IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Brad Evans
Brad Evans is a political philosopher, critical theorist, and writer, who’s work focuses on the problem of violence. He is the founding director of the Centre for the Study of Violence (to be launched 2023) and holds a Chair in Political Violence & Aesthetics at the University of Bath, United Kingdom.
What were your first thoughts when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship?
When I came across the call, I was initially intrigued and mindful of its timeliness to a world that seems to be ever teetering on the edge of an abyss. Now, more than ever, we need to have difficult and challenging trans-disciplinary conversations on issues that force us to confront ruptures in the past and terrors ahead. The fellowship proposed to facilitate this, hence my reason for applying.
What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you?
While I am always reticent to admit it, I do often find myself in agreement with Carl Schmitt when he noted that all modern concepts are secularised theological concepts. In terms of my discipline (politics), while the apocalyptic tends to be relegated to some discursive instrument, in my recent work I have come to see it as integral to the lived experiences of disaster and how such disasters necessarily have revelatory qualities. What happens when time stops, and the earth opens? What is revealed in such moments? And what can never be returned? Speaking of the apocalyptic then, to me, is more a set of questions that is inseparable to how we picture the world.
What is your fellowship trying to achieve?
During my fellowship I have been working on two chapters for a forthcoming book I am writing on life growing up in the former mining communities of South Wales. It is titled, “How Black was my Valley: Life & Fate in a Post-Industrial Heartland”, which will be published by Repeater/Penguin Random House next year. The valleys of South Wales have been notably haunted by a disaster – the Aberfan tragedy, when a spoil tip cascaded down a mountain and killed a generation of young children. I have been working through the revealing effects of this, how narratives describing the tragedy and wider place have been continually marked by biblical references, how micro-apocalyptic events can leave communities in a condition of statis (what we might see as a purgatorio), along with the way it evokes a notable rupture that concentrates the death of a socialism and the birth of the Anthropocene.
How does the fellowship project build on or connect to your previous career or biography?
My past work has been directly concerned with violence. I have attended to the contested histories of violence, notably how the appeal to violence is often underwritten by competing sacred claims. The shift towards my new concerns have been more challenging since they have literally brought me back home, so to speak. It’s sometimes easier to write of violence and the devastating effects of atrocities if they take place elsewhere. Being in Germany has given me the space to deal with two of the most challenging chapters in my own life.
What do you hope to take with you from the project and its results?
Personally, the space and time to work on my own research project has been invaluable in its completion. Being in the company of so many other impressive scholars has also been very enriching and revealing in terms of cultural contexts.
What are the aspects you are looking forward to at CAPAS?
Engaging with colleagues from many disciplines has been very enriching in terms of seeing how the same problem can be understood in so many different ways. While we may rightly focus on the possibility for new conversations, I also find the lines and at times a certain sense of incommensurability just as invaluable. Sometimes there is a need to accept that disciplines have their lines and cultures too have their own limitations. Being here has given more acceptance of this and impressed more the need to listen to others, especially if we disagree. Maybe there’s too much of an imperative today for us all to be forced to get along. Perhaps instead we need to be better at learning to disagree, which is what inevitably has happened at Capas.
To get some practical advice: What would be the three things you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world?
Love. Books and Music.
What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post)apocalypse?
I believe that all mediations on the apocalypse should begin with Andrei Tarkovskys Stalker, which is a truly masterful film that throws us all into the void. In terms of books, we should read over and over, Dantes The Divine Comedy. Though as I argued in my last book, Ecce Humanitas, maybe we should also read it backwards and confront a story where we move from salvation back through the affliction and end up left in a wilderness of doubt.