top of page

What’s in a World?  Talk by philosopher  Joseph Tanke,
at Dream Farm Commons October 1, 2023

Last month I was invited by Anne and Selby to say a few words in connection with
their beautiful exhibition, Limb Stories and Other Bodily Extensions, held at the venerable
Dream Farm Commons in Oakland. I tried to share with those in attendance some of the
perplexity that I feel when it comes to the concept of “world,” particularly as it is
developed within the tradition of European phenomenology. The experience of “world”
seems to be at the heart of everything that we as human beings hold dear, including the
experiences of art, love, and politics. And yet there seems to be no sure way of
preventing the concept of “world” from becoming a site of closure, and thereby
betraying some of our best political impulses and convictions. It was suggested that one
can witness an instance of this kind of closure in the hierarchical and instrumentalized
concept of “world” that was elaborated by Martin Heidegger in Being and Time, and, of
course, his notorious lecture course, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World,
Finitude, and Solitude.
Taking inspiration from Jacques Derrida’s final seminar, I suggested that “world” is not
simply a metaphysical concept, but that it is also an ethical and political form in that it
both determines ways of being and defines forms of belonging. Derrida was constantly
reminding us of the words of the poet Paul Celan: “Die Welt ist fort, ich muß dich tragen.”
How, then, to develop a concept of “world” that will support our aspirations for a just
society? How to develop a concept of “world,” which will provide agency for those
who are without voice? How, in short, to develop a concept of “world” that is premised
upon the always radical and timely idea of human equality?
I suggested that Hannah Arendt’s notion of “world-building” might provide a way out
of this impasse. That is, that rather than focusing on the “world” in the abstract, Arendt
encourages us to attend to the concrete practices by which peoples build and shape

their worlds. Here, I suggested that it would be important to theorize these world-
building practices from the standpoint of what I have been referring to as “post-
Continental philosophy.” While post-Continental philosophers avail themselves of the

resources found within the European philosophical tradition, they nevertheless do so
with a resolutely anti-imperialist orientation towards knowledge production.
For the purposes of world-building, creative practice remains more valuable than ever,
for it shows us not just that other “worlds” are possible, but that our “worlds” intersect,
overlap, and complete one another. Ann, Selby, and Dream Farm Commons provide the
occasion for our coming together, but, more fundamentally, their world-building
practices allow us to fashion ourselves as artists, philosophers, citizens, workers, and so
much more. In attending concretely to the practices of world-building we should ask,

what kind of “world” does this particular practice portend? And, does it run the risk of
In thinking about the concept of “world,” we need to find a philosophical language
which will do justice to the fact that our “worlds” are created, built, and sustained by
others. Another paradox: our worlds are not our own.

Joseph Tanke, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi
3 November 2023

bottom of page