November 4, 2005

Moreiras Speaks On God, Politics

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An audience of students and Cornell faculty gathered in the Guerlac room of the A.D. White House yesterday to hear visiting Duke University Prof. Alberto Moreiras present his views on political subjectivity and the roles of God and sovereignty in politics.

Moreiras, the director of Duke University’s Center for European Studies and a Romance studies professor, was invited to speak at Cornell by the Society for the Humanities. Last night’s lecture, “God Without Sovereignty: Political Jouissance: The Passive Decision” followed Moreiras’ talk Tuesday night about “The Non-Subject of the Political.” He was joined for his second presentation by Cornell Profs. Tracy McNulty and Geoffrey Waite.

Prof. Bruno Bosteels of the romance studies department at Cornell invited the two professors to critique and engage in discussion of Moreiras’ writings. Moreiras, author of The Exhaustion of Difference: the Politics of Latin American Cultural Studies, opened the forum with a brief introduction, questioning if it was possible to “think beyond the sovereignty of politics” and apply theory to modern-day progressive politics.

McNulty, an assistant professor of French literature, began her response by quoting several passages from Moreiras’ writings, asking about the possibility of links between sovereignty and violence. She also cited Sigmund Freud’s concept of the superego in critiquing Moreiras’ views, suggesting the possibility of substituting the concept of jouissance, or enjoyment, for that of sovereignty.

Waite examined the concept of a “fear of violent death” that Moreiras mentioned. He quoted Moreiras’ paper in saying that “the state fears its demise at the hands of its enemies,” leading him to ask “why exactly should we fear death?” His discussion of this point led to the integration of modern-day aspects of the Hobbesian concept of a “fear of violent death” into the practicality of a post 9/11-world.

Moreiras responded to both professors’ critiques by thanking them for their “extremely beautiful responses,” saying that both views opened up very different issues which he hoped to further explore. He first addressed McNulty’s critiques with an agreement of her views, additionally questioning “the lawfulness of violence” against “the violence of the law.” In response to Waite’s questions about the “fear of death” concept brought up in his work, Moreiras restated Hobbes’ theory and briefly touched on its relevance to political thought.

After Moreiras responded to both professors, Bosteels opened the panel up to questions from the audience. This allowed audience members the opportunity to ask for clarifications from all three professors regarding their views on Moreiras’ writing, and also the chance to directly engage in discussion with the panel.

Audience members responded well to Moreiras’ answers. Many had attended his previous lecture and took this occasion to bring together some of the points he had made Tuesday night. On his interaction with the other professors, Paloma Yannakakis grad said that “it was a very good choice to bring Alberto Moreiras because his work relates to what a lot of other professors are doing [at Cornell].”

Moreiras is the first of three invited fellows coming to Cornell University this year. His presentations continue with a Nov. 4 lecture on “The Last God: Maria Zambrano and the Politics of Subalternity” and a seminar on Nov. 7. Both events are open to the public and will take place at 4:30 p.m. in the A.D. White House.

Archived article by Christine Ryu
Sun Contributor