Fall 2019

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

Thursday Lecture Series

Cold War Drugs and the First Era of Psychedelic Science, 1945-65

In 1952, a cheerful, Jung-obsessed Scottish psychiatrist named Ronald Sandison paid a visit to Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland. He was there to meet a chemist named Albert Hoffman, today best remembered as the discoverer of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Hoffman and his associates, Sandison recalled, “spoke of LSD as enabling them to hold a mirror to themselves, of enabling them to understand and see things in themselves which they had not known before.” Sandison believed that these experiences could not be readily classified according to older scientific categories: they seemed to derive “not from drug intoxication… but from the release of some inner life force hitherto denied to the individual.” From 1952 until the mid-60s, Sandison began to systematically prescribe LSD to his psychiatric patients – and to himself. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

The Void of Faceless Faces: Ralph Ellison and the Matter of Black Affect

What is a face? And what might it mean to be without one? This talk considers these, and related, questions through a reading of Ralph Ellison’s seminal novel Invisible Man. Specifically, I consider the deployment of the concept-metaphor of “facelessness” in Ellison’s text as a means of theorizing the matter of Black affect. I argue that Ellison’s rendering of Blackness as facelessness makes a key intervention into theories of affect which center on the face as the primary site of the affective encounter. Breaking with dominant conceptions of the face as a universal, anatomical reality or an ethico-affective horizon, Ellison demonstrates that the face is the product of obliterative violence––a social, political, and historical construction contingent on Black abjection.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Contemporary Land Enclosures in Central Sudan: Troubling the Romanticization of the ‘Commons.’

This talk situates contemporary Saudi and Emirati large-scale land investments in central Sudan within a layered history of enclosures and unequal landed relations shaped by legacies of colonialism and enslavement. Prevailing approaches to the study of contemporary land grabs in Africa tend to characterize them as a tidal wave that is hitting the continent, pitting powerful land grabbers against those who are dispossessed, in a binary conflict of opposites. This approach often situates the process of land grabbing within a narrow temporal frame and glosses over landless actors such as pastoralists and agricultural workers. In this talk, I propose an approach to the study of contemporary land enclosures that conceptualizes them as a set of historically situated negotiations and contestations, shaped by different notions of space, land ownership and belonging. Using a fine-grained analysis of several moments drawn from ethnographic fieldwork in the Gezira region of central Sudan, I argue against a tendency within the contemporary literature on land grabs to romanticize and de-historicize ‘the commons’ and the social relations that govern access to communal land and water resources. My aim is to trouble the romanticized idea of ‘community’ that prevailing conceptions of the ‘commons’ rely on, to show how rights and access to land in central Sudan has long been shaped by hierarchical social relations. To do so, I demonstrate that ongoing processes of land dispossession are gendered and racialized, while examining how race, class, gender, class, and enslaved descent shape the different forms resistance to these processes can take. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

The Voice and Historical Conscience

Composers have long used the human voice as a medium of expressing and critically addressing the historical moment and they have done so in very different ways: from Donizetti to Schoenberg… In this talk I will discuss the ways in which I have used the human voice in my own compositions over the last decade. These works include: “Love and Mercy”  for chorus and large symphony orchestra, a piece based on a text by Bar Hebraeus, written during the Mogul invasion of Syria; “ Variations on (R)evolution for soprano, violin and piano, text by Yvette Christianse, commissioned by Beethoven Fest in Bonn to be performed in concert about the Arab Spring; “ 30 Articles for Viola and Electronics” commissioned by Salt Festival in Victoria, Canada and premiered in Ravensbruck concentration camp; as well as large scale and chamber operas. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Martial Love: Intimacy without Incorporation in the Military Occupation of the Moskitia

Full Title: Martial Love: Intimacy without Incorporation in the Military Occupation of the Moskitia (Nicaragua/Honduras) Nicaraguan and Honduran soldiers occupying Caribbean coastal villages in the Afro-Indigenous region of Moskitia habitually entangle themselves sexually or romantically with one or more local women during their three-month rotations. In addition to the economic, affective, and logistical conditions driving women and soldiers to initiate these affairs, the military character of their intimate relations remains an undertheorized aspect of soldier sexuality. This talk shows that what is properly martial in these affairs is not the straightforward weaponization or instrumentalization of intimacy, but something that pertains to the peculiar legality and sociality of the armed forces: their condition as intimately linked to the state, to capital, and to the social, but as impossible to fully appropriate by any of them. The extensive practice of intimacy with soldiers in the Moskitia does not lead to the military’s local “incorporation”, nor to a peaceful synthesis of soldier-resident cohabitation, but to a predatory relation of domination in which the military remains an awkward appendage to Miskitu villages, restricted to strategic but peripheral geographic and quotidian locations. This “intimacy without incorporation” is reflected in the kind of local knowledge soldiers acquire and produce, as well as in the kinds of value they extract from economies deemed legal or illegal. The talk fleshes out some of the implications of this analysis of “martial love” for the literatures on the War on Drugs, indigeneity and multiculturalism, and punitive prohibitionism. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

The Form of Forms: Tables, Information, and Nonsense in the Maoist Dossier

Beginning around 1945, the Chinese Communist Party drastically redesigned its dossier files. Replacing what had once been a collection of narrative evaluations and epistolary reports, the Party adopted a slew of new bureaucratic forms and templates. The new forms reorganized information on persons of interest into neat fields of questions and answers with headers, labels, and tables, all locked into the graphic device of the rectangular grid. The production of these new dossier templates was part of a broader process of formalization in the 1940s that transformed the paper instruments of bureaucratic work. These formal changes established a new and unmistakable visual style for Chinese paperwork that persists in official documents to this day. At the same time, the shift to fixed templates carried important implications for practices of information-collection and surveillance conducted through the dossier. Biographical facts and political histories of cadres and enemies alike had to be abstracted, simplified, and reconfigured to fit the parameters of grid-lined fields. In this talk, I revisit several examples of party personnel forms to show that even as these new forms were not inherently more efficient in capturing information, they served to communicate technocratic regularity as a distinct visual aesthetic. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

How Much Knowledge is Just Enough? Anatomy for Artists in Early Modern Italy

In an allegory of painting dating from 1679-80, the Roman painter Carlo Maratti depicted various pursuits he deemed suitable for the young art student, specifying that while there was no limit to how much students could engage with antique sculpture, anatomy they ought to study only “as much as it is necessary.” This qualification, visible under the plinth that holds an écorché figure, was a pointed criticism of Carlo Cesi, a contemporary painter who advocated a more ambitious investigation of anatomy, as it has rightly been argued. But what is more significant is that Cesi too, like Maratti and other artists of the period, was struggling with the same epistemic predicament: if there was some clarity about the fact that artists ought not to study human anatomy like proper anatomists and physicians, how could they determine how much knowledge of the subject was enough? This talk analyzes some Italian responses to this predicament during the sixteenth and seventeenth century and how the features of the fields artists navigated – that is, art and science – gave meaning and weight to those responses. At another more general level, it is a reflection on what could be said about qualities and states of knowledge beyond certainty or the lack of it. >>