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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Christa Davis Acampora

IAS Fellow at Grey College, Durham University (October - December 2008)

Professor Christa Davis Acampora holds appointments at Hunter College and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her areas of specialization include modern European philosophy and aesthetics. She is the editor of the Journal of Nietzsche Studies and has published widely on the philosophy of Nietzsche and its implications for contemporary political theory, moral psychology, and ethics. She was previously a fellow at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the Graduate Center where she worked on a project that explored bases for political justification and legitimation, particularly in radical democratic political theories.

Professor Acampora's past work has focused on the theme of ‘Being Human' in a variety of ways. She recently co-edited two volumes of essays that examine cultural productions of women of color. In Unmaking Race, Remaking Soul: Transformative Aesthetics and the Practice of Freedom (SUNY Press, 2007), Acampora considers the importance of aesthetic experience for the development of imagination and the significance of imagination for human growth, action, and resistance. In her 2004 edited volume A Nietzschean Bestiary: Becoming Animal Beyond Docile and Brutal, she considers Nietzsche's metaphorical uses of animal parts-"Paws, Claws, Jaws, and Such"-as attempts at disclosing possible alternatives ways of human activity and relations.

During the past decade, Professor Acampora has published numerous articles focused on Nietzsche's conception of contest-agon-and how this bears on his conceptions of power. The culmination of this work will soon result in a monograph that utilizes the theme to show a deep continuity in Nietzsche's writings and a more nuanced understanding of organizations of power. She develops an analytic framework for distinguishing and evaluating competitive structures and modes of opposition and then demonstrates how Nietzsche exploits these distinctions in his analyses of the pursuit of truth and knowledge in philosophy and science, as well as in his account of the development of moral and aesthetic values. Moreover, she indicates how the analytic framework has significant applications in contemporary moral psychology and political theory.

While at the Institute, Professor Acampora will work on a project that examines the current so-called ‘war on terrorism' in terms of the logic of opposition that it entails and the ways in which it establishes and bends certain boundaries between friends and enemies. Of particular concern to her are the processes of dehumanization that occur in the rhetorical construction of the enemy, especially in the context of current definitions of terrorism and the identification of distinct entities in international political discourse. The project is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on political ontology and theory, cultural geography, and psychoanalytic cultural studies in addition to classical philosophical resources.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Agonistic Politics: Reflections on a 'War on Terror'

This paper explores the boundaries between friends and enemies, the logic of opposition that drives and sustains that distinction, and the processes of dehumanization that occur in the rhetorical construction of the enemy, particularly in the context of current definitions of terrorism and the identification of distinct entities in international political discourse. My specific inquiry is organized around the question of whether policies and actions driving U.S. international relations entail a certain logic of engagement and a political ontology that cast friends and enemies and their relations in a new light. It has the appearance of the structure of opposition of "good" and "evil" that Nietzsche suggests has been dominant at least since the advent of Christianity and perhaps longer. But, this strikes me as rhetorically superficial. Utilizing a methodology that examines a variety of "texts"-including counter-terrorism training materials utilized by 'coalition forces', official U.S. military documents concerning rules of engagement, public statements by U.S. and British military officers, domestic 'public awareness' campaigns of the New York City police department, and the suicide note and published academic philosophical writings of a U.S. Army colonel in Iraq--I consider how this apparently tremendous conflict is framed in such a way as to undermine any possibility of real, legitimate engagement and opposition. Thus, it has the appearance of a conflict that might have possible decisive outcomes, when in fact it is structured so as to have no possible terminus.

IAS Public Lecture: Agonistic Politics - Reflections on a 'War on Terror'

Professor Christa Davis Acampora Publications

Acampora Davis, C (2013) Contesting Nietzsche. London: The University of Chicago Press Ltd.

Acampora Davis, C (2011) Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil: A Reader's Guide, London: Continuum.

Acampora Davis, C (2009) 'Nietzsche and the Affirmation of Life', Journal of the History of Philosophy', 47(3), pp 480-481.

Acampora Davis, C (2010) 'Tempo and Reading Well' in Summerfield J., Smith CC. Making Teaching and Learning Matter: Transformative Spaces in Higher Education, Springer, pp. 219 - 236

IAS Insights Paper


This paper marks the beginning of a new research project for me that explores the relation between being human and ‘the political.' I begin my analysis from the theoretical standpoint of political agonism, which argues for the creative potential of conflict in human political relations and its importance in the very definition of the realm of politics. I then turn my attention to consideration of the structure of opposition that defines what US President George W. Bush designated as the conflict with the ‘axis of evil,' and the ‘war on terror' it inaugurated. Reviewing various important policy documents and actions of the US military and government during the past twenty-five years, I suggest that the present conflict is organized in terms that are different from the familiar clash of ‘good' versus ‘evil.' Although it might seem as though the goal that the ‘war on terror' seeks is the destruction of enemies, I argue that the pursuit and execution of the war seeks and depends upon the disappearance of the enemy. The final part of my paper offers an example of this in a philosophical analysis of the mysterious death of a US army colonel.

Insights Paper