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.
In this talk Ted Underwood will use science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and the Gothic to explore the advantages of an approach that asks data science to contribute to the humanities by adding perspectival flexibility, rather than sheer scale. Underwood trained predictive models of these genres using ground truth drawn from various sources and periods (19c reviewers, early 20c bibliographies, contemporary librarians), in order to explore how implicit assumptions about genre consolidate or change across time.
This lecture is drawn from Rey Chow’s chapter in the anthology Sound Objects (Duke UP, forthcoming), co-edited by Chow and James A. Steintrager. By foregrounding crucial connections among sound studies, poststructuralist theory, and contemporary acousmatic experiences, the lecture presents listening as a trans-disciplinary problematic through which different fields of study resonate in fascinating ways.
Rey Chow’s research comprises theoretical, interdisciplinary, and textual analyses. Since her years as a graduate student at Stanford University, she has specialized in the making of cultural forms such as literature and film (with particular attention to East Asia, Western Europe, and North America), and in the discursive encounters among modernity, sexuality, postcoloniality, and ethnicity. In her current work, Chow is concerned with the legacies of poststructuralist theory (in particular the work of Michel Foucault), the politics of language as a postcolonial phenomenon, and the shifting paradigms for knowledge and lived experience in the age of visual technologies and digital media.
REY CHOW is Anne Firor Scott Professor of Literature at Duke University. In addition to her work on Sound Objects, she is the author of numerous influential monographs, including 2014’s Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience. Her most recent publication in Representations is “The Hitchcockian Nudge; or, An Aesthetics of Deception,” written with Markos Hadjioannou, published in number 140, Fall 2017.
In The Tar Baby: A Global History (Princeton, 2017), Bryan Wagner explores how the tar baby tale, thought to have originated in Africa, came to exist in hundreds of forms on five continents. Examining the fable’s variation, reception, and dispersal over time, he argues that this story of a fox, a rabbit, and a doll made of tar and turpentine is best understood not merely as a folktale but as a collective work in political philosophy. Circulating at the same time and in the same places as new ideas about property and politics developed in colonial law and political economy, the tar baby comes to embody an understanding of the interlocking systems of slavery, colonialism, and global trade.
Bryan Wagner is Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on African American expression in the context of slavery and its aftermath. In addition to The Tar Baby, he is the author of Disturbing the Peace: Black Culture and the Police Power after Slavery. His essay “Disarmed and Dangerous: The Strange Career of Bras-Coupé” appeared in Representations 92.