Building Education for the Commons
Q: How would you describe your research interests?
Michael O’Rourke [M O’R]: I would describe my research interests as extremely promiscuous, a kind of theoretical ADHD. I’ve published mostly on queer theory, deconstruction, speculative realism, object oriented ontology, feminist theory, psychoanalysis so those are the fields I generally occupy. But I don’t see myself as belonging to any discipline or area of scholarly expertise, whatever that might mean. In general what I try to do in my work is to stage unlikely encounters (Deleuze would say “unnatural alliances”) between thinkers or ideas or schools of thought that we might think of as incompatible. Sometimes these staged encounters work and sometimes they don’t. But in every case I think they are worth trying out.
Q: How did you get interested in theory?
M O’R: As an undergraduate I studied English literature and I didn’t (with the exception of a handful of authors, especially Henry James and Shakespeare who I still love) have any real affection for literary fictions. And it was then, in the early 90s, that I started to read theory voraciously. I started with Lacan by reading the Écrits and from there I moved on to feminist theory (Griselda Pollock was important for me early on alongside Irigaray, Kristeva and Cixous) and then queer theory (with which, I suppose, I am now most associated). I would say that I am more than just interested in theory. To me it is as fundamental as breathing.
Q: Who are your greatest philosophical influences?
M O’R: I would have to say Lacan was a big influence for me because, as I said, it was with him that I got started. But Derrida is the figure to whom I am most indebted and have written most about. I return to his work time and time again and find that it gives me sustenance in a way that, for example, Foucault’s writing was once able, but no longer is, to give me. Other major influences for me are Jean-Luc Nancy, Giorgio Agamben, J. Hillis Miller, Bracha Ettinger, Judith Butler, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Hélène Cixous, Judith Butler, Jacques Rancière, Luce Irigaray, Alain Badiou, Leo Bersani, Catherine Malabou, Michel Serres, Slavoj Žižek, François Laruelle, Avital Ronell. I am also very influenced by some great essayists and masters of form including Adam Phillips and Wayne Koestenbaum for example. But perhaps my biggest influence (besides Derrida) is John Caputo. His writing has this impishly poetic quality that I adore and I wish I could write more like him.
Q: Is there a single text that you just keep referring back to?
M O’R: I suppose it is a little bit of a cheat to say that I constantly come back to the “text” of Jacques Derrida. My top five Derrida books (and this could change from day to day) would be A Taste for the Secret, Rogues, Specters of Marx, H.C. For Life, That is to Say…, and On Touching—Jean-Luc Nancy. A book I refer back to a lot would be John Caputo’s Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida which has been incredibly shaping for the trajectories of my own thought over the last decade or so.
Q: What advice would you offer graduate students today?
M O’R: People often ask me how I read so much. And my response, which can pass for a bit of helpful advice, is that I try to read three things every day. That can be three blog posts, three books chapters or, on a good day, three books. But if you get something useful from each of the three texts you have read on a given day then it has been a productive exercise. Another piece of advice I would give is to read work by geographers because they (like medievalists) are always way ahead when it comes to assimilating cutting edge theory into their thinking.
Q: What’s your next book going to be about?
M O’R: The next solo one is called Rogue Theory and is a collection of my essays written over the period 2000-2015. Many of them have been published before but some are new. I have also noticed recently that I have written a lot about telephones (a bit of an obsession with me), so I may end up collecting those various pieces into a telephone book of some sort. And another recent preoccupation has been the “Peri” so I may well gather these various essays into something with an Aristotelian title like Peri Aesthetics.
Q: If you could teach one dream seminar what would it be?
M O’R: My dream would be to teach a seminar on Derrida’s seminars which would micrologically read every single word of every single seminar. Because the translation project will most likely not be complete until after I am dead teaching this dream seminar would be one way of keeping me alive for longer, word by word, day by day.