COVID Cancel Culture Strikes Stanford Reading Group

COVID Cancel Culture Strikes Stanford Reading Group

Last weekend, yet another Stanford department joined the chorus of campus groups unwilling to even engage with academics who dare disagree with pandemic lockdowns. The Renaissances Reading Group — part of the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages — canceled a student event on the grounds that the thinker discussed was guilty of “COVID-19 misinformation.” The group contains faculty and graduate students from a number of departments including English, Comparative Literature, History, Art History, Religion, Classics, and more.

The academic in question is Giorgio Agamben. Agamben is an Italian philosopher who teaches at the Swiss Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio, the European Graduate School, and Iuav University of Venice. Agamben is known for his work in aesthetics and political philosophy. His recent book — Where Are We Now? — covers the effects of the pandemic and how its transformed Western societies. The reading group was set to discuss the work.

The original meeting description is below:

“Renaissances at Stanford invites you to join our reading group, Skirmishes, to discuss the philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s Where Are We Now? (2021) this coming Monday, October 31. COVID-19 forced the West to face a premodern plague experience––contagion, quarantine, and the state of exception––with the tools of late-modern governance. Blending Foucauldian biopolitics with his previous critique of sovereignty Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995), Agamben argues that the pandemic marks a new turning point in the development of sovereignty, the dissolution of social life, and the decay of political culture. So where are we now? Do we know what time it is? Philosophy has failed if it cannot attempt an answer.”

But, apparently, his questioning of pandemic restrictions was too much for some students and faculty.

If you thought a Renaissance reading group, one that studies the transition between the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment (which supported rational, humanistic thinking) would be open-minded, then you’re wrong... A source close to the matter stated that students were pressured by faculty to first postpone, and then eventually cancel the meeting. Apparently, a reading group — not even an appearance — discussing an academic who questioned lockdowns was enough to cancel an entire event. At universities, we now cannot even talk about the works of a highly influential academic because he has contrarian opinions about masking and lockdown policies.

To announce the cancelation, the Renaissances Group sent the following email:

Photo: Email obtained from @TShampling on Twitter.

The “remarks” referenced in the email no doubt refers to a blog post entitled Invention of an Epidemic. In it Agamben wrote that lockdowns and mask mandates were “frenetic, irrational and entirely unfounded” and “it is almost as if with terrorism exhausted as a cause for exceptional measures [...] the invention of an epidemic offered the ideal pretext for scaling them up beyond any limitation.” For this, Agamben was attacked by the mob. Slate magazine published an article called What Happened to Giorgio Agamben? In it, the author wrote “the question of how the past two years twist his legacy, and the legacy of his life-changing work, remains open.” The answer to this question is that his work — no matter how seminal — cannot even be covered at an elite university. Agamben was also attacked on social media for daring to question the COVID restriction orthodoxy.

These actions came less than a week before a Stanford conference to discuss academic freedom. It’s shameful that students and faculty cannot discuss a thinker simply because he might have disagreements with the general leftist thinking on COVID policies. Are we not to even think about whether or not previous COVID restrictions were necessary? It’s truly remarkable how unwilling some are to engage with differing opinions at what is supposedly one of the best places for higher education in the world.

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