Encounters Speaker Series

This lecture series is organized around the theme of encounters. We invite speakers whose work spans disciplinary boundaries and generates productive encounters between them. At the same time, we recognize that encounters are not merely academic conversations but also ways of being engaged in and by the world. By definition, an encounter does not leave the self intact but pushes the self outside of its comfort zones. In our politically bewildering times, an openness to the encounter can invite new ways of thinking and be together.

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Schedule of Events: 

March 1, 2018

Lisa Wedeen (University of Chicago)
"On Uncertainty: Fake News, Post-Truth, and the Question of Judgment in Syria"
7:00 pm, Richard F. Celeste Theatre, Cornerstone

Facebook's decision in 2014 to shut down pages devoted to the Syrian uprising raised important concerns about the social networking giant's adjudication of content, but it also highlighted the difficulty involved in ascertaining the truth of claims circulating in Syria's "media wars" since the uprising began in March 2011. Far from establishing "what really happened," the multiplication of distribution sites, the ease with which digital photos can be doctored, the speed with which "news" gets circulated and then superseded by the next catastrophe, and the competition between rival discourses registering moral outrage have led to new forms of uncertainty.
In contrast to stereotypes of autocratic rule, in which it is the withholding of information that enables domination, the Syrian case lays bare a set of mechanisms by which information excess can be exploited for political gain. But the Syrian case does more than that: it invites renewed exploration of the general, consistently fragile relation between truth and politics - as relevant to the proliferation of "fake news" and "alternative truths" in the United States of Donald Trump as it is to Syria. The Syrian example also takes us farther, exposing the specific ways in which the specter of imminent danger works when dangers have, in fact, become immediate.
By way of getting at these matters, I unpack two exemplary moments. The first is the controversy surrounding the mystery of a mutilated corpse left on a riverbank in Hama-thought to be the body of a well-known singer of revolutionary songs. The second is the seemingly incommensurable example of the chemical weapons attack in eastern al-Ghouta in August of 2013, a devastating event, the "evidence" for which has pointed in different directions, animated a global community of politicians, activists, and scientists, and in regard to accountability served to polarize those with already firm positions even while regenerating uncertainty for others less sure of their commitments. Bringing these two examples together allows us to see in events local and world-historical the production and reproduction of epistemic and affective insecurity whose speculative practices were conducted to favor the beleaguered Asad regime's counterinsurgency project.
Throughout, the talk is informed by the thinking of Hannah Arendt and Ludwig Wittgenstein. In the conclusion, I discuss Syrian artists whose current work unsettles the conventions of documentary representation in conversation with these two theorists, drawing out mutual points of relevance for our understanding of politics in the Syrian as well as the more global present. 

September 27, 2018

Jodi Dean (Hobart and William Smith Colleges)
"From Allies to Comrades"
7:00 pm, Cornerstone Screening Room

Crucial to the global excitement generated by the October Revolution was the promise and possibility of new forms of relationship, and new ways of being human. The Revolution heralded an end to relations of hierarchy and domination and the beginning of new relations of comradeship and solidarity. This talk focuses on the comrade as a term of address, figure of political relation, and carrier of expectations for action. It presents four theses on the comrade, emphasizing the genericity and interchangeability of the comrade. It argues that this genericity, the sameness of those on the same side, provides a way through the impasse of systems and survivors prominent on the contemporary left. 

December 3, 2018

Alexei Yurchak (University of California, Berkeley)
"Object Number One: Bodies of Lenin in the Lab of the Future"
7:00 pm, Cornerstone Screening Room

The Soviet communist project was organized around the figure of "Leninism" -- the discursive and material construct that consisted of Lenin's texts and quotes, images and sculptures, and Lenin's physical body in the Mausoleum. As the center of sovereignty power, "Leninism" was constant and eternal; it was the only physical body and body of texts that could not be questioned or transcended within the Soviet political discourse. In fact, to remain "the same" Leninism was continuously changed and reinvented throughout Soviet history. Leninist texts were misquoted and censored, Leninist images were invented and retouched, and Lenin's physical body was re-sculpted and re-embalmed. The biochemical science that maintained and transformed Lenin's body was at the center of this ongoing political reconstruction. What does "Leninism" feel like from the perspective of this science with its biological labs, chemical tests, and anatomical procedures? How do the political, the artistic, and the biological intersect in this unique project? What does this perspective tell us about the iconoclastic movements directed at Lenin's images today?

April 26, 2019

Audra Simpson (Columbia University)
"Savage States: Settler Governance in an Age of Sorrow"
4:00 pm, Cornerstone Screening Room

In what world do we imagine the past to be settled in light of its refusal to perish and allow things to start over anew? What are the conditions that make for this imagining, this fantasy, or rather, the demand of a new starting point? In this piece, I consider the world of settler colonialism, which demands this newness, and a world in which Native people and their claims to territory are whittled to the status of claimant or subject in time with the fantasy of their disappearance and containment away from a modern and critical present. This fantasy of a world without Indians or Indians whittled into claimants extends itself to a mode of governance that is beyond institutional and ideological but is in this study, deeply affective. In this piece, I examine how the Canadian practice of settler governance has adjusted itself in line with global trends and rights paradigms away from overt violence to what are seen as softer and kinder, caring modes of governing but governing, violently still and yet, with a language of care, upon on still stolen land. This talk asks not only in what world we imagine time to stop but takes up the ways in which those that survived the time stoppage stand in a critical relationship to dispossession and settler governance apprehend, analyze and act upon this project of effective governance. Here an oral and textual history of the notion of "reconciliation" is constructed and analyzed with recourse to Indigenous criticism of this affective project of repair.

September 9, 2019

Banu Bargu (University of California, San Diego)
"Dying-in: Politics of Life, Theaters of Death"
7:00 pm, Cornerstone Screening Room

One of the novel forms of nonviolent resistance to emerge since the 1980s, and which has gained increased visibility in the last few years, is a form of action called the "die-in." In these protest actions, activists have placed themselves on public sites and lain on the ground, feigning dead bodies. Most frequently staged in the United States, these actions have been deployed to resist different forms of violence. Most prominently, they have been performed by Black Lives Matter activists, who oppose police violence that targets black and brown bodies in violation of fundamental constitutional rights. Less well known is the deployment of the die-in as a form of protest by anti-war protesters in opposition to the increasing use of drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in warfare and counterinsurgency operations. By performing die-ins, groups such as the Hancock 38 and other peace activists have been publicizing their opposition to the use of drones as part of targeted killings that violate international humanitarian law. In this paper, I focus on the die-in as a novel form of corporeal and nonviolent resistance to violence based on the dramatic performance of death. Relying on a biopolitical approach informed by and in critical conversation with Foucault, Mbembe, and Agamben, I interrogate its recent deployments by Black Lives Matter and peace activists and draw out the theoretical connections between them, by focusing on the conditions that make such a form of protest possible and meaningful. I analyze the political intervention of this form of action, especially by way of its theatricality, relying on the perspective of materialist aesthetics built on the work of Althusser. I argue that through an analysis of the political deployment of an embodied theatricality within a biopolitical problem, the die-in enables us to become cognizant of both the ongoing nature of sovereign violence, in its domestic and global manifestations, and the pitfalls of an ideology of humanism/humanitarianism that attends to and expresses the contradictions of the current regime of power.

November 20, 2019

Tim Pachirat (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
"Pleasure, Pain, and (in)Visible Suffering"
7:00 pm, Cornerstone Screening Room

Phalaris, the tyrant of the Greek city of Akragas (570 - 544 BCE), is infamous for his love of the Sicilian bull, a torture and execution device in which human victims were immolated in a hollow statue of a bronze bull, their screams of agony transmuted to melodious music through a series of tubes connecting the bull's stomach to its mouth. In this talk, I recover Phalaris' ancient bull as a symptomatic metaphor for contemporary relationships between pleasure, pain, and the (in)visible suffering of others. Drawing on cases ranging from the organization of contemporary U.S. slaughterhouses to Resignation Syndrome (Uppgivenhetssyndrom)in Sweden, this talk advances the argument that in the modern era-sadism might be more generatively understood as a structure rather than an event. 

February 24, 2020

Mimi T. Nguyen (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)
"The Promise of Beauty"
Co-sponsored by the Department of Feminist and Gender Studies
7:00 pm, Cornerstone Screening Room

The historical present is often perceived through the presence or absence of beauty, as I argue in The Promise of Beauty. My talk analyzes affective and aesthetic responses to scarcity, precarity, and uncertainty, drawn from the crises of war and colonial and capital dispossession, in order to understand the promise of beauty as a world-building engagement. From the state seizure of indigenous lands for the preservation of "natural" beauty to the staging of a beauty pageant for landmine survivors, I consider distinct personal, social, and political projects that unfold through disputes about the beauty we deserve - which is to say, the life worth living. In doing so, I hope to show how and why the promise of beauty is so usable across a spectrum of political claims, whether imperial or insurgent, and how these claims delineate what forms of life are valuable, and for whom.

March 11, 2021

Michael Sawyer and Christian Sorace in conversation with Stefano Harney and Fred Moten

"On Fugitive Aesthetics"

2:00 pm Mountain Standard Time

Fugitivity is being before an order that continually attempts to impose itself.  Fugitive publics are refuges in a world whose dominant categories are carceral forms. Fugitivity, in the words of Fred Moten, is a movement that must negotiate the fact that the slave is submitted to the structures that protect the master from dispossession. Escape is insecure, unprotected existence; it is an existence, an experience even, of dispossession that we have to embrace.” Fugitivity is Black life exposed to the ongoing terror and acquisitive logics and logistics of white supremacy and racial capitalism. But fugitivity is also the generative blur of Black social life and aesthetics, lived in the refusal of the categories and terms this world (refuses to) offer it. In this event, Stefano Harney, Fred Moten, and Michael Sawyer, in a conversation facilitated  by Christian Sorace, discuss how Black aesthetics and social life are in but not of the world that is crumbling around us – and how to keep on living, practicing, studying, and loving together.  

Co-Sponsored by the Colorado College Political Science Department, the Africana Intellectual Project, and the McHugh Fund 

September 16, 2021

Charisse Burden-Stelly (Carleton College)

"The Red Scare is Black: Repression and Radical Blackness in U.S. Capitalist Racist Society, 1917-1954."

7 pm, Cornerstone Screening Room

Drawing on the ideas, theories, and experiences of radical black thinkers from Hubert Harrison to Claudia Jones, Dr. Charisse Burden-Stelly analyzes the antiblack anxieties endemic in the "long Red Scare," spanning roughly 1917 to 1954. She argues that understanding the manifold ways the U.S government and civil society thought Blackness and radicalism together as un-American, susceptible to foreign inspiration, disloyal, subversive, and seditious provides invaluable insight into U.S. capitalist racist society during this epoch. Stated differently, Burden-Stelly reveals how the capitalist racist order was maintained and legitimated through the repression and criminalization of individuals, organizations, and ideas that challenged racial hierarchy and/or capitalist exploitation--especially those with the ultimate aim of Black liberation and socialism. 

September 30, 2021

Jack Halberstam (Columbia University)

"An Aesthetics of Collapse: Coming Undone with Alvin Baltrop and Pauline Oliveros"

7 pm, Cornerstone Screening Room

In this talk, I want to work with you on producing a new vocabulary for transformative change in an era of stalemate, compromise, and environmental decline. The old methods of voting and building, making, and developing that have been sold to us as routes to happiness and freedom stand revealed as methods to consolidate the power of financial elites and white property owners. In this vexed era, and in the midst of a disastrous pandemic, we must surely be ready for new angles on power, change, and what I will call world un-making. While an earlier moment in queer studies made its investments firmly into the utopian project of world-making, we will be navigating an/architectural strategy with the goal of thinking about how to unmake this world. To move forward and think about the future, we must first go back to the 1970s and consider the past work of world un-builders like African American photographer Alvin Baltrop and queer Tejana experimental sound artist Pauline Oliveros. This is not a time for building, making, and doing. It is a time for collapse. 

TBA - Postponed until 2022

Robyn Marasco (Hunter College)

"Homeschooling with Rancière: Other Lessons in Emancipation"

This talk focuses on the work of French philosopher, Jacques Rancière, and addresses the prominence of the family across his oeuvre, from his early studies of working-class culture and education to his mature reflections on democracy and disagreement.  I argue that Rancière’s concept of emancipation is drawn directly out of the family, and perhaps rightly so, given the origins of the term in Roman law.  For the Romans, emancipation freed women and children from the rule of the father – and, in turn, freed fathers of obligations to women and children.  In Rancière, emancipation appears as a return to the family and a reassertion of its supremacy.  This is especially clear in his celebrated book, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Emancipation, which is driven by the image of fathers teaching their sons topics about which they know nothing.  Rancière’s account of home-schooling is oddly focused on fathers and sons, with mothers and daughters appearing only at the margins, to confirm a basic point about human equality.  While he is an important touchstone for contemporary theories of equality and democracy, too little attention has been given to the extent to way that the whole framework comes at expense of women and girls.  In a gesture toward conclusion, this talk amplifies another argument, also present in Rancière's writings, but buried beneath an androcentric image of emancipation.  This other argument says that the family, even as it serves a “police” function, also activates political subjects and awakens political consciousness.  The family is thus reimagined as an experiment in shared power and reconceived according to more democratic principles.  The lessons in emancipation that result go beyond those that turn on the stories of fathers and sons, or the demands of male workers.  In Rancière, the family appears as the first form of democracy.

Report an issue - Last updated: 05/13/2022