1. Event

Theory in the times of Pandemic. If we follow Achille Mbembe’s exercise in his book Out of the Dark Night, then theory always follows a paradigmatic event. Properly speaking, it is after the occurrence or after the fact. As Mbembe himself said in the seminar ‘there is hardly any theory without an event. Conversely, there can be an event without theory.’ For instance, a theory of Capitalism proper would never be possible without an actual occurrence of a grand scale unfolding of the exploitation of labor and reorganization of many parts of the world to space, time, and practices oriented to the mechanisms of Capitalism. Similarly, without the colonizing events at the planetary scale any form of decolonial theory would not have made sense. For any critique will always require an object, an event to critique. Every theory needs an object to theorize. The task of the theory in that sense, as Mbembe sees it, is to decipher the singularity of the event, the nature of the event. The method of deciphering, according to Mbembe is to be a ‘witness’ to ‘testify’ the event from its midst and from where one is located. We will return to the question of witnessing further. Let us think for a while about the idea of event and its nature / its singularity.

This poses an interesting question and challenge; do events have nature and singularity? In other words, do events have an essence? Essence that is deeper than any of the surface appearances? Essence has had a bad name in post-colonial theory so far. So how does one get around the problem that events have a nature which theory must decipher, yet one cannot speak of cultures and communities to have a nature? How does one say that there is a singularity and yet, there is a continuous becoming? Does this mean a theory has to get at the truth of the event? Or should it get at the reality of the event? These are certainly not easy questions to unpack. But it is a coordinate we must address, nonetheless, to get a sense of the task of the theory. 

A. Event according to Mbembe: Let us first start with understanding the idea of event in Mbembe’s terms and in terms of Allain Badiou. From there we can try to make sense of the idea of the singularity of event. In Mbembe’s terms an event is: 

1) not just a set of fact (their happening is not their ultimate feature). 

2) it must possess a force / it must do something.

3) something that is always traumatic -not necessarily tragic, but traumatic, perhaps in the psychoanalytic sense of the negative.

4) something that produces transformations which were not possible prior to the event.

5) it generates real possibilities to do something. 

In that sense, an event is something that has a singularity -deeper than any of its surface appearances, something that can only be thought starting from the future it generates -possibilities it creates / its space of possibilities. 

A good sense of what is an event for Allen Badiou can be found in his short essay comparing his idea of event to that of Gilles Deleuze. Badiou notes the ambiguity present in the very idea of event that is also seen in Deleuze’s thinking. On the one hand the ‘event is disjoined from the One’ and on other hand it is the ‘play of the One.’ 

We can follow the method of listing the axioms, found in Badious essay (and in the manner we listed Mbembe’s ideas above) to insert for our reference the various ideas of the event in Badiou and Deleuze.  

B. Event for Badiou and Deleuze (according to Badiou) [1]Badiou notes the following four axioms in Deleuze and their inversions in Badiou’s own formulation of Event: 

  1. Continuity and interruption: 
    • Unlimited becoming becomes the event itself (Deleuze): 
    • An event is never the concentration of vital continuity, or the immanent intensification of a becoming (Badiou): 
  2. Temporal and intemporal
    • The Event is always that which has happened and that which is about to happen, but never that which is happening. (D)
    • It (the event) is a vanishing mediator, an intemporal instant which renders disjunct the previous state of an object (the site), and the state that follows: “We could equally say that the event extracts from a time the possibility of an other time. This other time, whose materiality envelops the consequences of the event, deserves the name of a new present. The event is neither past nor future. It makes us present to the present.” (B)
  3. Emergence and Trace 
    • The event is of a different regime than the actions and passions of the body, even if it results from them. (D)
    • And the trace of an event, which is itself incorporated in the new present, is clearly of the same nature as the actions of this body. (B)
  4. Composition and Decomposition 
    • A life is composed of a single and same Event, lacking all the variety of what happens to it. (D) 
    • An event does not make a composite unity of what is. There is, to the contrary, a decomposition of worlds by multiple evental sites. (B)

C. Event as Objects (Event in Object-Oriented Ontology): To this discussion let us also consider the idea of event in Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) as developed by Graham Harman from his reading of Lynn Margulis’ idea of symbiosis. Harman first developed the idea of symbiosis in his book Immaterailsm where he elaborated on methods to use OOO in social studies. Of importance here is the challenge of considering an entity like Dutch East India Company (VOC) as a real object. Since Dutch East India Company, or any company for that matter, is always a set of different entities, people, places, records, etc. it is not one homogenous, let alone, physical object. VOC will always be more and more importantly different from than any of its components -not to mention it also probably had a life longer than most of its components. VOC in that sense is an emergent immaterial object[2].

In the same framework, Harman also considers events as emergent and immaterial objects. Note that for Harman anything is an object as long as something resists reduction to either its components or only to its effects. Objects need not be physical, solid, simple, inanimate, or durable[3]. Harman sees events as significant happenings (not his term) or as those happening that give rise to an irreversible change. He elaborates this idea with his reading of the American Civil War between 1861 – 1865 in his book Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. 

D. Emergence and Symbiosis: Manuel DeLanda revived the idea of emergence[4] in contemporary philosophy from his reading of the historical development of the term in the sciences. For DeLanda Chemistry is the benchmark of the idea of emergence. Physics only considers causation as entities colliding with one another -it cannot make sense of how two objects can meet to form a completely new object which is absolutely different and often contradictory to the properties of the component objects. For instance, when oxygen and hydrogen (two volatile and flammable things) combine to form water (anti-flammable thing). Today, every person with an access to mobile phone and an internet connection has seen thousands of videos of amateur and professional chemists cooking different kinds of salt crystals. 

For Graham Harman, on the other hand, evolutionary biology -particularly that of Niles Eldgredge, Stephan Jay, and Lynn Margulis- becomes the benchmark to understand the idea of emergence. Not only that it also offers him a model to develop and applied for the study of social entities. However, instead of emergence, what Harman notes from his study of the work of Lynn Margulis is the idea of symbiosis.  As Harman notes: “But OOO is even more indebted to the work of the late Lynn Margulis, who distinguished between moments of gradual change and moment of symbiosis between separate organisms, in which change leads to an organism different in kind from its predecessors. In particular, the evolution from simple prokaryotic cells to the more complex eukaryotic cells seems to result from the cell’s incorporation of previously independent bacteria that became permanent organelles inside the cells on which they were originally parasites. Here we have a type of relation that is not just the exchange of effects between two different actors, but the full-blown transformation of one of both entities through the incorporation of one by the other.”[5]

Harman takes this evolutionary model of symbiosis and adds three “twists” to the idea : 1) symbiosis should be regarded as being primarily biographical rather than biological. 2) symbiosis need not be reciprocal. 3) symbiosis is nonsymmetrical. 

Note that one can easily ascribe similar notions to a chemical emergence or a chemical symbiosis. However, symbiosis is not similar to chemical fusion or a fission. Instead it has a fusion and fission of a different kind. While in a chemical emergence more-often-than not it is almost impossible to retrieve the components, in a symbiosis it is still possible for component objects to be more or less intact and retrievable in most cases. For example it may be extremely difficult to extract oxygen or hydrogen from water however, it is possible to retrieve organs, cells, DNA samples, etc. from plants and animals. This would take a much longer discussion to clarify several other questions that emerge from here, but we will skip them for the moment. 

Let us get back to our discussion of symbiosis as primarily biographical. This biographical idea of symbiosis enables Harman to see events as objects that have a definite biography. Like every biography each event-object would entail a limit condition defined by birth, growth, and death. “That is to say, we need to be able to distinguish between the birth and death, the ripening and decadence, and the intermediate symbioses that are characteristic of all social objects and not just biological ones.”[6] This has an important implication for Harman and for one of the questions we raised earlier about essences. Note that it is not a simple straight forward continuous process from birth to death for an object, instead, one more important idea from evolution theory becomes an important companion, that of punctuated equilibrium. In the life of every object (including event-objects) the difference between birth, growth (maturity / ripening) and death (decadence) is not simply that of age or time but that of an irreversible phase-change (not just a minor change), a new symbiosis with other object(s). The object in each of the phases between birth and death has a more or less consistent set of exchanges and routines with its environment.

This also enables us to assume and work with the idea that perhaps objects (including cultures, geographies, ecologies) have essence (but with a caveat that essences are unknowable) and the essence of the object undergoes at least a handful of changes throughout its life -subject to the handful of symbiosis the object goes through. 

E. Events of different scales: but always with a specific map (never all encompassing): There is also another important learning from this way of understanding about events. Like Actor-Network Theory, OOO agrees that all events have a specific map -i.e. a limit in space and time. That is, events are not all pervasive. Secondly, there are always multiple events occurring at multiple scales (with respect to each other’s scales of time and space). 

This helps us understand for example, how it is possible that even after 12,000 years of agricultural turn, there are still nomadic and tribal communities that carry out hunting gathering practices; how, after 5,000 years since the establishment of first cities of the world, only 50% of the world’s population is urban (whatever that term means today); how, even after tremendous advances in medical sciences there is no definitive understanding or cure for common cold or common flu; or why Spanish-flu proliferated only to those cities and settlements that were connected by the sea-ports and rail-roads; or how the Spanish flu could overlap with another major event, World War I -more importantly, despite its name, how many of the nations of the world did not participate in the war. Each event has a time and space specific arrangement, never all encompassing. But not all aspects of the arrangements are available or visible to us or all things entangled. This also does not entail that this specific arrangement will always lead to this specific event. 

Of course, there could be events that have an all-pervasive scale to them- like the moment oxygen became abundant in earth’s atmosphere. However, that does not entail that all that there could be is only one event at any given space and time. Multiple sites and multiple timescales of events are operational at any given instance. 

2. THEORY: 

Speaking of theory, let alone theory in the times of pandemic, is a tricky thing. On the one hand it has a lineage as old as the written documents, and on the other, it has numerous schools and dimensions, that it appears more entangled than the dreadlocks of Medusa. However, if we narrow down the focus on Critical Theory, or Critique, we may be able to find a thread that might help us understand the lineage -even if that lineage leads us to the thicks of archeological sites in the most violent of shifting theory deltas. We will try to understand the idea of critical theory through Horkheimer’s Traditional and Critical Theory; Mbembe’s survey from Out of The Dark Night; and Bruno Latour’s Why has Critique run out of steam?

A. Traditional and Critical Theory: “The theory is not a storehouse of hypotheses on the course of particular events in society. It constructs a developing picture of society as a whole, an existential judgement with a historical dimension.”[7]Pg 239. 

In the chapter long meditation along with a postscript on the difference between traditional and critical theory,Horkheimer holds no force back in peeling away critical theory from traditional theory. Perhaps a good place to start would be from the first sentences of the Postscript, rather than the preceding chapter Traditional and Critical Theory. In the first sentence itself Horkheimer lays down the roots of traditional theory and critical theory: Discourse On Methods by Rene Descartes, and Critique of Political Economy by Karl Marx[8]. This identification of roots is of crucial importance to understand the distinction between what Horkheimer calls as tradition theory and critical theory. Traditional theory, according to Horkheimer, is rooted in the Cartesian categories of mind / body, and subject / object. The traditional theory is more interested in thinking only about the object and it is not concerned with the socio-historical context it is embedded within. On the other hand, Critical theory, which also has objects of study or theory, is more interested in the socio-historical contexts within which the object has come to be. However, unlike traditional theory, for critical theory the objects of objects a.k.a the totality of society and nature, are its objects, within which everything is socio-historically located, including the intellectual or the theorist. This is how critical theory pushes to blur the subject/object distinction. 

With this in mind, Horkheimer argues, that the most important objective of critical theory is to change the existing “order of things” in their entirety. This means, not only the existing social order dictated by the current development in the capitalist modes of production, but also the relationship of humans with the unmastered nature. The ultimate aim of any critical theorist is to work, within and against the society, towards ending all oppressive human condition. In short towards total emancipation. On the contrary, traditional theory -including metaphysics-, does not have this total change as its objective. Traditional theory is concerned with discovering the presence of a disease, but not its cure; and if it is concerned with finding the cure, it is not necessarily concerned with total dissemination of the cure. One can think of the controversies over vaccine distribution between countries and within countries also. 

In short traditional theory is extremely conformist and does not bother itself with changing the order of things. That is why, scientists and inventors are loved as long as they are not going against the grain. That is also why critical theorists are always despised by society, the bourgeois, and the state. 

The other important thing to note about critical theory and traditional theory, particularly for this essay, is the relationship between event and theory. Whether it is traditional theory or critical theory, both are concerned with theorizing an event. The difference once again being, that for traditional theory, each event is an independent event and is not historically unfolding; and for critical theory all events are historically developing -with the various stages of development of modes of production and economic exchange. In short, as Mbembe has also mentioned, there cannot be theory without events. 

So how does one theorize events? Once again, for traditional and critical theory, a theory is a systematically and conceptually organized knowledge. Which means, one needs to acquire knowledge about the event. Which would imply that one needs to have access to the event or its developments in order to know. As is well established, this would further imply that we know either in first person experience, or via other people, or via the traces of the event on objects. The bullet marks on walls, burnt vehicles, deformed objects and bodies, and so on. In this sense, theory is also a historical record and more importantly a witness to the event[9]. And it is in this sense that the theorist ‘bears witness’ to the event. For critical theory, every event is historically contingent, and this is not necessarily important for traditional theory. 

Notice that both for traditional and critical theory the distinction between nature and society (nature / culture), knowledge, and rationality are crucial. However, traditional theory is interested in these aspects as given, while critical theory wants to ask how is this given historically located. The aim of critical theory is to continuously strive towards human emancipation, until a moment in future where humans can freely and harmoniously live together (while also having mastered nature entirely).

B. Theory Today according to Achille Mbembe: “To be sure, theory (at least among the Western Left) has always been many things at the same time. It has always been an investigation into the conditions and limits of knowledge. But the task of theory, at least in the human sciences, has also always been to ask, what characterizes our present and our age? In other words, it has been about deciphering one’s own time and taking responsibility for one’s own fate.

Obviously, then, theory was always conceived as a political intervention, something somewhat beyond “criticism” as such, that is, “a certain kind of reflection on language and literature that garnered the tag ‘deconstruction’ in the 1970s.” What gave theory its edge was its presupposed capacity both to transform the existing structures of power and to imagine alternative social arrangements. In this sense, theory was always understood to be a means of struggle— which allows Michael Hardt to reduce it to a form of “philosophical and political militancy.” Pg 14

“Whatever the case, critical theory emerged in Western Europe between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in response to transformations in the economy, society, and culture. At stake in these transformations was a change in the character of the capitalist economy and the liberal political order.” Pg 15

Three things are interesting to note in these paragraphs: 1) Theory has been about deciphering one’s time and taking responsibility for one’s fate. 2) Theory as a means of social struggle: 3) It emerged in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Western Europe. Why are these three things interesting? Among other reasons, these three points about theory is precisely what one reads in Karl Marx since at least his dissertation in 1842. The key argument in the dissertation was to locate the idea of nature of atoms and nature of humans, to escape ‘bonds of fate’. While Democritus argued that atoms cannot and do not esacpe bonds of fate (a staunch and rigorous materialist or physicist). While Epicurus (a not so adventurous philosopher) advocated that indeed atoms can swerve away from the bonds of fate. Not only that, they can break free, precisely because they can self-realize that they need to escape ‘bonds of fate’ and collide with other atoms. That is why, as Marx noted, friendship (free association of free-men) was considered as the highest social good in ancient Greek societies. To be sure, Marx would leave this work far behind and move on to take up more pressing questions, yet, it is impossible to shake away the hunch that these originary ideas of free association, escape from the bonds of fate, etc. based on the atomistic thinking of the early Greek physicists, strongly remains as a kind of background hum in most of his works. In this sense, and as long as the Marxian tradition of critique is considered as the roots of, at least, modern critical theory, it remains atomistic -a.k.a materialist. 

As Horkheimer already noted, for Critical Theory is about engaging with the struggle for a better and rational future society (and mastery over nature). That future, also according to Horkheimer, is a long-drawn battle, that may very well exceed a single human life time. For the modernists, that struggle was always the struggle against the dominant modes of production of the time and the social atrocities that emerge from the present mode of capitalism. In that sense, theory is, like Mbembe noted, a political endeavor, a struggle for an alternative social arrangement. 

While this tells us about the key historical beginnings of Critical Theory, Mbembe also points to the taking over of all kinds of theories in the space created by the flight from critical theory. This situation has also opened up the space where there is agreement today on what theory is. 

There is no agreement today about what theory is and what distinguishes it from “criticism.” As with science itself, theory today refers to a heterogeneous population of individual themes, fields, and subfields, at times without any discernible convergence toward a grand synthesis. It covers a wide variety of practices— from (1) methods of questioning the truth of authority to (2) techniques to reveal the figures of power that operate in dominant discourses, institutions, or social processes to (3) ways of investigating the limits of human reason and judgment. Furthermore, over the last quarter of the twentieth century, there has been “something of a flight from theory, a re- embrace both of methodological empiricism and born- again realism; also a return to the ethical and the theological”— to which should be added the growth of versions of popular science that have produced “a ready public for arguments that seek to reduce human nature to biology.” Pg 15-16

Mbembe is pointing to a whole range of developments in “evolutionary theory, socio-biology, cognitive science, genetics, and neurosciences” who’s object has been to reduce “core humanities questions of intentionality, agency, memory, sexuality, cognition, and language” to be purely biological and genetic. Everything human can be explained biologically and genetically -at least that is what the ambition of these sciences seems to be. 

In the United States, says Mbembe, the traditional humanities and social sciences are caught up in kind of “melancholia” of post-structuralist relativism -or the end of truth as developed partly with the thrust of Deconstruction, Psychanalysis or what has broadly been categorised as ‘theories of representation’ or language based theories.[10] Mbembe also points the Bruno Latour’s essay “Why has Critique run out of steam?”, but we will consider it at a longer length in the following part.  But in a similar line of critique of critical theory, Mbembe points to Karen Barad who notes that critical theory has “become too easy -a practice of pure negativity”.[11] More importantly, in Barad’s reading the traditional humanities are assigned (or have assumed?) the domaing of matters of concern (values, meaning, and culture) and sciences are assigned (or have assumed?) the domains of matters of facts (nature).[12] Similarly, the “centrality of human subjectivity in the discourse of theory is challenged by various philosophical projects, from speculative realis, new materialisms, and actor-network theory to object-oriented ontology.”[13]

For Mbembe, despite all this, theory is not dead but it is simply displaced. Displaced in form of 1) abstract theory -an instrumental and abstract model of the structures and working of the world and its mobilization to produce new realities or “constitute a world”. One can perhaps read it in the lines of Plato’s ideal form (my assumption)2) “myriad critical practices that are politically committed -marked by emphatic urgency and facilitated by new media. 3) Critique of Anthropocentrism; and 4) Critique of Planetary Alliance between technology, capitalism, and militarism.

For Mbembe, it is still important for critical theory to “attend to these new pathways of capital”. In other words to follow capitalisms historical development -the classical and original focus of critical theory: :the market is now a stand-alone world constituted in opposition to the material and embodied life-world.”[14] Neo-liberalism seems to privatize culture, arts, and identity or difference (not to mention the over extraction of natural resources around the planet). 

To this Mbembe adds that this survey of critical theory should be read in the light of the development of Theory from the South. It is another way of saying “how to read critical theory from the distances and entanglements of the global south with Global North -or from the ‘rest’ to the ‘west’.

C. Why has Critique run our of Steam?[15] According to Bruno Latour:

                 
“…this most ambiguous pharmakon, has become such a potent euphoric drug?” “

What do critiques do? According to Bruno Latour, contemporary critiques do one of the two things: 1) debunk the object fetish of the naïve believers, by arguing that what the “naïve believers are doing with objects is simply a projection of their wishes onto a material entity that does nothing at all by itself” (What Latour calls as fairy position); 2) The actions of the naïve believers are “entirely determined by the action of powerful causalities coming from objective reality they don’t see, but that you, yes you, the never sleeping critic, alone can see.” (Latour calls this as fact position). 

Latour’s key argument here is that critique has taken the role of a hammer, or weaponry, that is meant to do only thing “crack open”, or deconstruct, or destroy things (in softer terms, the act of “unveiling” the truth has become a violent act of “ripping” apart the truth[16]). However, it’s own weaponry are never subjected to similar attitude of critique. The positions and conceptual arsenal of early physicists, materialists, Marx, Horkheimer, etc. are still actively mobilized with little or no criticism. Latour wishes to open this debate for further scrutiny. Latour would have found a surprising ally in Roy Bhaskar. Particularly due to their closeness the science and more importantly, their critique of modernity and its association with critical theory. 

But what is the problem if critique breaks open things? The problem, that Latour identifies is that for far too long we critical thinkers have been trying to “shoot” down things, to a point that we no longer think that objects (or things as Latour would prefer) have no capacities or role to play in society. In such almost angry and exalted breaking down of things, irrational things like poetry, gods, art do not have much room (as they are merely our projections on things). In short, critical thinkers have become famous “reductionists”. This might have also been tolerable, so to speak, about the intellectual group. But, the more worrisome problem is that the jargon of critical thinkers are today indistinguishable from some of the preposterous conspiracy theories. One can think of the positions taken in response to the covid-19 pandemic by anti-vaccine populists and that Giorgio Agamben. Both argue that the current pandemic is an excuse by the state to curb individual freedom and exert more state power on our bodies. This is the greater problem that Latour seems to be concerned with. Latour wants to ask, what are the ways in which we can recast critical thinking today?

“My question is thus: Can we devise another powerful descriptive tool that deals this time with matters of concern and whose import then will no longer be to debunk but to protect and to care, as Donna Haraway would put it? Is it really possible to transform the critical urge in the ethos of someone who adds reality to matters of fact and not subtract reality? To put it another way, what’s the difference between deconstruction and constructivism?”[17]

It is not only critical thinkers that Latour is interrogating in the essay, but it is also philosophers in general. 

“The problem with philosophers is that because their jobs are so hard, they drink a lot of coffee and thus use in their arguments an inordinate quantity of pots, mugs, and jugs—to which, sometimes, they might add the occasional rock… Philosophy never deals with the sort of beings we in science studies have dealt with. And that’s why the debates between realism and relativism never go anywhere.”[18]

D. Reconsidering Critique: What is the alternative that Latour proposing? Should critical thinkers not be critical anymore? Should they not be pointing at truth? Latour’s proposition is to rethink the is critic as not ‘breaking down’ but as ‘gathering’ of things: 
“…but am I not speaking for another, much less prestigious but maybe as respectable tradition, if I exclaim in turn “Give me one matter of concern and I will show you the whole earth and heavens that have to be gathered to hold it firmly in place.””[19]

Latour is concerned with the fact that too much focus has been given to ‘matters of fact’, which is another way of saying that factual appearances -in other words empiricism- has dominated critical thinking. How so? By mobilizing facts as a way to undermine real issues. Latour’s essay begins with the reflection on the status of acceptance of climate change based on scientific facts. On the one hand Latour has spent his entire career to show how scientific facts are constructedand on the other hand conservative populists also mobilise the very same argument to claim that climate change is not a complete fact.

Latour wants to shift stance from that of war monger to that of a constructivist. The essay is sandwiched with various ways to make this point, but never as full-fledged methods. Let us list some of them: 

  1. Acknowledge that critical thinking is built on much older philosophy. It is an impossible task to dismantle critical weapons. 
  2. Instead of reductionism, consider “gathering” (human and non-human). Instead of subtraction, consider multiplication. : “The solution lies, it seems to me, in this promising word gathering that Heidegger had introduced to account for the “thingness of the thing.”” 
    “We all know subcritical minds, that’s for sure! What would critique do if it could be associated with more, not with less, with multiplication, not subtraction.”
  3. Renew empiricism and constructivism: I am aware that to get at the heart of this argument one would have to renew also what it means to be a constructivist, but I have said enough to indicate the direction of critique, not away but toward”

“The critic is not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles.”

  • Care and Maintain: “The critic is not the one who lifts the rugs from under the feet of the naïve believers, but the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather. The critic is not the one who alternates haphazardly between ant fetishism and positivism like the drunk iconoclast drawn by Goya, but the one for whom, if something is constructed, then it means it is fragile and thus in great need of care and caution.”

This would also imply that we give critical thinking a similar treatment as this renewed constructivist would give to any thing.  Judith Butler has taken up a response to Latour’s provocations and responded by undertaking the study of critiquein young Karl Marx’s writings -with a focus on the 1844 manuscripts. Butler argues that, the re-reading of Marx’s 1844 manuscripts one gets a sense that critique has always been about a careful consideration and reading of all the ideas and works of the previous authors. If this is the case, then what exactly is Latour’s problem?  It would take a much longer space to elaborate on this point. But it might suffice to put forward a very short-handed remark -for future reference. The problem is that, and this is also my reading of Marx (and Horkheimer) is that critical thinking basis too much emphasis of knowledge –justified true belief. For the critical theorists, it appears at the moment, that justified true belief is the insight into the all-pervasiveness of capitalism, state mechanisms, technological developments, and their impact on human living. 

3. Theory and Pandemic:  

After discussing the very many ideas of event, and the very many ideas on critical theory, we can return to the question of the seminar. What is the role of theory in the times of pandemic?  Or, how to think about the relationship between theory and pandemic? This questions also can be extended to ask what is the relationship between theory and events in general. Should theories come before the event, during the event, or after the events? 

Traditional theory might suggest that there can some theories purely about objects and past events. It in many ways also suggest that this theorization of objects and events can produce new events. For instance, one can think about the modernization of agriculture with help of fertilizers, water pumps, tractors, and today with the automation in farming processes. All these things have emerged so to speak of either one or several of theories about farming, machines, and/or management of farmlands in general. The same thing might speak differently to a critical theorist, who might be able to track a deeper insight into such processes in their totality and what that might mean to society in totality. 

This means critical theory, might in many ways, enter the scene (as a figure of speech) only after the event has begun / taken place, it can continue its investigations in the epoch of the event. However, as it is often noticed, the epoch for several critical theorists is the historical development of capitalism, its effects on the totality of society, and the struggle towards a universal change of that condition (which in a large sense cannot escape its Marxist roots – which in many ways was an event that has changed the course of critique). Does this mean, that the event, wether it is humanly produced or produced by non-human entities, will mark the horizon of contemporary theory?

How would the Latourian neo-constructivist critical thinker respond to this question? 


[1] Alain Badiou, “THE EVENT IN DELEUZE,” trans. Jon Roffe, PARRHESIA, no. NUMBER 2 (2007): 37–44.

[2] Graham Harman, Immaterialism: Objects and Social Theory (Malden, MA: Polity, 2016).

[3] Graham Harman, Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (Penguin UK, 2018).

[4] Manuel DeLanda, Philosophy and Simulation: The Emergence of Synthetic Reason (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011).

[5] Harman, Object-Oriented Ontology. 2018

[6] Harman, Object-Oriented Ontology. 2018

[7] Max Horkheimer, Critical Theory: Selected Essays (New York: Continuum Pub. Corp, 1982).

[8] Ibid. pg 244

[9] “Objects, the kind of perception, the questions asked, and the meaning of the answers all bear witness to human activity and the degree of man’s power.” Horkheimer, Critical Theory. Pg. 244

[10] Achille Mbembe, Out of the Dark Night: Essays on Decolonization (New York: Columbia University Press, 2021). pg 17 – 18

[11] Ibid, pg 18

[12] Ibid, pg 18 This line of argument can also be found in Graham Harman’s writings. But it appears that while Barad is interested in the ‘whole’ world Harman’s interests and efforts are anti-holism.

[13] Ibid, pg 19.  

[14] Ibid, pg 23.

[15] Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” Critical Inquiry30, no. 2 (January 2004): 225–48, https://doi.org/10.1086/421123.

[16] Unveiling or ripping is my reading. Latour does not mobilize this reading. 

[17] Latour, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?”

[18] Ibid. 

[19] Ibid. 

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