A Conference Universitaire de Suisse Occidentale doctoral workshop at the University of Geneva
Professor Ann-Lise Francois (University of California, Berkeley)
Professor Arthur Bradley (Lancaster University)
This one-day doctoral workshop aims to examine the situation of theoretical work in English studies in the early Twenty-First Century. Despite millennial proclamations of the ‘death of theory,’ critical theory remains alive and kicking. Indeed, the status of ‘life’ and ‘the living’ are key areas of contemporary theoretical interest. The continued need for theory in our era is often read as part of a larger ‘ethical turn’ in philosophy, but a range of questions about ‘life’ might provide a more politically-pertinent way of imagining this need. Such an interest stretches from a concern with the possible futures for biological life on earth in the era of the anthropocene, through to the rediscovered interest in political theology and biopolitics (or the politicization of life) in our era. These concerns and interests find theirhistorical place in the context of increasingly urgent modes of address to the diminished possibilities and hopes for everyday life post-2008, and they articulate the ways in which the very affective states of hope and optimism, as well as economic practices of enclosure and reserve that bind bodies to the political economies of the western world have become, to quote Lauren Berlant, ‘cruel.’ The day will be book-ended by interventions from our two speakers, whose work addresses in profoundly distinctive ways different aspects of these turns in recent theory. Each participant will also be invited to select a theoretical text that has shaped their way of reading literature, and to describe the impact of that text on their own work. Short excerpts from each text will be circulated to all participants beforehand. Our keynotes will be asked to do likewise, and in the morning, a reading group will be organised around their chosen texts. In the afternoon, doctoral students will be invited to present their work in progress, and to articulate the ways in which their work can be seen to be in dialogue with the theme of the workshop. The aim of the workshop is to be as inclusive as possible-it is not meant solely for those working on different aspects of critical theory or contemporary literature (while participants working in these areas will of course be extremely welcome). Indeed, the very fact that this workshop aims to examine theory in the context of a history of the present invites a range of responses. Those working on, say, early modern or Medieval religion, or on the body/affect, or those who simply want to get up to speed with current trends in theory, and to connect their own work with it, are very welcome.