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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

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SCAPVC Research Seminar - Dr Emma Cox (Royal Holloway)
FAB 0.08 lecture hall

School of Creative Arts Performances and Visual Cultures summer term research seminar. - Dr Emma Cox (Royal Holloway, University of London).

Interceptive Aesthetics: Performing #SolidarityAndResistance at Sea

In January 2022, approximately 70 forced migrants who had taken precarious refuge on Shell’s Miskar oil platform, situated off the coast of Tunisia and within a European search and rescue (SAR) zone, were handed to Tunisian authorities and returned. As one more iteration of the EU’s biopolitical regime of Mediterranean interdiction and quasi-legalised boat turn-back, the incident was normative, but on this occasion a subsidiary group of people who had been drifting in waters near the oil rig were rescued by the MV Louise Michel, owned by British street artist Banksy. The boat features a spray-paint motif and the word RESCUE in lurid pink, along with a repurposed image of Banksy’s ‘Girl with Balloon’. The Louise Michel’s performative, publicised actions represent an explicit aestheticisation of rescue in a region where migrant trauma is already a mediatised spectacle. The Louise Michel’s first operation in 2020 attracted wide media coverage, but it had been held at port by authorities until 2022. The vessel is part of a European network of non-state rescue boats; despite the criminalisation of their work, these operations have increased substantially in recent years, entering a space of diminished EU response. Deploying the hashtags #SolidarityAndResistance and #AllBlackLivesMatter, NGO operations situate maritime rescue as affiliative, direct-action resistance to state power, contextualised by global anti-racism. This paper considers what kind of solidarity is enacted by NGOs like the Louise Michel and reflects on ways in which the interceptive aesthetics of their work might revise ideas about refugee-responsive performance as intervention.

Biographical Note

Emma Cox is Reader and Head of Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the author of Performing Noncitizenship (2015), Theatre & Migration (2014), and editor of the play collection Staging Asylum (2013). Cox’s writing has been published in journals such as Theatre Journal and Theatre Research International. She is co-editor of the interdisciplinary volume, Refugee Imaginaries: Research Across the Humanities (2020).

All attendees are welcome at a drinks reception following the lecture.

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Research seminar: Benjamin Dalton (Birmingham), Relaxing with Catherine Malabou: Approaches to letting go in philosophy and neuroscience

This paper will explore themes of relaxation, letting be, and letting go in the work of the contemporary French philosopher Catherine Malabou. Writing at the intersections of philosophy, neuroscience, and other diverse disciplines, the concept at the core of Malabou’s work is that of plasticity: the ways in which the body and brain are ‘plastic’, and thus radically mutable and transformable. Malabou’s work is concerned with the question of how we might activate or embrace this plasticity for socio-political change and emancipation. One of responses to this ‘how’, I will argue, is to do precisely with modes of relaxation, letting be, and letting go that are more or less latent in Malabou’s elaboration of plasticity. These modes of relaxation and release are not to be confused with ideas of rest, R&R, stress-relief, wellness, etc.; rather, I argue, they invoke or induce a radical state of self-abandonment or self-shattering (of the body, brain, spirit) at play in Malabou’s accounts of profound transformation and metamorphosis. In his book La Soltura del cuerpo (2018), Cristóbal Durán analyses what he refers to as ‘la soltura’ in Malabou’s account of the plastic body and brain, which might translate from the Spanish as ‘ease’, ‘release’, ‘setting free’, but also ‘skill’. Durán here draws upon instances where Malabou describes plasticity through a lexis of release or letting go. Meanwhile, Malabou herself writes a preface to Anne Dufourmantelle’s Puissance de la douceur (2013), in which she praises the radical potentiality of Durfourmantelle’s concept of douceur, softness or gentleness. This gentleness, Malabou stresses, is not the kind of relaxation we find in neo-liberal approaches to meditation, mindfulness, yoga, etc., but an altogether more fundamental and radical instance of letting go. Bringing together these ideas from Malabou, Durán, and Dufourmantelle, I want to extend these theorisations of relaxation across three other interlocutors: the French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard (Cerveau et Méditation, 2017), who brings philosophy, meditation, and neuroscience together; the architects and philosophers Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins, who design built environments which relax and transform the body; and experimentations with psychedelics in the pursuit of neural and socio-political transformation in the movement known as ‘acid communism’. I ask: what technologies and practices (medical, architectural, spiritual, etc.) might induce the kinds of relaxation present in Malabou’s philosophy? What practical implications and potentials would these states have for the body and mind? And what forms of socio-political transformation might these states of relaxation bring about?

Benjamin Dalton is Teaching Fellow in French, Sexuality and Gender at the University of Birmingham. He received his PhD in French from King’s College London in 2020 with his thesis entitled: ‘Plasticity in Contemporary French Thought, Literature and Film: Witnessing Transformations with Catherine Malabou’. He is currently developing this research into a monograph. He has recently published an article on plasticity in the writing of Marie Darrieussecq in Dalhousie French Studies (2020), a book chapter on queerness and plasticity (2019), and an interview with Catherine Malabou in Paragraph (2019). His article, ‘The Plastic Hospital: Catherine Malabou’s Architectural Therapeutics’, is forthcoming with Essays in French Literature and Culture (2021). He also recently co-organised both the online seminar series (2020-21) and the internal online 3-day conference (2021) ‘Contemporary Womxn’s Writing and the Medical Humanities’. His research is now turning to the question of the clinic in contemporary French philosophy, and in particular is looking at how contemporary French philosophy can imagine new non-normative, queer modes of healthcare and healthcare spaces.

Benjamin's paper will be followed by a Response from Oliver Davis, Professor of French Studies, Warwick.

To join the seminar on Teams click here.