Aesthetics / Class / Worlds
2nd Annual Conference of the Department of Cultural Studies
and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota
October 14-15, 2011
Keynote Lectures (in Coffmann Union, Mississippi Room):
10/14 (7 pm): Kristin Ross (New York University)
10/15 (4:45 pm): Eric Cazdyn (University of Toronto)
8:30 Registration and breakfast, Nicholson Hall 135. After 9 registration will be in Nicholson 364.
9:00-10:30 Panel session I
1. (Nicholson 135): Marxism Now
Chair: Sara Saljoughi (University of Minnesota)
Edgar Illas (Indiana University), “The Procrustean Bed of Class Struggle”
Nicholas Holm (McMaster University), “The Style of the Times: The Political Work of Mass Aesthetics”
Oded Nir (Ohio State University), “Totality, Globalization, Culture”
2. (Nich 325): The Politics of Creativity I: History, Creativity, Power
Chair: Thomas O. Haakenson (Minneapolis College of Art and Design)
Thomas O. Haakenson, “Interdisciplinarity and the Reproduction of Knowledge: The ‘Crisis” in American Higher Education”
Piotr Szyhalski (MCAD), "Theaters of Operations: Three projects about war and language"
Gretchen Gasterland-Gustafsson, (MCAD), “The Aesthetics of Home: From the Bauhaus to Funkis”
10:40-12:10 Panel session II
3. (Nich 135): Aesthetics of Neoliberalism
Chair: Brendan McGillicuddy (University of Minnesota)
Ricky Crano (Ohio State University), “From the Chicago School to the Smart Phone: Rethinking the Legacies of Wiener and Hayek”
Ruoyun Bai (University of Toronto), “Neoliberalization of Chinese Television and Heroes of the Reform”
Calvin Hui (Duke University), “China, or, the People’s Republic of Capitalism”
4. (Nich 325): Facing Literary Worlds
Chair: Courtney Gildersleeve (University of Minnesota)
Nadine Attewell (McMaster University), “Thinking Otherwise: Displacement, Postcoloniality, and Utopian Desire”
Jarad Zimbler (Wolfson College, Oxford), “Neither Progress nor Regress: The Emergence of J.M. Coetzee’s Bare Prose Style”
Ziad Suidan (University of Wisconsin-Madison), “The Politics of Exile in Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘They Don’t Look Behind Them’”
12:10-1:30 Lunch break (on your own)
1:30-3:00 Panel session III
5. (Nich 135): Bodies that Work, Bodies that Feel
Chair: Niels Niessen (University of Minnesota)
Alexander Monea (Bowling Green State University), “Rereading Mass Inertia: The Politics of Affect and the Biopower of Aesthetics and Desire”
Carolyn Veldstra (McMaster University), “Cynicism: The Structure of Late Capitalism, Lived and Felt”
Simon Orpana (McMaster University), “The Aesthetics of Dispensability: Biopolitics and the Art of Exploitation in Ninni Holmqvist’s novel The Unit”
6. (Nich 115): Aesthetics: Between Philosophy and Politics
Chair: Andrea Gyenge (University of Minnesota)
Daniel Benson (New York University), “Aesthetic Emancipation in Georg Lukács and Jacques Rancière”
Jensen Suther (Elon University), “Adorno and Beckett: Immanence of Negativity”
Michael Fares (University of Texas at Austin), “The ‘Philosophical Novel’ Genre in Medieval Islamic Literature: A Case for the Importance of Subjective Experience in the Human Quest for Knowledge”
3:10-4:40 Panel session IV
7. (Nich 135): Art/Politics/Space
Chair: Emily Fedoruk (University of Minnesota)
Steve Waksman (Smith College), “Toward a History of Liveness: Musical Performance and Public Life in the U.S.”
Cecile G. Paskett (University of Utah), “Radical Performance within Installation Art: Impacts on Surveillance and Identities”
Adair Rounthwaite (University of Minnesota), “Audience as Constituency, Audience as Event: Institutionality, Activism and Art 1988-89”
8. (Nich 325): Reading Political Narratives
Chair: Michelle Baroody (University of Minnesota)
David Janzen (University of Western Ontario), “The Recourse of Poetics: The Politics and Aesthetics of Disidentification”
Agnes Malinowska (University of Chicago), “Madness, Aesthetics, and Fin-de-siècle American Capitalism in the Novels of Frank Norris”
Eun Joo Kim (University of Minnesota), “Alternate Forms, Practices, and Spaces of Literacy in Push and Blu’s Hanging”
4:40-7:00 Dinner (on your own)
7:00-8:30 Keynote address by Prof. Kristin Ross (New York University),”Communal Luxury.” Location: Coffman Union-Mississippi room
10:00-11:30 Panel session V
9. (Nich 135): America, Utopia
Chair: Christian Haines (University of Minnesota)
Jeremy Buesink (McMaster University), “The Interconnected Apocalyptic-Utopian Ideals of Christianity, Americanism, and Militarism, and the Aesthetics of the Patriotic Pep Rally”
Matthew Lambert (Carnegie Mellon University), “Frank Capra’s Utopian ‘Lost Cause’: Pastoral Aesthetic Beauty and Class in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”
Sean Nye (University of Minnesota), “1984/1989: Mobility, Aesthetics, and Social Science Fiction”
10. (Nich 325): Collectivity in Global Space
Chair: Justin Butler (University of Minnesota)
Tim Corballis (University of Auckland), “Rancière in the Antipodes”
Olive Mckeon (University of California-Los Angeles), “How to Dance a Riot: On the Aesthetics of Struggle”
Jessica Elaine Reilly (University of Western Ontario), “The (Aesthetic) Right to the City: Urban ‘Worlds’ and the Melted Proletariat of Liquid Modernity”
11:40-1:10 Panel session VI
11. (Nich 135): Cinema, Revolution
Chair: Thorn Chen (University of Minnesota)
Julia Alekseyeva (Harvard University), “The Ethics of Propaganda: Estrangement and Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye”
José Miguel Palacios (New York University), “pueblo, people, popular: Class and Spectatorship in Chilean Revolutionary Cinema”
Niels Niessen (University of Minnesota), “access denied: Godard Palestine Representation”
12. (Nich 325): The Politics of Creativity II: Reimagined Community
Chair: Thomas O. Haakenson (Minneapolis College of Art and Design)
Patricia Healy McMeans (MCAD), “Contemporary Artist/Audience Collaboration and its Discontents: Or, Where Bourriaud Went Wrong, and Santiago Sierra's Pissed Off, or Should Be”
Ruth Voights (MCAD), “The Trickster as Political Subversive in Native American Art: The Writings of Gerald Vizenor”
George Hoagland (University of Minnesota-Duluth), "Paul Beatty, Myth, and Resistance"
1:10-2:30 Lunch break (on your own)
2:30-4:00 Panel session VII
13. (Nich 135): The Image in Crisis
Chair: Akshya Saxena (University of Minnesota)
Katherine Lawless (University of Western Ontario), “Marcelo Brodsky and the Politics of Trauma”
Rachel Schaff (University of Minnesota), “The Holodrama: Dialectic of Historicized Pathos and Action”
Ilona Molnar (York University), “Silence on the Scene: Metonymy and Melancholy in the Wake of Regime Change”
14. (Nich 325): Techno/logic
Chair: to be announced
Robert Wilkie (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse), “Gaming Ideology: Labor and Class in the ‘Ludo Economy’”
Kimberly DeFazio (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse), “Tool Aesthetics and the Humanities”
Eiland Glover (Georgia State University), “Thinging Thing, Worlding World: Viaggio in Italia’s Deictic Cinema as Model for a Radical Humanities”
4:45-6:15 Keynote address by Prof. Eric Cazdyn (University of Toronto), “The Praxis Image.” Location: Coffman Union-Mississippi room.
thanks to our sponsors
Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature
Prof. Richard Leppert
Department of Communication Studies
Department of African American & American Studies
Department of Anthropology
Department of Art History
Department of Asian Languages and Literatures
Department of Classical & Near Eastern Studies
Department of English
Department of German, Scandinavian & Dutch
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
The abstracts are up!
1. Marxism Now
1. Marxism Now
Edgar Illias ( Indiana University):
“The Procrustean Bed of Class Struggle”
A common misconception about Marxism in the humanities is that class politics reduces the multiplicity of social phenomena to the Procrustean bed of class struggle. This misconception begins by presenting “class” as an identifiable attribute of subjects and as another category among those of gender, race, sexuality, or nationality. Within these premises it seems logical that, if one of these particular categories (class) aims to explain the others, the multiple attributes of social subjects are reduced and their singularity is eliminated.
My paper analyzes how the term class in Marxism has a qualitatively different meaning that results from three main interrelated oppositions: 1) the struggle for the abstraction of labor; 2) the internal antagonism of the commodity value; and 3) the dialectics between the content and the form of the social within capitalism. This analysis attempts to reinstate class as a structural problematic for our political and cultural endeavors.
Yet, my paper also proposes to question Marx and argue that class struggle, as an ontological template that puts forward a metaphysics of production, cannot make possible by itself the transition to a new mode of production. Transitions are events that assume a moment of difference unanticipated by class struggle. For this reason, we should not let class struggle act as a Procrustean bed that keeps us from perceiving the unfathomable, almost miraculous moment of true historical change.
Nicholas Holm ( McMaster):
“The Style of the Times: The Political Work of Mass Aesthetics”
In the work of foundational cultural theorists, such as Dwight McDonald and Theodor Adorno, mass culture and aesthetics operate as almost diametrically opposed notions: the former reflecting capitalist domination, the latter speaking to autonomous resistance. This opposition – between mass culture critique and aesthetic conceptions – has proved persistent within cultural theory: even as critics reconceptualised popular culture as critically political, they did so through a rejection of mass culture models and thereby sustained the assumption that culture cannot be both mass and meaningfully aesthetic. However, in contrast to this apparent theoretical truism, my paper will argue for a theory of “Mass Aesthetics” as a way to rethink mass culture as an aesthetic site.
At the heart of this approach is an attempt to consider aesthetics beyond an individual text: instead, I suggest that we can also speak of a dominant mode(s) at the level of aesthetics. Thus, rather than addressing the differences and distinctions between mediums, genres and texts, I argue for the utility of addressing the shared set of aesthetic rules, logics and qualities that arise out of cultural institutions, infrastructures and industries held in common by Western media culture. I thus argue against Michael Denning’s assertion of the “end of mass culture” and in response take up the language of aesthetics – as it appears in the work of Adorno, Fredric Jameson and other theorists of art and the avant-garde –to describe the common qualities and priorities of contemporary mass culture, such as the relative hierarchies of representational strategies and aesthetic modes. Tying the notion of Mass Aesthetics to Jacques Rancière’s “distribution of the sensible” I will then speak to the political consequences and possibilities of the contemporary Mass Aesthetic, before concluding with a brief sketch of what I consider to be the main characteristics of the contemporary Mass Aesthetic.
Odid Nir ( Ohio State University):
“Totality, Globalization, Culture”
In this paper I will argue for the importance of rethinking the concept of totality for a critique of globalization, conceived both as an ontological process and as discourse. Drawing on the development of the concept of totality within Marxist and post-Marxist thinking – and particularly in the writing of Marx, Lukacs, Adorno, Althusser and Jameson – I will argue that two conceptions of totality emerge: expressive and structural. Focusing on several prevalent theorizations of cultural globalization (both Marxist and others), I will then argue that these theories assume an uncritical and therefore reified identification of the global with the total, the latter being conceived either as an expressive or a structural totality. This tendency in attempts to imagine globalization necessarily leads to a formulation of the global-local dialectic along the lines of a dialectic between a universal and a particular, in which both the global and the local are positively defined. Drawing on Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, I will suggest that rethinking the local as a negatively defined concept, or as a situated thematization of the negation of the global, redefines the global-local relation and allows for a radicalized understanding of political resistance to globalization, both material and discursive.
2. The Politics of Creativity I: History, Creativity, Power
Thomas O. Haakenson (MCAD), “Interdisciplinarity and the Reproduction of Knowledge: The ‘Crisis” in American Higher Education”
This presentation provides a critical engagement of recent literature on the relationships between creativity and interdisciplinarity. I frame the discourse of creativity in light of specific examples and critical frameworks employed by various scholars, including those artists and academics featured in our two MCAD panels.
Piotr Szyhalski (MCAD), “Theaters of Operations: Three projects about war and language”
I present three projects of mine that I have developed over last few years, and which in my mind form a three-part whole:
Part 1: Theater Of Operations (2008-2009)
Part 2: Theater Of Operations: White Star Cluster (2010)
Part 3: Empty Words [so that we can do our living] (2011)
Each one of these projects considers our perceptions of, and relationships with history. More specifically a sense of historical moment defined by extreme circumstances related to armed conflict and violence.
Gretchen Gasterland-Gustafsson ( MCAD), “The Aesthetics of Home: From the Bauhaus to Funkis
3. Aesthetics of Neoliberalism
Ricky Crano (Ohio State University):
“From the Chicago School to the Smart Phone: Rethinking the Legacies of Wiener and Hayek”
This paper argues that a strange coupling of cybernetic systems theory and neoliberal social thought renders us ill-equipped to perceive the role of telematic media in producing the most egregious wealth disparity the democratic world has ever known.
Historically, cybernetics and neoliberalism both emerged as sober, neutralizing antidotes to the high-modern totalitarianisms of interbellum Europe. Despite working in vastly divergent fields and adhering to rather conflicting social ideologies, Friedrich Hayek and Norbert Wiener independently elaborated models of spontaneous self-organization rooted in freely accessible information (be it packet or price) and a series of endogenous, self-correcting controls. Hayek’s work, of course, inaugurated the Chicago School’s postwar boom and spurred the rapacious privatization programs under Thatcher and Reagan, while Wiener’s quickly spread from neurobiology and robotics to communications engineering and automated production.
Key to Hayek’s thought is his “catallactic” conception of society, which attests to the necessarily fragmented nature of human knowledge and the consequent impossibility of any central planning. From this, I construe the ideal neoliberal market as that of financial abstraction, and the ideal society, one tele-mediated by evermore, ever-smaller, increasingly customizable screens. I propose that, well beyond the supply-sider’s victory over 1970s stagflation or the aggressive anti-regulatory politicking over the succeeding decades, the great triumph of neoliberalism occurs by virtue of its embeddedness in the communications revolution. The convergence sets in motion twin processes of global financialization and social demassification that lubricate novel distributions of power, which we today aim to more rigorously understand.
Ruoyun Bai (University of Toronto):
“Neoliberalization of Chinese Television and Heroes of the Reform”
This paper looks into Chinese primetime television as a site where neoliberal-style wealth redistribution and class reconstitution are glamorized. Since 1992, the year that marked the official establishment of the market economy in China, television dramas have been instrumental in legitimating a neoliberal society, by redefining post-socialist heroes
(from communist revolutionaries and socialist role models to capitalists, entrepreneurs and pro-market bureaucratic elites) and creating a new ideal of citizenry by valorizing those who, despite their low socio-economic status, successfully transform themselves into neoliberal subjects. How does one make sense of the class bias in Chinese television? Clearly, the crude propaganda model premised on the repressive nature of the
Party-state has exhausted its explanatory power given the highly disjunctive order of China’s commercial media and cultural production. It cannot account for the uneasy coexistence between the neoliberal discourse and other discourses and sentiments informed by critical realism, humanism and revolutionary nostalgia. In other words, the neoliberal turn of Chinese television has not been tension-free. Using two television dramas as examples, this paper investigates the narrative and affective strategies, with which neoliberalism weaves itself into the mainstream aesthetics.
Calvin Hui (Duke University)
“China, or, the People’s Republic of Capitalism”
My presentation investigates how cultural productions and ideology are central to discerning China’s integration to the global economic system, and the subsequent emergence of the new petty bourgeoisie. Responding to the conference’s theme, my presentation uses China Rises to examine the mediated relationship between cultural form (aesthetics), class formation (class), and geopolitical configuration (worlds) in what I call “The People’s Republic of Capitalism.” Focusing on aesthetics, I argue that the cinema/documentary text can be interpreted as an allegory of the contradictions of China’s capitalistic modernization. It is through representation that the real contradictions of China’s class hierarchies and national antagonisms are imaginarily registered, worked out, and reconciled. Focusing on class, I show that the Chinese petty bourgeoisie is not an autonomous and self-determining class on its own; instead, its existence is dependent upon the transnational and bureaucratic bourgeoisie, and the post-socialist party-state power. Focusing on worlds, the Chinese petty bourgeoisie be interpreted as a “national allegory” (Fredric Jameson) of China’s integration to global capitalism. To be sure, this stratum manages labour and enjoys some of the privileges of the boss whilst still being an employee punching a time clock. Both dominating and dominated, the position of the petty bourgeoisie is laden with tensions. Its role as a dominated agent of capitalistic domination mirrors the class and national situations of China. From the class perspective, the Chinese petty bourgeoisie serves the interest of global capital and the state to exploit the working class for profit. From the national perspective, China is beginning to compete with the U.S. and Europe for natural resources in Africa. Exploiting the working class in its own country and the third-world, and entering in close collaboration with global capitalism, the contradiction of China’s capitalistic modernization can be located in the mediating role of the Chinese petty bourgeoisie.
4. Facing Literary Worlds
Nadine Attewell (McMaster University):
“Thinking Otherwise: Displacement, Postcoloniality and Utopian Desire”
Writing in 1998, the geographer and cultural critic David Harvey called for “an alternative to the Thatcherite doctrine that ‘there is no alternative’” (17). Alternatives continue to be needed, now perhaps more even than then. But how do alternatives get thought, let alone enacted? In recent years, Marxist and queer critics such as Harvey, Fredric Jameson, and José Muñoz have sought to rescue utopian texts and desires from charges of irrelevance, escapism, heteronormativity, and totalitarianism, showing how, in substance and in form, utopianism speaks of and to the here and now. Still, what is intriguing about literary utopias is precisely that as representations of “no place,” they are characterized by an apparent detachment from the world. Thus, for example, literary utopias are often located at a geographical remove from the world (or, at least, the world that is thought to matter), a remove that reproduces, or can be mapped onto, the distance between metropole and colony. Although local moments of possibility, rupture, and joy may manifest utopia just as powerfully as the formal utopia, it is worth asking whether the displacement of the literary utopia is a feature of (rather than incidental to) the desire called utopia; to what extent this displacement should be understood in relation to colonial histories of circulation, proliferation, and resource extraction; and what this tells us about the resources we draw on in thinking otherwise. It is not my aim to “[shout] down utopia” (Muñoz 10). Rather, this paper reflects on the post/colonial implications of thinking otherwise through other world-making before turning to the other world-making of postcolonial and indigenous speculative writers like Tobias Buckell, Nalo Hopkinson, and Daniel Heath Justice for a glimpse of not only a transformed politics of place, knowledge, and identity, but a transformed (decolonized) aesthetic (or epistemology) of the alternative as well.
Jarad Zimbler (Wolfson College, Oxford):
“Neither Progress nor Regress: The Emergence of J.M. Coetzee’s Bare Prose Style”
J.M. Coetzee’s early novels are ubiquitously read as instances of late modernism or postmodernism, works of anti-realism in which one finds everywhere the heavy fingerprints of Kafka and Beckett. In this paper, I aim to show that, on the contrary, novels such as Dusklands (1974), In the Heart of the Country (1977) and Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) witness the development of a particular form of provisional realism, a mode of writing notable above all for its bareness, starkness and intensity. I argue that it is this bareness that is the truly distinctive feature of Coetzee’s aesthetic practice – rather than its reflexivity and aporetic disjunctiveness, as critics such as Derek Attridge have suggested – and that, in its development, Coetzee was turning his back not only on previous modes of South African realism, but also on the introversion of Beckett’s late fictional prose. I concentrate largely on Dusklands, offering a close reading of its syntax, and comparing its descriptive passages both with those found in the novels of South African novelist Alex La Guma, as well as with passages from Beckett’s Unnameable and Lessness. On this basis, I outline a way of reading Coetzee’s novels as works that are oriented towards the world, and that aim to reveal a brutal reality, stripped bare of human relation.
Ziad Suidan ( University of Wisconsin-Madison):
“The Politics of Exile in Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘They Don’t Look Behind Them’
―They depart from the beautiful [sarcanet/silk brocade] to
The dust clouds of the midday heat, carrying their biers full
A certain amount of absence: an identity card and a letter
To a beloved, address unknown:
(“They Don’t Look Behind Them” Mahmoud Darwish (my translation)
From whom, to whom, from where, to where: the prepositional shifters that circumscribe these questions are central to the consideration of the figure of exile as imaginary, geo-political, and geophysical practices reconsider the space upon which the exiles’ words travel, much less how their person is made to cross borders metaphorically and physically. Can the exile be located? Can the figure of the exile be literarily configured? This is not only crucial to exile studies but to a reconsidering of how to think about the concept of class and its aesthetic representation, itself continually refracted, and re-plicated in and across different spatio-temporalities.
I use Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “They Don’t Look Behind Them” (2008) as a case example. When considering letters between lovers whose names and very physical addresses have been re-inscribed such that the nation-state that regards them cannot bear the burden of a former time that is presently lived, how, then, is class to be thought when peoples are cast out in, by, of, and through language? Has the 19th century notion of class, itself rooted in a question of an industrialized vocabulary of bourgeois and proletariat classes, been replaced by the question of the citizen and the stranger? What purposeful affect do these concepts have on the peoples reclaimed now no longer part of a social network but rent apart by the very processes that label one as belonging to a place and a time and the other a floating signifier who is by definition precarious by nature?
5. Bodies that Work, Bodies that Feel
Alexander Monea (Bowling Green State University):
“Reading Mass Inertia: The Politics of Affect and the Biopower of Aesthetics and Desire”
Félix Guattari wrote that machines of desire and aesthetic creation are just as involved in modifying our cosmic frontiers as any scientific machines. This notion has only grown in importance since Guattari published Chaosmosis. Many critics have embraced the laments of theorists like Jürgen Habermas, Jean Baudrillard, and Paul Virilio, all of whom mourn the dual loss of rational and productive popular debate and the product of that debate’s accurate representation on the national stage in some way. Baudrillard in particular looks forward to a future of absolute implosion, prefaced only by mass inertia, in his book In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. However, he also argues that the masses indiscriminately consume spectacle. Following theorists like Greg Seigworth, Lone Bertelson, Andrew Murphie, and Brian Massumi, I will argue that this drive towards spectacle is really a preference for affective intensity. Spinozan affect theorists almost unanimously argue that the capacity to be affected goes hand-in-hand with the capacity to affect. The masses are thus only inert semiotically, phallogocentrically. They are wildly active in producing and consuming affective ebbs and flows, transducting intensities from, to, and between themselves. As Massumi notes, their bodies are radically open to affect, to the world, and to one another, which creates new potentialities for biopower (both in the Foucauldian top-down form and in Michael Hardt’s bottom-up conception). I will finish by analyzing the ways in which machines of desire and aesthetic creation, both monoglossic and heteroglossic (read: hegemonic or subaltern), might tap into the biopower engendered by this new paradigm. While this investigation will only be preliminary, it is essential that attention be called to the forms of biopower emerging from this new aesthetical-libidinal-political paradigm.
Carolyn Veldstra (McMaster University):
“Cynicism: The Structure of Late Capitalism, Lived and Felt”
My paper for the Aesthetics / Class / Worlds conference proposes that we understand cynicism as an aesthetic and thus political category. Cynicism is more commonly used as an adjective to describe political disengagement or disinterest (see Baudrillard 1994, Bewes 1997 and Virno 2006); in other words, it is framed as a problem of ideology or conviction. I argue, however, that cynicism is more productively thought of in terms of affect or feeling, specifically as a public feeling, or an affective state that is produced at the level of culture and yet felt at the level of the subject (see Cvetkovich 2003). In other words, this paper works to reconfigure cynicism as a structure of feeling, or an affect that is formed and circulates in and through culture (see Williams 1977). In linking cynicism as affect to culture, I position cynicism in the field of aesthetics, particularly that developed out of Critical Theory in its concern with mass culture and its structural and subjective effects. Specifically, I contend that cynicism is symptomatic of a Western geopolitical situation that is both precarious and yet inescapable. As a shared feeling, cynicism reflects our affective response to our position as individuals living under and within an ideological system in which we are increasingly aware of the structures that condition our lives and yet are also increasingly unable to act on that knowledge. I emphasize, in particular, the ways in cynicism is seen to mark an individual feeling, arguing that this emphasis on individuality obscures not only the shared nature of the affect, but also the larger structural disjunctions it symptomizes. In this way, I begin to offer a framework by which we can rethink sites of individuality—itself a privileged neoliberal fiction—as indicative of collective frustrations, as sites at which our intimate worlds are deeply intertwined in the structures and logics of late capitalism.
Simon Orpana (McMaster University):
“Biopolitics and the Art of Exploitation in Ninni Holmqvist’s novel The Unit”
Ninni Homqvist's The Unit (2006) takes place in a near future or alternative present in which class and gender inequality seem to have been largely eliminated. However, this utopian society is divided by new lines into those who are “necessary” and “dispensable.” Men over the age of sixty and women over the age of fifty who do not have dependent children are sequestered in a facility where they are taken good care of, but where they are subjected to various experiments, constant surveillance, and where they eventually perish from the donation of their vital organs. But the astonishing thing about life in the unit is that so few people try to escape. Holmqvist's novel describes the complicated social forces that contribute to the hegemonic domination of women and subaltern classes in what might be described as a biopolitical utopia. The novel describes a new dynamics of class oppression by which the childless—a group that contains a large number of writers, artists and other social misfits—donate their creative, intellectual, and ultimately physical being for the sake of perpetuating the state.
My paper examines The Unit as an allegory for the transformation of capitalist exploitation within the paradigm of biopolitics, whose ostensible purpose is furthering the life of society. How does the imperative to “make live or let die” famously articulated by Foucault reconcile itself to a demand for constant economic growth and capital accumulation? My reading of Holmqvist's novel examines how the biopolitical turn of capitalism, far from erasing older forms of class and gender exploitation, actually serves to reconfigure and perpetuate these structures. Read in light of such theories as Hardt and Negri's thesis about the hegemony of immaterial labour, The Unit provides a useful site for exploring the role of art and artists within biopolitical production.
6. Aesthetics: Between Philosophy and Politics:
Daniel Benson (New York University):
“Aesthetic Emancipation in Georg Lukács and Jacques Rancière”
The relationship between the writings of Georg Lukács and those of Jacques Rancière has yet to be explored in any detail. This critical lacuna is understandable, given the disparate historical circumstances and the distinct intellectual milieus in which their work took shape: Lukács’ first significant writings appeared in the turbulent years following the Russian Revolution of 1917, while Rancière continues to craft one of the most compelling oeuvre in post-1968 French thought. However, despite the geographical and temporal differences separating the two thinkers, they share the same theoretical preoccupation: the politics of aesthetics. A confrontation between their distinct perspectives will be mutually instructive. It will elucidate, in Rancière’s case, what is at stake in his attempt to shift out of a strictly Marxist framework. With respect to Lukács, it will illuminate the foundation of his aesthetic writings and expand upon their political signification with the aid of Rancière’s conceptual framework. Lukács establishes a symmetry between his theory of the proletarian class consciousness and Schiller’s idea of aesthetic free play – both concepts involve the creation of a “de-reified” subject position. Rancière also employs Schiller for the “aesthetic revolution” inaugurated at the end of the 18th century – though he eliminates most of Lukács’ Marxist terminology (such as ideology, class, and economic concepts) from his discourse and rejects any teleological historical movement in favor of a radically egalitarian democracy. For Rancière, the aesthetic experience is part and parcel of emancipation. My analysis will address the following theoretical questions: how is the aesthetic discourse fundamentally connected to revolutionary politics in the work of Rancière and Lukács? How does aesthetics allow us to rethink class consciousness and ideology? What theoretical advances can be gained through an engagement with their writings, which are temporally situated at opposite ends of the numerous 20th century aesthetic critiques, from the Frankfurt school to Pierre Bourdieu, Paul de Man, and Jean-François Lyotard, among others?
Jensen Suther (Elon University):
“Adorno and Beckett: Immanence of Negativity”
In this paper, I will argue that Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory derives its theoretical substance from Adorno’s reading of Samuel Beckett’s oeuvre. This reading, which simultaneously engages mimesis, realism, politics, and ethics, is formative not only for Adorno’s aesthetic project, but also for his interweaving of philosophy and literature, the political and ethical and the aesthetic. Beckett’s radical expressionism, on Adorno’s view, corresponds more acutely to the condition of modernity than do the various realisms whose aspiration is to exhaustively represent in aesthetic form the society of the modern world. In addition to exploring Adorno’s aesthetico-theoretical relation to Beckett, this paper will demonstrate the development of a moral philosophy within Adorno’s aesthetic project, particularly in his interrogation of realism vis-à-vis Beckett. The political atheism of Beckett’s work coincides with Adorno’s disavowal of the political artwork, e.g. Sartre’s littérature engagée, and, as a conscious mediation of empirical reality, opens a dialectical space for a political and ethical philosophy. In a word, Beckett’s artistic labor produces the aesthetic, skeletal structure onto which Adorno’s philosophy of aesthetics hangs the theoretical flesh the composition of which is political and ethical.
Michael Fares (University of Texas at Austin):
“‘The Philosophical Novel’ Genre in Medieval Islamic Literature: A Case for the Importance of Subjective Experience in the Human Quest for Knowledge”
One needn’t go far today to realize that we live in an era dominated by a narrowly “objectivist” epistemology, an epistemology which champions “empirical observation” as truly “scientific” while confining human subjectivity and inward experience to the realm of the nonsensical, the unverifiable, and the absurd. The celebration of “objective science” at the expense of subjective inward experience has become pivotal to what is assumed to be “modern” thought. My paper seeks to deconstruct and reconfigure this complex discourse of objectivist “modernity” through a close reading of the work of 12th century Arab Muslim philosopher Ibn Ṭufayl, a man who was himself highly concerned with the complex epistemological relationship that existed during his own time between philosophy, science, and religion. Here, I examine Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān, Ṭufayl’s philosophical novel written as a thought experiment about the human acquisition of knowledge as such. The novel recounts the story of Ḥayy, a hypothetical boy who grows up alone on a desert Island, completely removed from any contact with human society, left alone to discover the cosmos with no outside influence other than his own primary experience. I argue over the course of my paper that Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān, though written in the twelfth century, is a text most timely for own era when it comes to our efforts to heal the deep yet artificial dichotomy that has been drawn between the “objective” and the “subjective”, especially with regard to the supposed division between “science” and “religion”. I propose that the story of Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān offers us a new and different paradigm for interacting with our world, a paradigm via which we may reconcile the present division between objective and subjective epistemologies, integrating these two seemingly antithetical knowledge paradigms into a single, more flowing, and more holistic view of our cosmos.
Steve Waksman (Smith College):
“Toward a History of Liveness: Musical Performance and Public Life in the U.S.”
Discussing the shifting modes of authenticity that have arisen in conjunction with live music performance, on the one hand, and recorded music, on the other, Sarah Thornton asserts in her book Club Cultures that, “The term ‘live’ entered the lexicon of music appreciation only in the [nineteen-] fifties” (41). She further argues that the condition for its emergence in this vein was the rising primacy of recorded music, which had rendered performance into “music’s marginalized other…which had to speak its difference with a qualifying adjective.” Thornton uniquely historicizes the category of live music and offers a compelling rationale for its growing importance in an emergent system of aesthetic value wherein the “live” and the “recorded” exist in a productive tension. Nonetheless, I am convinced that her central claim is based on a historical fallacy. Well before the opposition between live and recorded music became culturally salient, musical performance existed within a different field of relations, counterpoised with published sheet music and the written accounts of music that pervaded newspapers, magazines and books. In this differently mediated cultural setting, the operative distinction was not between “live” and “recorded” music, but between musical performance as a part of public life and musical performance that occurred in private settings. Pushing the study of liveness back to the mid-nineteenth century, this paper will put forth some preliminary arguments concerning the role of musical performance in constituting the American public sphere. Drawing upon the work of cultural theorists Richard Butsch and Michael Warner, I will demonstrate the position of nineteenth century live music as a nascent form of mass culture on the one hand and as a form of subcultural or counter-public activity on the other.
Cecile G. Paskett (University of Utah):
“Radical Performance within Installation Art: Impacts on Surveillance and Identities”
Scholars and artists interested in the relationship between art and activism may often find it easy to fall into an imagination that privileges openly political practices, such as those can be be seen being employed by social awareness groups, guerrilla activists, and political artists. Yet, it is also apparent that a number of cultural workers are attempting to make radical claims through radically different means – that is, attempting to counter hegemonic discourses within mainstream venues such as art galleries and museums. Thus, it makes sense for researchers to interrogate those institutions that constitute the mechanism establishing such discourses, at the same time as they investigate the radical potential for the works contained within them. Therefore, I will be exploring the projects of two contemporary artists, Oliver Lutz and Shizuka Yokomizo, for their works both speak explicitly to the social processes underlying the understanding, and acceptance of, surveillance and voyeurism within the current cultural climate, while also differing significantly in terms of their capacity for radical impact. In particular, this investigation will take into account the relationship between surveillance, culture, and space, and the ways in which spatiality, when situated within the greater context of late-consumer capitalism, shapes the formation of cultural processes, aesthetic structures, and individual identities.
Adair Rounthwaite (University of Minnesota):
“Audience as Constituency, Audience as Event: Institutionality, Activism and Art 1988-89”
This paper will examine the relationships between artists, audiences, and an art institution created by Group Material’s Democracy and Martha Rosler’s If You Lived Here…, two projects held at the Dia Art Foundation in New York City in 1988-89. In the context of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, these projects fostered activist dialogue through art exhibitions and public discussion forums on topics including homelessness, education, AIDS, and electoral politics. I will consider the way in which in these projects, a form of audience materialized that was characterized on the one hand by a fixed, quantifiable group of specific identities, and on the other hand by open-endedness and contingency. I refer to these two types as audience as constituency, and audience as event, respectively. This double-edged audience that emerged in Democracy and If You Lived Here… was the product of activist art practices from the early 1980s becoming increasingly more mainstream as the decade progressed. The effect of that transition was to fundamentally transform relationships of mutual dependence between institutions, artists, and audiences. The central stake of this paper is to historicize the concept of audience as it operates within art history, and specifically leftist art history, by showing the way that it has been produced based on certain sets of institutional and political stakes in different contexts.
8. Reading Political Narratives:
David Janzen (University of Western Ontario):
“The Recourse of Poetics: The Politics and Aesthetics of Disidentification”
A complexly poetic and intertextual work, Miguel Ángel Asturias’s novel Hombres de Maíz is inherently political, not because it retells history from an alternative (Indigenous) perspective but, to the contrary, because it undermines the modes of historical and perceptual understanding that determine the place of the indigenous subject.
Hombres de Maíz has three regimes which mirror the worlds of Maya cosmology (underworld, earth and sky) as well as Vico’s historical ages or corsos (gods, heroes, and men). As in Vico’s conception of history, Hombres de Maíz’s cosmological corsos are marked by poetic irruptions: the novel begins in the precolonial age which, dominated by prosopopoeia, makes “of all nature a vast animate body” (Vico §186); it then moves through the metonymic age of heroes toward the “rational” age of men, until, in the final stage, the overall progression is interrupted by a Vichean recourse (ricorso) to a newly “primitive” and poetically undetermined world. This reading reveals a politics that is overlooked by the dominant interpretations which understand Hombres de Maíz primarily as an allegory of social struggle and, in doing so, tie the work’s politics to the particularities of Indigenous identity (see Martin 1993, Dorfman 1991, and Prieto 1993). Through an analysis of temporal, poetic and intertextual modes, I demonstrate that the work’s corsos represent, and simultaneously enact, an aesthetic ricorso determined by a form of disidentification, defined as: the “removal [of the subject] from the naturalness of a place, [and] the opening up of a subject space where anyone can be counted” (Rancière 1998). Disidentification – which has little to do with the struggle to regain a lost identity – intervenes in and reworks the partitions that determine what appears in the world and that designate who has the capacity to argue about what appears. In this sense, the politics of Hombres de Maíz, and of Indigenous literatures in general, are rooted in their capacity to undo those distinctions that render certain subjects invisible and inaudible, and to stage an aesthetic recourse in which such subjects – what Rancière calls “the poor” – may make their own claim to the equality of speaking beings.
Agnes Malinowska (University of Chicago):
“Madness, Aesthetics and Fin-de-siècle American Capitalism in the Novels of Frank Norris”
The novels of Frank Norris persistently link the making and appreciating of art to the structures of late-nineteenth-century American capitalism. In Norris’ Vandover and the Brute (1895), for example, the reproduction of aesthetic forms is heavily tied up with that of capitalist values. The young Vandover, learning to draw by copying the idealized “heads” of pretty and soulful young ladies so pleasing to fin-de-siècle American bourgeois taste, is rewarded for his efforts with gold dollars by his businessman father. Likewise, Norris opens The Pit (1903) with an opera that is constantly interrupted by the wrangling of trade brokers speculating on the latest wheat deal, until music and business talk form a single aesthetic spectacle; indeed, the novel’s name, which refers to the wheat pit at the center of Chicago trade, also evokes the orchestra pit at the center of the musical performance.
However, Norris’ novels do not stop at revealing art and taste as heavily dependent on capitalist structures and permeated by capitalist values; insofar as the identification of aesthetic with capitalist activity is often performed through the mental deterioration of Norris’ central characters, art serves to announce capitalism’s pathology. In Norris’ novels, madness circulates through aesthetic and economic activity, which in turn feed off each other. As Curtis Jadwin slips deeper into his obsession with wheat speculation, his wife Laura reacts with feverish “performances” of Macbeth to the audience of her enormous and empty home. As Vandover gradually loses his mind and his fortune, he is reduced to painting scenes on bank safes, his artistic skill now fully instrumentalized for capitalist gain, capitalism feeding on Vandover’s psychosis. Norris’ McTeague (1899), though the least explicitly concerned with the aesthetic domain, perhaps goes the farthest in collapsing art and capital in the register of madness; Trina’s single-minded obsession with hording gold transforms the medium of exchange into a fetish object endowed with the holy aura of a revered object of art.
Indeed, Trina’s madness suggests that the psychosis of capitalism is in its assumption of the properties of art, its transformation into an aestheticized end-in-itself, rather than an instrument for ensuring a just and well-ordered world. So, in The Pit, when Laura asks why, if hungry peasants in Europe need wheat so much, doesn’t the immensely wealthy Jadwin (who cares little for money, but very much for hoarding wheat), just send it to them, the answer is that this would undermine the beauty, the great artistry, of speculation. As Walter Benjamin would condemn the aestheticizing of politics in his 1930’s essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility,” Norris censures the aestheticizing of economic structures, thus retroactively answering Benjamin’s call for a politicizing of art via his novelistic critique of America’s fin-de-siècle love affair with unbridled capitalism.
Eun Joo Kim (University of Minnesota):
“Alternate Forms, Practices and Spaces of Literacy in Push and Blu’s Hanging”
Sapphire’s Push (1996) and Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Blu’s Hanging (1997) share a unique set of similarities: both of these works are literacy narratives with young female protagonists who grow up in impoverished conditions and with limited educational opportunities, facing issues of sexual trauma during their early adolescence. Both of these novels are also written in different varieties of American English: much of Push is written in Black Vernacular and Blu’s Hanging is primarily written in Hawai’ian Pidgin. The majority of the existing criticism on these works focuses on cultural (mis)representation, interethnic conflict, sociological critique, and psychoanalytic analysis. Few attend to the issues of literacy and none bring these two works together.
This paper centralizes the literacy narratives in these two novels as they relate to the interrelated issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, and privilege. I explore how literacy and education seem to provide the only means for the protagonists to escape their respective situations, though their success seems nearly impossible and the attainment of their goals ultimately remains suggestive, at best. I also consider to what extent the novels’ being written in Black Vernacular and Hawai’ian Pidgin works to establish proximity to the protagonists’ immediate environments (of Harlem and Kaunakakai, Hawai’i, respectively) and to represent an aesthetic decision, and further, if perceptions of authenticity and aesthetics are necessarily mutually exclusive, as some critics seem to suggest. While critiquing the oversimplified reading of these works that uphold education and literacy as the ultimate goal for these protagonists, this paper explores how various forms of literacy practices inform these young women’s widening understanding of their situations.
8. America, Utopia:
Jeremy Buesink (McMaster University):
“The Interconnected Apocalyptic-Utopian Ideal of Christianity, Americanism and Militarism, and the Aesthetics of the Patriotic Pep Rally”
In this essay I engage with political theory from (specifically but not exclusively) Walter Benn Michaels, Richard Hofstadter, Judith Butler, and Michel Foucault in order to examine the legacy Theodore Roosevelt’s unifying nationalistic rhetoric (“We are all Americans Pure and Simple”) that is at work in the counterintuitive convergence of neoconservatism and neoliberalism wherein the logic of apocalyptic utopianism is at work. My inquiry is one that journeys into the heart of the religiously inflected ‘nature’ of the Puritan-informed American Dream, and the intertextual discourse(s) of three fundamentalisms: Americanism, evangelist Christianity, and free market economism and their rhetorical melding in contemporary neoliberal/militaristic economic and social policy. It is my contention that within the supposedly moral dogmatic nucleus of national values that is the American Dream—which dictates ‘proper’ Americanism within a paradigm where the drive for property, land, and acquisition is a drive for purity, absolutism, and virtue—the seemingly paradoxical melding of neoconservativism and neoliberalism, of fundamentalist Christianity and nationalistic conceptualizations of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, become intelligible, in part, because of affective fundamentalist Americanism. The fundamentalist Americanist worldview territorialized around the notion of the American Dream, provides to the faithful the illusion, the aesthetic, the rituals, of stability whilst paradoxically also propagating a state of perpetual crisis. In this paradigm, where “Mission Accomplished” is meant to induce collective social amnesia, ‘winning’—and therein the vanquishing of ‘ungrievable’ enemies—is paramount, ‘freedom’ becomes a reductive and simplistic rallying cry asserting patriotic Truth, while ‘democracy’ is treated as an ideological endpoint—an ‘arrival at’ rather than an ongoing ‘process of’. Within this framework I explore the ways in which the unifying rhetoric of fundamentalist Americanism functions in much of the celebratory reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden including the patriotic pep rally that erupted across America—and counted in its participants many American college students—after the announcement of his death.
The permanence implicit in ideological ‘arrivals’—such as violently imposing democracy abroad and such as concluding that the death of Bin Laden affirms an Americanized ideal of freedom—both promotes and is the result of economic, political, and moral policy that operates in terms of faith in utopian guarantees, and the faith in these guarantees functions in concert with the required chaos of apocalypse. Moreover, the logic of militarization that is at work in fundamental Americanism employs utopianism and apocalypse not as separate entities but as that which contain mutually shaping and informing tribulation and triumph, chaos and order, where the underpinnings of chaos are believed to be a right(eous)ness that is asserted by might. Apocalypse has always been essential to America’s conception of itself, and the righteousness of the apocalyptic utopianism within fundamentalist Americanism secures itself in the confident belief in the virtue of moral absolutism and self-righteous affective anti-intellectualism.
Matthew Lambert (Carnegie Mellon University):
“Frank Capra’s Utopian ‘Lost Cause’: Pastoral Aesthetic Beauty and Class in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”
In my paper, I argue that Frank Capra employs Kantian aesthetic notions of beauty and engages Popular Front themes of class in his 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. More specifically, I contend that he uses beauty in the film to rearticulate the classical American pastoral mode into a potent emergent cultural and political critique of American capitalism. In the film, Capra pastoralizes Washington D.C. to assert a connection between American democratic ideals and what Leo Marx calls pastoral, “middle landscape” values by juxtaposing American national monuments and the democratic ideals they represent with nature. This juxtaposition creates a particular aesthetic experience in Jefferson Smith, the film’s protagonist, which leads him to seek out, protect, and create other forms of beauty and the justice/morality/equality he sees it as exhibiting, an aesthetic and political impulse that finds its clearest expression in a bill he proposes for a national boys’ camp. The bill, itself, juxtaposes issues of class, capitalism, and aesthetic beauty by, on the one hand, offering the boys’ camp as a utopian classless society and, on the other, critiquing a capitalist attempt to appropriate the land for purely financial ends. And though Smith’s/Capra’s utopian vision is limited to a particular white male perception of the world, it’s important, I argue, to practice what Ernst Bloch and Robert C. Elliott referred to as a hermeneutic utopian thinking when examining it. Such thinking allows audiences a space to critique and supplement Capra’s fragmentary utopian vision with their own experiences and claims of equality, including those informed by intersections of gender, race, and class. It also allows for the rearticulating and reclaiming of popular artists like Capra as well as residual cultural and political modes like the pastoral for their potential progressive qualities.
Sean Nye (University of Minnesota):
“1984/1989: Mobility, Aesthetics and Social Science Fiction”
Since George Orwell’s 1948 writings, “1984” has primarily been analyzed under the rubric of dystopian prediction. The definitive mythical year of social science fiction, “1984” always exists as the potential future of society. However, what has not been analyzed to date is the fundamental role the memory of 1984 now plays in the social science fiction of the received past. Since 1989, the reinterpretation of the year 1984, through and against the Orwellian “1984,” has taken on unprecedented political charge.
This paper explores this political-aesthetic reinterpretation of “1984” through an analysis of two popular films set in 1984: The Hunt for Red October (1990) and The Lives of Others (2006). It analyzes how these films remember and construct the year 1984 as the revolutionary pivot of dystopia into utopia. First, 1984 is the last year of perceived Orwellian dystopia in the form of full-fledged Cold War conflict. Second, 1984 is the first year of technological and media revolutions that played important roles in the capitalist revolutions of 1989.
The Hunt for Red October and The Lives of Others mark out the Cold War borders of capitalist entertainment while prophesying their conquest. The year 1984 is the definitive year of technological revolutions that spell the triumph of capitalist entertainment over socialist propaganda, of the life of aesthetic leisure over the life of labor. In these films, the primary motor behind this technological-medial pivot proves to be mobility. Mobile listening, in particular though the filmic-sonic object of headphones, is representative of revolutionary movement. The liberatory or oppressive potentials of listening are dependent upon whether borders are opened or closed to travel and transformation. The paper thus concludes by showing how 1984 understandings represent a key ideology of our time, in which freedom is primarily understood as mobility and/or flexibility.
10. Collectivity in Global Space:
Tim Corballis (University of Aukland):
“Rancière in the Antipodes”
A tension exists within certain accounts of the political concerning questions of space and location. So if for Rancière ‘a demonstration is political not because it takes place in a specific locale’, at the same time his paradigmatic political action seems to converge on an agora of whatever kind. The task of politics then becomes one of establishing not only a subject but a stage—and is, as such, already minimally located. Questions remain as to whether such an aesthetic/political stage might equally be located anywhere, or whether a strategic sensitivity might have us seek out specific points. To visibly meet a police logic with an egalitarian one, if not indeed to hope for an audience, political action might best seek out places where the police logic itself is or might be visible: places of administration or representation.
This paper seeks to recast the Rancièrian political act in terms of a migration away from the ‘places’ of fixed identity and towards such sites. Its movement, perhaps at best metaphorical, is compared here with the mythical convergence of people that founds the city.
I then contrast this convergent migration with a global and divergent one, equally mythical, that flees from the city and the clamour of competing claims to visibility. This settler-colonial migration serves as the foundation myth for an antipodes both administered from the metropolis and apparently free from administration. Here I ask to what degree or in what manner such an antipodes remains in fact characterised by its global distance from places where its police logic is administered or represented; and so, to what extent a Rancièrian political action is possible locally, or indeed possible at all for those for whom global barriers and distances are beyond reach.
Olive Mckeon (University of California-Los Angeles):
“How to Dance a Riot: On the Aesthetics of Struggle”
Riots often employ a familiar set of compositional devices: bodies circulating in atypical pathways, the spatial displacement of objects, the breaking of brittle surfaces, the burning of combustible elements. Struggles of disparate historical and geographic location have shared this sensuous moment of unrest. I speak of riots and not any other moment within a struggle as they are the privileged moment of evidence, of witnessing social antagonism, of knowing a struggle takes place. While one can certainly give an account of these moments within a struggle as resulting from a particular calculus of social and material forces, what can one learn from an inquiry into the aesthetic and choreographic character of the riot? An examination of riots in their aesthetic dimension - their shards and ashes, their clamor and mess, their inescapable sensuality - can make evident a set of choreographic operations that mediate between a struggle and its material consequences.
I address three critiques of the aestheticization of politics, namely the accusations of mere aestheticism, fascism, and irrelevance. I note that forms of struggle may depart or decouple from their material impetus possessing an aesthetic, symbolic, or semiotic quality that draws their performance into a play between mediation and materiality. The insufficiency of materially accounting for riots enables a turn towards its form, performance, and interpretation. In the space between a purported political ambition and a concrete moment of articulation, between a specific politics and its embodied manifestation, the play and movement of bodies during a riot enact a second order struggle for legitimacy. Through a detournement of Kant, specifically the 'free play' and 'purposiveness without purpose' that one finds within his aesthetics, I propose the riot as a form of free play during which the body becomes crucial to the elaboration of a struggle.
Jessica Elaine Reilly (University of Western Ontario):
“The (Aesthetic) Right to the City: Urban ‘Worlds’ and the Melted Proletariat of Liquid Modernity”
The crisis of the city has forced us to question the simplistic association of the city...We have rediscovered the complexity of the city as a key place of interactions through a certain hierarchy of urban space, of monumentality, and especially of public space —Henri Lefebvre
In 1968, Henri Lefebvre published Everyday Life in the Modern World. While responding to what he saw as the current crisis of the city and the future of the everyday as a necessary site of philosophical inquiry, Lefebvre argued that the everyday “exposes the possibilities of conflict between the rational and the irrational in our society and our time, thus permitting the formulation of concrete problems of production (in its widest sense): how the social existence of humans is produced” (23). Amongst other human needs, which also include art, play, and pleasure, Lefebvre interpreted the necessity of urban space as a site of human community, social interaction, and existential meaning that was threatened by the capitalism brought by modernity.
My paper reads Lefebvre’s theorizing of space, urbanization, and everyday life in dialogue with the writings of social theorist Zygmunt Bauman, in order to identify the similarities between what Lefebvre described as “the Bureaucratic Society of Controlled Consumption” (1968) and Bauman’s analysis of the impact of consumerism on social, political, and urban life in his formulation of “the community of consumers” under “liquid modernity” (2000). In their analysis of the city, Lefebvre and Bauman both identify how the urban environment struggles in the peril of its paradoxical pressure to function within a global and local framework.
As each thinker struggles with their own form of utopianism, the city, as polis, functions as the heart of the political community that is both lived and imagined. My paper concludes with the claim that the material locality of the city proposed by Lefebvre and Bauman offers a unique site for communal belonging and material class struggle in response to the spacelessness of global capital.
11. Cinema, Revolution.
Julia Alekseyeva (Harvard University):
“The Ethics of Propaganda: Estrangement and Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye”
The Soviet 1920s were rife with competing avant-garde movements. In this brief but vital moment of feverish artistic production, art and politics were unified in a mission to liberate art from its bourgeois roots. These artists were in rabid competition to see who could craft the perfect Soviet man—an attempt at an art which is both ethical and utopian. Victor Shklovsky’s concept of ostranenie, or estrangement, was highly influential for many such early Soviet thinkers. Estrangement as a literary or artistic practice is a way for this mythical Soviet superman to attain perfect perception; according to Shklovsky, our daily experiences render life routine and automatic, something he found ethically disturbing. Through estrangement, Shklovsky aimed to increase the difficulty and length of perception for the reader/audience. An ethical practice as well as an aesthetic one, one of estrangement’s many purposes is to keep the fear of war and the inherent uncanniness of violence against others alive.
Early Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s version of this perception was his revolutionary concept of the Kino-Eye. In the 1920s, Vertov published an enormous number of theoretical writings and manifestoes, mostly in the iconic mouthpieces of Russian modernism. But it is his films in particular which echo Shklovsky’s concern for a more perfect perception via the practice of estrangement. Dziga Vertov’s documentary and newsreel propaganda films appear uncanny and difficult even to twenty-first century viewers, for whom cinema has long ceased to be novel or strange. This paper analyzes how Shklovsky’s concept of estrangement, which one might call a permanent revolution of the mind, is reflected in Vertov’s filmmaking, and in his 1924 film Kino-Eye in particular—a film particularly estranging in its experimental cinematographic techniques. In addition, this paper discusses the early Soviet period’s attempt (if not always success) at an ethical propaganda aesthetics.
José Miguel Palacios (New York University):
“PUEBLO, PEOPLE, POPULAR: Class and Spectatorship in Chilean Revolutionary Cinema”
In 1970, after the election of Salvador Allende as president, Miguel Littin wrote a manifesto in which he advocated for a cinema committed to the construction of socialism, where films are not revolutionary by themselves, instead, they become revolutionary once they mobilize their viewer to a “revolutionary action”. For the manifesto and for the films produced during Allende’s government, the notion of ‘popular’ (always used as an adjective next to “culture” and “cinema”) is vital in their understanding of revolutionary cinema, one that is realized in conjunction between the artist and his people ––the former aspiring to be the instrument of communication of the latter. However, neither “popular” nor “revolution” are clearly defined terms; they are constantly problematized by the manifesto, the films and the dialogue they both undertook with the “Chilean Road” to socialism.
A more useful approach to the uniqueness of this filmic project could be the study of the Latin American term pueblo, a notion relying, on the one hand, on nationality and class, and on the other, on a common continental experience of neo-colonization and underdevelopment. This presentation seeks to examine the ways in which the idea of pueblo is represented in these films as well as performed by them, and the ways in which it sought to become a different type of spectatorship ––if it ever became one. In this artistic utopia pueblo is at the same time the subject that produces, the object of its representation, and the group that views it in order to transform reality. But if we grant that this utopia never got to be, what part of if did happen? What is the relationship of these films, by themselves, to the reality they wished to transform? And to whom belonged their discourse ––those who generated it or the pueblo represented in it?
Niels Niessen (University of Minnesota):
“ACCESS DENIED: Godard Palestine Representation”
At some point in the second movement of Jean-Luc Godard’s 2010 Film socialisme--his first feature to be entirely shot, edited, and produced with digital means--Florine, a Godard heroine who will kill you if you mock Balzac, thinks out loud: “He bien mère on entre dans une époque avec le numérique où pour des raisons différentes l’humanité sera confrontée à des problèmes Pas laisser le luxe de s’exprimer” (subtitled as: “age digital technology / humanity problems / not allow luxury / expressing oneself”). To what extent can Florine’s statement be read as representative of Film socialisme’s own intervention into or stance toward the world? Of course, with Godard, whose films confront the question of representation over and again, one should resist the desire to take images and statements at face value, let alone cite them out of the contexts in which they appear. Yet, sometimes also in Godard statements really seem to mean what they mean, which is the case, so I will argue, with Florine’s hesitative reflection. So what precisely are these problems that have become increasingly difficult to express in the digital age? How new is this “age” actually? And what does Film socialisme leave unexpressed? At least one answer to this last question is made obvious by the film itself: “Palestine,” which is simultaneously presented as a territory, an idea, and an idea of a territory. Through a very close reading, the concept of which I will explain, of Film socialisme’s representation of the alleged impossibility to represent Palestine, I will argue that by carrying the crisis of representation, in cinema and in general, into the digital age Godard’s Film socialisme forms another chapter in the self-reflexive flight forward that may be seen as the driving force behind Godard’s oeuvre. “How can cinema express our time, and especially the atrocities of our time?” such is the question that Godard keeps raising, from Les Carabiniers (1963) to Film socialisme. The answer has remained the same.
12. The Politics of Creativity II: Reimagined Community
Patricia Healy McMeans (MCAD):
“Contemporary Artist/Audience Collaboration and its Discontents: Or, Where Bourriaud Went Wrong, and Santiago Sierra's Pissed Off, or Should Be”
Roundtable Discussion with Sam Gould of collaborative Red76 [Portland/Brooklyn/Mpls] and A. J. Warnick of Art of This [Mpls] and FutureFarmers [San Francisco].
Having now moved beyond both Relational Aesthetics and Social Practice, this offers an examination of the current critical state in which we find ourselves. Following Nicholas Bourriaud to Claire Bishop to Harrell Fletcher's PSU program to Future Farmers and then beyond, I present a thoughtful discussion about what the hell might be going on, and how can one be critical when entering into an art piece where, say, we all arrive and play Pictionary.
Ruth Voights (MCAD):
“The Trickster as Political Subversive in Native American Art: The Writings of Gerald Vizenor”
Using the short stories of Gerald Vizenor, I will briefly explore how the traditional tribal trickster's behavior-humor, inversions and excesses-continue to infuse the aesthetics and creativity of Native artists, and, even more importantly, insure the continuity of Native American culture.
George Hoagland (Program in Cultural Studies in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at UMD):
"Paul Beatty, Myth, and Resistance"
Paul Beatty's depictions of impossible narrative endings illustrate the relationship between history and literature through myth, and suggest that myth anticipates history. By breaking certain mythologies open, Beatty offers a critique of the means by which myth produces some of the social forces at work in contemporary literature, as well as an interrogation of the imposed limits of mythological representation, in order to promote a richer understanding of myth's potential.
13. The Image in Crisis
Katherine Lawless (University of Western Ontario):
“Marcelo Brodksy and the Politics of Trauma”
The crisis of representation that accompanied the Holocaust testifies to a tension between historical trauma and its representation. This tension is taken up by contemporary installation artists who expose the political limitations of what Foucault calls the “classical order of representation” (1966) and what Ranciere terms the “representative regime” (2004), a regime in which history takes the form of a unified narrative and nothing must exceed the frame of representation. In this context, the photograph operates as a form of empirical evidence and its political engagement is reduced to the content of its expression, while traumatic experience is relegated to the realm of the unrepresentable. However, as a structure of analysis, trauma reveals a dissonance between the cohesive world of classical representation and its after-image.
Within this framework, my paper examines the ways in which the photographic installations of Argentinian artist Marcelo Brodsky intervene in the assumed relationship between photography and history. Focusing largely on the state terrorism carried out under Argentina’s military dictatorship during the late 70s and early 80s, Brodsky’s installations—Buena Memoria and Nexo, in particular—have primarily been interpreted as a project of recovering “the memories of those who have been lost” (Arruti 2007). In this interpretation, the politics of Brodsky’s representations of historical trauma are elided through a series of metonymic re-classifications: the photographic document stands in for the figure of the disappeared, which, as a cipher for the unrepresentable, is reified as lost memory. Drawing on Ranciere’s conception of the “aesthetic unconscious” (2001) and Baer’s discussion of the structural relationship between photography and trauma (2005), I argue that Brodsky’s work institutes a political intervention not through his use of “the frozen photographic image to unlock memories” (Arruti 2007) but through his use of the “memory-trace” (Freud 1899) to stage a conflict between the unified narrative of history and its photographic remains.
Rachel Schaff (University of Minnesota):
“The Holodrama: Dialectic of Historicized Pathos and Action”
Why haven’t we moved past the never-ending discussion on the politics of Holocaust representation? Traditionally the Holocaust has been viewed as a “high” theme, incompatible with melodrama—a “low” genre. However, placing value on forms of representation and dismissing melodrama as “taboo” has not proven productive. Perhaps then, rather than approaching the Holocaust in terms of “realist history”—or to borrow Aristotelian terms, discussing Holocaust films in terms of “ethos”—how credible and trustworthy the narrative is (in terms of fidelity to the “real past”)—it is more productive to approach film representations of the Holocaust in terms of “pathos” –how the narrative moves us.
In my paper I will attempt to reconceptualize the historical and theoretical understandings of the Holocaust within melodrama and narrative theory to connect the Holocaust film to the melodramatic mode. My rethinking of Holocaust film narratives—my original concept of the Holodrama—relies on three major concepts. First: Regardless of the politics that surround the representation of the Holocaust, it is a historical event, and thus not exempt from the rules that govern the historical film narrative. What this means is, the condition of history is that we can never return to re-live the events. Second: Because Hollywood and Czechoslovak Holocaust films approach the historical events of the Holocaust from different historical experiences, and therefore represent different historical perspectives, I argue that any historical film narrative is dictated by a “national” and cultural-specific historical condition. And third: Both the condition of history and the historical condition of a Holocaust film narrative changes our narrative expectations, so that we enter the film with a predetermined timeline of historical events (plot points), the pre-learned knowledge of what will happen, and how we are supposed to be affected. What this means is that any Holocaust film narrative (and any historical film narrative) produces what I call a historicized pathos.
Ilona Molnar (York University):
“Silence on the Scene: Metonymy and Melancholy in the Wake of Regime Change”
In this paper, I argue that the errant boy of Bergman’s Silence screens not the separation of the body from its letter, but the projection of political desire out of their disparity. Melancholia continues to attach to Imre Kertész and Peter Esterhazy’s fixation on interiority.
Bergman’s 1963 film opens the question of translation’s supplementary role within, rather than across genders. Derrida clears the translator as the author’s muse. But in Silence each frame threatens, as Samuel Delaney writes of the unspeakable, “…to pierce some ultimate and final interiority,” which conditions the impossibility of desire between sisters. In the meanderings of their prepubescent son, metonymized along a circuit of pleasure the body abandons the metaphor, or law, of reproduction. Melancholic deadlock gives up on what Eric Santner calls its “elegiac loop.”
I ask of two sistered texts playing on the bitter strings of regime change in 1991 Hungary: what are the politics of melancholy when, like Bergman’s child at play, one no longer awaits the deceased master at the gates of a train station, as does the dog Hachiko of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil? Imre Kertész’s “Sworn Statement,” identifies the loss of agape with the impossibility of an embodied politic. Peter Esterhazy’s “Life and Literature” ironizes Kertész’s refusal—an attachment to the scene of loss—but substitutes, rather than supplementing in Derrida’s sense, metonymic play for the political. The indiscernibility of the signifier from the movement of the political becomes a screen that articulates a separation, elevating aesthetics above politics to get around “signification trauma,” offering it as a consolation prize for injustice.
Robert Wilike (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse):
“Gaming Ideology: Labor and Class in the ‘Ludo Ecomony’”
Gaming Ideology: Labor and Class in the 'Ludo-Economy'"
According to thinkers allied with the Autonomia movement—such as Antonio Negri and Paulo Virno—the industrial age of capitalism, which was premised upon the exploitation of "material" labor by capital, has given way to a new economic regime built upon the expropriation of the cultural commons produced by "immaterial" labor, including "ideas, information, images, knowledges, code, languages, social relationships, affects and the like" (Hardt, "The Common in Communism" 134-135).
It is this model of immaterial labor that has become increasingly influential in the study of videogames as embodying a new economic paradigm in both high theory— Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter's Games of Empire and Wark's Gamer Theory—as well as popular commentaries—McGonical's Reality is Broken and Chatfield's Fun Inc.—in which value is understood, for better or worse, as produced and harvested by "trapping the innovations of game player-producers within commercial structures" (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter xxx). According to this logic, videogames have come to reflect the central contradictions of an immaterial economy which "erode[s] the conventional divisions of the working day between work time and nonwork time" (Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth 147) by turning the "play" of gamers into a mechanism for the accumulation of affective, aesthetic and informational value.
In my paper, I will examine the deep influence of the Autonomia movement's theory of immaterial labor on contemporary readings of videogames as the emerging cultural model of "ludocapitalism" (Dibbell, Play Money). Analyzing the theory of "immaterial labor" in some detail, I will argue that videogames, far from representing a new economic model based upon the common production of a class of videogame player-producers, are best understood in terms of Marx's revolutionary "labor theory of value," lest we obscure the economic realities of exploitation by abstracting technological advances from the social relations of production.
Kimberly DeFazio (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse):
“Tool Aesthetics and the Humanities”
Today one of the urgent issues confronting the humanities is the growing instrumentalization of knowledge and culture. Some, like Giorgio Agamben, address the increasing efforts of the state to control and manage all aspects of human and non-human life (Homo Sacer). Others, like Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, focus on the efforts by corporations to privatize the knowledges, affects and technologies that have been developed through the collective energies of the multitude: the efforts to enclose the digital commons in the interests of a powerful few (Commonwealth). Graham Harman goes so far as to suggest that the “being” of tools is constitutive of all being in the contemporary moment (Tool-Being). What are the implications for resistance in the era of the digital enclosures? How can the humanities most effectively challenge calculative reason?
This paper focuses especially on Negri’s (“peasant”) “religiosity of the tool” (In Praise of the Common)—which blurs the boundary of the subject of labor and nature—as an index of the way in which technology in the contemporary moment is undergoing a re-enchantment. On these terms, the humanities need to embrace technology as the space of “immanent” resistance (Commonwealth) and what Thomas Streeter calls the “spontaneity” of countercultural non-conformism against calculation and instrumentalization (The Net-Effect). I argue that these approaches are ultimately a re-reading of Benjamin’s theory of technology, which is itself premised on the displacement of dialectics for immanence. Through Benjamin, new digital and biotechnologies are being read as a means of harnessing technology’s potential for cognitive and perceptual transformation. But this is an immanent transformation within the relations of biocapitalism, which leaves the class relations between labor and capital intact. In effect, I argue, contemporary theories of techne embrace a new romanticism which substitutes mysticism for materialism and forgets both that “aura-“ shattering technologies are themselves shaped by the mode of production and thus that only when technologies are collectively owned can technology help to realize human potentiality.
Eiland Glover (Georgia State University):
“Thinging Thing, Worlding World: Viaggio in Italia’s Deictic Cinema as Model for a Radical Humanities”
The enigmatic diegetic turnabout at the end of Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy has both charmed and confounded its critics since its 1954 debut. After portraying the steady deterioration of Katherine and Alex Joyce’s marriage over its first 80 minutes, the film ends unexpectedly with the couple’s spontaneous—even miraculous—embrace and reconciliation in its final 60 seconds. Yet this narrative unorthodoxy represents only one of Rossellini’s many aesthetic innovations in Voyage to Italy, a film resounding with meaningfulness in spite of the fact that, in it, nothing much happens.
My paper will explore the ways Voyage to Italy aesthetically creates this phenomenon of “meaningfulness” in terms of (late) Heidegger’s concepts of the “thing thinging” and “world worlding” (world-disclosing). I will begin with an overview of Heidegger’s understanding of historical modes of being and then discuss the current epoch of being, Gestell (technology, enframing, technicity), one in which all things—nature, the earth, people, etc.—show up primarily as resources to be made efficient and maximized. I will then argue that Gestell as mode of being remains more deeply determinative of politics than economics or class and, as such, should be targeted by radical cultural and aesthetic praxis.
Following Borgmann, I will then distinguish 3 modes of discourse—apodeictic, paradeictic, and deictic—operating currently in relation to Gestell: Apodeictic describes the universalizing, explanatory discourse of the natural sciences that justifies and underwrites the technological mode of being; Paradeictic, the mode of discourse in which the humanities are mistakenly and deleteriously enmeshed, amounts to an epistemologically lacking pseudo-apodeictic discourse that attempts to emulate the empirical sciences with totalizing grand theory; Deictic discourse, embodied in the aesthetic practices of Voyage to Italy, represents a world-founding discourse (thinging things) that may counter Gestell. I will finally show how the humanities may adopt a deictic discourse.