires human beings to turn their destructive instincts inward. In the state of nature human beings externalise the death drive by killing. In the state of civilisation we internalise the death drive into guilt. Marcuse counters that civilisation is about progress of the externalisation of the death drive: we kill and destroy bigger and better than ever before, and we love it (some love it enough to utterly destroy their own faculty of reason when it endangers this pleasure, e.g., still denying climate change, and capable of denying it through much worse coming catastrophes). In short, it is no accident that our means of providing food, shelter and security produce maximum devastation to life and the planet: the damage and the pleasure that it grants are the point, they have been the point of all progress, and objectively, the most progress has occurred in these fields.

This week will explicitly explore the necrotic imaginary of the will to death, the only imaginary that wants actual and not living death. Those who cathect to this imaginary will be pro-coal, anti-vaccine, pro-gun, anti-recycling, ‘tough on crime’/borders. Marcuse’s explanation here is interesting, in that it posits that it is not ignorance but gratification that drives these people, and that the pleasure gains are significant. We will return to this theme, as it is a useful counter to the liberal who thinks that more floods and droughts must convince climate deniers to change their minds. If Marcuse is right, more pain, misery, and environmental damage will only cause more pleasure, and greater attachment to the positions that grant it. The liberal is despised as the force that seeks to withdraw gratification. In a non-necropolitical world, this group, who showed its teeth when denied the maximum COVID-19 death toll, will be the biggest danger.

This week challenges Freud and Nietzsche, in that both believe that civilisation does actually close down means of aggression. Marcuse posits the opposite, creating an argument closer to Mbembe’s.

Readings: Marcuse, Eros and Civilisation, Chapter 4, pp. 78-105.

Week eight: Necropower

This week we move from the concept of death and destruction as being psychologically pleasing to the concept of these being technologies of power: we study making live, letting die, and finally, making die, through a more thorough study of Foucault and Mbembe, and a study of some continuations of Mbembe’s work such as queer necropolitics.

We attempt here to defend egalitarian liberalism from Nietzsche’s negative judgements: i.e., maybe social justice is the culmination of Christian thought and maybe it is not, but non-belief in the rightness of social justice has become unbelievable in the Global North, so that even the right of politics has to prove that ‘do gooders’ are not wrong in sentiment but only in approach, the logic-bending idea that help does not help and that only yielding power to the dead (free markets) is good for human beings.

Readings: Re-read week one reading, and Mengia Tschalae, ‘Queer Necropolitics: Experiences of LGBTQI+ Asylum Claimants During Covid-19 in the UK’. Journal of Contemporary European Research. Volume 18, Issue 1 (2022).

Part four: ‘Tell how long it is we have been dead’ (Trakl in Adorno).

Week nine: The social factory

This week begins the theme of work being death and of work becoming ‘life’ via a study of Hardt and Negri on the continuation of Marx’s concept of the real subsumption of labour under capital: in particular, the conversion of elements of life once considered to be discretionary into surplus-value producing activity.

Readings: Hardt, Michael, and Toni Negri. 2018. “The Multiplicities Within Capitalist Rule and the Articulation of Struggles.” tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique 16 (2): 440–8.

Marx, excerpts from ‘Results of the Immediate Process of Production’. pp. 980-1038.

Week ten: Digital labour

This week questions the optimism of Hardt and Negri relating to the neutrality of technology and its ability to be a means of emancipation. Following Christian Fuchs, this week argues that digital technology is the primary means of converting life into work.

Readings: Fuchs, Christian. 2010. “Labor in Informational Capitalism and on the Internet.” The Information Society: An International Journal 26 (3): 179–96.

Week eleven: Let the living bury the dead

This week contrasts Marx and Nietzsche’s respective cures for confusing death and life. They are presented as being antithetical, i.e., communism (life is freedom qua non-labour time), and the death of the slave morality that hates life (life requires salutary hardship).

Marx’s hatred of levellers and Christians will also be discussed as a means to problematise the idea that the respective critiques of living death are indeed irreconcilable, as well as discussing Nietzsche’s critique of what he calls ‘retarded’ cruelty in the modern world and his meditations on why the Superman ought not resemble the old nobility.

In short, along the lines of the imaginaries of the will to undeath and the will to unfreedom we will attempt to disengage Marx from the former (neo-Christianity) and Nietzsche from the latter (neo-fascism), bringing them together as being on the side of life, without neglecting the differences between communism and Nietzsche’s dream of an unequal world.

Readings: Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, Preface through to para 18, pp. 3-16. Marx, Capital, Chapter 7: The labour process and the valorization process. pp. 283-306.

Week twelve: Reiteration of main themes

This week examines the four themes and three imaginaries of the unit and reiterates the major points.

In short, the impatient want to die as soon as possible, and the main resistance on the right and the left is to preach living death as unfreedom (less insane capitalism, but still organised around constant work) and living death as being cured of the will to power (humane capitalism or prosumer communism, where none exploit any other, because all strong drives have been cut off at the root).

We have been cured of too much life to properly heed Nietzsche. As Matthew Sharpe notes, we cannot ignore that fascists enjoy Nietzsche: though it may be based on a blunt, brutal, or highly selective reading, it is not an accident, and one may even hazard that a liberal needs to engage in more cherry picking than a fascist to find a kindred soul in Nietzsche. Though the fascist reading is at best incomplete, there is something repugnant in Nietzsche that attracts the fascist, and it is that our modern hatred of harm is for Nietzsche a learned weakness that we ought to excise from ourselves. This is something that we need to acknowledge and question.

But despite some valid critiques of Nietzsche, necropower as a concept is limited if it only looks at the harms in the death-worlds where the marginal are reduced to bare life and made to die. We must look there, as a part of the most basic form of progress, but we ought also to consider that we are all already dead on a sinking ship, and that is the reason those of us not infected by the direct will to death (not gleefully making new holes) are nevertheless bailing out the water so apathetically. We ought to look both at how we (privileged citizens who are made to live) create living death (zones in which the ungrievable are made to die) and how we are potentially already dead ourselves, comfortably dead, or, if you are considering this unit, perhaps stricken by ‘the shame of still having air to breathe, in hell’ (Adorno).

The question and answer period of the final week will focus on whether students found the argument for egalitarian liberalism as a competing necropolitical imaginary (necropolitical and, if not contested, actually moving towards a world in right conquers might) convincing. If so, the question is whether it is a lesser evil (if Nietzsche’s fears about the end of human evolution can conscionably be weighed against the definitive end of camp logic), and if anti-necropolitical imaginaries are a) possible, and b) psychically attractive enough to garner enough widespread libidinal attachment to compensate for the enjoyments that will be lost. The questions also asked whether the age of convincing people with ‘evidence’ is over, and the morality of creating an anti-necropolitical hegemony, given that many will not give up on the pleasure of the wills to death, undeath and unfreedom willingly, especially given that a perverse will to power is attached to the will to death: will to power, insofar as a puny person can feel involved in something so grandiose as the death of a planet, perverse, insofar as the will to power (though not afraid of death) is meant to give meaning to the earth, give meaning to life, and cause life to lighten and ascend.

Readings: Matthew Sharpe. ‘Unifying, Comparative, Critical and Metacritical: Domenico Losurdo’s Nietzsche as Aristocratic Rebel’. Critical Horizons. 2022, VOL. 23, NO. 3, 284–304.

The phenomenology of elementary form: Plato’s theory of knowledge and his method of dialectic - Withdrawn

Lecturer: Bernie Lewin

Starts: Thu 6:30-8:30pm 9 Mar

Full Schedule: Mar 9, 16, 23, 30, Apr 6, Break, 20, 27, May 4, 11, 18, 25, Jun 1

Location: Taught via Zoom online.

Scoff as we may at every pernicious declaration of Fake News! But how do we actually determine what is true or false? On the question of epistemology there is no major position in the European tradition that escapes review in the first surviving text on the topic, Plato’s Theaetetus. And yet Plato’s grand survey ends up rejecting all comers. What is knowledge? We don’t know! Nevertheless, along the way some progress is made in determining the nature and relations of sensual experience, linguistic reasoning, beliefs, true and false, and what Plato sees as the eternal, insensible form of all experience. This cleverly structured dialogue rewards a close reading by setting the stage for its sequel, the Sophist, where a method of science advances a positive epistemology through the sceptical impasse thrown up by Parmenides and Zeno.

Our phenomenological approach to Plato provides a solid background to all subsequent attempts at solving the problem of knowledge, whether by reference to Plato or otherwise.

Part I: Theaetetus

Session 1 | Framing the question of knowledge | Theaetetus page 144 to 151e

The phenomenological approach to Plato is introduced before coming to the opening scene of the dialogue where Socrates offers to play barren midwife to young Theaetetus’s birth of knowledge.

Session 2 | Knowledge is perception | page 151e to 177c

The claim of the famous sophist, Protagoras, that “man is the measure of all things” is interpreted to mean that knowledge is perception. An investigation of this doctrine leads to the view that all appearances are real, and so false belief is impossible. All is drawn into doubt, including the very method of inquiry.

Session 3 | Between Heraclitus and Parmenides | page 177c to 187a

Perhaps Heraclitus was right, all is in flux. As the scepticism deepens, a cryptic reference to Plato’s Parmenides leads to one apparent constancy found in every perception: its otherness.

Session 4 | True and false opinion | page 187b to 201c

Perhaps knowledge is opinion judged to be true. But true to what? Establishing the ontology of the epistemology is one problem in determining the very possibility of false opinion.

Session 5 | Justified true belief | page 201c to 210

Knowledge might be true belief that is justified by a rational account (logos). But what if that which is elementary to knowledge is beyond any account of it? Language/logic might only communicate the distinguishing characteristics of what is already distinctly known.

The finding of the difference of things, their distinguishing characteristic, will be what the Platonic ‘method of division’ is all about. This method is presented in the following dialogue, the Sophist.

Part 2 The Sophist

Session 6 | Making the right distinctions | Sophist page 216 to 221c

At the dawn of a new day, Theodorus introducing the gang from Theaetetus to a student of Parmenides who then proceeds to a half-comic warm-up demonstration of the method of division.

Session 7 | Hunting down the sophist | page 221d to 237a

The main quarry of today’s investigation is the sophist. But six successive attempts to define the sophist leave his most distinguishing characteristic elusive: the sophist is a faker who says what is false. He says what is-not. But what can it mean to say what is-not?

Session 8 | Killing the father | page 237b to 245e

The need to imply that non-being exists brings us to Parmenides critique of all positive science. Not only this investigation but its very dialectic method falls into doubt. If false claims cannot be defined, then nor can truth.

Session 9 | The battle of the gods and the giants | page 246 to 250e

Investigation of statements implying not-being finds a similar problem with statements concerning being. A conundrum over how ontology could possibly be established bring us to consider two schools polarised into battle over this very question, the materialists and the extreme idealists.

Session 10 | The Philosopher’s high dialectic | page 251 to 259b

Discussion of the idealist and their ideas, or forms, leads to an investigation of elementary forms and how they “participate” each other. The realisation that non-being participates the form of otherness leads to a triumph over Parmenides’ great prohibition. Yes, non-being does exist, in a relative way and everywhere in the relations of all that exists.

Session 11 | The generation of ideas and things | page 259c to 268d

The next step is to show how being and non-being align with speech, true and false, so that the sophist can finally be ensnared as a creative faker.

Session 12 | Overview |

The course concludes with a full account of Plato’s epistemology, it’s ontology and methodology as presented in these two dialogues.

Reading: Plato’s dialogues Theaetetus and Sophist

Recommended translation: Plato: Theaetetus and Sophist, Christopher Rowe, Cambridge, 2015.

Technics And Time 4: Bernard Stiegler’s Unpublished Manuscript

Lecturer: Dan Ross

Starts: Fri 6:30-8:30pm 10 Mar

Full Schedule: Mar 10, 17, 24, 31, Break, Break, Apr 21, 28, May 5, 12, 19, 26, June 2, 9

Location: Taught via Zoom online.

On 1 September 2017, Bernard Stiegler circulated a file to friends and colleagues entitled La technique et le temps, tome 4. Facultés et fonctions de la noèse dans l’age post-veridique. On 31 December 2017, he circulated a new introduction to that text, entitled ‘Ouverture et fermeture. De l’univers infini au monde clos’. These two files add up to over 100,000 words: the intention was to write a fourth volume of his magnum opus, Technics and Time, as a way of taking account of new questions that had arisen since the publication of the first three volumes (in 1994, 1996 and 2001, respectively), and as a way of preparing the stage for the long-awaited final three volumes. The main body of the text is divided into three parts: “On the ‘Notion of Information’”, “Pharmacology of Locality”, and “Organology of Intermittence”. Stiegler was unable to totally finish the manuscript in his lifetime, and so never published it, but the insights it contains on the questions he felt were unavoidable for the future of thought and for the future of human existence on this planet, are invaluable. In this course, the weekly readings will consist of excerpts from the translation of this remarkable manuscript, which has been completed by the lecturer.

Lecture 1 (March 10): General Introduction to the Work of Bernard Stiegler

Lecture 2 (March 17): Opening and Closing: From the Infinite Universe to the Closed World

Lecture 3 (March 24): Faculties and Functions in Exosomatization

Lecture 4 (March 31): Negentropy and Anti-Entropy: The Post-Truth of Information

Two-Week Easter Break

Lecture 5 (April 21): Information Tension and Totalization

Lecture 6 (April 28): The Exosomatization of Noesis

Lecture 7 (May 5): Seven Theses on the Conflict of the Faculties and Functions in Digital Exosomatization

Lecture 8 (May 12): Market of Information, Calculability, Knowledge

Lecture 9 (May 19): Neganthropic Locality

Lecture 10 (May 26): Idiomatic Différance

Lecture 11 (June 2): Intermittence in the National There

Lecture 12 (June 9): Detachment of the Id (and Conclusion)

Course Descriptions