For the next volume of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young researchers and established scholars alike to submit work that critically engages with the theme of the impasse.
In its first instance and most literal meaning, an impasse indicates a border that arises in our way. In everyday life, it is what prevents one from moving forward, for instance, from entering onto a property one is not allowed to be in or arriving at a dead end. Supposedly, the only possible counter-actions, the exit from an impasse, are either the risk of trespassing, having to turn around, or ending one’s journey. Trespassing borders presents a risk if not an impossibility. It is important not to understate the factuality of the latter. The finiteness inherent to all forms of life constitutes an impasse and is experienced and managed as such on all manners of scale. Dwelling on the term impasse provides space for speaking of the unresolvable, of the disorienting (what is outside of time and space, alter/outer), of the failure of connection, and finally, of loss, of the unretrievable and the necrotic. The notion of impasse comes to mind all the more in the context of the ongoing pandemic and of transmission through physical contact or proximity.
For Derrida, the impasse is synonymous with the notion of aporia; describing a state of unknowing or a contradiction that is seemingly impossible to solve. As Derrida states, “the nonpassage, the impasse or aporia, stems from the fact that there is no limit. There is not yet or there is no longer a border to cross, no opposition between two sides: the limit is too porous, permeable, and indeterminate” (20). By destroying the possibility of passage altogether, an absolute impasse dissolves the antagonism that allowed it to be in the first place. This is how the impasse shifts from the finite to something more “permeable”, which can be trespassed, implying some malleability and flux.
An impasse also denotes a specific kind of liminal spatiality. It is a space of the in-between; where one gets stuck or does not know how to proceed. As a state of unknowing, the impasse is constantly being re-configured. How can we orientate ourselves in a space that is always becoming?
Impasses force us to attune to what the Situationists called the ‘psychogeographical’. The city is a space full of impasses and rife with calculation (de Certeau). To be in situ–to drift in one’s movement through space–implies a kind of liquidity that looks to resist: finding fissures and exits, rerouting continuously. Being at an impasse can allow for stillness, like sitting in a waiting room, allowing for a moment of contemplation, rest, or regeneration. Yet in other ways, it is a source of uncertainty, insecurity, and doubt, as well as a questioning of the relation between the active and the passive–of choices we make or of choices that are made for us. Impasses, as sites of defeat or potentiality, can wield immense affective force.
At the present time, we find ourselves shifting our sights from impasse to future–the figuration of an after. What does it mean to overcome an impasse? Does it necessarily imply a radical change? Is it a rupture of the status quo in order to move towards a total reconfiguration? The current situation presses these questions onto us.
In Cruel Optimism, Lauren Berlant describes “the historical present- as an impasse, a thick moment of ongoingness, a situation that can absorb many genres without having one itself- is a middle without boundaries, edges, a shape” (200). If we would try to give the ‘historical present’ a genre, it might be that of crisis. We have been held in a perpetual state of alertness, which at the same time pledges us to inaction. As Agamben describes in State of Exception, the mode of inaction is the condition for a politics of emergency. The inherent finiteness of crisis is prolonged into a permanent temporariness. We seem to be stuck in a crisis that has no shape and thus no limit. In this limbo, we come to expect the unusual, the surprising, maybe even the unthinkable. This passivity and uncertainty can also give way to moments of resilience when we begin to understand an impasse as a disruption that holds the potential for change.
The author Milan Kundera states that “an impasse is a place of […] most beautiful inspirations” (“une impasse est le lieu de mes plus belles inspirations” 23). The impasse, then, is perhaps not always a negative dead-end or stalemate, but can also provide a space for hope and new possibilities. A standstill may allow for a moment of rest and recovery, which is needed for overcoming obstacles, bridging gaps, or tending to open wounds. The impasse also holds the potential for care, emphasizing a relationality between bodies, the human and the non-human, and attempts to reach some kind of agreement or compromise. When the way we care shifts, and how we relate to our distant and intimate surroundings changes (as the coronavirus pandemic has shown), the impasse forces a reevaluation of interconnectedness and relationality.
We encourage submissions in the direction of, but not limited to, the following topics:
- States of the in-between, the liminal, the uncertain.
- The concept of care (also in relation to a shared experience of the impasse).
- Caring over distance and how it alters the perception of space.
- Practices of mourning, healing, and renewal.
- The impasse as crisis (climate crisis, health crisis).
- Representation of the impasse in literature, film, visual art, etc.
- Politics of power in the impasse, and the active and the passive.
- Border studies (limits, figurative borders).
- (Post)colonial studies.
- Trespassing, exceptions.
- Hope, possibility.
- Periods and states of contemplation and (mis)understanding.
- (The pausing of) conflict.
- Reaching compromise/agreement
- Stretching out of time (the immediate and the gradual)
Please submit your proposal (800-1000 words) or already written paper following the MLA formatting and referencing style (maximum 5000 words) to email@example.com by January 10th 2021. If you hand in a proposal or outline, please consider that the first draft of the full papers (3000-5000 words) are due February 17th. If you have any questions regarding your submission, do not hesitate to contact us.
We also accept submissions for our website all year round. We encourage a variety of styles and formats, including short-form essays (around 2000 words), reviews, experimental writing, and multimedia. Please get in touch to pitch new ideas or existing projects that you would like to have published on our website. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org for any web related questions and submissions.
Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Duke University Press, 2011.
Derrida, Jacques. Aporias. Translated by Thomas Dutoit, Stanford University Press, 1993.
Kundera, Milan. Risibles Amours. Translated by Francois Kérel, Gallimard, 1986.