Spring 2024 Speaker Series

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Spring 2024 Schedule:

Opacity and Voice in Édouard Glissant and José María Arguedas with Benjamin Davis, Saint Louis University

Monday April 15 at 12pm PST

In this talk, I consider what the Martinican poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant called "the right to opacity." But instead of looking to the political documents that form the context for Glissant's rights claim, I turn to two moments in the novels of the Peruvian writer José María Arguedas. In this way, I suggest that Arguedas illustrates how human rights are lived out not just in law, but also in everyday life. 

Benjamin P. Davis is a Postdoctoral Fellow in African American Studies at Saint Louis University. He is the author of two books: Choose Your Bearing: Édouard Glissant, Human Rights and Decolonial Ethics; and Simone Weil’s Political Philosophy: Field Notes from the Margins. With Kris F. Sealey, he is also the co-editor of Creolizing Critical Theory: New Voices in Caribbean Philosophy. Davis’s work is known for its reconstructive approach to human rights as well as for its pluralistic understanding of philosophy. 


Black Enlightenment with Surya Parekh, Binghamton University

Monday April 22 at 12pm PST

This talk is based on my recently published book Black Enlightenment (Duke, 2023). The book tries to reimagine the Enlightenment from the position of the Black subject. In this talk, I look at a historical coincidence that I explored in the book and discuss some of its implications. In January and February 1788, Black British abolitionist Olaudah Equiano and white German philosopher Immanuel Kant comment on the same passage by a proslavery planter. Equiano severely criticizes the passage in several editorials to the British newspapers and Kant cites the passage positively in his last essay on race, published in two instalments. By looking at this juxtaposition of Equiano and Kant, I consider how a growing anxiety about Black citizenship in European polities in the 1780s – an anxiety that links white abolitionists, proslavery planters, and Enlightenment philosophers – is managed through a discourse that casts the general Black subject as “lazy” and unfit for politics while also recognizing exceptions. This is a discourse that continues to wield power today.

Surya Parekh is Associate Professor of English, General Literature, and Rhetoric, and Affiliate Faculty in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Binghamton University. He was an Africana Research Center Postdoctoral Fellow at Penn State University in 2015 and Alain Locke Postdoctoral Fellow at Penn State in 2014. He graduated from History of Consciousness at UCSC in 2013. He is the author of Black Enlightenment (Duke, 2023), and co-editor of Living Translation (Seagull, 2022) and Spivak Moving (forthcoming). He has published essays in CR: The New Centennial Review, Nineteenth-Century Literature, and Postcolonial Directions in Education. He is currently working on a project that reimagines Comparative Literature for the Anthropocene.


Making a Killing: Capitalism, Cops, & the War on Black Life with Robin Kelley, UC Los Angeles

 Monday April 29 at 12pm PST 

* Note: this event will take place in Hum 1 Rm 210 *

My talk summarizes my forthcoming book, which reveals the hidden relationship between policing and gendered racial capitalism, and collective organized resistance. Taking as my starting point Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s oft-quoted definition of racism as “the state-sanctioned and/or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death,” I reconstruct the lives and life-worlds of selected victims of state violence in order to uncover the policies and processes that rendered them vulnerable to premature death in the first place. These outcomes are the source of chaos and disorder, and the role of the police is ostensibly to restore and maintain order. But the only order police maintain is the social order of class rule—of gendered racial capitalism. The police don’t just take lives; they make life and living less viable for the communities they occupy. Making a Killing demonstrates how police, in tandem with other state and corporate entities, are engines of capital accumulation, government revenue, gentrification, the municipal bond market, the tech and private security industry—in a phrase, the profits of death.  

Robin D. G. Kelley is Distinguished Professor and Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. History at UCLA.  Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is the recipient of many awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and Freedom Scholar Award.  His books include the award-winning, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original; Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression; Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical ImaginationRace Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class; Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Beacon Press 1997); Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary TimesHis essays have appeared in dozens of publications, including The Nation, New York Times, American Historical Review, American Quarterly, African Studies Review, Social Text, Metropolis, Journal of American History, New Labor Forum, and The Boston Review, for which he also serves as Contributing Editor.


Heidegger, Christian Eschatology & the Temporality of Being with Prashan Ransinghe, University of Ottawa

Monday May 6 at 12pm PST 

Taking as its framework the long history between western philosophy and Christian theology, in this talk I draw on the philosophical endeavours of Martin Heidegger to argue that his philosophy is inextricably grounded upon and linked to Chrisitan eschatology. Taking the figure of the circle as important to understanding the concept of time, I argue that the circle of time is ruptured in Judeo-Chrisitanity with the emergency of the Word (Christ) which thereby reformulates how the future is looked upon. This reformulation comes via the way truth is revealed in the Word over time, which I argue is paramount to understanding Heidegger's evolving philosophy where truth comes to be understood as the act of unconcealing. 

Prashan Ranasinghe is Associate Professor in the Department of Criminolofy, University of Ottawa and between January and May 2024, Visiting Scholar in the History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz. He was trained in criminology and the sociology of law. Hist first book, Helter-Shelter: Security. Legality and an Ethic of Care (University of Toronto Pres, 2017), which received an honorable mention at the Canadian Law and Society Association book prize, 2018, is in line with this type of thinking and interests. More recently his work has moved into philosophy and the humanities more broadly which has given rise to his forthcoming book, The Homelessness of Being: Heidegger and the Meaning of Existence (Unviersity of Alberta Press, December 2024). Based upon this line of inquiry, he is currently working on a project on the relation between philosophy and theology with a specific focus upon Heideggerian and Neitzschean thinking as it has shaped 20th and 21st century Western philosophy. 


Art and Artificial Intelligence: A Philosophical Investigation with Alice Barale, University of Milan

Monday May 20 at 12pm PST 

*NOTE: This event has been postponed *

Talk co-sponsored by The Humanities Institute with Humanities in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

It has been several years since the first artwork created with artificial intelligence was sold at the renowned auction house Christie's in 2018. In the meantime, new types of artificial intelligence have emerged, enabling artists to conduct different experiments. However, the presence of AI in the artistic process continues to raise significant questions. How should its role be understood? And, more importantly, what new chances does it offer within the artistic field and beyond?

Alice Barale is a scholar of Aesthetics and Assistant Professor at the Department of Cultural and Environmental Heritage at the University of Milan. She has extensively researched Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin, authors to whom she has dedicated several essays and two monographs ("La malinconia dell’immagine," FUP, 2009, and "La prima impresa: Shakespeare in Warburg e Benjamin," Jaca Book, 2021). For Benjamin, she has edited and translated a new Italian version of "Origin of the German Trauerspiel" (Carocci, 2018). Among her most recent research interests are the philosophy of color ("Il giallo del colore," Jaca Book, 2020) and the relationship between art and artificial intelligence. She has curated the collected volume "Arte e intelligenza artificiale. Be my GAN" (Jaca Book, 2020) and is currently working on a new book on the topic, which will be released soon.


Experiments in Vision and Abstraction: the Making of Mary's Amber Spyglass with Neda Genova, University of Warwick

Monday June 3 at 12pm PST

*NOTE: This event has been postponed *

“A fresh instrument serves the same purpose as foreign travel; it shows things in unusual combinations.” (A. N. Whitehead 1948) In this talk I will look closely at the process of constructing a fictional visualising device alongside A.N. Whitehead’s formulation of abstraction as a relational process of interaction, objectification, and differentiation (1985). The presentation will focus specifically on an episode from part three of Philip Pullman’s children’s book trilogy “His Dark Materials” – a book that arguably dramatizes the struggle between what with Donna Haraway we may describe as the “god trick” of infinite vision and domination, and the quest to end domination, to learn and know in an entangled world of difference. In the story that I want to explore, physicist Mary Malone is tasked with helping the mulefa – beings from a world parallel to her own, whose delicate ecological balance has been disrupted. Unable to see the elementary particles that pollinate the trees on whose thriving the mulefa depend, Mary ventures to construct an imaging device. What eventually becomes the “amber spyglass” turns out to be the result of an experimental and speculative process of layering and discarding material surfaces, invested with meaning and affect that gain relevance in relation to the technico-political problem that Mary sees herself faced with. In the talk I would like to trace the construction of the spyglass and offer a reading of this episode through recourse to Whitehead’s discussion of abstraction as productive practice, bringing it into conversation with Felix Guattari’s work on machinic assemblages, as well as with Donna Haraway’s and Isabelle Stengers’ contributions to feminist epistemologies. My aim in doing so is to use the fictitious terrain charted out by Pullman to think afresh about practices of experimentation and visualisation, touching upon issues such as truth-making as an ethically grounded and politically committed practice; the interplay between imagination and making sense in common (Stengers 2023); and the role of entanglement and separation in fabricating the worlds we want to inhabit.

Neda Genova is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick (UK). Her research sits at the intersection of cultural, media and post-communist studies and explores questions such as visual culture and transformation of public space in contemporary Bulgaria; commoning as a political practice of imagination in a post-communist context; the production of abstraction; fiction and topology. Her first book, “Politics of Surfaces”, is forthcoming with Goldsmiths Press.