Friday, March 19, 2010

Summer School: 8th Forum on Contemporary Theory, Department of English, University of Pune, June 14-July 10, 2010.

The Forum on Contemporary Theory has been conducting an intensive course in Theory/Praxis since 2003 for the benefit of scholars across disciplines interested in new developments in Theory and their application. The Course includes intensive textual readings in specific areas, supported by seminars and talks on broader but related issues. The Course will be held in the University of Pune from June 14 to July 10, 2010. COURSE OUTLINES The Course is organized around the following topics to be discussed in-depth by the core faculty, supported by public lectures and mini-seminars by the invited scholars. 1) Matters of Life & Death (Faculty: Costica Bradatan) The recent resurgence of the phenomenon of “suicide bombing” has starkly reminded us of the important political functions that a dying body can perform. From the Buddhist monks who immolated themselves in Vietnam in early 1960s to Jan Palach, who did the same thing in Czechoslovakia in 1969, from the Japanese kamikazes during the WWII to today’s suicide-bombers, the ways in which one’s violent death can be turned into an expressive political gesture have been as different as have the ultimate goals sought through such an act. However, despite its persistence and shocking occurrences, this type of voluntary death hasn’t yet received the theoretical treatment it deserves; social and political theorists are still to come up with a comprehensive and interdisciplinary understanding of the dying body as a carrier of political, ideological and religious messages. This course has been born precisely out of the felt need for such a broader understanding of the body and the political functions it can perform in radical situations. The primary theoretical premise on which the course is based is Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s insight that the “use a man is to make of his body is transcendent in relation to that body as a mere biological entity.” Drawing on this insight, we will be looking at various practices through which a body can be made to transcend itself. The course is dedicated to exploring the body as the locus of a number of fundamental experiences: the experience of a living (embodied) being, “thrown into the world,” of living in limit-situations (torture, starvation, physical degradation), the experience of finitude and imperfection, of overcoming one’s natural fear of death, finally the experience of self-transcending and re-signification through dying a violent voluntary death. We will be discussing several types of such voluntary death: martyrdom, self-immolation as a form of political protest, suicide-bombing and the kamikaze pilots. In terms of textual resources, we will be analyzing texts on the phenomenology of the body (Merleau-Ponty), on the phenomenology of death and dying (Heidegger, Landsberg and Michelstaedter), as well as scholarly literature on the posthumous significance that a “martyred body” can acquire in radicalized contexts (Girard). We will also examine fiction literature (Lev Tolstoy), literature by Nazi camp survivors such as Primo Levi and Jean Améry, as well as personal diaries left behind by Japanese kamikaze pilots. Finally, in order to make our approach more intuitive and, at the same time, more interdisciplinary, we will be watching and discussing a number of films on the subject by such major directors as Bergman, Pontecorvo, Benigni, and Iñárritu. Course Structure: • Session I: The Body as a Philosophical Problem; the Body and the World; Being-in-the-World. o Readings: Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, pp. 77-232; Heidegger, Being and Time, pp. 149-224. o Film viewing: 21 Grams (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu) • Session II: Death as a Philosophical Problem; Living with Death; Death and (the Quest for) Authenticity; Death, Irony and Humor o Readings: Heidegger, Being and Time, pp. 279-311; Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich; Michelstaedter, Persuasion and Rhetoric, pp. 7-57 o Film viewing: The Barbarian Invasions (Dir. Denys Arcand) • Session III: Overcoming the Fear of Death; Self-Transcending; Dying as a Rite of Passage; Death and Meaning o Readings: Plato, Apology; Landsberg, “The Experience of Death”; Michelstaedter, Persuasion and Rhetoric, pp. 61-100 o Film viewing: The Seventh Seal (Dir. Ingmar Bergman) • Session IV: Marked for Death; Torture and Resistance; Scapegoating; o Readings: Améry, “Torture,” pp. 21-40; Girard, The Scapegoat, pp. 1-75 o Film viewing: Agora (Dir. Alejandro Amenabar) • Session V: Dying vs. Death; the Body in the Concentration Camp; Death and Annihilation o Readings: Améry, “At the Mind’s Limits,” pp. 1-20; Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz o Film viewing: Life is Beautiful (Dir. Roberto Benigni) • Session VI: Making the Most of the Dying Body. Various Political Uses of the Body; Narratives of Martyrdom o Readings: Girard, The Scapegoat, pp. 100-148; Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries; Luke Allnutt, “A True Martyr” o Film viewing: Paradise now (Dir. Hany Abu-Assad) 2) Can Subaltern Studies Speak? A Critical Reading of Three Decades of Discourse on and of Subalternists and Subalternity (Faculty: Arjuna Parakrama) While detractors would admit that the subalternist intervention in colonial historiography and cultural studies was both important and influential, ardent acolytes will concede that there’s been a decline in both interest and interesting new work in the field. This course seeks to examine the ways in which subaltern studies has perceived itself and has been understood by others during the past three decades, in order to better predict its future trajectory. Thus, subaltern theory will be subjected to a discourse study, the assumption being that its reception and reproduction, both complex discursive processes, are (mis)appropriations of power/knowledge in globalised space. Since the public inauguration of Subaltern Studies in the early 1980s, and particularly with Ranajit Guha’s “manifesto” in Subaltern Studies I: Writings on South Asian History and Society (1982) this loosely-knit group of Indian historians and cultural theorists enjoyed a two-decade-long wave of popularity in Indian and Anglo-US academe. Many imitations and applications were spawned during this period, even the inner circle of the Subaltern Studies Collective grew to around 15 amidst much soul-searching [See Hardiman 1986], and included adherents in the most prestigious US and Australian universities. Caricature accounts had US graduate students looking for subalterns in every nook and cranny, and the crudest misunderstandings degenerated into celebrations of primitivism and the romanticizing of marginality. To risk a generalization that this course will unpack, at a more serious level the British and US responses to Subaltern Studies have been markedly divergent because each sees different aspects as its core content. While the first response dealt almost exclusively with colonial historiography, this was quickly followed by a literary critical appropriation of Subaltern Studies which gradually became the one of the trendiest methodologies in US English Departments. Throughout this period the definition of the term “subaltern” came under constant scrutiny and regular revision, a discursive arena that will be meticulously mapped in our readings. Subaltern Studies’ origins as a critical engagement with Marxism is well-known. Hence, serious opposition to Subaltern Studies has most consistently come from the traditional left which argues that revolutionary struggle is being diverted to over-nuanced abstractions and obscurantist theory. A related major strand of criticism exemplified by members of the Cambridge School held that the Subalternists have nothing new to offer which either (British) Marxists and/or Indian historians had not discussed earlier. A rising antagonism from within India, including by a few former members of the Collective such as Sumit Sarkar, has critiqued what it perceives as the post-structuralist turn of later subaltern work. However, the early excitement, both pro and con has diminished, and during the last five or so years the output and interest in Subalternity has reached a low ebb, prompting some critics to express the view that it was merely a fad whose heyday was irrevocably past. We will track these changes in terms of their over-arching conceptual ramifications in the context of the global financial crisis and the rise of ethno-nationalist conflict and reconstitution of new social movements. This course seeks to map the trajectory of subaltern studies as well as critical responses to it over the past three decades, in the attempt to theorize future roles for this intellectual movement. Of particular interest in this regard will be the detailed examination of subaltern studies relationship to Marxism and postcolonial theories in the current conjuncture. The unabashedly elite status of subaltern scholars and the disciplinary privileging of India (even within South Asia) will also be scrutinized to identify how this gets played out in their analysis and presentation. As a capstone exercise, participants will be invited to present a preliminary analysis of a contemporary intervention of struggle or resistance that they feel strongly about from a subaltern perspective, which includes the use of alternative sources and methodologies to mainstream research. Course Structure: • Session I: Subaltern Studies and the Critique of Colonial Historiography: New Wine in Old Bottles? o Readings: Selections from Guha, Ranajit Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency, Dominance without Hegemony, and Guha and Spivak (eds.) Selected Subaltern Studies. Essays by Chandravarkar, Brass and Bayley in Mapping Subaltern Studies o Creative Expression: La Nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua [Film by Assia Djebar] • Session II: Subaltern Studies and Marxism: Fellow Travellers or Incommensurable Alternatives? o Readings: Essays by O’Hanlon, Washbrook, Prakash (Response), Lazarus & Varma o Creative Expression: Genesis [Film by Mrinal Sen] • Session III: Subaltern Studies and Postcolonial Theory: Orientalism Revisited, Eurocentrism Reinscribed o Readings: Lazarus & Varma, Prakash, Spivak “Can the Subaltern Speak?” o Creative Expression: Kanafani “Men in the Sun” [See Bibliography] • Session IV: The Literary Appropriation of Subaltern Studies: Spivak and Subaltern Sources o Readings: Selections from Spivak, Gayatri In Other Worlds, Other Asias, and the interviews o Creative Expression: Devi, Mahasweta “Draupadi” and “Stanadayini” [English translation by Gayatri Spivak contained in In Other Worlds] • Session V: Synthesizing the Contribution of Subaltern Studies to Present Struggles: Public Debates and Private Wars o Readings: A collection of critical essays and responses from the Economic & Political Weekly in the 1980s and 90s, James C Scott. o Creative Expression: Selected Film Documentaries • Session VI: Whither Subaltern Studies Tomorrow? Subjects, Approaches, Saturation of an Area o Readings: Chatterjee (Selections), Gunawardena, Pandian, Arnold (Selection) o Creative Expression: Abaa (Sri Lankan Film by Jackson Anthony) • Session VII: Participant Presentations and Discussion: How is Subaltern Theory Useful Today? CORE FACULTY Costica Bradatan is Assistant Professor of Honors at Texas Tech University. He has also taught at Cornell University, Miami University, as well as at several universities in Europe (England, Germany, Hungary and Romania). Currently (2009-2010) he is a Solmsen Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute for Research in the Humanities. Bradatan has held research fellowships at, among others, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of California Los Angeles, and the Newberry Library in Chicago. His research interests include Continental philosophy, history of philosophy, East-European philosophy, and philosophy of literature. Bradatan’s most recent book The Other Bishop Berkeley: An Exercise in Reenchantment was published with Fordham University Press in 2006. He is also the author of two other books (in Romanian): An Introduction to the History of Romanian Philosophy in the 20th Century (Bucharest, 2000) and Isaac Bernstein’s Diary (Bucharest, 2001), as well as of several dozens of scholarly papers, essays, encyclopedia entries, book translations and book reviews. He has co-edited (with Serguei Alex. Oushakine) In Marx’s Shadow. Knowledge, Power and Intellectuals in Eastern Europe and Russia (Lexington Books, 2010) and guest-edited two special journal issues: one on “Philosophy as Literature” for The European Legacy (Summer 2009) and another on “Philosophy in Eastern Europe” for Angelaki (forthcoming). Arjuna Parakrama is currently Visiting Professor at the School of Language & Linguistics of the National University of Malaysia. He was Professor of English (Cadre Chair) at Sri Lanka’s oldest and most prestigious university, the University of Peradeniya, from 2004 - 2009. He has also served in the United Nations in Nepal and elsewhere as an expert on (post)conflict development and human rights, and has a parallel existence working with multiply marginalized communities in Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged “border villages”. Professor Parakrama was a Fulbright New Century Scholar in 2007/8, a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council on Ethics & International Affairs (2000/1), a Senior Fellow at the US Institute of Peace (1999/2000) and a Guggenheim Research Grantee (2002). Among his publications are three books, De-Hegemonizing Language Standards (Macmillan, 1995), Language and Rebellion (Katha, 1990) and Collected Poems (2002) and a monograph Social Cleaving: Resistance and Loss within a Bereaved Culture (2004). His current research interests include anti-languages, extra-linguistic value systems embedded within everyday language, collective trauma and social cleaving in (post)conflict societies, and subaltern discourse. For further information, visit the Forum on Contemporary Theory website here:

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