Having been to France for a few days for a project meeting with Damien Masson, Sara Fregonese and Simon Runkel (which was really stimulating, though I didn't take photos for some reason [hence none here]), I've been getting back into that over the past two or three weeks and have made some slow progress... It's probably daft to be working on two books at once, but I'm enjoying being able to switch between two things I'm working on because I want to rather than as a result of other pressures (REF etc). There is something mutually supporting between the projects even if they are a bit different in focus and approach...
The biggest difference I've been facing here thus far compared with the NRT book is that a lot of what I'm working on exists in some form and requires editing / finalising / adapting to fit within the narrative of the book. So, while with the NRT book I was starting with an entirely blank page and trying to explain a series of points / concepts / themes clearly, here I've mostly been trying to whittle, refine, reorientate etc. existing material and it's taking much more time.
So, much of the past few weeks has been spent working with a long and sprawling draft of material I've worked at off and on for a few years that engages with the writings of Roberto Esposito. I came across Esposito through his book Communitas which was mentioned somewhere when I was reading lots and lots of Jean-Luc Nancy. This was back in 2009 or 2010 and I think it was just translated (so - may have been a 'you might be interested in' success for Amazon...). That book sat on my shelves for a while and moved between offices as job changes happened.
A few years ago now, though, I sat down and read through Esposito that and, realising I wished I'd not waited, I went on and read the rest of his key works related to that / available in English at that time. That covered his Immunitas, Bios, and The Third Person. These all revolve around his project of developing an 'affirmative biopolitics'. I also read his 'Terms of the Political' and have recently read 'Persons and Things'. The initial writing I did from that was very much in a 'what does Esposito say' vein which was trying to help clarify his arguments largely for myself. It seems very few geographers have really engaged or written in detail on that. That draft led to a couple of conference presentations back in 2013 and 2014 but was put aside for reasons I can't really remember. Oh, that's right - impending parenthood.
When I returned to it last year, I realised that I didn't want to write a book that just outlined the position of a range of thinkers and instead try to do something that bounced their ideas of a specific 'real-world' encounter which might speak to that theory but also question it. I wanted something less 'textbooky'. So, I spent a bit of time trying to do that, ballooning things up to nearly 17,000 words. Returning to this now, I've been trying to both cut down some of the length explanations / exposition and building more of a narrative argument into the text. I'm not done with that, but I've got a first draft that I'm happier with. It still needs to be cut and the arguments pulled out more, but it's getting there and I'm happy to move on with the rest of the chapters before coming back for a final push / edit when all the pieces are there. This will actually be chapter 3 of the book (after the intro, a chapter 1 and a chapter 2) so I'll need the chapters before it finished before it can be finalised, anyway.
Very recently, then, I've been trying to work at some other existing material that'll form parts of the book - my paper in Emotion, Space and Society that works with Jean-Luc Nancy and such a case / encounter and my recent Geography Compass paper. The former with be the basis for the book's chapter 2 is more in the style I want the book to take but I'm using the freedom of a book manuscript to expand and clarify some of the points in there, as well as introduce a little standardisation between this material and the other chapters (i.e. having some common context about the people I'm engaged with near the start of each chapter). I've also recently received a couple of recent / 'new' Nancy books - Ego Sum and The Disavowed Community, so I want to read those and include references if / where appropriate. For the latter material, I'm using the Compass piece as a starting point for the book's introduction chapter. The key challenge there is removing a bit of the reviewing tone and pushing it again more towards the arguments I want to make / situating what's to come. It's really useful having that review material there as I can situate the book within it, but it needs more 'me' through that and a clearer articulation of the book project within it. I won't finalise it until all the other chapters are written and I'm clear fully on where they all end up, but tinkering with it now has been helpful both in realising I've got stuff I can use but also what I need to be clearer on to myself as much as in writing.
The remaining two main chapters for the book (what will be Chapter 1 and Chapter 4) will engage critically with Levinas's discussion of the face and Jean-Luc Marion's discussion of 'givenness', respectively. I'm going to be working on the Levinas material next while I'm in Australia. He's probably the most established / familiar face (excuse the pun) in geography when it comes to critical engagements with subjectivity (though more so for ethics), but I'm hoping to take that in original directions based on the critical disposition I take with his work. I read a fair bit of Levinas towards the end of my PhD but not since. From what I remember there, it does a lot in terms of the sort of critical engagement with certain understandings of subjectivity I'm trying to develop in the book but also that there's quite a bit of stuff I'm not comfortable with. But that's also the case (but to a lesser degree) with Nancy, which is why I became interested in Esposito. The narrative of the book is less about a synthesis of the positions of these thinkers or picking one ahead of others and more about how we can move forward through each, taking something up, adding something in, responding to issues along the way, etc.. There will be, I think, a short conclusion chapter in the book that tries to draw some of that out and make clear where things have got to (and still need to go) but I'm leaving that for now.
I'm guessing my next post will either be from or after Australia. That may well resemble holiday snaps that anything academic...