Skip to content

ANNOUNCING: Burn After Reading from punctum books

Burn After ReadingBAR_Cover_Front_WEB

Vol. 1 // Miniature Manifestos for a Post/medieval Studies

edited by Eileen A. Joy and Myra Seaman

Vol. 2 // The Future We Want: A Collaboration

edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

Brooklyn, NY: punctum books / Washington, DC: Oliphaunt Books, 2014. 226 pages, illus. ISBN-13: 978-0692204412. OPEN-ACCESS e-book and $15.00 [€12.00/£11.00] in print: paperbound/5 X 8 in.

Published: 2014-04-28

Download book

. . . better to take the risk and engage in fidelity to a Truth-event, even if it ends in catastrophe, than to vegetate in the eventless utilitarian-hedonist survival of what Nietzsche called the ‘last men.’

~ Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times 

The essays, manifestos, rants, screeds, pleas, soliloquies, telegrams, broadsides, eulogies, songs, harangues, confessions, laments, and acts of poetic terrorism in these two volumes — which collectively form an academic “rave” — were culled, with some later additions, from roundtable sessions at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in 2012 and 2013, organized bypostmedieval: a journal for medieval cultural studies and the BABEL Working Group (“Burn After Reading: Miniature Manifestos for a Post/medieval Studies,” “Fuck This: On Letting Go,” and “Fuck Me: On Never Letting Go”) and George Washington University’s Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute (“The Future We Want: A Collaboration”), respectively. Gathering together a rowdy multiplicity of voices from within medieval and early modern studies, these two volumes seek to extend and intensify a conversation about how to shape premodern studies, and also the humanities, in the years ahead. Authors in both volumes, in various ways, lay claim to the act(s) of manifesting, and also anti-manifesting, as a collective endeavor that works on behalf of the future without laying any belligerent claims upon it, where we might craft new spaces for the University-at-large, which is also a University that wanders, that is never just somewhere, dwelling in the partitive — of a particular place — but rather, seeks to be everywhere, always on the move, pandemic, uncontainable, and always to-come, while also being present/between us (manifest). This is not a book, but a blueprint. It is also an ephemeral gathering in the present tense.


postmedieval 5.1: Comparative Neomedievalisms

Cluster Edited by Daniel Lukes


Comparative Neomedievalisms: A Little Bit Medieval (Daniel Lukes [Indiana University])


Don Quixote and the Remembrance of Things Medieval (Donald D. Palmer [College of Marin and North Carolina State University])

The New Knighthood: Terrorism and the Medieval (Daniel Wollenberg [Binghamton University, SUNY])

Neomedievalisms and the Modern Subject in T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral  (Krystya Michael [Graduate Center, CUNY])

Neomedievalist Feminist Dystopia (Daniel Lukes [Indiana University])


Boundless Restraint: Performance, Reparation, and the Daily Practice of Death in the Life of Daniel the Stylite (Jonah Westerman [Graduate Center, CUNY])

Confessions and the Creation of the Will: A Weird Tale (Matthew Bryan Gillis [University of Tennessee])


Heurodis Speaks (Robyn Cadwallader [Flinders University])


Towards a Premodern Affective Turn (Glenn Burger [Queens College and The Graduate Center, CUNY])


[see postmedieval site at Palgrave for more information on this and other issues]

ANNOUNCEMENT: 2014 Biennial Michael Camille Essay Prize [postmedieval]

As was noted by Arnold Van Gennep, one of the first anthropologists of the edge, “the attributes of liminality are necessarily ambiguous since [they] elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space.”

~from Michael Camille, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art

Eileen Joy, Myra Seaman, and Holly Crocker are thrilled to announce that it is time once again for the Biennial Michael Camille Essay prize, jointly sponsored by postmedieval, Palgrave Macmillan, and the BABEL Working Group.

Deadline: JULY 31, 2014.The competition is open to early career researchers: those currently in MA/PhD programs or within 5 years of having received the Ph.D. (that will include those graduating in 2009 or later). Although the contest is inspired by and dedicated to the memory of an art historian, essays in all disciplines are encouraged, and we are especially interested in work that, similar to Camille’s, is cross-disciplinary, theoretically-informed, and attentive to the ways in which the medieval inhabits the modern. The prize is for the best short essay (4,000-6,000 words) that speaks to the 2014 theme: MEDIEVALISM AND THE MARGINS (conceptualized and imagined in any way the author sees fit). The award for 2014 will include: publication in postmedieval, 250 dollars, and one year’s free print and online subscription to the journal.

The prize is named after Michael Camille (1958-2002), the brilliant art historian whose work on medieval art exemplified playfulness, a felicitous interdisciplinary reach, a restless imagination, and a passion to bring the medieval and modern into vibrant, dialogic encounter. In addition, we wish to honor Camille for his attention to the fringes of medieval society — to the liminal, the excluded, the ‘subjugated rabble,’ and the disenfranchised, and to the socially subversive powers of medieval artists who worked on and in the margins. The prize is also named after Camille because his work was often invested in exploring ‘the prism of modernity through which the Middle Ages is constructed’ and because, as his colleague at the University of Chicago Linda Seidel said shortly after his death, he had ‘a mind like shooting stars.’

Submissions will be judged by a panel of scholars selected from postmedieval’s Editorial Board, and the winner will be announced at the 3rd Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group, to be held October 16-18 at University of California, Santa Barbara. Please send submissions, to include a cover page with all contact information — name, affiliation(s), mailing address, email address(es), title of submission, and with no identifying information on essay itself (formatted in Word and following Chicago Manual, author-date format with endnotes + list of references at end) — to the editors at If you have any questions or concerns, you can contact Eileen Joy at

This is Not My (or, Our) Time, so Please Take Ecstasy With Me: The Necessity of Generous Reading


for Jeffrey Cohen, Michael O’Rourke, and Karl Steel, scholars-in-armsand also for Carolyn Dinshaw

As we navigate the ruins of [Bill] Readings’ university without condition and transgress the cross-hatches of disciplinary boundaries, we answer to a duty — as Derrida reminds us, a responsibility to listen to others while subjecting ourselves to encounters with otherness. This is ongoing work however, because, as [Claude] Romano explains, “an encounter is not so much a ‘presentation’ (of two people) as afuturition. It has meaning only through the possibilities that it holds in reserve, which give it its future-loading.” These encounters are beginnings that never end because they “constantly defer” themselves by “opening ceaseless new possibilities.” Ruin is, as Jeffrey Cohen [has] brought home to us so beautifully [in his recent work] . . . “a going-from,” but as we go, we should be willing to take no end of risks. 

~Michael O’Rourke, Response to “Parts, Wholes, and the New,” conference panel organized by theOrganism for Poetic Research, 2nd Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group, Boston 2012
The intimacy with an unknown body is the revelation of . . . distance at the very moment we appear to be crossing an uncrossable interval. Otherness, unlocatable within differences that can be known and enumerated, is made concrete in the eroticized touching of a body without attributes. A non-masochistic jouissance (one that owes nothing to the death drive) is the sign of the nameless, identity-free contact with an object I do not know and certainly do not love and which has, unknowingly, agreed to be momentarily the incarnated shock of otherness. In that moment we relate to that which transcends all relations.
~Leo Bersani, “Sociability and Cruising”

For a long time now, I have been thinking about what I am going to call — for lack of a better phrase at present — generous reading. It’s this (utopic) (foolish) idea I have that, within the humanities and the university more broadly, we might actually devise a way to read the work of others — even those we might disagree with for all sorts of reasons, or from whom we might feel disciplinarily (and otherwise) estranged — with some sort of spirit of radical openness to what others are desiring to think and articulate at any given moment. I say quite purposefully – desiring to think and articulate – because I believe we put too little of a premium within our professional academic lives on actually caring about other persons’ intellectual wishes and desires (what does he, she, they, want? what are they TRYING to say/do? what do they need from me?), and instead often approach others’ work primarily from the route of how we think we might be able to utilize the “end products” of that work (positively or negatively) in our own scholarship, which scholarship (moreover) is often conceptualized along fairly narrow theoretical, methodological, temporal, disciplinary and other lines (for the important sake of “expertise,” this is sometimes, and valuably, necessary). Let me clarify before proceeding so that it does not seem as if I am claiming that most of us supposedly work within overly “narrow” intellectual and other concerns and interests. I do not believe that and would like to further believe that most of us are on the lookout most of the time for new ideas, and new provocations to thought; it’s just that, given the constraints of our lives (teaching schedules, personal lives, disciplinary boundaries that are not always easy to cross, and various other stresses and pressures), the amount of time we have to simply read other scholars’ work simply for the purpose of answering the (hopefully) joyous question — “I wonder what THIS is about?” — feels (or maybe really is) unavailable. Read more

AUDIOCASTS AVAILABLE: Critical/Liberal/Arts 2 @ CUNY

An Interstellar Raft of the Medusa: Critical/Liberal/Arts 2 @CUNY


It’s been almost two months since some of us (well, many of us, actually, since we numbered close to 100)gathered at The Graduate Center, CUNY for the second installment of the BABEL Working Group’s bi-coastal symposia series, Critical/Liberal/Arts, the first of which happened at UC-Irvine this past April. The proceedings from both events will be published in a special issue of postmedieval, edited by the series organizers, Myra Seaman, Allan Mitchell, and Julie Orlemanski, in 2015, but in the meantime we are fortunate that one of the NYC’s event’s contributors, AW Strouse, has offered a review and summary of the day at the online journal HortulusHERE, and I now also have audio files to share, for those who could not be there, but would like to join in some of the fun of the embodied performances — by Henry Turner, the Hollow Earth Society (Wythe Marschall + Ethan Gould), Eleanor Johnson, Ammiel Alcalay, Bruce Holsinger, AW Strouse, Eirik Steinhoff, Jamie “Skye” Bianco, Michael Witmore, and Marina Zurkow + Una Chaudhuri — that resulted from this prompt:

We hazard that many of the categories used to distinguish modes of knowledge production are in practice overlapping or entwined: distance and involvement; criticism and aestheticism; sensation and reflection; detachment and attachment; interrogation and incorporation; interpretive qualification and quantified data; analysis and speculation; control and loss of control before the objects of our study. A survey of the humanities and social sciences at present turns up projects that transcend traditional rubrics and do not remain in their respective fields at all — but rather, cross out of academia and continue on to other planes of social practice. These projects represent serious commitments to tinkering, mapping, constructing, organizing, blogging, protesting, ornamenting, fantasizing, digitizing, occupying, and more. We invite accounts of practices from inside and outside of the university that might be counted among the new arts of critique, or new modes of critical creation.
Presenters have been encouraged to avoid post-critical hype and anti-critique retrenchment. Polarizing these issues has helped generate powerful critiques-of-critique as well as strong defenses of traditional critical frameworks (such as Marxism, feminism, queer studies, race studies, postcolonial studies, post-structuralism, and the like). But we are interested in exploring theories and practices beyond the polemic. To wit: What are the new scenes or spaces of critical invention? What different faces might critique have? What does it feel like? What does it do? How does historical consciousness play a role in generating new forms, tools, or ideas? What does it mean to be “uncritical”? Is there an erotic hermeneutics, pace Sontag, or an eros of critique? How do we engage criticism and art and techne against the actuarial interests of the corporate university? Can we “afford” to nurture speculative creation, or pure science, in an age of austerity? Do delight, rapture, or the drift of daydreams have a role in criticism? Is there value in maintaining what separates the injunctions to critique and to create? How might our practices cross-pollinate the sciences and the fine arts? Or politics and aesthetics? Or the future and the past? Read more

ANNOUNCING: Staying Alive from punctum books

Staying Alive_Cover_Front_WebStaying Alive: A Survival Manual for the Liberal Arts

by L.O. Aranye Fradenburg

Edited by Eileen A. Joy

Brooklyn, NY: punctum books, 2013. 372 pages, illus. ISBN-13: 978-0615906508. OPEN-ACCESS e-book and $17.00 [€15.00/£14.00] in print: paperbound/5 X 8 in.

Published: 2013-10-21

Download book

There are many different kinds of intelligence, and there will always be a few writers who don’t need to read Shakespeare in college, or game designers who don’t need economics courses to get rich. But a terrible narrowing of the mind and of mental experience is ongoing in our country, sometimes waved on by the very scientists who ought most of all to respect the mind’s powers. The philosopher Guillaume LeBlanc argues that philosophy should now understand itself as work performed on behalf of particular cultures and ecologies, producing a new ethos of the philosopher for whom the question of belonging to an ordinary world has become, not something to bracket or transcend, but centrally important. Understanding how ordinariness is produced, and critiquing self-evidence, remain crucial activities of cultural analysis, as does the defense of expertise; but it is not simply a matter of intellectuals going public. It is also a matter of experts deciphering the relationship of their work to the arts of thriving and surviving, and feeding the results of their analyses back into their work. And it is time to fight, not just for this or that way of thinking, but for the experience of mind itself, and its cultivation — for (the pleasures of) knowing, reasoning, investigating, analyzing, debating, loving, desiring, and reflecting.

~ L.O. Aranye Fradenburg, “Living the Liberal Arts,” Staying Alive

Staying Alive: A Survival Manual for the Liberal Arts fiercely defends the liberal arts in and from an age of neoliberal capital and techno-corporatization run amok, arguing that the public university’s purpose is not vocational training, but rather the cultivation of what Fradenburg calls “artfulness,” including the art of making knowledge. In addition to sustained critical and creative thinking, the humanities develop the mind’s capacities for real-time improvisational communication and interpretation, without which we can neither thrive nor survive. Humanist pedagogy and research use play, experimentation and intersubjective exchange to foster forms of artfulness critical to the future of our species. From perception to reality-testing to concept-formation and logic, the arts and humanities teach us to see, hear and respond more keenly, and to imagine, or “model,” new futures and possibilities. Innovation of all kinds, technological or artistic, depends on the enhancement of the skills proper to staying alive. Read more

CALL FOR PRESENTATIONS: BABEL Biennale 2014 @UC-Santa Barbara


I’m thrilled to report that BABEL has finally wrestled into shape the overall structure, approved sessions, and featured speakers (representing bioinspired engineering, media studies, architecture/design, medieval studies, early modern studies, film studies, new (feminist/queer) materialisms, oceanic studies, labor activism, multimedia art, drama/performance studies, geopolitics, and the environmental humanities) for our 3rd biennial meeting,“on the beach: precariousness, risk, forms of life, affinity, and play at the edge of the world,” to be held at the University of California from October 16-18, 2014. Everyone can see the Call for Presentations for open sessions, including featured speaker list and also details of other approved sessions here:

We have decided to structure the conference via 3 thematic threads, to which all speakers + sessions have been linked:

Day 1: Precariousness + Risk + Shipwreck + Storm

Day 2: Forms of Life + Materials and Matter-ing + Aesthetics

Day 3: Play + Enjoyment + Affinity + Hope

The more detailed description of the conference’s themes can be found HERE. The summer “planning retreat”group, who I want to publicly thank here — Liza Blake, Jen Boyle, Lowell Duckert, Laurie Finke, Jonathan Hsy, Kathleen Kelly, Karen Overbey, Myra Seaman, Daniel Remein, and Maggie Williams, with help off-site also by Christine Neufeld and Nedda Mehidizadeh — worked extremely hard [and sure, also drank a lot of lime gimlets and listened to Lowell sing a lot of Eagles songs, and also burned some books by V.C. Andrews and Ayn Rand to keep warm: we were in Massachusetts in *early* summer, after all] to create as much of an UNconference structure as possible, and we were aided, beautifully, by all of the creative proposals we received. This conference, I really believe, is going to be a “wild ride.”

For those interested in submitting an individual proposal for any of the open sessions (linked to above), please send your query and/or short proposal (of no more than 300 words) directly to that session’s organizer(s) at the email address(es) given on the CFP NO LATER THAN APRIL 1, 2014. We will not be able to consider random, individual proposals; all proposals must be designed to meet the theme(s) and frameworks set by session organizers. If you have any questions or concerns, contact Eileen Joy here:

ANNOUNCING punctum records: a sound-impress of punctum books

Shivery Shakes_PBR_1

We are thrilled to announce  the launching of punctum records: a sound-impress of punctum books, with an initial 7″-single release by Austin, Texas band Shivery Shakes — “Sidewalk Talk” — later this summer. punctum records aims to build a label that will house a rowdy assemblage of muscians, sound/noise artists, acoustic technologists, musicologists, and sound theorists. Although we are still somewhat “under construction,” we share with you below our vision statement and Advisory Board, and you can also check out the label’s website HERE, plus follow us on FacebookTwitter(@punctumrecords), Soundcloud, and Tumblr.

punctum records: vision statement

Learning to listen is the intentional task of solidarity; listening in tension.

~ Ultra-red

What happens when you begin to realize another world is possible — that’s art.

~ DJ Spooky

punctum records: a sound-impress of punctum books, is an open-access & vinyl publisher of music and other sonic forms that take creative, slantwise-flying leaps, tarry in the archive of sensible forms, build pleasurably noisy pandemoniums, and seek to make sound an interventionist medium of both disruption and connection. Discography as fever dream, house party, rhythmic riot. Sound as connective tissue, tactical media, ambient rain.

punctum records is an experiment in bringing together cultural theorists, musciologists, sound artists, and musicians as lovers and fighters in the ruins of the arts and humanities at a moment when information-noise overload meets a flattening out of channels and platforms for the sustainable dissemination of music, sonic art, and theory. punctum records is placing a wager on the label, or publishing house, as an important domain for a collective-activist experiment in the construction of what Ivan Illich called “tools for conviviality,” and for developing sound-styles that would “give priority to the protection, the maximum use, and the enjoyment of … personal energy under personal control.”[1] In affinity with punctum books’s commitment to fostering para-academic shelters for the cultivation of open, vagabond publics, punctum records is bent on “pressing” an unruly crowd of sounds into the ventilating system called the cultural commons, and on playing the shadow-demon-parasite-prod-supplement to the so-called “music industry.” Sound label as field of play, wandering group house, rogue frequency.

punctum records invites theorists, musicians, and sound artists (or any combination thereof) to propose singles, mixtapes, EPs, LPs, audiocasts, soundscapes, operas, discographies, acoustical memes, noise art, sound waves, librettos, samplers, wave emissions, soundscapes, audio channels, sonic fictions, field recordings, fugues, listening devices, radio broadcasts, digital sound exhibits, sonic archaeologies, audio-loops, acoustic manuals, ambient backgrounds, echo chambers, musical algorithms, choral reefs, mashups, soundtracks, live recordings, sound/spoken word poetry, sound-walls, earworms, interstellar messages, improvisational sessions, digital concerts, transcriptions, busking performances, and sonic-theory compositions of any kind. Read more

Recent Articles


DONATE! to BABEL’s Spring 2014 Fundraising Campaign

babelfund[Click here to donate now! ]



You might think, and some days it’s true, that the BABEL Working Group runs on Manhattan cocktails, WD-40, ramen, loose change, the kindness of strangers, old Talking Heads albums, matches, a glitter ball, chewing gum, and a few guitars. Indeed, without institutional or foundational funding, but with a lot of elbow grease in the wee hours of the night, the BABEL Working Group has, since 2004, worked very hard to: 1) develop new co-disciplinary, nomadic, and convivial confraternities between the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and the fine arts (both within and beyond the academy), 2) to build shelters for humanist and post/humanist vagabonds, 3) to foster a politics of friendship both within and beyond the University, and 4) to create new spaces for para-academic alliances (such as our biennial conference, our symposia series, but also our press punctum books and or new sound label punctum records).But the fact of the matter is, we cannot keep doing everything we have been doing, not to mention continue to build even more new spaces and events and projects and platforms, without some sort of regular fund-raising campaign, which we’ve decided to undertake beginning this year, in both spring and fall of each year. It’s important to us that we never charge membership dues [although many people have urged us to do just that], because as idealistic and foolish as it might sound, I’ve always envisioned BABEL as an attempt to put theory into practice — more specifically, to see if it’s possible to build and sustain something like Deleuze and Guattari’s “desiring-assemblage,” which of its very nature must have propensities, trajectories, flows [and also breaks in the flows], attachments, detachments, reattachments, agglomerations, itineraries, ETC. that cannot be predicted in advance nor managed bureaucratically nor controlled. As such, all manner of persons must be invited to jump on, and also jump off, with no impediments to their movements in and out of the spaces we are creating to foster new modes and experimental forms of creative intellectual work. We don’t want officers. We don’t want Robert’s Rules. We don’t want dues. Consider, also, that without any of that — and again, without any institutional support [although some, like GW-MEMSI have generously helped fund our biennial meeting and social events] — we’ve managed to do the following: Read more »


postmedieval 4.4: Premodern Flesh

Edited by Holly Crocker and Kathryn Schwarz FLESH_Cover


In the Flesh (Holly Crocker [University of South Carolina])


Melting Flesh, Living Words (Jay Zysk [University of South Florida])

The Temporal Excesses of Dead Flesh (Cynthia Turner Camp [University of Georgia])

Carnival in The Merchant of Venice (Jonathan Goldberg [Emory University])

The Curious Pleasures of the Heroic Corpse (Kathryn Schwarz [Vanderbilt University])

Scattered Remains and Paper Bodies: Margaret Cavendish and the Siege of Colchester (Frances E. Dolan [University of California, Davis])

Fleshing out the text: The Transcendent Manuscript in the Digital Age (Elaine Treharne [Stanford University])

Spirited Flesh: The Animation and Hybridization of Flesh in the Early Modern Imaginary (Emily L. King [Vanderbilt University])

Hi Mho Jhi Kudd: Thomas Stephens’s Translated Flesh, or, Coconuts in Goa (Jonathan Gil Harris [Ashoka University])

[see postmedieval site at Palgrave for more information on this and other issues]

Crowd Review 3: The Holocaust and the Middle Ages

crowdMyra Seaman, Holly Crocker and Eileen Joy are thrilled to announce that postmedieval is launching today our THIRD online, open Crowd Review, of Nina Caputo’s and Hannah Johnson’s special issue on “The Holocaust and the Middle Ages,” which features the following essays:

We are grateful [again] this Crowd Review is being hosted and stewarded by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and company at MediaCommons, based at New York University, which describes its mission this way:

MediaCommons is a community network for scholars, students, and practitioners in media studies, promoting exploration of new forms of publishing within the field. MediaCommons was founded with the support of the Institute for the Future of the Book, and with assistance from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Through this network, we hope to refocus scholarship in the field on the communication and discussion of new ideas in the field. . . . Our hope is that the interpenetration of these different forms of discourse will not simply shift the locus of publishing from print to screen, but will actually transform what it means to “publish,” allowing the author, the publisher, and the reader all to make the process of such discourse just as visible as its product. In so doing, new communities will be able to get involved in academic discourse, and new processes and products will emerge, leading to new forms of digital scholarship and pedagogy.

MediaCommons (and MediaCommons Press), which Fitzpatrick helped to found, have been extremely important in leading the edge of peer-to-peer (P2P) publishing networks and open review within the humanities — indeed, Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s influential book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, was first drafted, reviewed, revised and published in MediaCommons Press’s open platform (it has since also been published in print by NYU Press), and open review of two issues ofShakespeare Quarterly (SQ), on “Shakespeare and Performance,” and also on  “Shakespeare and New Media,”have also been hosted by MediaCommons Press. The New York Times published a fairly good article on these experiments in open, online review in August of 2010, shortly before postmedieval launched its first online Crowd Review — of our special issue on “Becoming Media,” edited by Jen Boyle and Martin Foys, which you can see more about HERE — inspired, I might add, by SQ’s experiments in such and by the arguments of Fitzpatrick’s book, especially, for me, that we need, in the reviewing of academic work to shift from a gatekeeping and individualistic/heroic mode of “oversight” and agon to a more communal, helpful model. As Fitzpatrick writes in her book: Read more »

A Time for Radical Hope


I was very lucky to be invited recently by George Washington University — more specifically, GW’s new Digital Humanities Institute [Alex Huang], GW’s Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute [Jeffrey Cohen], and the Gelman Library [Geneva Henry and Karim Boughida] — to give a talk on the state(s) and future(s) of open-access publishing, and in order to make this talk more accessible, I am sharing it here [in augmented form]!

A Time for Radical Hope: Freedom, Responsibility, Publishing, and Building New Publics

Professional Challenges. Amateur Solutions.

~The Bruce High Quality Foundation

For what may we hope? Kant put this question in the first-person singular along with two others — What can I know? What ought I to do? — that he thought essentially marked the human condition. With two centuries of philosophical reflection, it seems that these questions are best transposed to the first-person plural. And with that same hindsight, rather than attempt an a priori inquiry, I would like to consider hope as it might arise at one of the limits of human existence [such as the collapse of an entire culture]. . . . What makes hope [in the face of such a collapse] radical is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is. Radical hope anticipates a good for which those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it.

~Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devestation 

 The Bruce High Quality Foundation is an anonymous collective and unaccredited art school, formed in 2004 by graduates of Cooper Union art school in New York City, who wanted to “foster an alternative to everything,” especially in New York City’s rarefied art world. Bruce High Quality is their whimsically invented figure-head: a sculptor who supposedly perished, along with all of his works, in the 9/11 attacks, and whose memory and legacy the collective seeks to maintain. One of their first interventions, or acts of institutional critique, happened in 2005 when the Whitney Museum wanted to honor the legacy of the illustrator Robert Smithson by constructing an actual “floating island” based on one of his drawings, “Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island.” The constructed island, complete with living trees, was pulled by a tugboat around New York Harbor. The Bruce High Quality Foundation responded to the event with their own performance, titled“The Gate: Not the Idea of the Thing but the Thing Itself,” in which members of the collective pursued the Smithson island in a small skiff carrying a model of one of the orange gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude that had been displayed in Central Park earlier that year. In 2007, they donned football gear and “tackled” public sculptures. They also produced a film in 2008 in which zombies take over the Guggenheim, and the Bruce High Quality Foundation fights them with the actual art collections (for example, decapitating the zombies with Brancusi sculptures while the art critics hide and cower in the museum’s cafeteria). In 2010, and despite the Bruce High Quality Foundation’s efforts to remain anonymous and iconoclastic, they were included in theWhitney’s 2010 Biennale. We’ll call this the “coming full circle” narrative, from inside the institution (Cooper Union) to its radical Outside and then back in again (the Whitney). Read more »