Archive for theory

Some thoughts on magic in Peake’s Gormenghast

Posted in Here at the End of All Things, The Generic, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on 31 August 2013 by Ben

One of the questions that preoccupies criticism of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels is whether they are generic fantasy. Of course, they were written and published at a time when there was no such thing–or no such thing in the sense that we mean today. That they are often referred to as a trilogy–despite numerous facts that run contrary to such a designation–implies a desire on the part of critics, reviewers, and capitalists to recuperate Peake under a generic, and therefore valorzing heading that will thus allow for further commodification. “Like Tolkien? You’ll LOVE Titus Groan! Please ignore all of the ways in which it is different… mumble… mumble… look over there! Yoink!” [Steals money, runs away.]

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My Eaton/SFRA 2013 Paper: Media Theory and Genre

Posted in Conferences, Here at the End of All Things, papers, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 13 April 2013 by Ben

Here is my paper for the 2013 Eaton/SFRA conference, as part of the panel on “Mediation and Transmedia” with Scott Selisker (“Transmedia Automatism: Cinematic Motion in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl“) and Veronica Hollinger (“The Dis/enchantments of the Mediated Real”).

Media Theory and Genre

This paper is sort of chasing a certain claim, a double inversion of Arthur C. Clarke, although I cannot address it in any depth here: “Any insufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.”

So, this boringly-titled talk opens a discussion of genre as media and genre’s relation to other media. By “genre,” I mean at the start something fairly non-controversial, I hope: a set of texts, however blurry the boundaries around that set, the conventions of which take on meaning within the set and without historicity. By “media,” I follow McLuhan who more or less understands a medium as a thing, in the broadest possible sense. At times the term “technics,” which here is closely aligned with media but takes on Stiegler’s definition as “organized inorganic matter,” will supplement or replace “media.”

There are a number of strands of thought here that I hope to weave together. First, I am interested in theorizing fantasy as a genre, especially in relation with science fiction and horror, although the latter will not be present here. I am not interested in defining fantasy with regard to dragons or magic or elves and, likewise I am not interested in SF insofar as it involves technology or aliens, nor horror insofar as it involves vampires or transformation. We all “know” fantasy, SF, and horror when we see them, even if we continue to argue about many specific cases and definitive boundaries. Rather than ask “what is fantasy?” I wish to ask “what does, or perhaps better can, it do?” I shall draw shortly on a talk China Mieville gave in 2009 to help articulate this theorization.

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Excerpt from my review of Stiegler’s Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 30 March 2013 by Ben

A paragraph from my forthcoming review of the second volume in Stiegler’s Disbelief and Discredit, recently translated for Polity by Daniel Ross.

For Stiegler, there are three forms or conditions of “being”: subsistence, existence, and consistence. That which subsists (and therefore does not exist), such as animal life, merely is and leads a life without reason. That which consists (and therefore does not exist), leads a “life” in which being and reason are one, even if the relation between the two remains incalculable (and therefore beyond the scope of political economy). That which exists seeks to avoid mere being by pursuing the incalculable consistency of its being and its reason, at which it will never arrive. Such human being becomes, or individuates in a term Stiegler borrows from Gilbert Simondon, towards a consistence that only manifests on another plane (and Stiegler here draws from Deleuze and Guattari who write of planes of consistency on which assemblages manifest by finding a proper level of abstraction). In order for the existent to pursue its consistence—and avoid the disindividuation, desublimation, and/or disaffection that lead to subsistence—it must have a reason, something in which to believe: a symbol, something that possesses consistence, something whose meaning is at one with its being. In this manner, as well as in a more conventional sense, Stiegler claims that such symbols do not exist.

Fall 2013 Course: Topics in Advanced Theory: History after History

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 5 March 2013 by Ben

I have been complaining today on Twitter about having to order my fall textbooks now. It feels too early. More to the point, I know what I am teaching in terms of topic/course numbers, but I have not fully worked out what material to cover. I think about material intermittently, but of course never write anything down. Even if I had written things down, they would be likely of little use when it comes time to put the course together. So, instead of doing some heavy research and giving the matter as much thought as I would like, I tend to wind up ordering books based on how much we can read in a given week and in the term overall and how much books will cost students (under $100 is necessary, under $80 ideal).

So here is my class on History after History, a 3000 level course that falls under the heading “Topics in Advanced Theory.” I think that this material is all relevant, and is all in my wheelhouse, so to speak. That said, I would like some more time to consider. I still can fiddle a lot here, as there is lots of room around the books for other essays (whether I eliminate some of those proposed here or just add). I would think that Haraway would fit here nicely, especially her considerations of myth and animality. Also relevant would be the Paul Gilroy of The Black Atlantic. Both of these thinkers would provide a nice corrective to the whiteness and maleness of this reading list. I know nothing about postcolonial scholarship in this area, but assume it must be out there. That would help as well, so I will see what I can do between now and August, when the decisions about what to read have to become final.

ENGL 3116-002: Topics in Advanced Theory

History after History

“History” has never been “the past,” but a way of thinking about the past. Rather, it has been a way of connecting the past, present, and future in the context of the human so that the passage of time takes on meaning. We call this meaning “progress.” But if humanity ceases to progress, or if it recognizes that such progress is a human construction and not a natural fact, what happens to history? Surely events will continue to happen, but will they still mean in the same way?

This class considers what posthistory looks like. We will study several accounts of the dominant form of historical thinking, that of GWF Hegel, and then consider the strengths, shortcomings, and alternatives to this manner of thinking. Walter Benn Michaels and Francis Fukuyama will provide the Hegelian point of view. Giorgio Agamben will provide the critique of that point of view. Michel Foucault and Vilém Flusser will provide philosophical, and Octavia Butler and Kim Stanley Robinson speculative/fictional, alternatives to that point of view.

Evaluation will be based on short response papers and a final project.

 

Possible Reading List:

Giorgio Agamben: The Open

Walter Benjamin: “On the Concept of History”

Octavia Butler: Parable of the Talents

Vilém Flusser: Post-History

Francis Fukuyama: “The End of History?”

Michel Foucault: The Archaeology of Knowledge & “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”

Fredric Jameson: “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”

Walter Benn Michaels: The Shape of the Signifier

Friedrich Nietzsche: from Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Genealogy of Morals

Kim Stanley Robinson: Red Mars

 

The Illegible and the Interface

Posted in papers, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 24 February 2013 by Ben

Another conference paper (given two or three times) from the vaults that never went anywhere more productive. I don’t know what happens at the end. So many of these papers just sort of trail off. The session must have been starting and I had to “finish” writing.

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Derrida, in Dissemination: “a readability without a signified (which will be decreed to be an unreadability by the reflexes of fright)” (253)

Bremer - Untitled

Claus Bremer – Untitled

In an early critical evaluation of concrete poetry, RP Draper writes:

In European printed language it is an automatic assumption that letters forming words are separated by space from other letters forming words, that these letters march across the page from left to right, and that the lines so formed are strictly parallel and progress downwards at equal intervals. Concrete poetry plays upon these expectations, but itself takes nothing for granted.

Among his many examples of this “taking nothing for granted, Draper notes that the spacing between words may be erased, as in Ilse and Pierre Garnier’s “cinema”, shown here

Garniers - cinema

Ilse and Pierre Garnier – “cinema”

[Sorry for the quality of the scan]

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MLA 07 Paper: Sameness or, the Declaration of Futuristic Democracy

Posted in papers, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on 24 February 2013 by Ben

Another one from the vaults. Although I am certain that I am making mistakes in my readings of the various thinkers I engage here, I am nevertheless rather proud of this paper, which was easily the most well-received of any paper I have ever given. It is also much more coherent. I must have put a lot more effort into conference papers back then.

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My plans for this paper initially included a formulation of a theory of declaration, a means by which to break the Sameness of the endless present, a means of destroying extant relationships, especially those that involve asymmetrical power. In fact, this declaration was to posit a means by which asymmetrical power can become symmetrical, much in the manner that Thoreau claims that a single just man can stand up to the power of the state and disrupt its hegemony. However, what I discovered in my thinking was that, far from interrupting Sameness, declaration, as it is understood historically and in the context of documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, far from being that which interrupts Sameness and inaugurates the future, is that which produces Sameness. It is thus, in my argument, an agent of the futuristic, a false future that is merely an extrapolation from the present. This paper is about this issue.

Throughout his work Giorgio Agamben returns to Aristotle’s conception of the ground, that formulation through which things are categorized. As he puts it in The Open, in reference to a passage from De anima, “Here we see at work that principal of foundation which constitutes the strategic device par excellance of Aristotle’s thought. It consists in reformulating every question concerning ‘what something is’ as a question concerning ‘through what something belongs to another thing’” (14). Following from his attention to the Aristotelian ground, Agamben is concerned in much of his work on biopolitics with the question of inclusion and exclusion and the role it plays in the modern nation-state.

Similarly, Carl Schmitt turns to Aristotle in the preface to the second edition of The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, where he first notes that the notion of government by discussion, parliamentarianism, belongs not to democracy but, rather, to liberalism, a concept that Schmitt distinguishes from democracy. Writes Schmitt, cribbing from Aristotle’s Politics, “Every actual democracy rests on the principal that not only are equals equal but unequals will not be treated equally. Democracy requires, therefore, first homogeneity and second—if the need arises—elimination or eradication of heterogeneity” (9). Building upon his claim, Schmitt populates this equation with what, for Agamben and this paper, are problematic terms when he states that a “democracy demonstrates its political power by knowing how to refuse or keep at bay something foreign and unequal that threatens its homogeneity” (9). Schmitt would elaborate this distinction between the interior that is equal and the exterior that is not in The Concept of the Political, where he claims that the primary political opposition is that between friend and enemy. Agamben’s work marks a decisive turning away from Schmitt’s categories characterized by a reading of Aristotle that demonstrates the primacy of the formulation of the ground rather than the appearance of any particular instantiation of that formula. The significance of this turning away will become evident in the course of this paper.

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Summer 2012 Course: ENGL 4038: Foucault & Deleuze: From Knowledge and Discipline to Control and Networks

Posted in Teaching with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 7 January 2013 by Ben

Here are the course materials for a class I taught in Summer 2012 on Foucault, Deleuze, networks, and power. The class was a senior capstone seminar and the students did really outstanding work on a very difficult subject.

The focus here was on Deleuze’s reading of Foucault, especially the latter’s transition from considerations of discourse to non-discursive formations during the period between Archaeology of Knowledge and Discipline and Punish (something that Deleuze makes much of in the first two or three chapters of Foucault).

Enjoy:

ENGL 4038: Foucault & Deleuze Syllabus

ENGL 4038: Foucault & Deleuze Daily Schedule