Inhumanities: UCLA Comparative Literature Graduate Student Conference
Plenary speakers include: Samera Esmeir (UC Berkeley), David T. Goldberg (UC Irvine), Marc Nichanian (Independent Scholar), Leela Gandhi (University of Chicago)
Saturday, February 23, 2013
9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
306 Royce Hall
The term inhumanity is most often evoked as a moral condemnation, marking and redeeming the human. In contemporary global politics, inhumanities are acts of violence and brutality expelled from humanity’s realm, demanding and justifying humanity’s intervention. And yet, the human/inhuman divide is itself marked by violence; a history of slavery, colonialism, apartheid, and war have shown how definitions of the human and of humanism, be they conceptual, juridical or aesthetic, have underlined and participated in brutal forms of dehumanization.
Today, emergent technologies of necropolitics continue to render entire populations disposable. In scholarship of the past decades, anti-humanist deconstruction, manifest for example in Lyotard’s reclamation of the inhuman, has given way to post-humanist accounts of new forms of creative evolution, refusing to keep various species of organisms, technologies and matters apart, constructing new ontologies of ethical thinking beyond or apart from the human, and provoking the emergence of figures such as the cyborg, the homo sacer, the negated or affective subject, the planetary creature, ephemeral specters and vibrant matter, among others. Theory after the human often turns to biological and technological discourses, taking place conspicuously at the same moment as an institutional divestment of the Humanities.
At this time of disciplinary transition, this conference seeks to question the political and aesthetic currencies of various theories of the inhuman. We wish to reflect on inhumanities as conceptual, figurative, temporal, geo-political, or juridical moments in which the human is marked as an absence, suspended or negated, and at the same time, to consider the human’s persistence and resistance to these operations.
9:00 Breakfast (provided)
9:30-11:00 Phenomenology/Ontology of Subject
- Laura McMahon, “(In)human Violence: Embodied Breakdowns in Merleau-Ponty”
- Daniel Sacilotto, “Rational Agency Beyond The Deconstruction of the Subject”
11:15-12:45 Guest Lecture – Marc Nichanian, “The inhuman: An experiment (Georges Bataille)”
Respondent: Professor Eleanor Kaufman, Department of Comparative Literature
12:45-2pm Lunch (provided)
2:00-3:30 Inhuman Subjects
- Tamara Beauchamp, ““A small mark, a white stone”: Violence, Anxiety, and the Limits of the Human in passage à l’acte”
- Danielle Drori, “Inhuman Virgins: Antigone and Jephthah’s Daughter”
- Chris Chamberlin, “Intimately Inhuman: Blackness, Violence, and Maternal Incapacity”
3:45-6pm Concluding Panel
- Samera Esmeir, “In the Land of the International: Reflections on Liberation, Struggle and Law”
- David T. Goldberg, “Wallcraft: The Politics of Walling”
Discussants: Professors Aamir Mufti and Nouri Gana, Department of Comparative Literature
Samera Esmeir (UC Berkeley)
My research and teaching are at the intersection of legal and political thought, Middle Eastern history and colonial and post-colonial studies. My central intellectual focus thus far has been to examine how late-modern colonialism, with a particular focus on the Middle East, has introduced liberal juridical logics and grammars that in turn shaped modalities of political praxis, and how those have persisted in the post-colonial era and have traveled in different countries in the Middle East. My first book, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (forthcoming, Spring 2012, Stanford University Press), pursues this problem in relation to colonial Egypt and examines how colonial juridical powers have reconfigured the concept of the human during the late-modern colonial era by bonding the human to the law.
I am currently working on a second book project also guided by the intersectionality of law and politics. The project examines the encounter between revolutions and different legal traditions (including International law) since the eighteenth century, and traces the shifting legal sensibilities, and the legal theories informing them, to revolutions. In addition, I am working on a number of essays that focus on Palestine as a site for rethinking some concepts central to legal and political thought.
David T. Goldberg (UC Irvine)
David Theo Goldberg is the Director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, . Formerly Director and Professor of the School of Justice Studies, a law and social science program, at Arizona State University, he is the author of Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning (1993), Racial Subjects: Writing on Race in America (1997), and Ethical Theory and Social Issues (1990/1995). He edited Anatomy of Racism (1990) and Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader (1995). He is the founding co-editor of Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture. His current book, The Racial State, will be appearing early next year, as too will be co-edited collections on Race Critical Theories and on Rethinking Postcolonialism.
Marc Nichanian (Independent Scholar)
Marc Nichanian was Professor at Columbia University until 2007 and is currently Visiting Professor at Sabanci University, Istanbul, in the Department of Cultural Studies. As editor of the Armenian language series GAM, a philosophical review, he published six volumes from 1980 to 2005. His recent publications in French include La Perversion historiographique (2006, translated into English by Gil Anidjar, The Historiographic Perversion, 2008), and a three-volume study, Entre l’art et le témoignage (2006-2008), on Armenian literature in the 20th century, of which the first volume was already available in English: Writers of Disaster (2002). A translation of the second volume (Mourning Philology) will be released by Fordham University Press in 2013. He has translated Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ernst Jünger, Maurice Blanchot, Jean-Luc Nancy, among others, into Armenian.
Leela Gandhi (University of Chicago)
My research and teaching interests include sixteenth- and seventeenth-century drama, the culture of late-Victorian radicalism, Indo-Anglian literature, and Postcolonial theory. To date, my scholarly work has been driven by a methodological impulse toward disciplinary intersection and an accompanying inclination toward the overlapping and intertwined legacies borne of colonial encounter. Postcolonial Theory (1998), my first book, gave to me a formative understanding of two paradigmatic themes that have since formed the basis of my writing. The first of these is the view that colonialism instantiates a structural relation of ‘contrapuntality’ between West and non-West, and the second is the notion that colonialism also provokes surprising proximities and intimacies between unlikely cultures and entities: across West and non-West, within the West, and between various non-Western locales. The first theme I explored in a co-authored study, England Through Colonial Eyes (2001), which read ‘contrapuntality’ as shorthand for the discomfiting yet mutually transforming cosmopolitanism between coloniser and colonised. The second theme of counter-colonial proximity and intimacy, closer to my heart, finds its fullest expression in my recently published book, Affective Communities (2006). This book seeks to represent anticolonial politics as the product of numerous transnational collaborations, friendships and conversations between western and non-western dissidents. Motivated by what we might call, after M. K. Gandhi, a non-violent or ahimsaic historiography, it turns to the colonial encounter not for evidence of violence and conflict, but rather in search for small subjugated narratives of cross-cultural collaboration between oppressors and oppressed, concerned with a visionary commitment to the end of institutionalised suffering.
Retaining an emphasis upon the tropes of ‘accord’, ‘relation’ and ‘affect’, my current work pays closer attention to the insistent allegiance between ‘politics’ and ‘ethics’ in anticolonial endeavour. Hitherto my concern has been with the way certain ethical mentalities and practices achieved (often inadvertently) an external political effect when elaborated against the discursive background of imperial governmentality. My interest now is in the interiorised techniques or practices—the disciplinary work upon the self—consciously undertaken by the antagonistic yet collaborating subjects of anticolonial accord. The book-length study that I am in the midst of examines a series of historical conjunctures, events, phenomena, largely shaped by the events of the first two world wars, that I believe to have been especially congenial to the distillation of a postcolonial askesis.
For more information, visit the conference website.
Sponsor(s): Department of History, UCLA Law, Comparative Literature, English, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Campus Programs Committee, The Humanities Dean’s Discretionary Fund, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowships in the Humanities “Cultures in Transnational Perspective”, John Charles Hillis Chair of English Department, Postcolonial Theory & Literary Studies, GSA Humanities Council