GSA 2023 panel series: “Becoming Hegemonic: Emancipation and Its Fantasms”, Montréal, Canada
CALL FOR PAPERS
Becoming Hegemonic: Emancipation and Its Fantasms
GSA Panel, Montréal, Québec, October 5-8, 2023
“All attempts at liberation, whether political, economic, legal, ethical, cultural, or artistic, have become entangled in paradoxes and contradictions; they have produced new forms and strategies of domination.”
– Christoph Menke, Theorie der Befreiung, Suhrkamp 2022, p. 9.
How do hegemonic formations come to be? Where do they start? Sometimes, it would appear, in their seeming antitheses: in the emancipatory movements that began by opposing them, in counter-hegemonies. In this planned series of panels, we are interested in better understanding the various and often surprising ways in which hegemonies establish themselves or emerge. Conversely, we are interested in the ways counter-hegemonic movements, caught by their own fantasms, can go awry. Current dynamics both in and outside of the academy give a new urgency to revisiting the complex and often unexpected ways in which hegemony and the opposition to it can interact, calling for a reexamination and re-reading of texts, both literary and theoretical, that address questions of power, liberation, and institutionalization.
While “hegemony” has long been in the focus of theoretical discussions, the concept is particularly well suited to observing and describing the emergence of both subtle and less-than-subtle forms of domination in the present moment. Used by Herodotus to designate the leadership exercised by military alliances of city-states, “hegemony” was revived and metaphorized by leftist thinkers, most notably by Gramsci, who resituated it on the level of civil society and applied it to any group aspiring to cultural, intellectual, and moral leadership. For Gramsci, hegemony is not a purely pejorative term: not just the ruling classes, but intellectual avant-gardes too (“organic intellectuals”) must become “directive” and assume hegemony if they are to have any real effect. More recent thinkers too have exploited this bi-valence of “hegemony” in ways that point toward the difficulty of settling on any stable opposition between domination and emancipation. In their critical adoption of Gramsci’s term, Mouffe and Laclau understand hegemony to refer to those forms of power which are themselves constitutive of social relations, concluding that “the main question for democratic politics is not how to eliminate power but how to constitute forms of power more compatible with democratic values” (Mouffe, p. 14). Coming from a completely different theoretical perspective, Rainer Schürmann understands hegemonies as fantasmatic “maximizations” of a single referent or phenomenal region to the point that it takes on the status of an ultimate law in need of no further justification. But he too stresses that such hegemonic fantasms are constitutive of life and cannot simply be eliminated. Finally, to construe hegemony to refer to domination by means of consent rather than by coercive force, as is often done, also opens up ambivalences: consent itself can be coerced in ways both subtle and direct; conversely, not all forms of influence or suasion are malign. Hegemony, these and other uses of the term would suggest, can cut two ways: it can name forms of domination, exclusion, and violence that clearly call for opposition; but it can also help to account for what can happen, in the very attempt to oppose repressive and unjust structures, to derail such attempts, as urgent as they may be. One might then use “hegemony” to name the site at which emancipation and domination meet, at which their relationship is negotiated, or perhaps at which the one, fatally, can turn into the other.
If counter-hegemonies can turn into new forms of domination, the question arises: how is emancipatory potential to be realized? What forms exist that elude the hegemonic knot of emancipation with domination? In his later work, Michel Foucault turns to Cynicism as a radical form of life that embodies freedom. Commenting on Foucault, Michael Hardt proposes adopting a critical “stance of militancy” that would feed into “practices of democracy” (Hardt, p. 33). In Posthegemony (2011), Jon Beasley-Murray stresses the formative role of habit and affect in an attempt to move beyond standard models of hegemony. What can be achieved by locating emancipation on the level of life and of practices? More broadly, in his Theorie der Befreiung, Menke pleads for a reversal of perspectives. Instead of seeing freedom as a telos to reach and liberation as its prelude, grasping liberation as process might be seen as a way to escape the knot of hegemony and counter-hegemony. But where do we find such acts or processes of liberation at work? Do literary and other cultural forms provide particularly apt means of negotiating hegemonic and emancipatory fantasms, and if yes, how so? Or differently posed: what is the status of literary and artistic production in these entanglements? And what role do practices of reading and interpreting play in this context?
This series of panels will gather papers that account for the ways in which projects of counter-hegemony can end up reinforcing the very structures they are designed to contest, or that look for ways out of this conundrum, or both. The topic allows for a wide range of possible texts and points of departure; submissions on any relevant source or question and with a focus in any historical period are welcome. A few examples, merely for illustrative purposes: When Kant, in What is Enlightenment?, calls for an exit from “tutelage” while conceding that only a select few will be able to lead the way, how are we to understand this “leading” or hegemony? (How can others be led to stop following?) What forms of Erziehung zur Freiheit are conceivable? Is Wieland’s Diogenes a modern figure of radical critique, the unlikeliest of leaders, or does his form of life ultimately result in his being catapulted out of society? Does Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas expose the pitfalls of even the most just insurrection, is it a literary Anti-Hobbes, or neither? Is Grillparzer’s Medea a barbarian woman unable to adapt to a civilized culture, a victim exposing bourgeois repressive intolerance and racism, an emblem of failed rebellion, a mirror of a grotesque reality? What potential did Germany hold for writers from Du Bois to Lorde over and above what could be achieved by their activism at home? How are we to read the scene of Angela Davis in East Berlin: as allyship, as canny instrumentalization, as successful or failed attempt at escape from political persecution? How does Schreber’s systematic account of “his own private Germany” (Santner) compare to other forms of organized resistance? More broadly: are symptoms and the return of the repressed forms of protest or of self-subjection (or both)? And from the angle of academic reading practices: From what standpoint can one claim, for example, that texts from Luise Gottsched’s Der Witzling and Sophie Albrecht’s Theresgen to Bachmann’s “Undine” did not go far enough to unsettle gender roles; or read Goethe’s Iphigenie as an act of liberation from a culture of barbarous domination while imposing a no less hegemonic order of humanism? Or from yet another perspective: what happens when Jelinek’s pluri-vocal play Die Schutzbefohlenen is seen as appropriating the voices of migrants? And what happens when minority literatures are canonized?
Possible topics include:
- figurations of liberation and their fantasms in literature and philosophy
- the aftermath of revolution
- spontaneity and its fragility (e.g. Rosa Luxemburg)
- the paradoxes of emancipation: indoctrination, party orthodoxy, “correctness,” etc.
- “self-incurredness” and voluntary servitude
- totalitarianism in history and theory (from Arendt to Lefort and beyond)
- visions of the universal (their emergence and formation)
- avantgardes and their canonization
- new methodologies become hegemonic, from structuralism and close reading to new historicism and beyond
- appropriation of marginal and subaltern subject-positions; their essentialization
- determinations of diversity (who decides, when, and under what conditions what qualifies as diverse)
- counter-hegemonic movements and the challenges they face
- figurations of the subaltern (such as the proletariat) and their possible fantasms
- how to keep from becoming hegemonic: entanglement, constellation, mimicry, signifying
- fantasmatic utopias
Please send a brief abstract (circa 350 words) and a short bio to Christiane Frey and David Martyn at firstname.lastname@example.org by March 13, 2023. We are aiming to organize a series of panels and have room for up to four papers. Please note that accepted participants will need to join the GSA or renew their membership and secure their own financing for travel and conference costs. Information on membership is available on the GSA website (https://thegsa.org/member-services/my-membership). We will respond to all submissions by March 20.