How is the present-day return to Marx a different one from that of global 1968? A renewed interest in political economy is leading cultural critics and social theorists to ask fundamental questions about how capital reproduces itself both through and beyond the wage relation: how it makes and unmakes classes across modes of production, creates surplus and disposable populations that are racialized and gendered, and requires both unexploited and waste spaces, in its quest to produce value.
For humanities scholars, this attention to value-production opens the possibility of thinking beyond some of the main strands of twentieth century Marxist criticism, especially debates about modernity, ideology, and form. In the heyday of “the cultural turn,” Marxist debates tended to center on modernity rather than capitalism as a temporal and spatial concept. Meanwhile, transformations in the idea of ideology were transferred to the analysis of culture largely by way of Marx’s concept of base and superstructure: that is, an idea of capitalism as driven by an economic “base” that shaped, more or less directly, a range of cultural and ideological practices. And, of course, the quest for a formalism adequate to historical change lay at the center of earlier intra-Marxist debates about art and literature, such as the one between Bertolt Brecht and Georg Lukács in the 1930s. Each of these strands of Marxist thinking, though, left us with a legacy of antinomies between class and identity, culture and economy, and form and history. In three panels across the course of the day, fifteen scholars will gather to discuss the opportunities for a Marxist cultural criticism and aesthetic theory that moves past these oppositions.
In the enchanted world of Braj, the primary pilgrimage center in north India for worshippers of Krishna, each stone, river, and tree is considered sacred. In Climate Change and the Art of Devotion (Washington, 2019), Sugata Ray shows how this place-centered theology emerged in the wake of the Little Ice Age (ca. 1550-1850), an epoch marked by climatic catastrophes across the globe. In a major contribution to the emerging field of eco-art history, Ray compares early modern conceptions of the environment and current assumptions about nature and culture. Examining architecture, paintings, photography, and prints created in Braj alongside theological treatises and devotional poetry, he explores seepages between the natural ecosystem and cultural production.
Ray is joined by his colleague in the history of art at UCB and Representations editorial board member Whitney Davis. After a brief conversation about the book, they open the floor for discussion.
In discussing her book, Professor Jones-Rogers will engage with two UC Berkeley colleagues: Bryan Wagner*, Associate Professor in the Department of English, and Leslie Salzinger, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies.
Bridging women’s history, the history of the South, and African American history, this book makes a bold argument about the role of white women in American slavery. Jones-Rogers draws on a variety of sources to show that slave-owning women were sophisticated economic actors who directly engaged in and benefited from the South’s slave market. Because women typically inherited more slaves than land, enslaved people were often their primary source of wealth. Not only did white women often refuse to cede ownership of their slaves to their husbands, they employed management techniques that were as effective and brutal as those used by slave-owning men. White women actively participated in the slave market, profited from it, and used it for economic and social empowerment. By examining the economically entangled lives of enslaved people and slave-owning women, Jones-Rogers presents a narrative that forces us to rethink the economics and social conventions of slaveholding America.
Three distinguished UC Berkeley scholars—Ian Duncan, Representations editorial board member and Florence Green Bixby Chair in the English Department, Mark Bevir, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for British Studies, and Akasemi Newsome, Associate Director of the Institute of European Studies—will discuss important questions about Brexit, when the United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union. What’s next for Brexit? Will a deal be reached, and if not, what are the implications of another delay? How will Brexit transform political and economic life in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world?
Ilia Zdanevich, known as Iliazd, was a Russian Futurist writer, typographer, and book designer who moved to Paris in 1921, published the first anthology of experimental visual and sound poetry in the late 1940s, and became a producer of livres d’artistes until his death in 1975. His books included collaborations with many celebrated modern artists—Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and others—and are much sought after by bibliophiles and collectors. But does appreciation of the books depend upon information about his life? And what are the practical and critical challenges in constructing a biography? What is the relationship between archival evidence and narrative? How do we read an individual life in relation to enormous forces and events of history (Revolution, world wars)? What taboos and lines of privacy need to be respected and when? What relation does the constructed persona of a biographical subject have to their work? The recently completed, Encountering Iliazd: Memoir of a Biographical Project, addresses these and other issues and forms the case study for considering these questions more broadly.
Johanna Drucker is a writer, scholar, and artist who began making books in the 1970s. Her work is represented in major collections and archives. She has published widely on topics related to the history of the book, visual poetry, digital humanities, and graphical forms of knowledge production. Titles include: The Century of Artists’ Books (Granary, 1994), The Alphabetic Labyrinth (Thames and Hudson, 1994), SpecLab (Chicago, 2009), Graphesis (Harvard, 2014), and Downdrift (Three Rooms Press, 2018).
Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019 | 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm | Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall | UC Berkeley
It passes for an unassailable truth that the slave past provides an explanatory prism for understanding the black political present. In None Like Us Stephen Best reappraises what he calls “melancholy historicism”—a kind of crime scene investigation in which the forensic imagination is directed toward the recovery of a “we” at the point of “our” violent origin. Best argues that there is and can be no “we” following from such a time and place, that black identity is constituted in and through negation, taking inspiration from David Walker’s prayer that “none like us may ever live again until time shall be no more.” Best draws out the connections between a sense of impossible black sociality and strains of negativity that have operated under the sign of queer. In None Like Us the art of El Anatsui and Mark Bradford, the literature of Toni Morrison and Gwendolyn Brooks, even rumors in the archive, evidence an apocalyptic aesthetics, or self-eclipse, which opens the circuits between past and present and thus charts a queer future for black study.
Stephen Best is Associate Professor of English at UC Berkeley. His research pursuits in the fields of American and African American criticism have been closely aligned with a broader interrogation of recent literary critical practice. Specifically, his interest in the critical nexus between slavery and historiography, in the varying scholarly and political preoccupations with establishing the authority of the slave past in black life, quadrates with his exploration of where the limits of historicism as a mode of literary study may lay, especially where that search manifests as an interest in alternatives to suspicious reading in the text-based disciplines.
He has edited a number of special issues of Representations:“Redress” (with Saidiya Hartman), on theoretical and political projects to undo the slave past; “The Way We Read Now” (with Sharon Marcus), on the limits of symptomatic reading; and “Description Across Disciplines” (with Sharon Marcus and Heather Love), on disciplinary valuations of description as critical practice. In addition to None Like Us, he is the author of The Fugitive’s Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession.
Imagine trying to tell someone something about yourself and your desires for which there are no words. What if the mere attempt at expression was bound to misfire, to efface the truth of that ineluctable something?
In Someone, Michael Lucey considers characters from twentieth-century French literary texts whose sexual forms prove difficult to conceptualize or represent. The characters expressing these “misfit” sexualities gravitate towards same-sex encounters. Yet they differ in subtle but crucial ways from mainstream gay or lesbian identities—whether because of a discordance between gender identity and sexuality, practices specific to a certain place and time, or the fleetingness or non-exclusivity of desire. Investigating works by Simone de Beauvoir, Colette, Jean Genet, and others, Lucey probes both the range of same-sex sexual forms in twentieth-century France and the innovative literary language authors have used to explore these evanescent forms.
Michael Lucey is Professor of Comparative Literature and French at UC Berkeley, where he specializes in French literature and culture of the 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-centuries. He is also the co-editor of Representations‘ “Language In Use”special issue and the author of several essays in this journal.
Techniques of Memory Landscape, Iconoclasm, Medium and Power
April 17-18, 2019
David Brower Center, Berkeley, CA
The foundational literature on memorialization, which includes classics such as Pierre Nora’s Lieux de Memoire, James Young’s The Texture of Memory, Andreas Huyssen’s Twilight Memories, dealt with a historical phenomenon rooted in the 80s and heightened by anxieties about the new millennium. Nearly three decades later it seems pressing to reassess the role that memory and its physical manifestations –memorials, monuments, plaques, calendars, photographs– play in our contemporary world. The 2019 Global Urban Humanities conference, Techniques of Memory, invites scholars, practitioners, artists, architects, and activists to come together to analyze memorialization as a historical phenomenon, discuss the contemporary role of memorials, and examine the changing role of memory in diverse geographical areas and historical periods.
Techniques of Memory: Landscape, Iconoclasm, Medium and Power is a two-day symposium organized by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative at UC Berkeley, from April 17th to 18th 2019 at the David Brower Center in Downtown Berkeley. Following the principles of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, our symposium seeks to bring together not only scholars, but practitioners, activists and artists to think about monuments, memorial landscapes, iconoclasm, mediums and materiality, as well as memory politics and power from the unique interdisciplinary standpoint that this platform provides.
Conference/Symposium | April 3 – 4, 2019 both days | 5-7 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley
Michael Silverstein, University of Chicago; Jackie Urla, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Tristram Wolff, Northwestern University; Judith Irvine, University of Michigan; Sarah Kessler, University of Southern California
This is the sixth of seven two-day meetings of a Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar taking place throughout 2018-2019 at Berkeley. The seminar aims to explore the potential of a set of concepts, tools, and critical practices developed in the field of linguistic anthropology for work being done in the fields of literary and cultural criticism.
Rusty Barrett, University of Kentucky; Howard Fisher, UC Berkeley; Roshanak Kheshti, UC San Diego; Michael Lucey, UC Berkeley; Damon Young, UC Berkeley; Don Kulick, Uppsala University
If we take as a starting place that sexuality and gender are in part social facts, that while they often feel intensely personal and interior, they are nonetheless to a great extent collective phenomena, involving collective representations that are produced through human interaction, and that they are enacted by means of social forms – combinations of collective representations, sets of practices and inclinations that become institutions, differentially distributed across a social field, subject to modification both by external forces and by the cumulative effect of individual actions –, then we can see easily enough why they are variable across time and space in unpredictable ways, and why, when we deal with these social facts and forms in our interactions with others, we are necessarily involved in ongoing acts of negotiation, contestation, and translation – not only between languages, but also often between implicit arrays of cultural concepts that we use to make the world intelligible to ourselves.
Linguistic anthropological work demonstrates how socio-conceptual structures of various kinds are immanent in, implicit in, everyone’s speech; we could say that those structures are indexed by or invoked through what we say. If something of our social world is shared by our interlocutor, if our interlocutor can reconstruct something of the point of view from which we speak, our implicit invocation of various conceptual structures will be part of what makes us intelligible to them, despite whatever implicitness may be involved in our utterances. Speech about gender and sexuality can serve as a vehicle for conveying a large array of cultural concepts, for staking a point of view on the social world at large. This has practical implications for different kinds of translation, even translation understood in the very basic sense of translating a passage from a memoir or a passage from a novel in which sexuality is in question from French into English – when clearly what must be (but really cannot adequately be) translated is not exactly the words in question so much as the point of view on the social world that those words index. “Is there,” Michael Silverstein has asked, “a sociocultural unconscious in the mind—wherever that is located in respect of the biological organism—that is both immanent in and emergent from our use of language? Can we ever profoundly study the social significance of language without understanding this sociocultural unconscious that it seems to reveal? And if it is correct that language is the principal exemplar, medium, and site of the cultural, then can we ever understand the cultural without understanding this particular conceptual dimension of language?”
This is the fifth of seven two-day meetings of a Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar taking place throughout 2018-2019 at UCB. The seminar aims to explore the potential of a set of concepts, tools, and critical practices developed in the field of linguistic anthropology for work being done in the fields of literary and cultural criticism.