Breathing misanthropy: Rethinking human complicities in end times

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We are living in capitalist ruins (Tsing 2015). Living beings are dying and ecosystems disappearing. Ways of living and relating become impossible to sustain. Instead of reverting to apocalyptic depictions of violent suffering and heroics or to crisis terminology that ultimately perpetuates (epistemological) politics of management and mastery (Bottici 2022; Singh 2018), in this paper I argue for a rethinking of human complicities and culpabilities in these end times through breath.
Human beings, as breathing beings, are exposed to and involved in the changes of the world (Irigaray 1999; Sloterdijk 2016), among which climate change. Thinking about end times in terms of breath makes it possible to simultaneously refigure human-nature relations and the position of human beings as part of natural and cultural worlds, and to think through embodied, shared and differentiated complicities and culpabilities to the troubles those worlds – and we in them – are in.
For, oppressive – or suffocating – systems require us to think through concrete differentiations between those exposed and those complicit. This is especially important in wealthy Global North contexts in which disruptive repercussions of climate change can still feel abstract and far away, whilst the (historical) contribution of people far outweighs those in other contexts.
Thinking through that complicity requires understanding breath phenomenologically and ecologically as something that takes place on the individual level, between beings, and on a collective and even planetary scale (see also Mbembe 2020). Decentring the rational, bounded, individual human being thus takes us beyond abstractly misanthropic notions of (unbearable) individual responsibility while making visible how complicity, culpability, and exposure are situated, embodied, and tied in with concrete realities and responsibilities.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2023
EventCritical Misanthropy - Oudemanhuispoort, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 25 Jan 202327 Jan 2023


ConferenceCritical Misanthropy


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