TABLE OF CONTENTS

WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT?

Michel Foucault and Michael Stoneman, Death Valley, CA, 1975. Photo: Simeon Wade.

EVERYWHERE TODAY we hear that norms, rights, and reason are under attack from the right and from the left. Yet that very claim rests on a structuring metaphor—the left-right political axis—that is itself a product of the Age of Reason. The Enlightenment is not so easily jettisoned; its legacies of liberty and hypocrisy, ethical progress and violent atrocity do not merely haunt our politics; they infuse our vision and thought. How can—how should—we countenance those legacies?

Conceived variously as an epoch, an idea, and an attitude, even a “sick” word, as one contributor puts it in our pages, Enlightenment continues to inspire and rankle. (Consider the jussive titular cry of one of this year’s popular tomes: Enlightenment Now.) Artforum invited a group of writers, scholars, and activists—ADRIAN PIPER, MICHELLE M. WRIGHT, CHARLES W. MILLS, J. M. BERNSTEIN, BOAVENTURA DE SOUSA SANTOS, MTL COLLECTIVE AND JASBIR K. PUAR, and SARAH NICOLE PRICKETT—to return to Johann Friedrich Zöllner’s question, famously answered by Kant in 1784 and then again by Foucault immediately before his death from AIDS in 1984: “What is Enlightenment?”—with an added caveat. Is it better to ask where, who, and when is Enlightenment? What terms are necessary now, to both chart and disorder this territory?