The Beacon: Patricia MacCormack

The Beacon: Patricia MacCormack

Philosopher, feminist, and queer theorist Dr. Patricia MacCormack on the power of philosophy, art as activism, and welcoming the apocalypse.

Dr. Patricia MacCormack thinks we should welcome the apocalypse. “We’ve had enough chances as a species and the earth would be better off without us,” MacCormack said on a panel at How the Light Gets In – a philosophy festival in the UK. The audience laughed but she did not. Patricia is a beacon for all those who desire to marry theory and praxis. She believes adamantly in the power of art and philosophy to resist systematically oppressive forces, the human species included. 

How do you parse philosophy in a way that allows for action?

I teach at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. I call it the ‘Evil Cambridge’. We teach Continental philosophy. Our student demographic is first-generation students, lots of people of colour and lots of women. The biggest thing is not to get them to read but to get them to believe they can work with what they read. I don’t understand the point of even understanding something – it’s what you do with it. If you can understand one or two sentences, then use those sentences and do something with them.

Making art is about unmaking yourself. Good activism is the same thing.

So, how do you use your philosophy? 

I am really interested in getting rid of human exceptionalism. It’s bullshit and I think the way anthropocentrism operates is via modes and systems of perception that are entirely human. I use Ecosophy (a ‘philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium’) and what Michel Serres calls ‘the deconstruction of the social contract’ in order to facilitate the need to get rid of the way we perceive as humans. We can do that through art because art is a belief in the unbelievable. It’s a belief in fiction and belief creates reality for people’s lives. Racism and sexism are ideological, they’re not true, but they still create real, material existences that are oppressive. Using art is a way to go outside this anthropocentric claim to human truth, and acknowledge that what we are doing is creative fiction and that it can activate effective change in the world. 

In the age of the selfie, how does one go about making subversive art?  

Social media returned us to a Lacanian understanding of desire, which is just the need for validation. It’s a perpetual ‘mirror stage’. Making art is about unmaking yourself. Good activism is the same thing. That’s why I have a problem with identity politics because it’s about self-validation. I think intersectionality is only important insofar as it is about creating space for the other that doesn’t need to respond, that doesn’t need to thank you. [Art] should not be there to confirm or affirm. It shouldn’t be there to impose; it should be there to propose. We need escape routes from humanism. Art does that because art’s responsibility is not obligated to systems that already exist. Art has an obligation to create new lines of flight.

People either think the current technology will save us or it will destroy us, but it never does either.

So there’s hope in the current relationship we have to digital technology even though it places our narcissism in feedback loops?

People either think the current technology will save us or it will destroy us, but it never does either. God, I’d love for it to destroy us! Hal, where are you when we need you? I’m not a fan of tech. I think if it wasn’t technology, something else would make people complacent or lazy. Complacency, laziness, and stupidity are learned because there’s such an over-complexity of life. The world has become so complicated and we have too much, and yet we’re killing ourselves with the too much and there are people that are dying because of the not enough! It’s just absurd and bizarre and doesn’t make any sense.

What do you say to people who claim philosophy is a passive form of resistance? 

People are told that philosophy is for philosophers, and they don’t understand that everything is ideological; therefore, your life is philosophical. So either attend to it or you’ll be subjugated by it. Every time somebody resists, that is an act of philosophy because they are identifying an ideological pattern and they are saying, ‘No, that’s not the only way in which we can exist’. All revolution and all resistance is philosophical activism.