Journal Issue #7 Speculation

Autumn 2017



Dave Beech, Anders Hultqvist and Valérie Pihet


The Insistence of Possibles:
 Towards a Speculative Pragmatism

Didier Debaise and Isabelle Stengers

This article strives to continue  the lure of Whitehead’s call: that “Philosophy cannot exclude anything”. Thus speculative philosophy extends William James’s radical empiricism. Its task is to locate itself on the ground of experience in its multifariousness, and to preserve what experience makes important. But importance can never be reduced to a matter of fact. To make a situation important consists in intensifying the sense of the possible that it holds in itself and that insists in it, through struggles and claims for another way of making it exist.


What is Speculation?

Costas Lapavitsas and Dave Beech

Costas Lapavitsas discusses issues around the economics and politics of speculation with Dave Beech. Marxist economic theory is deployed to clarify the difference between some of the vague and metaphorical ways in which the concept of speculation is applied to theories of art, capitalism, and the future-oriented accumulation of profit, rent and interest. Lapavitsas, whose book ‘Profiting Without Producing’ characterises our period as one of financialisation rather than neoliberalism, post-Fordism or globalisation, argues that capitalism has been financialised and it is urgent that the Left’s agenda includes definancialisation. Beech and Lapavitsas discuss the relationship between financialisation and fascism and how the cascading of financialisation into everyday life acts as a powerful mode of social control.

New World Embassy: Rojava in Oslo City Hall.

The Speculative Art of Assemblism

Jonas Staal

Exemplified by four of his collaborative artistic-political projects, here Jonas Staal claims that, despite the fact that we tend to understand it as a catastrophic logic underlying systemic economic crisis—a maddening and criminal system of abuse and exploitation, a sadistic game played by few upon the lives of the many—speculation simultaneously might be part of the answer to this condition. Speculation is also part of what we can term the radical imaginary of both politics and art.

Images courtesy Krzysztof Wodiczko Studio.

The Investigators

Krzysztof Wodiczko

Krzysztof Wodiczko’s project “The Investigators” is an interactive, public video projection installation which took place originally in Weimar over two days between the 26 and 28 August 2016. Projecting live images and voices of refugees onto the statues of Schiller and Goethe before an assembled public raised on platforms to counteract the plinths that raise the statues from the street, Wodiczko animates the monument for the living. Not only giving new meaning to the monument by dredging up the historical episode in which Goethe sheltered Schiller as a refugee, this work proposes a new model that considers for monuments as unfinished. Talking back to the monument, occupying its space and animating it in real time, is not just a technical feat but a political achievement.


What is Speculative Music Composition?

Ming Tsao

One of the challenges of contemporary music composition is to speculate upon “possible worlds” as a counterpoint to our contemporary understanding of place, where the lyrical impulse in music is sensitive to relations between human impact and presence in the more-than-human world. Such sensitivity arises from a compositional superfluity where subjectivity is “dislocated presence” for new modes of perception to appear that resist representation, conceptualisation, enframing, quantification and instrumentalisation. Music composition today should ask listeners to listen beyond anthropocentric terms, including the ways in which the resistance of the world—its conflicting and dynamic materiality—exceeds both conceptual thought and technological control.

This “speculative turn” in music composition is indeed not to excise music’s resemblance to language, and by extension music’s capacity for expression, but to decentre music’s humanised expression from its privileged position for the possibility of a music independent of from language, thought and intentions, where music’s materiality can exceed human agency. Such music would suggest a critical materialist sounda sound world outside of consciousness rather than a sound world fully endowed with consciousness, thus placing the listener in a space where they are required to rethink their personhood within a larger domain of life.

Screen grab created by students of the 2014 seminar of Récits et experimentation, narration spéculative (speculative narration) Master’s programme at the École de Recherche Graphique in Brussels.

Speculative Narration

Valérie Pihet, Katrin Solhdju, Didier Debaise and Fabrizio Terranova

In 2011 a Master’s programme called “Narrations spéculatives” was established at the École de Recherche Graphique (ERG). It arose from a meeting between teachers and practitioners (Fabrizio Terranova and Yvan Flasse) from the ERG, and of certain researchers (Didier Debaise and Katrin Solhdju ) of the Groupe d’Études Constructivistes de l’Université Libre de Bruxelles (GECO). The idea of connecting two notions as apparently seemingly disparate as “narration” and “speculative” thinking became clear to us at the end of a collective process. ERG’s need to give back to narration its deeply political dimension, to re-intensify it beyond exclusively human stories, found hitherto unused resources in the renewal of speculative thinking, which as it happened, the GECO was also attempting to do. Narrative practices reciprocally contributed to the redefining of the status of speculative propositions. It was  therefore starting from two histories—narration and speculative thinking—with their different requirements, that this Master’s programme was established, incorporating both notions. The following interview focuses on that moment from the viewpoint of its main protagonists.