Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Critical Theory in a Time of Crisis

Excerpt from Phillip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968)

Seminars for the 'Critical Theory, Culture, Resistance' module stopped in Term 2. However, the discussion of crucial theoretical issues and the preparation of essays goes on in Term 3. Given the current Covid-19 pandemic the relation between the topics of the module and current affairs can be said to have become even more explicit.

This space is intended to provide an assemblage of digital resources to assist us in continuing that discussion. Please scroll further down to continue reading.

Currently we are all affected with pervasive threats to our health, indeed to our lives, to our ways of life, to our economy, to our World. After the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which destroyed what then was one of the centres of power in Europe, and left most of its population either dead, dying, or at grave risk from the aftershocks, as well as the tsunami that followed the earthquake, the wide spread fires, and the rotten corpses. Even if our world has changed in a myriad ways, we remain as vulnerable as always. Then, the Marquis of Pombal, in charge of the government, made clear the immediate imperative for survival in a few words: 'Bury the dead and care for the living'.

Nowadays, the immediate and essential tasks are also clear. However, for students, scholars, and intellectuals in general, a primary task is also to apply their specific skills, knowledge, and discipline, to find ways out of the crisis, be it through applied medical research or, at the other side of the spectrum, theoretical and historical consideration of the current crisis, its causes, effects, and representations. In the 18th century it became clear that the 1755 earthquake had not only destroyed Lisbon, it had fundamentally destroyed much of the foundations for thought in general, and in some cases, radically altered any relation to questions of ethics or even divinity. Voltaire, and many other philosophers considered the earthquake as a caesura in European thought. Kant wrote three essays on it. Susan Neiman in Evil in Modern Thought succinctly stated how forceful that catastrophe became: “The eighteenth century used the word Lisbon much as we use the word Auschwitz today. How much weight can a brute reference carry? It takes no more than the name of a place to mean: the collapse of the most basic trust in the world, the grounds that make civilization possible. Learning this, modern readers may feel wistful: lucky the age to which an earthquake can do so much damage.” Are we headed that way today? Will this catastrophe also herald a radical change in everything we do, how we do it, and above all, how we think? No one can know, but we all have a duty to reflect on it.

In oder of inclusion (most recent on top):

David Harvey. 'Capitalism Is Not the Solution to Urban America's Problems -- Capitalism Itself Is the Problem'. Jacobin Magazine

Translation and Conflict: The Violence of the Universal: a conversation with Étienne Balibar

Paolo Giordano has just published How Contagion Works: Science, Awareness, and Community in Times of Global Crises

Slavoj Žižek has just published: Pandemic!: Covid-19 Shakes the World

A recent, very short, piece of mine on critical reading, resistance, and crisis can be accessed here.

Penguin has initiated a new series of short interventions by noted writers: Perspectives

Philosophers and Corona virus on European Journal of Psychoanalysis

In the Moment. A 'Critical Inquiry' Blog

Critical Times: Interventions in Global Critical Theory

BCLA: 'Culture and Quarantine'