Abstract

This article addresses the work of the German-language philosopher and theorist Theodor W. Adorno and the Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum in order to ask after the form of the subject and the sense of life privileged in critique. I consider the form of the subject and the sense of the social presumed and generalized in Adorno in relation to his reading of Hegel and his discussion of race, anti-Blackness, anti-Semitism, and “the American landscape” in aphorisms twenty-eight and sixty-eight in Minima Moralia. Drawing on scholarship in Black and Indigenous studies, I argue that in Adorno a particular sense of the subject, with and against Adorno's language, is advanced: the subject of the law, right, property, and whiteness, what one might call the subject of settler life. I suggest that this is a sense of the subject that privileges its ethicality in relation to social violence and world, and I notice that this privilege is constitutive of what critique, for Adorno, is. I then turn to Hatoum and offer a reading of several of her works and installations alongside her discussion of her art in a series of interviews, where I focus on Light at the End (1989), Present Tense (1996), Hair Lines (1979), and Socle du Monde (1992–1993). I study Hatoum's work in order to understand the sense of the social it enlivens, and the sense of being and language it makes manifest, and I argue that, in Hatoum's work, art becomes critique, critique becomes a theorization of the social, and theorization becomes a temporal practice of sociality, an inessential, inidentical sharing in language and form. In Hatoum's art, a sociality of collective form displaces the critical terms of self-possession, self-orientation, and philosophical self-reflection, where property is unmoored as a logic of reading and life and a principle of form.

1. “The Visual Poetry of the Work”

In a 1998 interview, the Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum explained of her later work that in it she had moved away from didacticism and toward a practice of implication: “That these things are implied through the visual poetry of the work, rather than didactically stated, is much more satisfying for me.”1 The work of implication, rather than instruction, points to a sociality of form, and of being and life, wholly other than that which is privileged in the Euro-American tradition of criticality and linguistic sense—a tradition that privileges the self-reflective, self-determining, internally articulated subject of law, right, property, and whiteness. In what follows I'll want only to share that Hatoum's art, installation, and what she calls “object making” is a material practice that occasions an ahermeneutic and anaccumulative way of being with and doing language, which upends the state—and the subject—as grounds for relation and social sense, and which refuses the logics of settler form and life in an insurgency that is formal, interpretive, and social.2 I'll elaborate this refusal, and the sense of life, language, and sociality it also gives, through a close attention to Hatoum's art and installation practice, and I'll consider its linguistic, formal, and social terms through a reading of Hatoum offered by the writer and critic Adania Shibli in a piece titled “Six Key Movements to Unlock a Possible History of Materials.”3 As I read Hatoum in this way, I'll offer a contrastive attention to the understanding of language and the social, and of ethicality and propriety, made manifest in Theodor W. Adorno's Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, a principle text for the articulation of what continues to be called, today, “critique.”

Minima Moralia advances a particular understanding of critical form and restraint in its relation to pedagogy. “Thus Hegel, whose method schooled that of Minima Moralia, argued against the mere being-for-itself of subjectivity on all its levels [So hat Hegel, an dessen Methode die der Minima Moralia sich schulte, gegen das bloße Fürsichsein der Subjektivität auf all ihren Stufen argumentiert],” Adorno wrote.4 In speaking to us of the “method” in which it has been “schooled,” this sentence presupposes the form of a subject of language for which philosophical reflection opens in properly schooled thought. In the framing of this sentence—in the frame it creates and in the enclosure in relation to language it enforces—there is a sort of being that practices language in philosophical explication, and this being is, insofar as it is itself, capable of being schooled. It is a being that is to have been, I wish to notice, a pedagogically capable subject. At the same time, Adorno's pedagogical explication harbors as a condition for its reflection on method—and as a condition for the proper understanding of Hegel and “the mere being-for-itself of subjectivity”—the social form of an unschooled, and unschoolable, subject. If, through Adorno's appeal to method, one is interpellated as a subject of pedagogy, this is a divided scene of interpellation, because it calls into being a sociality where a capacity for proper linguistic understanding and philosophical reflection coerces a distinction between those capable of controlled linguistic form and those incapable of it, between those who, capable of what Adorno called “real giving,” do not yield to “distraction” (Vergeßlichkeit), and those incapable of managing such distraction and of thinking of the other as, in Adorno's words, “a subject.”5 Adorno's language does not cease to rearticulate this distinction, and if in doing so it gives place to critical social thought, it generalizes a particular form of life as it returns language to the form of a properly composed, self-reflective subject and as it expresses that form of life outward, sending it at the world.6

The unschoolable subject is a subject that does not give properly, because it gives without controlled intention in acts—“choosing,” “expending time,” “going out of one's way,” Adorno wrote in Minima Moralia. It is a subject that, incapable of acts given through the interior reflection of a subject in its self-determining form, transmutes the global terms for raciality that Denise Ferreira da Silva has elaborated in relation to the distinction between the “transparent” and the “affectable I.”7 The latter, a subject of “outer determination” and heteronomous life—a subject that is incapable of preventing itself from yielding—is, equally, a form of being allocated to death in what Ferriera da Silva calls a “logic of obliteration.”8 This raciality, and this allocation of death, intersects with the critique of the subject of property Adorno also offers: “The good man,” he writes, “is he who rules himself as he does his own property [Der Gute ist, der sich selbst beherrscht als seinen eigenen Besitz]: his autonomous being is modeled on material power.”9 But if Adorno wishes to offer a critique of property and its improper relation to the ethical, his language, in its privileging of a being that properly governs itself in managing its distraction, reiterates and exteriorizes the social, linguistic, and ontological terms that property coerces. These terms are, as Ferriera da Silva has argued, racialized, and we may therefore ask what “property” (Besitz), in this passage in Minima Moralia, congeals, and what sense of the social and of language attaches to it. In particular, Adorno's critique of the “good man” who “rules himself as he does his own property,” presumes the juridical and social form of the white, masculine, property-owning subject—the subject that is not itself property but is capable of owning it—in its attachment to the “governing semantics” of “the sociopolitical order of the New World,” where the “captive body” is “reduced to a thing, a being for the captor,” as Hortense Spillers has written.10 The subject of property, which is capable of its “autonomous being” (autonomes Wesen), and which Adorno presumes as a ground for language and the social, is the subject of social and ontological whiteness in its intersection with a dividing privilege of pedagogy, properly controlled comportment, and interiorized self-governance.11 The critique of self-identical form—in these passages in Minima Moralia, and elsewhere—advances the terms for social subordination and globalized raciality, which critical thought ought to take as its object. The social and linguistic sense of the terms presupposed in Adorno reformulates an ongoing racialization—a foundational, if catachrestic and intersecting, anti-Black and anti-Indigenous form and violence—which has been traced in the work of Ferriera da Silva, Spillers, Sylvia Wynter, and others.12 The terms for critical social thought in Adorno are constituted through a racialization of being and life, in a forwarding of a thanatocentric, if still endlessly pedagogical, violence.13

To read Hatoum, then, and to read her work in relation to the passage where she shares, “That these things are implied through the visual poetry of the work, rather than didactically stated, is much more satisfying for me,” is to attend to the social terms of the languages of philosophical form in critique. Because when one reads one translates, I pursue the reading I offer of Hatoum and her practice in “object making” through Adorno—and through his language—in order to specify the social and linguistic terms that Hatoum's practice in art occasions and gives. If, as Shibli suggests, these terms promise a collective in social insurgence given through the materiality of lived form, the sense of the social made legible in Hatoum—and in Shibli's reading of her—is wholly other than that which is presumed in the normative terms for linguistic understanding, juridical sense, and philosophical reflection, to which Adorno—and not solely Adorno—remains attached.14 The sociality of philosophical self-reflection, which we are given to read in Adorno, is formed in a racialization of the social, in the social logic and epistemic terms of property, and in a particular sense of ethical self-comportment in language—all of which is instituted in and reiterates a relation to transatlantic chattel slavery, settler colonization, and Indigenous genocide. If Adorno's language allows us to think this sociality—and if, in this, it generates a critical approach to the social, a form of critique for social thought—it sustains the social terms it also gives us to read. By contrast, in Hatoum, we are given a wholly other sense of the social, where art becomes critique, critique becomes a theorization of form, and theorization becomes a temporal practice, which occurs in the sort of doing that takes place when one acts, and yet only insofar as such acts will never have come down to a “subject,” singular or plural, but only to a non-self-same mode, a way of being and doing in sociality. In this sense we might say that in Hatoum, being—and life—take on a poetic form, by which I mean a form that, in its non-reducibility to itself, shares in a sociality of language, which Hatoum and Shibli, reading Hatoum, give.

2. Adorno's Hegel: Ethicality and the Form of Critique

Critique in Adorno is a locus for ethical form, and to think about form in Adorno I turn to an essay titled “Skoteinos, or How to Read Hegel,” which was written in the winter of 1962–63 and published as the third chapter of Hegel: Three Studies. The essay, its title tells us, is pedagogical. It offers a lesson in reading:

Here too philosophy is faced with a paradox: to say clearly something that is unclear, that has no firm outline, that does not accommodate to reification [Verdinglichung]; to say it in such a way, that is, that the moments that elude the eye's fixating gaze, or that are not accessible at all, are indicated with the utmost distinctness. This, however, is not merely a formal demand but rather a part of the very substance philosophy is after [ein Stück des Gehalts selber, nach dem Philosophie sucht]. The demand is paradoxical because language and the process of reification are interlocked. The very form of the copula, the “is,” pursues the intention of pinpointing [Aufspießens], to which philosophy ought to provide a corrective; in this sense all philosophical language is a language in opposition to language, marked with the stigma of its own impossibility.15

The locus of Adorno's attention, in reading Hegel in this passage, is the demand for clarity in Descartes. And yet philosophy, in Adorno's explication of it, addresses itself to an object that is formally excessive. The object that philosophy is to “say” is in itself “unclear” and “has no firm outline,” and insofar as this is so, philosophy's object does not accommodate its becoming a “thing,” its “thingification,” (Verdinglichung), as one might also translate this term. In its address to its object, philosophy is to render distinct what is in itself indistinct, and Adorno's writing of the “paradox” he outlines points to an intention, which the reader of Hegel is to take on. Reading, in this essay of Adorno's, is a practice of commenting on the paradox occasioned in reading Hegel, and it is a practice of making this paradox legible in the ongoing possibility of its loss, where one would in reading Hegel overrun the limits to reading that Adorno wishes to set. If this passage begins as an explication of the demand for clarity in Descartes, it transforms into an interpretation of reading—and into an interpretation of what it means to read in philosophy—through a reading of Hegel. Philosophy, Adorno notes, is compelled to “pinpoint” (aufspießen) its object, and if this pinpointing belongs to the identifying practice, which the philosophical tradition advances—“Reifying consciousness freezes objects into things in themselves so that they can be available to science and praxis as things for others,” Adorno writes16—Adorno appeals to philosophy, and to Hegel, to interrupt this immobilization of alterity by teaching the readers of his essay how to read. Philosophy, as Adorno calls out to it, is a praxis that is to refrain from making objects into things “for others” (für anderes), and it is to do so by refusing to allow its objects to congeal, in each instance, into a form that would be, merely, “for itself” (an sich). In this frame we might therefore say that if philosophy in Adorno is something, it is a practice of restraint, where one is to maintain oneself in an ongoing refusal to transform “objects” into “things” in critique.

We may press further and notice that, alongside the restraint Adorno advocates, there is a refusal of confusion. In place of “clarity,” Adorno substitutes “comprehensibility” (Verständlichkeit), with which clarity is not to be confused. “Best able to meet this demand would be a philosophical language that would strive for comprehensibility without confusing it with clarity [die auf Verständlichkeit dringt, ohne mit Klarheit sie zu verwechseln].”17 There is an imperative against confusion, as if a threat of confusion pressed upon Adorno and his language in the pedagogical project of instructing his addressees in the reading of Hegel—and, more broadly, in instructing them in the sort of reading that is, for Adorno, to occur in critique. Adorno refuses clarity by advancing it as an ongoing philosophical demand and communicating it in critical pedagogy: comprehensibility is not to be confused with clarity. “As an expression of the thing itself, language is not fully reducible to communication with others. Nor, however—and Hegel knew this—is it simply independent of communication,”18 Adorno also wrote, but the passage I'm reading advances a distinction it wishes to have retained—and communicated—as a fundamental moment for critique. If language, in philosophy, and also elsewhere, is “not fully reducible to communication with others [geht nicht in der Kommunikation, der Mitteilung an andere auf],” and if, in this, the nonidentity of objects is affirmed, Adorno turns to a distinction between clarity and comprehensibility, which the act of reading in philosophical explication, and in the “expression of the thing itself,” ought to have refused. Adorno, as he reads Hegel's language, and as he lingers with the question of communication, insists on communicating this distinction, and as he does so, he returns to and affirms a quite particular sense of language, through which he wishes—see figure 1—to compress Hegel. The desire to preserve the indistinction of the object, its not being itself, is subordinated to the form of a properly restrained reading subject—a subject that can, without yielding to distraction, maintain the distinction between clarity and comprehensibility—and this subordination advances reading as a social practice for linguistic determination, which delimits the Adornian form of critique as a form for social domestication in the well-tutored reader.

Adorno calls upon a reader “who understands why this or that must be incomprehensible and in fact thereby understands it [versteht, warum dies oder jenes unverständlich sein muß, und dadurch es selber versteht],”19 and the understanding of understanding he advances—understanding as the understanding of non-understanding—returns to the form of the unconfused reader and, in Adorno, listener: “No doubt Hegel's style goes against customary philosophical understanding, yet in his weaknesses he paves the way for another kind of understanding; one must read Hegel [man muß Hegel lessen] by describing along with him the curves of his intellectual movement, by playing his ideas with the speculative ear as though they were musical notes.”20 To read Hegel properly is to listen; it is to follow Adorno's ear—“Hegel's philosophy rustles,”21 Adorno also wrote—and yet Adorno's explication of listening reduces Hegel's “rustling” to its understanding in relation to a subject of critical sonority, which will have left behind its confusion and distraction in a concentrated practice of carefully managed interpretation. The comportment of the properly schooled listener is, Adorno explains in Philosophy of New Music, ethical:

Not only are people's ears so inundated with light music that other music reaches them only as the congealed opposite of the former, as “classical” music, and not only is the capacity to listen so blunted by the omnipresent hit tune that the concentration for responsible, ethical listening [verantwortlichen Horens] is unattainable and infused with refrains of nonsense [Unfugs], but also the sacrosanct traditional music has itself been assimilated to commercial mass production in the character of its performance and as it functions in the life of the listener.22

To read the passages I've underlined in “Skoteinos, or How to Read Hegel” with Philosophy of New Music is to bring out the relation of Adorno's language to a tradition that privileges an ethicality in listening, which structures his response to the sort of sound occasioned in the new music—and in Hegel. Adorno's desire to pacify the difference between clarity and comprehensibility forwards critique as a stabilizing response to a social anxiety induced through the illegibility of Hegel's linguistic performance. Adorno's reading of Hegel reiterates his panic at what he projects as a collective of unruly beings, which lack the capacity for the “responsibility” (Verantwortlichkeit) constitutive of ethicality.23 Sound is to the social as the ear is to its domesticating capture in Adorno's pedagogical imperative, and the “nonsense” (Unfug) of the “omnipresent hit tune” compels attention to the sociality against which his language militates as it advances a reading practice—a literary and linguistic pedagogy—for critical social thought.

I've underlined that in his critique of property Adorno presumes a racialization of the social, and this racialization intersects ethicality—and the form of the ethical subject—with reading in Adorno's essay on Hegel. I wish now to linger with this intersection in two aphorisms that appear in Minima Moralia. The first, aphorism sixty-eight, appeals to the “indignation” (Entrüstung) of the ethical subject:

Indignation over cruelty that has been committed [Die Entrüstung über begangene Grausamkeiten] diminishes in proportion as the victims are less like normal readers, the more they are brown-skinned, “dirty,” dago-like [je unähnlicher die Betroffenen den normalen Lesern sind, je brunette, “schmutziger,” dagohafter]. This throws as much light on the crimes as on the spectators. Perhaps the social schematization of perception in anti-Semites is such that they do not see Jews as human beings at all. The constantly encountered assertion that savages, blacks, Japanese are like animals, monkeys for example, is the key to the pogrom. [Die stets wieder begegnende Aussage, Wilde, Schwarze, Japaner glichen Tieren, etwa Affen, enthält bereits den Schlüssel zum Pogrom.] Its possibility is decided in the moment when the gaze of a fatally wounded animal falls on a human being.24

“Indignation” (Entrüstung) is the proper response of a subject to “cruelty” (Grausamkeit), to excessive or improper violence. There is a sort of being that responds with indignation, an ethical being, and this is a being that is capable of recognizing cruelty—it is capable of recognizing, I wish to underline, excess in language and the social—and of responding to that cruelty properly, with indignation. One might say that this being is defined through its capacity to recognize cruelty in this way and to respond to it appropriately, which also means: non-excessively, in a way that is measured, composed, well comported, and, one might further say, not cruel.

There is a being, then, that comes to be what it is through a division that it draws, and that is drawn through it, between ethicality and anethicality, measure and excess, and sociality and asociality. Since the subject of indignation is linked to a capacity to comport itself in an ethical manner through its recognition of cruel violence as excessive, it is a particular sort of reading subject—it is a subject that reads properly, in a controlled manner, and that does so by recognizing acts in a particular sort of way. And it is therefore a being that may be understood as one whose form is given through its capacity to recognize excess and comport itself socially in relation to that recognition, and, then, through that comportment, to become an ethical subject. The indignant subject is the ethical subject, and the ethical subject is a subject of criticality and hermeneutic understanding—a subject of proper, unconfused reading, and a subject that distinguishes properly and without excess. And it is through this subject's critical reflection on violence, and through its turn to itself as a self-reflective being, capable of recognizing violence in excess—violence that is cruel and wild, if also uncivil—that it installs itself as a subject of sociality and world.

Adorno sets the indignant subject—the subject of ethicality—over and against another, a subject whose indignation “diminishes” (wird um so geringer), which becomes less, “in proportion as the victims are less like normal readers, the more they are brown-skinned, ‘dirty,’ dago-like.” I wish to notice a single comma: the one which, in English, follows the word “readers”: “in proportion as the victims are less like normal readers”—comma, I wish to underline—“the more they are brown-skinned, ‘dirty,’ dago-like,” the darker and more southern they are. The German passage maintains this same comma, this elision of explication in relation to the inversion or antitheticality of relation between “normal readers,” on the one hand, and those who are “brown-skinned, ‘dirty,’ dago-like,” on the other: “je unähnlicher die Betroffenen den normalen Lesern sind, je brunette, ‘schmutziger,’ dagohafter.” Adorno is speaking of “the social schematization of perception [der gesellschaftliche Schematismus der Wahrnemung],” and as he does so he calls attention to a dimension of that schematization, which links an incapacity to read “normally,” and to be a proper subject of language, to Blackness, southernness, and dirt. Not reading “normally,” then, is a sign of raciality, and this raciality of non-normative reading, of excess in relation to language, is a sign of anethicality—of an exteriority to ethics—to which “brown-skinned, ‘dirty,’ dago-like” beings are consigned in the social logic Adorno describes and which he attributes to the anti-Semite and to the subject of anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, and anti-Japanese violence.

And yet Adorno's designation of a subject capable of indignation in its response to cruelty and a racializing destruction of worlds reformulates the social sense imparted in the divided scene of interpellation I underlined in Minima Moralia. To make explicit what I wish to notice: Adorno's appeal to the subject of ethicality—which is also to say, the subject of properly composed reading—in the critical comprehension of racializing violence, privileges the figure that continues to subtend that violence globally in the form of the subject of ethical life as it differentiates itself from cruelty and from those beings that are “brown-skinned, ‘dirty,’ dago-like.” It is not only that “brown-skinned, ‘dirty,’ dago-like” beings, in Adorno's explication, become objects of violence, but that the ethical subject, which is to properly comprehend that violence, is the reader that is to have been capable of schooling in method and of restraining itself from yielding to distraction in an improper manner. The subject of ethicality, then, is the subject of critique and critical life, and if, in Adorno, there is no longer a subject or its life—“Our perspective of life [Leben] has passed into an ideology which conceals the fact that there is life no longer [daß es keines mehr gibt],”25 he also wrote in Minima Moralia—his language remains attached to a particular form of a critical subject, which does not cease to advance itself in the labor of social thought. In this, Adorno, as he refers to nonidentical forms of racialized violence, understands that violence through its relation to a single instance of it: the pogrom. If this racialized violence and the understanding of its objects, “savages, blacks, Japanese,” as animals, is “the key,” Adorno subordinates a global field of racialization and its history to the comprehension of Jews as “animals, monkeys for example.” Insofar as Adorno's reflection on “the constantly encountered assertion that savages, blacks, Japanese are like animals” occurs in the service of an understanding of the anti-Semitic animalization of the Jew—and, then, of the pogrom—we might say that his comprehension of racialized violence, in its reductive form, privileges the figure of the composed reader in sociality, through which that violence, in its globality, is consolingly understood. And we might also say that Adorno's terms, therefore, reiterate the privilege of the normatively conceived subject of language—the subject, I want to repeat, of ethicality in form and in proper self-comportment—in relation to which the violence Adorno alludes to is sustained.

The subject of ethicality extends itself globally to encompass, in aphorism twenty-eight, “the American landscape”:

The shortcoming of the American landscape is not so much, as romantic illusion would have it, the absence of historical memories, as that it bears no trace of the human hand [als daß in ihr die Hand keine Spur hinterlassen hat]. This applies not only to the lack of arable land, the uncultivated woods often no higher than scrub, but above all the roads. These are always inserted directly into the landscape, and the more impressively smooth and broad they are, the more unrelated and violent their gleaming track appears against its all too wild, overgrown surroundings. They are expressionless. Just as they know no marks of foot or wheel, no soft paths along their edges as a transition to the vegetation, no trails leading off into the valley, so they are without the mild, soothing, un-angular quality of things that have felt the touch of hands or their immediate implements. It is as if no-one [niemand] had passed their hand over the landscape's hair. It is uncomforted and comfortless. And it is perceived in a corresponding way. For what the hurrying eye has seen merely from the car it cannot retain, and it leaves no more traces behind than it bears upon itself.26

Adorno stages the landscape over and against the settler's road, and the posture he assumes underlines its humanlessness: “It bears no trace of the human hand [in ihr die Hand keine Spur hinterlassen hat].” The absence of traces, in Adorno's sentence, congeals a history of settler colonization and Indigenous genocide in the Americas as it intersects transatlantic chattel slavery and the juridically instituted form of the American settler state—from the 1705 Virginia Slave Codes to the 1823 Supreme Court Case Johnson v. McIntosh, and earlier and later—where, all at once, property is generalized as a social form in the land and the social is racialized in the designation of the slave as heritable property and of Indigenous peoples as incapable of the right to property and, most particularly, the right to alienate it.27 Adorno's designation of “no-one” (niemand) as the subject of “the American landscape” ciphers this history and its ongoing formulation in the sociality of the American settler state, as it points to the displacement and destruction of Indigenous life and ways of being in what Audra Simpson has called “an ongoing structure of dispossession that targets Indigenous peoples for elimination,” in the persistence of Indigenous genocide and the transmutations of conquest in philosophical and linguistic form.28 The opening of sociality hemispherically, in settler colonization, transatlantic chattel slavery, and genocide, is reformulated in the privilege of the ethical subject and its capacity for proper reading, as the form of this subject coheres the institution of raciality as the principal social logic and form—if one that is divided and catachrestic, excessively crossing the domains it is said to cohere—through which the social is sustained and perpetuated. The aphoristic language of critique affirms the terms of legal subjection—a differential allocation of personhood and life, and an exteriorization of death—where non-white being can occur only as a “negation of sociality,” to draw upon the meditation of Saidiya V. Hartman, in the ongoing forms of racialization—of anti-Blackness and Indigenous genocide—in the settler colony.29

Adorno does not fail to point to “the lack of arable land, the uncultivated woods often no higher than scrub [das Fehlen von Äckern, die ungerodeten und oft buschwerkhaft niedrigen Wälder]” in “the American landscape,” and this lexical framing coerces the land to call out for its cultivation, its clearing—to follow a perhaps narrower sense of the verb roden, made visible in the word ungerodeten—at the hands of the settler. The land is to be properly cultivated, and if Adorno appeals to this cultivation from the vantage of a passing car on the settler's road, he reads the American landscape by moving behind the juridical-racial logic of the American settler state, as it were, and acting as if the road had imposed itself, merely, upon nature—a “wild” that required the civilizing hand and cultivating ethical and linguistic form of the settler. It is not only that this passage forgets a history and social practice of settler life in the Americas but that it makes this life visible to us in the social form that it—Adorno's language—presses forward. There is, as Adorno channels his inner Locke, a conjuring of a state of nature and an appeal to proper settlement—to proper land use—which links the landscape aphorism to the social form of the subject of ethicality in reading.30 Adorno's conjuring makes manifest the terms which, in their intersecting of the ethical with reading, of reading with language, of language with race—and, in particular, with a foundational anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity—and of race with the social, give form to the American settler state. In this, Adorno's language does not cease to privilege the ethical. What is improper in the settler's road is its mode: it obtrudes and imposes. The form of the road itself is violent—“and the more impressively smooth and broad they are, the more unrelated and violent [um so beziehungsloser und gewalttätiger] their gleaming track appears against its all too wild, overgrown surroundings”—and it enacts an impropriety in comportment in relation to the land, which Adorno's language, at the same time, transmutes into property. The ethicality of Adorno's prose mutates a history of settler life as it reinstalls the terms for properly cultivated self-governance and linguistic form made legible in and coerced through the social logic of the American settler state and Adorno's landscape aphorism.

The form of life Adorno presupposes, in its privileging of the self-reflective pose of a subject in properly restrained ethicality, coercively exteriorizes itself as it understands what appears to it as if it were “brown-skinned, ‘dirty,’ dago-like” as temporal and material excess, as what João H. Costa Vargas has called “unintelligible pandemonium,” which is to be domesticated in a “permanent siege”31 carried out by the white settler subject, a procedure that addresses itself, in Adorno, to “Hegel,” “nonsense,” “incomprehensibility,” “confusion,” “distraction,” and, finally, “jazz.” Adorno underlines that the sound occasioned in jazz is “purposeless” (ziellos), because “it leads nowhere” (nirgends fuhrt sie hin), and this improper motility conjures a cacophony of untutored sense, a collective of beings not trainable in the terms for proper listening.32 The specter of unschoolable life imposes itself on the theorization of social form, and on what I would like to underscore is the hermeneutic interpretation of sound—and language—in Adorno. If in this sense Adorno's language contains a social truth—sound, in this context, as Fumi Okiji has explained, “belongs to no one,” and in jazz one is given, merely, its “incompletion”—Adorno domesticates the sonority of his object as a recognizable form for the listening subject—the subject of ethicality—in critique.33 The form of the ethical subject generalizes itself as a foundational term for all beings, and it is a form which, entirely excessive—a social catachresis—forces itself at the world in an asymmetrical, translating violence.34 And yet this violence, and the form of the subject that subtends and articulates it, is neither exceptional nor atypical: it is the entirely banal—the wholly non-exceptional—violence of the racializing sociality of hermeneutic whiteness, where whiteness intersects an insistence on the temporal legibility of social and linguistic forms. It is a violence that ciphers the anti-Blackness I've underlined as it interlinks the ongoing practices of Indigenous genocide and coerced social disappearance—in the United States, Palestine, and elsewhere, as in figure 2—with the form of the normative subject of critical social thought. What one might say, and what I wish to notice, is only this: the form of life we are given to read through Adorno, what one might call settler life, is a social form that reproduces itself as the subject of the state and law, of whiteness and ethicality, of reading and autonomy, and of property and self-governance, as it tells us that it is the solution to the social devastation and unsurvivability it continues relentlessly to multiply and exact.

3. Art and the Sociality of Form in Mona Hatoum

The privilege in Adorno is pedagogical and interpretive; he can speak of Hegel only by telling us how to read him, which is to say, he can write of “incomprehensibility” (Unverständlichkeit) in Hegel only in relation to a controlled pedagogical and temporal mode and form.35 To underline this, I've called attention, in figure 1, to Hatoum's The Light at the End, a 1989 installation where the title of the work cuts off the closure it anticipates. If the work promises an illumination, the viewer of the installation, when drawn near to it, notices that the light emanates from hot bars. Rather than a clarity, brought forth in light and in the unmediated relation of the understanding to the object of thought, there is a dislocation of legibility in form. And so if there is the promise of a closure of distance, an immediacy given in the elimination of the distinction between the viewer and the object viewed, the work divests the installation of this recognition and immediacy. If the reconciliation of subject and object in Hatoum may be considered in relation to what Edward W. Said has called, in an essay on Hatoum, “reconciliation under duress,” this is only insofar as Hatoum's practice declines the terms for recognition and understanding, the terms for the reconciliation of subject and object, language and form, art and world.36 There is, in Hatoum, as it were, a permanent duress, and so the desire to enter the installation and, thereby, to understand it and own it as one's property is convoluted. If the viewer of the installation is called into its space, if one must enter the space of the installation in order to read it, the being of the viewing subject, which enters in this way, is not confirmed in its comprehension of the sense of the work but is only drawn apart in the work's refusal of the reconciliation, and the nullification of distance, which the form of the work also forwards.37 If the placing on display of the desire for reconciliation in the experience of the work is the object of the work in the form of the installation, then the work becomes the disinstallation of the form of the individual as a viewing subject. Another sense of being and life is given in artistic form, which declines the force of temporal recognition and hermeneutic comprehension, which a work can promise and which Hatoum's artistic practice disorganizes as a locus for the formation of the viewing subject in art.

In a 1997 interview with Michael Archer, Hatoum speaks of The Light at the End in the following way:

The Light at the End was the beginning of a whole new way of working. In a sense with this work I was going back to a minimal aesthetic and working with certain material properties which amplify the concept. The associations with imprisonment, torture, and pain were suggested by the physical aspect of the work and the phenomenology of the materials used. It was not so much a representation of something else but the real thing in itself. I felt satisfied for the first time that the balance between the issues, the materials, and the space was just right for me. It also had this paradoxical aspect of being both attractive and repulsive. It was obscene. The space at the back of the showroom is this strange funnel shape which made me think of a trompe l'œil perspective of a tunnel. The expression “light at the end of the tunnel” came to mind and I used it in the title to set up the expectation of something positive which is then disrupted when you realize that the light was actually red hot bars that could burn you to the bone.38

The title of the installation, The Light at the End, relates to an expression which, Hatoum explains, “came to mind.” There is a non-intentionality in the coming to mind of the expression that titles the work. It is not that something was sought after, an object or form of language that would suit the work, but that a kind of material, already in motion—language, and what Hatoum calls, in the passage I've cited here, “expression”—will have been sent and “came to mind.” The explanation of the title of the work intersects with Hatoum's discussion of the matter that makes up the work and the relation between the work and the materials that constitute it. Hatoum underlines what she calls “the phenomenology of the materials used,” and we may understand this phenomenology in relation to the withdrawal or dispersal of intention in the formation of a work. The installation is not an occasion for the reflection on art as the effect of an artistic subject but only the material implication of a mode of being and doing occasioned in the practice of art, and I wish to underline that, in Hatoum, this mode takes place in an encounter with and relation to materials. If these materials have a corporeal or temporal dimension—“Since my early performances,” Hatoum also explains, “the body has been central to my work. Even before that I was making small works on paper using bodily fluids and body rejects as materials. I have always been dissatisfied with work that just appeals to your intellect and does not actually involve you in a physical way”39—this does not affirm the artist as an agent or doer, because it understands the artist as a being among others, one that comes into relation with beings or materials as it acts or does. There is a passivity in relation to materials or beings, “bodily fluids,” for example, or “expression,” because who or what one is, and the act or doing or making one does, is already in relation to those materials or beings. We might say that installation, as an occasion for the use of materials, entails an ontology of social form, where the subject is, merely, one being among others, whose acts become what they are in the making and sharing—in the sociality—of art.

This sense of what a thing or a being is is also addressed in the understanding of the work as what Hatoum calls “the real thing in itself”: “It was not so much a representation of something else but the real thing in itself,” she underlines. The work is, itself, a temporal and social form. It is not a representation of a thing or object, “something else,” exterior to the work, but an occasion for the taking place of the world and for what it means for a thing or an object—a being or an instance of materials—to occur in it. The work does not speak to us about the world because it is, insofar as it is, an occasion for a way of being and doing in the world, which does not presume a stability of world, but is the happening or transpiring of “the real thing in itself” in the practice of art. Hatoum's “use” of materials, and its relation to being and the social, may also be considered in what she calls “hanging around” and “overhearing,” terms she uses in the interview with Archer in relation to her time as a student in London. Archer asks about examples—“Were there examples that you followed: Stuart Brisely, say, who was teaching at the Slade then?”—and Hatoum replies, “Of course Stuart Brisely and others, but mostly I was hanging around with a group of students who were involved in performance. In fact my first performance at the Slade was a collaboration with two other students whom I had overheard talking about an idea for a work.”40 We may think of language in Hatoum, in “overhearing” and “hanging around,” in its movement or occurrence outside of a controlled frame for intentional use, and in relation to the “sensuousness of materials,” which Hatoum also notes.41 It is as if the work were not an object, produced through the intentional act of a subject, but only the doing occasioned in that practice, which is the making of art. Intention does not precede this doing but is given only through one's making or being with materials, and art is, therefore, not a material effect or expression of a method—a set of prescriptions for a subject—which will have guided that subject in its making of art. The distinction between material and method, and subject and object, is disorganized, and it is as if the practice occasioned in the doing of art became a theorization of that mode, which art is.42 Art, as a mode, theorizes itself as a social form, and as it does so it gives us a particular sense of relation. It is not, then, that there is a method, applied by this or that subject of artistic doing, but only that art is a kind of sociality in its relation to materials and beings.

There are, Hatoum notes, “a lot of old ideas that keep coming up in different ways. There are different strands in my work that develop over a long period of time and keep coming in and out of focus.”43 The coherent temporality allocated to the subject of language in the normative terms of linguistic practice and self-cultivation, in self-governance and proper ethical comportment, and in the philosophical self-reflection of the subject—and this is a form installed in modern transatlantic chattel slavery, settler colonization, and Indigenous genocide—does not account for the temporality or social sense of the making of art in Hatoum. If “there are different strands in [her] work that develop over a long period of time,” this is only insofar as this does not presume a developmental narrative of linguistic formation but only a non-genealogical practice of form with materials, which does not redound upon a well-formed subject in its self-governed comportment: the strands of which Hatoum speaks “keep coming,” as do “a lot of old ideas.” In this “coming” of the strands of her work, the visual clarity promised in focus does not speak to us of an agent, which will have created an art object through a material externalization of ideas, because the taking place of ideas in the doing of art does not follow the normative, or the reproductive and heteronormative, accumulative temporal conceptualization of what a subject of art or language is. The work does not draw upon a self-coherency or memorialization of acts, but is only the occasion for a particular sort of doing with materials. “Certain works I made as a student were about the dispersal of the body,” Hatoum also notes, “and this is now coming up in works like Recollection. I used to collect all my nail parings, pubic hair, bits of skin and mix them with pulp and bodily fluids to make paper: a kind of recollecting of the body's dispersals, if you like.”44 The matter of the work—as in figure 3—interlinks with the body of the artist and its “dispersals,” as the materials used in the formation of the work are not firmly distinguished from the body of the artist. The separation of the subject and object of art comes undone in the intercalculation of the artist, the materials, and their being together in the doing of the sort of act that art—and what Hatoum calls “object making”—is. In this doing, the agency of a subject, which is to be grounded through its self-cultivation in language and schooled comportment, is displaced by a sense of the social where the happening of the work supplies an inessential sense of relation.

One may consider the indistinction of subject and object, interiority and exteriority, and form and matter in Socle du Monde (1992–93), a work rendered—see figure 4—in the form of a cube. “Instead of it having a machined, clean surface, untouched by human hands,” Hatoum explains, in a phrasing that recalls and may be contrasted with Adorno's rendering of “the American landscape” in Minima Moralia, “I wanted to turn this upside down and make it very organic. The strange furry texture on the surface gives you a moment of anxiety because when you first see it you don't immediately recognize the material.”45 There is a disidentification of the object and a refusal of a firm separation of interiority from exteriority, and the confounding of the desire for recognition on the part of the viewer of the work—as in The Light at the End—mirrors the blurring of subject and object, and art and world, in temporally ordered form. The holding up of world in the plinth, the “socle,” presumed in the giving of world and time in stabilizing ontological form—and in the sense of the world privileged in modern philosophical conceptualization—is unsettled in the form and materials of the “strange, furry texture” of the basis, which this work is. If the subject of self-reflection is to have formed such a basis, what is given in Hatoum is merely an inessential form, incapable of identifying itself with itself and incapable of becoming a being or substance that will have served as a ground for world. Rather than a world of critical, hermeneutic clarification, there is a non-self-oriented social sense, where the subject of language in sociality is no single being but only a relation given at the intersection of matter, body, and form.

I want to address language and form in Hatoum in a work titled Present Tense, an installation that took place in Jerusalem in 1996 and that I pointed to above—in figure 2—in reading Adorno's landscape aphorism. The following questions and answers, in relation to Present Tense, are included in Hatoum's interview with Archer:

Archer: Tell me about working in Jerusalem.

Hatoum: Going to Jerusalem was a very significant journey for me, because I had never been there. My parents are Palestinian. They come from Haifa, but have never been able to go back since they left in 1948. Jack Persekian, who has this little gallery in East Jerusalem, and I had been discussing the possibility of doing the exhibition there for over two years. I kept postponing it because emotionally it's a very heavy thing, and I wanted to be able to spend a whole month out there, producing the work.

Archer: What work did you do when you were there?

Hatoum: I ended up making about ten works. I made three installations and a number of photographic works and small objects. The ideas I had proposed beforehand seemed to be about turning the gallery into a hostile environment, but the environment outside was so hostile that people hardly needed reminding. On my first day in Jerusalem I came across a map divided into a lot of little areas circled in red, like little islands with no continuity or connection between them. It was the map showing the territorial divisions arrived at under the Oslo agreement, and it represented the first phase of returning land to the Palestinian authorities. But really it was a map about dividing and controlling the area.46

In speaking of Present Tense, Hatoum points to the “hostility” of the environment outside the gallery in which the installation was housed. A photograph of the installation, contained in the volume in which the interviews I've cited here are published—see figure 5—provides an image of the installation with the door open. There are two large, rectangular windows, placed horizontally in parallel, and a number of smaller, perhaps square-shaped windows above. Light infiltrates the glass and opens the interior field of the installation to the view of the camera. The photographer is positioned inside the gallery facing outward, toward the windows and the open door. The photograph captures the street and the building opposite the gallery, and its framing connects the installation with the hostile environment, of which Hatoum speaks in the interview with Archer. The hostility points to the death-imparting violence targeting Palestinians and their lifeworlds since the foundation of the Zionist state and before, with the institution of the settler state in Palestine and the ongoing practices of what Noura Erakat has called “management” and “elimination,” practices that turn on the invention of “the legal fiction of Palestinian nonexistence,” in a particular form and practice of interpretation in the law.47 The map to which Hatoum alludes outlines the “Bantustans” into which Palestinian lived space has been divided, and these divisions are policed and maintained through a close network of checkpoints, barriers, and settler roads and highways, which materially manifest “settler colonial spatial logics” that, as Amanda Batarseh explains, belong to a history of settler and European cartographic knowledge in Palestine.48 The social and linguistic forms that institute modernity in its Western hemispheric and New World logics, and in the social negation of Black and Indigenous life, which that institution occasions and reiterates, are transmuted in the material practice and juridical sociality of settler colonization in Palestine.

Hatoum's discussion of the materials used to create Present Tense relates the sort of doing occasioned in her work to ongoing modes of Palestinian sociality, life, and struggle in relation to the practice of art. The Nablus-made soap Hatoum used to recreate the settler map was not a material she had intended to use—“When I first came across it, I had no intention of using it, but a week later I decided I would like to do something with this local soap made from pure olive oil, and the work came together”49—and so Hatoum's work with it in the creation of the installation socially performs and makes manifest in art a mode of being and relating to objects, matter, space, and language that disinstalls the person of the artist as a locus for the work. Because the form of the work is material and collective, if still non-self-same, and because it does not belong to the social logic of property, it may be understood as what Loubna Qutami and Omar Zahzah have called an instance of “inventing life” while refusing the terms for settler form in all of the senses in which that form may be understood, including the sense in which it generalizes the normative terms for linguistic life in their relation to the sociality of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous exertion.50 If a critical attention to the death-imparting sociality of the Zionist state remains an urgent intention of global social thought, equally urgent—and more so—is an attention to the practices of Palestinian life, being, and collective struggle made manifest, I wish to argue, through the work of Hatoum and, I'll also suggest, through the reading of Hatoum offered by Adania Shibli. I might then underline only that the sense of the subject presumed in Adorno, to which he returns language as a matter for proper reading—as a matter for the subject of ethicality in all of its self-reflection and self-understanding, and in all of its interiority and self-governed autonomy—is not so much made into an object of critique as it is, in Hatoum, refused. And through this refusal, I've argued, Hatoum practices a sociality—and what may be understood as a “commonality,”51 as Najat Rahman has argued, a way of being together in a practice of shared, inessential form that transpires in art and what Hatoum called “the visual poetry of the work.”

Hatoum speaks of the poetic in relation to art, and I wish to notice that this poetic dimension of doing in art is given to us through Hatoum's discussion of “material” and its “properties”: “Does it sometimes happen that you light upon material and say simply, ‘I'd like to work with this stuff’?,” Archer asks. Hatoum replies, “Yes. But it is more that I recognize certain properties in material I come across, that I feel would work for certain ideas I've had in the back of my mind for a while. Sometimes it is the space that triggers certain associations, or sometimes the possibility of using certain local materials and crafts inspires the work.”52 If, in the normative terms for the formation of the linguistic subject, the subject is to gain its autonomy and self-determination through an accumulative practice of self-cultivation in language, in Hatoum there is no such practice with language or materials but only a reuse, a non-self-determined recirculation in the poetics of form in art. We may understand Hatoum's art in this sense as anaccumulative, because it does not participate in the social logic of accumulation in the formation of a subject—a logic that mirrors the accumulation of capital outlined by Marx in Capital. In Hatoum, the work—at once the doing or making, which the work is, and the object to which it gives place—occasions a practice of form while not taking on the demand for self-cultivation in language or self-reflection in the formation of world in the philosophical distinction between subject and object. If, in Adorno, a divided interpellation is presumed—in the terms for racialization I've outlined in Minima Moralia—Hatoum refuses this interpellation and the terms it coerces. And if, in Adorno, being is thought as non-self-same, as essentially in excess of itself—“What is, is more than what it is,” Adorno also wrote—and if this is understood, in Adorno, in relation to a coherent subject for language, the subject of property and racialized form, in Hatoum art gives an inessential temporality without its reduction to a subject of language or proper form.53 We might therefore say that in Hatoum the work gives place to a practice of making with materials in art where language becomes indistinct from being in the social, and where acts—instances of doing—become practices of relation in the inidentical happening of insurgent life.

4. “Going to Jerusalem”

In a text devoted to Hatoum, “Six Key Movements to Unlock a Possible History of Materials,” published in 2017, Adania Shibli narrates a story in a collage of texts, citations, and language materials. A group of Palestinian children step through a barbed wire section of the Zionist “Separation Wall” that cuts apart and divides the topography of Palestine, a practice of settler materiality for the expropriation of land and the imposition of death and unsurvivability, which mirrors the settler roads and the Bantustanization of land and relations that the ongoing war against Palestinian life and being continues to coerce. The children are playing a game called “Going to Jerusalem,” and its subject is grammatically plural: “First they walk. They walk until they come to a standstill before a long stretch of barbed wire fence, which splits one landscape in two, then divides it into countless rectangular frames.”54 The children seem to act as a group of individual beings—“Then, they tread back and forth before the barbed wire fence, until they notice a section where the strands have lost some of their tautness. One strand arches up and the one below sags down, making that frame slightly wider than those in other parts of the fence. Once again each person comes to a standstill”—and yet they become a single form and extend their head, now shared in one body, through the fence as they hold open the breach in it they had created: “They suddenly crouch down, stretch out their back, and push their head between the bent strands as the sharp barbs pull their hair and their mouth emits a hushed cry. Their hands hold the two wire strands open as wide as possible as they continue to push their chest through, followed by their right leg.”55

Shibli's writing is shot through with citational detail regarding the wall and the rubber-coated bullets, which Israeli soldiers routinely fire at Palestinians, and whose impact upon the bodies they pierce is to be mitigated, in the logic and rhetoric of the settler state, through the rubber that coats the bullets, each of which “has a 15.75mm steel core and a 2mm coating of polyethylene,” and which the children—at once the collective of individual children and the single body, which their motion manifests—find, as if they were “black marble look-alikes” scattered on the ground.56

The piece continues, as if it were an installation of Hatoum's:

Under the cover of night, they finally lift their left foot that is still on the first side of the fence, and pull it through the barbed wire strands, yet before it lands on the other side next to their right foot, they slip. The ground has now been covered with black marbles that won't hold still. They quickly try to grab anything in their reach: barbed wires and rubber-coated bullets. But in the mayhem the distinction between roundness and sharpness is obscured, and each person grasps the barbed wires as if they were smooth glass marbles, and carefully cling to the black rubber marbles as if these were sharp barbed wires. And they fall down. Blood and numbness spread from different parts of their body. Part of their skin is peeled as if they slipped over a giant grater measuring 6 feet 8 inches by 6 feet 4 inches by 3 feet. The skin on other parts of their hands is sliced as if their palms clasped not on what was thought to be small black rubber bullet–like marbles, but was a huge marble slicer measuring 3 feet 4 inches by 3 feet 9 inches. Their hands were almost everything except a pair of hands. Their hands.57

The passage of this body—a body that is at once a single body and a collective of bodies—through the barbed wire fence never finishes. The body “lies down” and tries to sleep. “Yet in their bed, too, the distinction between roundness and sharpness has been obscured,” and the promise of a firm exteriority is closed.58 The settler state has attacked the children passing through the fence—“They quickly try to grab anything in their reach: barbed wires and rubber-coated bullets”—and there is, in the children's acts, a persistence, a collective struggle in being and form. The Zionist settler state and its rubber-coated bullet instruction of Palestinian children “targets” Palestinian being and life, to draw upon a term of Jodi A. Byrd's, and it does so as it transforms and extends—as it translates in Palestine—the normative social logic sustained in philosophical self-reflection and self-cultivated linguistic sense.59 If this social logic is made apparent through the ethicality Adorno presupposes, the acts of the Palestinian children in Shibli's story are not domesticable in relation to this social logic or its morphing terms. There is, in Shibli, a materiality of form and being, a recollection of collective social insurgency and struggle—from the 1936–39 revolt in Palestine and until today—and a relation to the body and materials, through which the doing or acting of a subject is given, where the self-determined subject is disinstalled as a locus in social form.60 And there is, then, not a closure of futurity but a disarticulation of it from the sense of the social promised in the subject of self-reflection, ethicality, critique, and the law; the subject of recognition and politicality; the subject of property and self-ownership; the subject—a subject—that can say “I,” that is a “self,” that owns itself, and that is, properly, what it is; a hermeneutic subject, one might also say, a subject for a particular sense of language and a particular pedagogy and civility—a subject, I want to underline, for a quite particular sense of the world.

I want to notice that Shibli's rendering of a collective social body is given through Hatoum and in relation to her art. It is as if Shibli's rendering were not her own, and it is as if the subject of language in Shibli—if we may still use the word “subject” to speak of Shibli, Hatoum, or their art and language practices—were only a subject in its relation to Hatoum's practice of form and materials. This is to say: because Shibli's language mirrors Hatoum's practice with materials in art, it shares in the sense of sociality and linguistic form we have been given to read in Hatoum, and of which her art and installation may be said to be at once a theorization and social manifestation. And so the language that is Shibli's own may be said to be hers only in its relation to the practice of collage in which she is engaged in its mirroring of the sense of the work—and of sociality—in Hatoum. Just as Shibli's language shares in the mode of doing and acting Hatoum's art performs, so too the subject given to us in Shibli's writing is not a subject but only an insubstantial form that occurs through its relations, a making in temporal and linguistic acts, and in finite verbs, even as the attribution of that making and doing to a self-identical subject can only—in “Six Key Movements to Unlock a Possible History of Materials”—be an effect of a hermeneutic conjuring practice, which Shibli's language resolutely disallows. We may underline Hatoum's attention to the visual in this context, in her speaking of “the visual poetry of the work.” If the visual promises an unmediated relation to form in sight, and a privilege of the self-reflective subject in its conceptualization of itself, of others, and of the world, the poeticality of the visual points to the materiality of the formal, and the indistinction of form and matter, in art and in language. The poetic dimension of the visual, then, points to a language practice that retains a historicity of form in the density of social and linguistic life in excess of the social logic of the colonization of Palestine and in excess of the forms of governance and law installed in post-Ottoman polities regionally, even as this language practice—in Shibli and also in Hatoum—refuses to merely lift itself out of this inheritance but instead moves through it in an inessential performance of linguistic life.

As it does this—as it partakes in an inessential performance of linguistic life—Shibli's language gives what Samera Esmeir has called “a temporal and spatial grammar that exceeds state law,” as it shares in a sense of the social, which refuses the terms for self-reflection, reading, and form, which the law—in its privileging of a stable subject of language—demands.61 It is an excess that frustrates the law's desire for temporal coherency in the state's endlessly unfinished institution, which the privilege of ethicality in stately reading, in the tradition of settler life—which is to say, in the normative terms for language and philosophical self-reflection—seeks to pacify. The critique of the law is the critique of the social forms that sustain it, including the form of the pacifying reading subject, which has given to itself the task of remaking the world in its image as a domain for properly comported beings in the interest of the interpretive imperatives of the settler state and an ongoing subordination of—and a global war against—Black and Indigenous life. If these imperatives coerce a lucidity of temporal forms in a compulsively reformulated, asymmetrical distribution and withholding of life and death, where the colonized—and where all non-white beings—are interpellated, differentially and catachrestically, as beings to be made legible through their death and social elimination—and this, in the unending resurgence of the temporally coherent subject of language and self-cultivation, the subject of whiteness—we are given, in Hatoum, and in Shibli's writing on Hatoum, a wholly other ahermeneutic, anaccumulative social sense in language and in being—a sociality of poetic form.

Notes

2.

On “object making,” see Hatoum and Antoni, “Interview,” 136.

4.

Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections, 16; Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflexionen, 8. Translations of Adorno, throughout, have occasionally been modified.

5.

“Real giving [Wirkliches Schenken] had its joy in imagining the joy of the receiver. It means choosing, expending time, going out of one's way, thinking of the other as a subject: the opposite of distraction [das Gegenteil von Vergeßlichkeit]” (Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections, 42; Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflexionen, 46).

6.

I borrow the term form of life (Lebensform) from Wittgenstein, and yet I wish to ask about a form of life made manifest in critique as a practice—I'll argue below—for the exteriorization of death and asociality; see Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 11, 15.

10.

Spillers, “Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe,” 213, 206. On the intersections of capitalism, race, and slavery, see also Robinson, Black Marxism.

11.

For an acute reading of race in Adorno, from which I learn here, see Lloyd, Under Representation, 139–51, and, in relation to Adorno's Aesthetic Theory and essays on jazz in particular, “the aesthetic remains not contingently but immanently a racial schema” (151).

12.

See Wynter, “1492: A New World View,” and, in particular, Wynter's discussion of race in relation to a “juro-theological legitimation” (11) that intersects settler colonization in 1492, land expropriation, Indigenous genocide, and the institution of transatlantic chattel slavery—and, Wynter underlines, the initiation of the Portuguese slave trade in 1441—all of which, Wynter suggests, overdetermines race as an excessive social-juridical formation and mode, which compulsively exteriorizes its thanatocentric violence, if also its “model of being and behaving” (41) differentially and asymmetrically. On anti-Blackness, and alongside Wynter, Ferriera da Silva, and Spillers, I learn from Hartman, Scenes of Subjection; Costa Vargas, Never Meant to Survive; Wilderson, Red, White, and Black; Weheliye, Habeas Viscus; Sharpe, In the Wake; and Jackson, Becoming Human. I learn, as well, from the reflections on settler sovereignty, property, anti-Indigenous social and linguistic form, and Indigenous genocide offered, in particular, in Byrd, Transit of Empire; Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus; Kauanui, Hawaiian Blood; Bhandar, Colonial Lives of Property; Nichols, Theft Is Property!; and Saldaña-Portillo, Indian Given.

13.

We might also say that in this Adorno belongs to a tradition, and in this sense I learn from Gerhard Richter's discussion of Adorno and “Western critical thought itself” (Thinking with Adorno, 136), as well as his elaboration of Adorno's critique of “absolute traditionlessness” (46), which I wish to affirm.

14.

I learn here from the discussion of the intersection of settler colonization, race, and legality in relation to reading and language in Bhandar, Colonial Lives of Property, 140: “If literacy is the precondition for the interior life of the civilized subject, it also occasions the affective, spatial, and material enclosures characteristic of modernity and modern law.”

23.

Adorno's privileging of “responsible, ethical listening” may be read in relation to Butler's underlining of “restraint” in Adorno: “We might conclude that Adorno has offered another view of the human here, one in which restraining the will comes to define the human as such” (Giving an Account of Oneself, 106).

28.

Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus, 74. I learn also from the discussion of “asymmetrical social liquidation” in Rodríguez, White Reconstruction, 182; and also Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism.” 

30.

I learn here from the reflection of Kauanui on “the American principle of land settlement by home builders” in its relation to the “abstract logic of citizenship and equal rights” and “a genocidal logic of disappearance” in settler colonization (Hawaiian Blood, 157–58, 125, 25). I learn as well, on property as a “form of social relation” in relation to the law, settler colonization, and slavery, from Nichols, Theft Is Property!, 30.

31.

Costa Vargas, Never Meant to Survive, 96, 37. See also the discussion of “the compulsive repositioning of blackness” as “an essential stabilizer,” in Jackson, Becoming Human, 50.

34.

I learn here from the discussion of translation—in relation to race, property, slavery, indentured servitude, and settler colonization—in Lowe, Intimacies of Four Continents, 39.

35.

On the coherency of temporal form in Adorno, see: “It may well be that no human experience can even be envisaged without reference to the horizon of time” (Adorno, Ontology and Dialectics, 154; Adorno, Ontologie und Dialektik, 218).

37.

See also the discussion of the “suspension” of resolution in Hatoum in Mansoor, “Spectral Universality,” 52.

42.

I learn here from Boullata's discussion of the “redefinition” of “the distance between artist and art object, art object and audience, her own body and that of the spectator” (Hatoum, Palestinian Art, 176).

50.

Qutami and Zahzah, “War of Words,” 75.

53.

“Was ist, is mehr, als es ist” (Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 161; Adorno, Negative Dialektik, 164).

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