The contemporary moment presents a crisis for political thought. It is not difficult to see that the resurgence of authoritarianism, the breakdown of political systems, and the approach of ecological apocalypse require a concerted and creative theoretical effort. Just as significant as the catastrophe of the present is the parallel emergence of unexpected social movements – but they have not succeeded in arresting the relentless drive to disaster. This talk proposes that we are unable to theorize our reality because we lack a vantage point of emancipation. This vantage point is not one which we could step out of history to assume, but rather is one which appears in particular moments, and ultimately recedes – it becomes exhausted. If we are unable to conceive of emancipation beyond the failure of previous attempts, we can only think the necessity of the existing situation. Exhaustion is the fate of emancipatory sequences whose forms and practices cease to be oriented towards an emancipatory politics.
Asad Haider is a founding editor of Viewpoint Magazine and the author of Mistaken Identity. His writing can be found in The Baffler, n+1, The Point, Salon, and elsewhere.