Fall 2015

Thursday Lecture Series are open to Columbia faculty, students, and guests. Special Events are open to the public, unless otherwise noted.

Spring 2020 Thursday Lecture Series "Ambivalence:"
This lecture series will offer a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives on the question of ambivalence as it relates to affects and operations of the aesthetic, modes of political action, forms of belonging, regimes of governance.

Ambivalence is often conceived in terms of absence or aporia. But at a time of polarization in contemporary thought, conventional perspectives on political action as grounded solely in either true belief or cynical rationalism fail to explain the many contradictions found within social organization and orders. Likewise, the sovereign “decisiveness” often attributed to political and economic configurations of power has long relied on shifting, swaying, often internally incoherent strategies of domination and dispossession. Rather than approach ambivalence as an absence, we propose to think of it as a form of agency that accounts for the varying, conflicting desires and demands that position subjects. Do ambivalence, contradiction, and alternation entail resources or risks for states, markets, or revolutionary movements? What changes if we think of ambivalence not solely as an affective experience on the level of the individual, but as a structure of feeling which is central to (post-)modernity? How might ambivalence characterize attitudes towards cultural objects and performances, as well as to aesthetic operations themselves? How could adopting ambivalence as an analytical position lead to new insights into processes of dispossession, reclamation or structural change? 

Thursday Lecture Series

Jazz, Opera, and the Signifier, 1924-1986

  • David Gutkin (‘15-‘17), Musicology, Peabody Institute

Clause 12 of the production contract for Anthony Davis’s 1986 opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, reads: “The word ‘jazz’ should not be used in any connection with this piece, including Anthony Davis’s biography.” Although vehemently opposing the classification of his work as jazz, Davis simultaneously sought to position the “jazz tradition” as the central impetus for the creation of that perennially elusive form: “American opera.” To comprehend this apparent contradiction, this talk traces intersections between jazz and opera through three case studies. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Fetishizing Drugs: Feitiçaria and Poison in West Central Africa, 1640-1800

  • Benjamin Breen (‘15-‘16), Assistant Professor of History, UC Santa Cruz

Early modern European visitors tended to perceive equatorial Africa as a landscape haunted by the threat of poisoning, strange fevers, demonic possession, and madness. But the flip side to this conception of a poisoned landscape was that Europeans regarded African medical practitioners as both skilled and dangerous competitors to their own physicians. This was a dynamic that passed across the Atlantic largely intact, leading to several well-studied instances of enslaved healers accused of poisoning or, conversely, lauded for their skill in formulating novel antidotes. Yet the African context has received much less attention, potentially in the Portuguese sphere. In religiously and culturally hybrid zones like coastal West Central Africa, feiticeiros (as the Portuguese called them) or “fetisheers” (as the English did) bridged the gap between spiritual and medical practice – a gap that, at any rate, was quite ambiguous even in a domestic European setting, and doubly so in the supposedly preternatural environs of the tropics.   >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Quantifying Piety: Pilgrimage to Republican Rome

  • Dan-el Padilla Peralta (‘15-‘16), Assistant Professor of Classics, Princeton University

Religiously motivated travel is well documented for Christian Rome: late antiquity and the early middle Ages witnessed the institutionalization of a pilgrimage economy of which Rome—with its many churches—was a primary node. That Christian pilgrimage made use of (in some cases directly mapped upon) pre-Christian itineraries and networks of travel is no longer seriously disputed. What may come as more of a surprise is the claim that Rome was a hub for pilgrimage well before the advent of Christianity.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Hector Berlioz’s Neurophysiological Imagination

  • Carmel Raz (‘15-‘18), Research Group Histories of Music, Mind, and Body , Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics

In his famous essay De la musique en général (1837), Hector Berlioz asserts that certain kinds of music induce “a strange agitation in my blood circulation: my arteries beat violently… a trembling overtakes my limbs and a numbness my hands and feet, while the nerves of sight and hearing are partially paralyzed.” Examining the system of neurophysiological affect emerging from his critical writing, Raz will focus on the composer’s documented engagement with contemporaneous neurophysiology, and in particular the pioneering ideas of Marie-François-Xavier Bichat. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Making Sense of the Copy in Canton

  • Maggie Cao, Lecturer in Art History, Columbia University

This lecture offers a look at the early history of things “made in China.” In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, artisans in Canton (then China’s sole port of foreign trade) became specialists in producing Western artifacts for export. Their copies, of everything from silver spoons to oil paintings, ranged from legally troubling counterfeits to creative variations injected with the flair of exoticism. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Against the Importation of “Hordes of Coolies”

  • Hidetaka Hirota (‘13-‘16), Institute for Advanced Study, Waseda University

This presentation, Against the Importation of "Hordes of Coolies": Alien Contract Labor Law in American Immigration History​, explores the significance of contract labor in American immigration history.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Teaching Contemporary Civilization in Prison

  • Joshua Dubler (‘08-‘11), Assistant Professor of Religion, University of Rochester

Joshua Dubler is Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Rochester and served as a post-doctoral fellow with the Society of Fellows in the Humanities from 2008-2011. He will deliver a Society of Felows Alumni Thursday Lecture on the topic of prison reform and teaching in Grateford Prison in Pennsylvania. His experience in the prison served as the focus of his dissertation. >>