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Book Review

Mabogo Percy More, Sartre on Contingency: Antiblack Racism and Embodiment

Thomas Meagher

Mabogo Percy More, Sartre on Contingency: Antiblack Racism and Embodiment (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021), 303 pp., $44 (paperback), ISBN: 9781538157046

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Contested Greenspace Solidarities?

Asymmetric Valuation Compromises and Civic-Material Tensions in Copenhagen Allotment Gardens

Nicola C. Thomas and Anders Blok

Urban allotment gardens constitute urban natures with a rich history as well as potential public redevelopment land. While many cities in Europe struggle to protect allotment gardens from competing land-use forces, in Copenhagen, allotments are classified as valuable urban nature and enjoy special protection. We analyze the social and political conditions and consequences of this unique situation. Taking a closer look at the governance arrangements and what we refer to as asymmetric civic-public compromises enabling the protection, we show how this is resulting in new material conflicts between civic and municipal actors. We argue that the conflicts are related to the unresolved issue of competing visions of civic, green, and market sustainability shaping contemporary urban development in Copenhagen and beyond and which are starkly revealed within allotment gardens.

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Daoist Political Ecology as Green Party Ideology

The Case of the Swedish Greens

Devin K. Joshi

Green parties were once hailed as offering a “new politics” vis-à-vis the political establishment by proposing radical political, economic, and environmental reforms, but they have since transformed in many countries to become more moderate and pragmatic. While some doubt whether their ideology still contains any essential core, I contend that a unifying link can be found in the philosophy of the Daoist sage Laozi. I illustrate this by analyzing the party program of Miljöpartiet de Gröna (Sweden’s Environmental Green Party), one of the world’s most electorally successful green parties. As demonstrated here, this green party’s current ideology strongly reflects key imperatives of Daoist political ecology revealing the philosophy’s durability and attractiveness over time and its perceived relevance to pressing issues of sustainability and climate change.

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Graham Holderness

Shakespeare’s interest in ancient Rome spans the whole of his dramatic career, from Titus Andronicus to Cymbeline, while Roman history and Latin culture permeate the whole of his work, well beyond the explicitly ‘Roman’ plays and poems. Critical interest has to some extent shifted from the historicist Roman plays based on Plutarch, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, and the pseudo-historical Coriolanus, to the outlying Roman plays that evidence greater generic diversity and stylistic innovation, the early Senecan tragedy Titus Andronicus and the late ‘British’ romance Cymbeline. In these latter plays, the complex interactions between past and present, that are the main subject of the formal histories, are presented with even more aesthetic flexibility and creative improvisation than the ‘Roman plays’ proper.

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Constance L. Mui and T Storm Heter

Readers will recall that we devoted a special issue to anti-Black racism in 2021, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement which gained momentum following the 2020 murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police officers in Louisville and Minneapolis. The present issue continues to address the problem of racism from a Sartrean perspective, with an interview of the pioneering Black Existentialist thinker Lewis R. Gordon, followed by articles that take up related themes in freedom and oppression.

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Existential Philosophy and Antiracism

An Interview with Lewis R. Gordon

T Storm Heter

Lewis R. Gordon is Professor of Philosophy (and Head of the Department of Philosophy) at the University of Connecticut. His two most recent books are Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization (New York: Routledge, 2020) and Fear of Black Consciousness (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022). Since his first monograph, Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism (1995), Gordon’s many writings have challenged Sartre scholars to move beyond narrowly Euro-centric ideas of reason, humanity, and existence. The existential philosophy pioneered in Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism (a revision of Gordon’s 1993 Ph. D. dissertation), placed the issue of antiracism at the heart of the study of existence. A prolific and highly visible philosopher, Gordon’s writings have inspired an explosion of interest in Africana Existentialism, an open-ended, creolizing philosophy. In the interview below, Gordon outlines the existential situations that face us today. How is human liberation possible given the soul-killing forces of white supremacy, capitalism, and ongoing colonization? Gordon insists on the importance of antiracist institution building, including the transformation of white spaces, especially in academic journals, at conferences, and in university philosophy departments. Importantly, Gordon reminds us that Sartre was one of the few European writers to offer “a genuine engagement with Black intellectuals.” Like Sartre’s famous assertion that “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Gordon’s message is that Black Existentialism is a Humanism. Challenging the Euro-centric notion that human existence is an abstract, color-less category, Gordon teaches us a new way of thinking and listening. Misguided by parochial notions of human reason, many white (and/or non-Black) philosophers have closed their minds and ears to the calls of Black liberation, thinking they have nothing at stake, or that they must remain mere “allies.” Gordon’s work shows us a different path: Black liberation is a universal ethical injunction. Existential philosophy dissolves the supposed contradiction between action and theory, between universal and concrete, between ally and freedom fighter. Done properly, existential philosophy is, in Gordon’s words, “a form of epistemological decolonial practice.”

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Glaciers in the Anthropocene

A Biocultural View

Daniel Gaudio and Mauro Gobbi

Disappearing glaciers are one of the most evident signals of climate change of the current period in Earth’s history, the Anthropocene. In this article, we discuss the side effects of the glacier melt from a biocultural standpoint, moving from the Southern European Alps to a global context. Specifically, we highlight what we are losing from a cultural and naturalistic perspective but also, paradoxically, what we could “gain” if we were able to understand more deeply, and with an interdisciplinary approach, glacial dynamics and their role for human society. Glaciers can teach us several stories, but we are quickly approaching the last chance to listen to them.

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Illness, Metaphor, and Bells

Campanology under COVID-19

Remi Chiu

Throughout 2020 and 2021, bells have rung in a variety of COVID-related rituals in the West, ranging from large-scale religious and civic rites, to ad hoc neighborhood and hospital initiatives, to anti-racist memorials that simultaneously spoke to the health crisis at hand. Taking stock of how these COVID bell-ringing rituals were formalized, their structures and actions, and the historical precedents from which they drew their meanings, this article investigates what the sounds of bells and the rituals of bell-ringing communicated about COVID, how they shaped our personal and collective experiences of the crisis, and what functions they were expected to serve during this liminal period. It reveals how, owing to the historical polysemy of bells on the one hand and the social uncertainties of living with COVID on the other, those rituals generated vivid symbolisms and mobilized powerful emotions that sometimes brought about unintended consequences.

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A Kingdom for a Mirth

Shakespeare’s ‘Fatal Cleopatra’ and the Worm’s Turn

Roger Stritmatter and Shelly Maycock

This article offers a reading of the famously problematic scene 5.2 of Antony and Cleopatra, in which Cleopatra prepares to meet her death by the bite of the ‘worm’ (5.2.233–290). In this scene, and this scene alone, the Egyptian asp is called by the Anglo-Saxon term ‘worm’ nine times. Repetition, suggests Frankie Rubinstein, may in Shakespeare be a sign of a pun. Samuel Johnson characterised the homophonic resonance of punning as ‘Shakespeare’s Fatal Cleopatra’, but Rubinstein insists that for Shakespeare ‘“reason, propriety, and truth” were not sacrificed by the Shakespearean “quibble” but emerge from it’. In Antony and Cleopatra, punning is one key linguistic expression of the play’s entwinement with the principles of alchemical transmutation and preference for ‘becoming’ in the ancient dichotomy between being and becoming. As Richard Whalen first proposed in 1991, the ninefold iteration of ‘worm’ in the scene may be a pun on an Aristocratic French name, since the word ‘worm’ in French is Ver.

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Ian Ward

This article revisits one of Shakespeare’s later, often rather neglected, plays. Shakespeare is thought to have written Cymbeline in 1609 or 1610, at much the same moment, it is commonly surmised, as other so-called ‘problem’ plays such as Pericles and The Winter’s Tale. Critics have rarely enthused over Cymbeline, lacking an obvious lead character, the action moving unsettlingly between Roman Britain and Renaissance Italy. Cymbeline has, though, something important to say about the constitutional politics of Jacobean England. King James I liked to style himself as the ‘new Augustus’. He also liked the absolutist idea of kingship which he discovered in his reading of the ‘old’ Augustus. In writing Cymbeline, Shakespeare sought a delicate balance, paying homage to the affinity, whilst also cautioning against uncritical reliance on Roman conceptions of magistracy.