Performing the Institution “As If It Were Possible”

Athena Athanasiou

Athena Athanasiou is Professor of Social Anthropology and Gender Theory at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences (Athens, Greece). Among her publications are the books: Agonistic Mourning: Political Dissidence and the Women in Black (Edinburgh University Press, 2017); Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (with Judith Butler, Polity Press, 2013); Crisis as a ‘State of Exception’ (Athens, 2012); Life at the Limit: Essays on Gender, Body and Biopolitics (Athens, 2007); Rewriting Difference: Luce Irigaray and ‘the Greeks’ (co-ed. with Elena Tzelepis, SUNY Press, 2010). She has been a fellow at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, at Brown University, and at the Center for the Study of Social Difference, at Columbia University. She is a member of the editorial advisory board of the journals Critical Times, Feminist FormationsPhilosophy and Society, feministiqά, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, and Journal of Greek Media and Culture.

This text was first published in Former West: Art and the Contemporary After 1989, eds. Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh (Cambridge MA and Utrecht: MIT Press and BAK basis voor actuele kunst, 2016), pp. 679-691.



Book bloc protest, London, 2010, source: signsofrevolt.net

My question in this text is: how might it be possible for subjects who are produced by and within certain instituted regimes of subjectification to engage in acts and arts of resistance? This is a question that allows us to reflect upon and theorize the forms of political subjectivity that are—or seek to become—possible in these times of autarchic governmentality. Twenty-five years after the “end of history” and the demise of actually existing socialism, TINA (“there is no alternative”) aspires to become a new canon, affirming the axiomatic inevitability of global capitalism and precluding the possibility of alternative sociopolitical becomings. Therefore, I propose that instead of treating the interminable question of the capacity to act in terms of “possible versus impossible” we examine what it might mean to institute “otherwise,” politically and performatively, “as if it were possible.” For this task I draw on philosopher Jacques Derrida’s commitment to the irreducible modality of “im-possibility”: the possible as impossible that requires “a new thinking of the possible.”[1] I will explore the unconditionality of thinking politics as an art of the impossible.

I want to dwell on the institution as a condition of possibility for un/common space in the “former West” in light of present conditions of impossibility—capitalist crisis, securitization, and the post-colony. I see the institution as a way to claim having things in common (beyond unity and closure). I also see it as a way to trace the possibilities of countering the mainstream discourse of “there is no alternative” in Europe today. The purpose of the slash in “un/common,” that inaudible or unheard-of typographic sign, is to imply the not-in-common at the heart of being-in-common and therefore to trouble the presumptions of commonness, bringing out the exigencies that mark the polis’s coming-into-presence as a common space of plural agonism. To contest and go beyond the normative horizon of the centralized territorial polis is to engage with its “constitutive outside” which is inhabited by those figured as dispensable: the economized precarious human of neoliberal rationality and the racialized illegal human in transit across the increasingly militarized frozen waters of European necropolitics.

What alternative and critical form of the polis might be embodied by the refugees and undocumented migrants who cross the Mediterranean waterways in overcrowded fishing boats hoping to reach European shores but being let die in the attempt? What claims to the institutional conditions for life do they enact every time they encounter barricades, racist attacks, and military institutions of securitization instead of safe passage, hospitality, and equal belonging? In its power to determine the conditions of livability, refugee necropolitics at the liquid borderscapes of fortress Europe retains an uncanny resonance with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel’s characterization of the bourgeoisie in The Communist Manifesto as that which dissolves everything in “the icy water of egotistical calculation.”[2] Indeed today Europe is the continent of frozen waters in the sense that it rests upon both corporate calculation and incalculable refugee disposability.[3] The conditions of possibility for being-in-common are being destroyed by the institutional forces of dispossession that underlie the contemporary regime of neoliberal rationality. And yet, induced precarity can serve as an ethico-political resource for effecting responsive modes of being-in-common whereby a certain impossibility of being-in-common might also be shared.[4]

A Performative Politics of the Institution Beyond Institutionalization

Against the backdrop of instituted processes that seek to determine what the human is by producing “human capital” and rendering bodies disposable, I propose to grapple with what could be tentatively called “a performative politics of the institution,” a politics that might not be exhausted by institutionalization and that might always be still to come. In her recent work on the assembly, philosopher Judith Butler asks: “How else would we understand the general claim that bodies invariably depend on enduring social relations and institutions for their survival and flourishing?”[5] Butler’s work on induced forms of precarity outlines the complicated ways in which the body depends upon historically specific supporting conditions that do not constitute a static outside but are rather a crucial part of the body’s materialization. Bodily vulnerability implicates us, then, in matrices of unequal distribution of resources, affects, power, and institutional access and support.

I would like to suggest that my critical concern with the figure of the institution and its connection with political performativity is haunted from the outset by an irreducible ambivalence. This is because although our lives depend on institutional support for survival or even more-than-survival, institutions also expose lives to structural violence, unequal distribution of resources and affects, normalization, and disposability and therefore uphold intersecting class, citizenship, racialized and heteronormative privileges. Nevertheless, I do not see my task here as making the institution accountable for its “broken promises,” even though invoking the “ideal” of liberal democratic institutions can arguably be deployed as a way of demanding the institution become less injurious and more livable for people. For even if we lay claim to institutions, are these claims bound to affirm that institutions simply sustain the conditions of life? How can these claims adequately account for the institution’s involvement in the politicization and economization of life within the globalized distribution of capital, resources, and bodies? What complicates our critical task under current conditions of intensifying precarity is that institutions do not simply jeopardize or sustain humanness but rather are actively implicated in the institution of long-term inequality and disenfranchisement. And so the question becomes: how can we survive the violent terms of social intelligibility that the institutionalization of neoliberal rationality works to tacitly naturalize and moralize? And finally: how does our radical political critique survive institutionalization?

The institution is not reducible to a static logic of functionality and a monolithic conception of its factual “context.” One should be attentive, of course, to the plural and contradictory ways in which different institutions are involved in the distribution of resources and power and hence might signify an array of instituted practices, forces, sensibilities, norms, temporalities, and materialities. The disparate arenas pulled into the orbit of the “institution” might include the state, the law, rights, normative regimes, the security forces, infrastructures of education, health, shelter, intimacy, and care, but also social networks of solidarity and political struggle. They might also include imaginary spaces, discursive formations, and the regimes of bodily signification through which subjectivities are ascribed, resisted, and transformed. All these divergent registers of formal and informal institutions propel differing political aspirations and engagements including various genres of collective courage, attentiveness, and askesis of being-in-common. In Butler’s words:

“In effect, the demand for infrastructure is a demand for a certain kind of inhabitable ground, and its meaning and force derive precisely from that lack. This is why the demand is not for all kinds of infrastructure, since some serve the decimation of livable life (military forms of detention, imprisonment, occupation, and surveillance, for instance), and some support livable life.”[6]

Capitalist institutional apparatuses are implicated in the production of “human capital” in the form of governable bodies. However, at the same time, public institutions become de-institutionalized, expropriated, and devalued in favor of entrepreneurial apparatuses of control. In an era of thoroughgoing neoliberal crisis management that wears out bodies and minds, public institutions are considered unaffordable and redundant by reigning market standards. As many public institutions are privatized or subcontracted by governments to private agents, the common perception of the neoliberal Right posits that if the funding of institutions is withdrawn then self-management will thrive. In other words, according to the neoliberal Right, de-funding allows the fittest to excel by means of entrepreneurial self-sufficiency.

I would like to propose that what is dispossessed when public institutions are corporatized is not simply public institutions themselves and the practices, venues, and affective registers attached to them, but also, importantly, the very conditions of possibility for their democratic transformation. In losing a public institution, we also lose the possibility of collective mobilization in response to what interminably remains to be resisted, reinvented, reformed, and re-instituted. Political theorist Wendy Brown has aptly positioned the question of the institution at the unstable intersection of capitalism and liberal democracy: “Neo-liberal governmentality undermines the relative autonomy of certain institutions from one another and from the market—law, elections, the police, the public sphere—an independence that formerly sustained an interval and a tension between a capitalist political economy and a liberal democratic political system.”[7] It is precisely this tension that is being dispossessed by neoliberal market rationality and unbridled financialization today at a time when the compromise between capitalism and democracy no longer seems to be in operation.

Philosopher Michel Foucault has suggested that institutions should be examined from the perspective of power relations rather than from the perspective of institutions as such.[8] In his work on the question of the institution, Foucault has explored how certain forms of historical rationality have been the conditions of possibility for certain institutions. According to Foucault, power relations are finer, as well as more diverse, diffuse, and complex than institutions. Power cannot be localized within institutions and is not subsumed by them. At the same time, institutions are imbued with power relations. In Foucault’s words: “Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategic situation in a particular society.”[9] Foucault has famously argued against the reduction of the political to the institutional. What is at stake in this work is a concern with how the administrative and normalizing power of institutions produces embodied subjects as governable and self-governing. Governmentality, as we know, is Foucault’s term for how institutions come to be instituted through their production of self-governing subjects.

An Uncanny Occupation of the Institution

The theoretical and political dilemma that arises is this: we need public spaces, homes, parks, schools, hospitals, libraries, and art institutions to sustain the possibility of living and being-in-common. And yet, at the same time, these institutions, with all their classed, racial, ethnic, and gendered inflections, are technologies of normalization and disposability. As they determine and regulate livability, they also compromise or negate the sustainability of certain modes of life. And they often do so while upholding the capitalist biopolitical genealogy of “care,” “protection,” and “social security” as socially ordained virtues historically associated with a privatized, middle-class, liberal morality. To phrase it differently: as much as instituted precarity saturates our lives under neoliberalism by rigidifying already existing inequalities and injustices and producing new ones, we cannot simply give up on the institutions that have been implicated in our suffering despite—or precisely through—their commitment to public interest.[10] To put it bluntly institutions sustain us and wipe us out at the same time.

This double bind produces a potentially creative challenge for instituting otherwise, compelling a “with-within-against” ambivalent positionality. That is, it compels a spectral political location of both proximity and distance which would allow us to de-authorize the institution’s normalizing violence while at the same time resisting the neoliberal market rationality that depletes non-market institutions. This is particularly crucial as the destruction of non-market institutions is often paired with the inauguration of new institutions that are premised upon instrumental self-management and thus remain impervious to democratic accountability. In other words, what seems to be at stake is a critical redefinition of the institution as a particular topos of long-term interpellation and disenfranchisement according to norms of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and at the same time as a complex constellation of traversal, uneasy interiority, and uncanny occupation. This requires that we critically question and go beyond the classical disjunctive mode that often marks the language and imagination of political contestation: namely the binarism between either working “within” immanent conditions or from a presumptively pure and apocalyptic “outside.”

This enactment of the institution has become a site of intense collective reflection in two different but interrelated contexts in former West. Both the Occupy movements and the challenge posed by the possibility of forming left governments in Europe raise the question of how to institute otherwise under conditions of impossibility. In both these contexts, “occupying” an institution cannot be reduced to simply being part of the institution, or becoming like the institution, or even occupying the position of its internal token of difference. “Occupying” does not denote a heroic and miraculous conquest of the institution and it is not about seizing state power or state institutions as such. But neither is it about assuming a pure non-institutional and anti-institutional form of action. In other words, “occupying” might be seen as a possible way out of the strict and assertive demarcation between “horizontal” and “vertical” modes of political mediation and participation, and toward more inchoate, plastic, transversal, and dispersed forms and vocabularies of political subjectivity. In a way, this includes questioning the strict—and largely formalist— disjuncture between paradigms of “revolution” and “radical democracy.”

Defending What is yet to Come

In its fight against neoliberal de-institutionalization, anti-neoliberal politics rightly assumes the position of defending public institutions while occasionally criticizing their long-term normative unreliability. This implies a performative contradiction between defending and disrupting. Defending here takes the form of safeguarding the object of one’s critique by defending the possibility to imagine and enact alternative institutions that do not reinstate the injustices and normativities of the past and present.[11] In other words, it is about defending, imagining, and performing not only what already exists but also what is yet to come; what is to be reclaimed from existing civic practices and institutions and what is to be instituted anew. In this sense, performing the institution in a counter-institutional way means, first of all, resisting its closure. Here the word “closure” signifies both the neoliberal impulse to downsize and outsource which forces public institutions to close down, and the political rationality that divests institutions of the very possibility to serve, even unwittingly, as sites of unconditional resistance and dissent, or as Butler puts it, as “infrastructural condition(s) for politics.”[12]

I find the ambivalent mode of engaging with the institution by not being at home in institutions and not being at home with oneself in institutions to be particularly enabling in the context of countering neoliberal injustice and normativity. This does not constitute a problematic contradiction but rather indicates a performative reconfiguration of institutions as infinite and indeterminate sites of conflict. This performative dialectics of disruptive defending involves engaging with the institution while decentering its perils and thus resisting the lures of institutionalization. Working with the institution then becomes a historically situated and contingent work of resistance and hopefully a work of instituting otherwise.

As we try to think beyond the functionalist and structuralist binary between inside and outside of institutions, instead focusing on the work of instituting differently, social theorist Cornelius Castoriadis’ theory of social institutions and the social imaginary becomes pertinent. Seeking to critically circumvent the binary of objectivism and relativism, Castoriadis has reflected on the “union and the tension of instituting society and of instituted society, of history made and of history in the making.”[13] Society therefore institutes itself in history through a spirit of imagination. This indeterminate and provisional process through which a society establishes and critically questions its institutions is conceived of in terms of creation (poiesis): as a political, democratic process of self-instituting or self-institutionalization. Inspired by political theorist Hannah Arendt, Castoriadis has importantly emphasized the ways in which polis is the result of acts of instituting and self-instituting.

In this sense our questions are as follows: how do we articulate institutional critique? And how do we critically engage the way in which institutions institute? These are also questions about how institutions can be instituted differently. I would argue that the critical performativity of thinking and working with/in the institution against the logics of institutionalization involves a twofold move: on the one hand, acting here and now “as if it were possible,” in Derrida’s words, to keep the question of the institution open as an interminably aporetic call for another politics that simultaneously performs and resists the institution. And on the other hand, posing again and again the question that Arendt was reported to have once asked: “What will we lose if we win?”[14] Although Arendt’s formulation implies her conflicted stance about gender politics and feminism, I propose to reinstate it in a somewhat different manner as a way of acknowledging our finitude against power while also mobilizing our finitude against that power. Arendt’s question alerts us to the undecidable ambivalence of the object of our political commitment and desire. It also indicates the need to constantly guard against the institutionalization of our attachments and standpoints, especially in the face of victory. Seen through this twofold perspective (“as if it were possible” and “what will we lose if we win?”) the political performativity of coming-together and instituting-otherwise retains a valuable affinity with the contingencies of l’ avenir or what is “yet-to-come.”

“What about the Book to Come?”[15]

Let us consider the example of the university, which constitutes a disciplinary apparatus of knowledge production, but also, in its public form, a horizon of unconditional commitment, affirming the possibility of alternative knowledge and resistance to sovereignty (including the sovereignty of corporatization and canonical elite knowledge). The new forms of resistance and political activism that have recently emerged in and around the university demand and enact the reallocation of institutional resources in the wake of reigning neoliberal dispossession.

For example, “the book bloc” attempted to defend and open up the space of the university. In this 2010 street action protesters marched through the streets of various cities wearing mock books as shields in defense of public universities and libraries, and against tuition increases that exclude poorer and disenfranchised students from higher education. A photo of the book bloc captures the spirit of this street performance, depicting a policeman raising his baton against a protester carrying a sign of Derrida’s book, Specters of Marx. Chasing this particular title, the figure of the policeman unwittingly re-embodies the Derridean claim that the specters of Marx and Marxism are, indeed, disturbingly un-dead.[16]

By taking to the streets and thus re-positioning their bodies in the public space, these academic workers, non-tenured faculty, and indebted students (all of whom are subject to the onerous forces of precarization and replaceability), came together to defend the unconditionality of the university against neoliberal attempts to expropriate and enclose it. In doing so they did not downplay the university’s role in the sedimentation of power. The point of this and other similar mobilizations has been to defend the hard-won common right to public education rather than to “preserve” the university’s role in the reproduction of power relations including, crucially, capitalist relations. Without any doubt, universities have always been places of entrenched authority, privilege, and disciplinary knowledge production organized around some theologico-political form of sovereignty such as God, the law, the state, the empire, or private capital. But the question is: what kind of critique is articulated when differently economized, racialized, and gendered people assemble to defend “the humanities” against a sovereign power that undercuts what Derrida has appealed to as the unconditionality of the University? And also: What performative powers can be mobilized to make sense of and lay claim to alternative and plural humanities (where “humanities” indicates both a critical and epistemological alternative to “high culture,” and a critique of normative configurations of what counts as human)? Or, differently put: what are the performative qualities of critically contesting the loss of public education, work, housing, welfare services, means of livelihood, and rights?

The key trope of the book bloc—rendering written texts publicly accessible—ambivalently evokes the last scene in François Truffaut’s 1966 filmic adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 where a group of people amble through the woods each reciting (or becoming) a book they have learned by heart in order to keep it alive.[17] Based on the 1953 futuristic novel by Ray Bradbury, the film takes place in a hypothetical totalitarian and anti-intellectual society where the government seeks out and destroys all literature. Affected by an encounter with a 20-year-old dissident schoolteacher who was fired for her unorthodox teaching methods (she engaged her students in discussion instead of making them recite), one of the “firemen” (a member of the fire brigade whose duty it is to locate and burn all books) begins to hide books in his house and read them. The fireman becomes a convert to reading and a book collector and eventually joins the Book People, a clandestine group of fugitives, each of whom has selected and memorized a book in order to save it from the ashes. But how does the “conservation” (and eventual enunciation) of the written word become engaged in the authorization of regulatory discursive origins and inheritances? This question is not posed by Truffaut’s film, which focuses on the violence of book-burning rather than deconstructing the regulative forces of books and authorship. Nevertheless, reading Fahrenheit 451 through the lens of the book bloc allows us to raise the question of mnemonic inscription and to resituate and extend this question beyond the typographic predicament and bibliophilic protocols of the archive. As the medium of storage is extended from text to affective/embodied practice critical textualities can emerge and re-activate and re-load the archive.[18]

In considering how we embody and re-activate the book, I want to turn to a question that Derrida has posed: “What about the book to come?” For Derrida, the “to-come” is linked to spectrality, the figure of the event, the unanticipated coming of the other, and the notion of l’a-venir which denotes the coming of the impossible as a condition of the possible. As he states, “If all that arises is what is already possible, and so capable of being anticipated and expected, that is not an event. The event is possible only coming from the impossible.”[19] And furthermore, “The event, if there is such a thing, is not the actualization of a possibility, a straightforward putting into action, a realization, an effectuation, the teleological accomplishment of a capacity, the process of a dynamic de-pendent on ‘conditions of possibility.’”[20] Thus, as Derrida never tired of elucidating, the im- of the im-possible is not purely negative and does not simply signal the opposite of the possible but rather “introduces into the possible.”[21]

The l’avenir of books coming out of the libraries and taking to the streets invokes Derrida’s characterization of literature as a space where performative acts are based neither on institutionalized sanctions nor on the authority of the performing subject. As he writes: “The space of literature is not only that of an instituted fiction but also a fictive institution […]. It is an institution which tends to overflow the institution.”[22] Derrida here invites us to think beyond the closure of the institution and toward what is à-venir; that which is afoot, in the process of coming or of being carried out.

If here Derrida engages with the institution of literature as a “counter-institution,”[23] in another text he has addressed the antinomy inherent in the “counter” of counter-institution: “The word ‘contre,’ counter or against, can equally and at the same time mark both opposition, contrariety, contradiction and proximity, near-contact.”[24] The counter-institution of the book bloc, where “counter” signifies the dialectic of opposition and proximity, opposes the dispossession of the humanities, social sciences, arts, and critical theory, while also re-instituting a space where such dispossessions can count as losses. It defends publicly the right to read as well as the institutions within which or because of which different literacies can be democratically generated and valued, and books can be written, read, and thought through.

The University of Color in Amsterdam is a collective that seeks to decolonize the university at both the curricular and demographic level by means of including non-Eurocentric perspectives. Similarly, the Silent University is a multi-sited and translocal knowledge exchange platform for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Both of these initiatives instantiate counter-institutional pedagogies, literacies, arts, and humanities. Embodying spaces of plasticity and contestation in order to critically re-engage the creative and the catastrophic failures of Western metaphysics, both of these counter-institutions commit to devising and reactivating transversal methodologies. Both counter-institutions decolonize and de-capitalize humanism and the humanities from the perspective of the former West’s surplus humanities.

Standing-reading protest, Istanbul, June 2013, source: Religion News Service

As an attempt to defend, open up, and proliferate the space of public education, the book bloc street performance resonated with yet another collective action that defended a public institution while mobilizing processes of embodied public dissent. At the Istanbul Gezi Park occupation of spring 2013, what began as a protest against plans to remove Taksim Gezi Park turned into an uprising against authoritarianism, involving a wide spectrum of protest strategies including the “standing reading protest” in which hundreds of people stood quietly in public spaces reading literature, political philosophy, or daily newspapers.

The persistent and ephemerally repeatable posture taken up by these protestors affirmed the unconditional condition of being in public: a public as it is but also as it is not yet, and finally as it could be and could take place, over and over, if it survives the forces of dispossession. No doubt public space, like all institutions, is founded on violences that have scarred its matrix of admissibility and recognizability according to established standards of citizenship, class, gender, and heteronormative privilege. What these protests declare, however, is that this is precisely why public space needs to survive as an “infrastructural good.”[25] It needs to survive as a site for ongoing struggle in order that its unconditionality be defended. By re-positioning themselves in public space, these standing and reading bodies have unsettled the norms regulating who is admitted to the established domain of the polis. Embodying performativity as an event these dissenting bodies occasioned the possibility for a reconfiguration of the body politic. They insert themselves within public space while at the same time questioning notions of propriety. This action therefore asked: what is proper to public space in view of the powers of dispossession? And what resistances-to-come haunt the conditionality of public space’s instituted self-presence? Through such actions, new and unforeseeable modes of unconditional resistance emerge which cannot be understood in terms of clear-cut distinctions between what is inside and what is outside the institution or what is possible and what is impossible.

As we struggle today, jointly and partially, through contingent and unconcluded assemblages and re-assemblages of anti-capitalism, anti-racism, and queerness we embody conditions of impossibility as the conditions of possibility. This discontinuous making possible, always “haunted by the specter of its impossibility”[26] is, I think, what makes performativity political, and ultimately crucial, for transformative collective acts and arts in the crisis-ridden present. It is precisely this collective critical intensity—dislodged from any heroic and teleological connotations—that creates space for the eventness of non-corporate, non-commodified sustaining institutions in the face of losing one’s means of livelihood, one’s home, healthcare, or public education. This is the condition of possibility that allows people, books, and ideas to take to the streets. And it is this collective agonism that commits to the incommensurate unconditionality of a public hospital, a school, a music scene, a public broadcaster, a theatre space, or a park.

I thank Maria Hlavajova, Simon Sheikh, and Boris Buden for their perceptive comments on this essay. I am grateful to the organizers and audiences of various institutional and counter-institutional occasions on which I recently presented parts or aspects of this work, especially: Gigi Argyropoulou and Hypatia Vourloumis for “Institutions, Politics, Performances” (Athens, 2015); Petar Bojanić, Adriana Zaharijević, Sanja Bojanić, and Jelena Vasiljević for “How to Act Together: From Collective Engagement to Protest” (Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, Center for Advanced Studies in Southeastern Europe, University of Rijeka, Belgrade, 2015); Elke Krasny, Lena Rosa Händle, and Andrea Hubin for “Counter/Acting: Self-Organized Universities” (Kunsthalle Wien and School of Fine Arts, Vienna, 2015). Last but not least, my heartfelt thanks go to Maria Hlavajova for FORMER WEST.

[1] Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), p. 91.

[2] Jean-Luc Nancy quoting Marx and Engels: “The bourgeoisie […] has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value.” In Jean-Luc Nancy, “On human rights: two simple remarks,” The Meanings of Rights: The Philosophy and Social Theory of Human Rights, ed. Costas Douzinas, et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), p. 17.

[3] Jean-Luc Nancy, interview with Athena Athanasiou, Gerasimos Kakoliris, and Apostolos Lambropoulos, “Aspects of being-in-common: The icy waters of Europe, biotechnology, secular Christianity,” in Syghrona Themata 128–129 (2015), pp. 26–34.

[4] See Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).

[5] Judith Butler, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), p. 148.

[6] Ibid., p. 127.

[7] Wendy Brown, “Neo-liberalism and the end of liberal democracy,” Theory & Event 7, no. 1 (2003), p. 8.

[8] Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, ed. H.L. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, eds., 2nd ed. (Chicago: Chicago University Press,1983).

[9] Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), p. 93.

[10] See Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011).

[11] See Butler, Notes.

[12] Ibid., p. 127.

[13] Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987) , p. 108. Many thanks to Simon Sheikh for his helpful comment on Castoriadis’ relevance to the work of instituting differently.

[14] Joanne Cutting-Gray, “Hannah Arendt, Feminism, and the Politics of Alterity: ‘What Will We Lose If We Win?’,” Hypatia, vol. 8 (Winter 1993), pp. 35–54. See also Gary Browning and Bonnie Honig, “A conversation with Bonnie Honig: Exploring agonistic humanism,” in Dialogues with Contemporary Political Theorists, ed. Gary Browning, et. al. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

[15] Derrida, Paper Machine, p. 7.

[16] Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning & the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf(New York: Routledge, 2006).

[17] Fahrenheit 451, directed by François Truffaut (1966; Great Britain: Universal City, CA: Universal Studios, 2003), DVD. I thank Simon Sheikh for indicating to me Truffaut’s film as an ambiguous artistic precursor of the book bloc.

[18] This discussion implies the fluid and unstable relationship between the “archival” and the “live”: see Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003). It also resonates with Penelope Papailias’s critical preoccupation with the archive as a site embodying not only textual practices but also relations of power: see Genres of Recollection: Archival Poetics and Modern Greece (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005).

[19] Derrida, Specters of Marx, p. 74.

[20] Ibid., p. 91.

[21] Ibid., p. 90.

[22] Jacques Derrida, “This Strange Institution Called Literature’: Interview with Jacques Derrida,” in Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge (New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 36.

[23] Derrida has asserted on various occasions his commitment to the idea of a counter-institution; a commitment intertwined with his critical hesitation regarding institutions: “The idea of a counter-institution, neither spontaneous, wild nor immediate, is the most permanent motif that, in a way, has guided me in my work.” See Jacques Derrida and Maurizio Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret, trans. Giacomo Donis (Cambridge: Polity, 2001), p. 50. See also Petar Bojanić, “Europe as Contre-Institution: Hospitality versus Sovereignty. Saint-Simon with Jacques Derrida”, in Perspektiven europäischer Gastlichkeit, Bukhard Liebsch, Michael Staudigl, and Philipp Stoellger, eds. (Bonn: Velbrück Wissenschaft Verlag, 2016), pp. 579-589.

[24] Jacques Derrida, “Countersignature,” Paragraph 27:2 (2004), pp. 7–42.

[25] Butler, Notes, p. 126.

[26] Derrida, Paper Machine, p. 88.