ACLA pre-conference Masterclasses on Memory, New Materialism, Human Rights and Decolonized Humanism

In the run-up to the 2017 annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association (to take place in Utrecht July 6-9), there will be four masterclasses for Research Master students and PhD candidates.

Students registered with the following research schools are eligible: OSL, NOG, ASCA, NICA.

The masterclasses are limited to 20 participants.

In order to receive credit (1 EC), students are required to take two of these masterclasses (you can pick any combination, but you must register by 18 June 2017.
Registration: Please Note: When registering, please fill in at remarks which two masterclasses you would like to attend.

Each masterclass will take two hours and require the preparation of 2-3 articles or book chapters. The required readings will be made available to registered participants ahead of time. Please prepare the readings carefully and be ready to discuss the texts and ask productive discussion questions.

Masterclass 1: Prof. Max Silverman (Modern French Studies  – University of Leeds)

Tuesday, July 4
17.00 – 19.00
Drift 23, Room 103
Utrecht University

Palimpsestic Memory and the Art of the Invisible

Recent developments in cultural memory studies have moved away from ideas of memory as simply being linked to the shared past of a social, ethnic or national community to explore the ways in which memory ‘travels’ across communities, nations and generations, especially in the contemporary age of global communication flows. An accompanying development suggests that memory is not a fixed monument to the past but is, instead, a dynamic, productive and imaginative process which is performed in the present. In my own contribution to these debates, I have used the figure of the palimpsest and the notion of ‘noeuds de mémoire’ (knots of memory) to highlight the unstable and hybrid nature of memory as traces of different voices, times and places are interwoven, overlaid and transformed through their interaction. In this workshop we will consider the following dimensions of this more fluid and polyphonic concept of memory: temporality, ethics, narrative, politics, the affective and the performative.

Bio:

Max Silverman is Professor of Modern French Studies at the University of Leeds. He works on post-Holocaust culture, postcolonial theory and cultures, and questions of memory, race and violence. His most recent monograph, entitled Palimpsestic Memory: the Holocaust and Colonialism in French and Francophone Fiction and Film (Berghahn, 2013), considered the connections between the Holocaust and colonialism in the French and Francophone cultural imaginary. He has recently published three co-edited books with Griselda Pollock on the theme of the ‘concentrationary’: Concentrationary Cinema: Aesthetics as Political Resistance in Alain Resnais’s ‘Night and Fog’ (Berghahn, 2011), Concentrationary Memories: Totalitarian Terror and Cultural Resistance (I. B. Tauris, 2014) and Concentrationary Imaginaries: Tracing Totalitarian Violence in Popular Culture (I. B. Tauris, 2015). He is currently working on the fourth and final volume in this series entitled Concentrationary Art and his next monograph entitled The Art of the Invisible.

Masterclass 2: Prof. Stathis Gourgouris (Comparative Literature – Columbia University)

Wednesday, July 5
11.00 – 13.00
Drift 23, Room 103
Utrecht University

Humanism from the Standpoint of Decolonization

While radical European thought in the second half of the 20th century turned into an explicitly anti-humanist theory in order to battle the collusion of humanist ideas with colonial power, the exact reverse happened in the historical juncture of decolonization. Radical intellectuals in the non-European tradition (from M.N. Roy to Césaire, Senghor, and Fanon, and all the way to Sylvia Wynter and Edward Said) proposed an alternative humanism — a “non-humanist humanism” in Said’s phrase — that spearheaded the battlefront against the dehumanization of the colonial experience. This decolonized humanism may be again precisely the source of resistance to posthumanist globalization.

In addition to establishing a historical trajectory, in the class we will address key texts from the negritude debates (especially Césaire and Fanon) as well as Said’s Humanism and Democratic Criticism.

Bio: Stathis Gourgouris is Professor of Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University, and author of Dream Nation (1996), Does Literature Think? (2003), and Lessons in Secular Criticism (2013). He writes and teaches on a variety of subjects that ultimately come together around questions of the poetics and politics of modernity and democracy.

Masterclass 3: Prof. Vicki Kirby (Sociology in the School of Social Sciences – UNSW Sydney)

Wednesday, July 5
15.00 – 17.00
Drift 23, Room 103
Utrecht University

New Materialism: a Problem Resolved or Displaced?

The interventionary importance of new materialist strategies is often explained as a corrective to the over-reach of the linguistic turn and an acknowledgement of the failures of constructionist arguments. A consequence of this freeing up has been a more robust engagement with the sciences, with plants, animals, climate change, geology and even physics. Not surprisingly, the critique of human exceptionalism is an inevitable corollary of this turning outward and away from what now appears as human solipsism. Does this more generous and inclusive vision, with its liberation of analytical methodologies and research “objects,” effectively trump the insights and complexities of the linguistic turn in ways that exceed mere assertion? Where is the reference point that will anchor our evaluation?  And should we care if we can’t find one?

Bio:

Vicki Kirby is Professor of Sociology in the School of Social Sciences, UNSW Sydney.  She is a prominent figure in feminist and new materialist debates and in recent attempts to review the work of Jacques Derrida in vitalist terms.  More recent books include (ed.) What If Culture Was Nature All Along? (Edinburgh University Press) and Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large (Duke).  She has articles forthcoming in PhiloSophiaJournal for the Theory of Social Behaviour and a chapter in David Woods et al. eds., Eco-Deconstruction (Fordham UP)

Readings:

  • (2017) Kirby, Vicki, “Matter out of Place: ‘New Materialism’ in review” in Vicki Kirby (ed.), What if Culture was really Nature all along? Edinburgh University Press. pp. 1-25.
  • (2015) Kirby, Vicki “Transgression: normativity’s self-inversion” differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 96-116.
  • (2006) Kirby, Vicki, “Language, Power, Performativity – Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’” in Vicki Kirby, Judith Butler: Live Theory Continuum. pp. 65-85.

Masterclass 4: Prof. Joseph Slaughter (English and Comparative Literature – Columbia University)

Thursday, July 6
11.00 – 13.00
Drift 23, Room 103
Utrecht University

Literature, Human Rights, and Neoliberalism; or, What’s Wrong with Empathy?

Most literature and many legal scholars seem to agree that “the historic mission of ‘contemporary’ human rights is to give voice to human suffering, to make it visible, and to ameliorate it,” as Upendra Baxi has written. In the face of a general consensus that human rights are about storytelling, we should consider the role played by the so-called narrative turn in narrowing ideas of human rights to the suffering of individuals and in promoting personal sympathy as the proper response to it. The “narrative turn” in human rights can be tracked to the 1970s, when personal stories and appeals to empathy became (the) primary tools in much Western human rights work—best emblematized, perhaps, in the efforts of groups such as Amnesty International that encouraged individuals to enter into imaginary empathetic relationships with the injuries of distant others. This seminar will consider some of the costs of this narrative turn: what are the consequences for human rights? what has this done to literature? are we defending literary studies (and the humanities more generally) in terms that promote the neoliberalization of a moral economy?

Bio:

Joseph Slaughter is currently President of the American Comparative Literature Association. He teaches postcolonial literature and theory, human rights, and third-world approaches to international law in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He has published numerous articles on African and Latin American literature, human rights, and intellectual property. His book Human Rights, Inc: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law, which excavates the shared logic underpinning human rights law and the form and ideology of the Bildungsroman, won the 2008 René Wellek Prize for Comparative Literature and Cultural Theory. He is finishing two books: New Word Orders, on intellectual property and world literature, and Pathetic Fallacies, a collection of essays on human rights and the humanities.