Spring 2017

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? 

Special Events

Nietzsche 13/13: Frantz Fanon and Critical Race Theory

Frantz Fanon’s masterpiece, Black Skin, White Masks (1952), reflects a deep engagement with the thought of Nietzsche, especially in relation to the themes of the active and reactive, and in its engagement with the work of Alfred Adler. In this seminar, we will explore Fanon’s work and its influence on critical race theory. >>

Special Events

Nietzsche 13/13: Sarah Kofman on Nietzsche

The French philosopher, Sarah Kofman, developed new readings of Nietzsche and Freud, and left us with one of the most trenchant interpretations of Freud on female sexuality. This will be an opportunity to explore her work and her legacy in Paris at the Columbia Global Centers—Europe. The session will be held in Paris, but broadcast for faculty and students in New York City and elsewhere. Bernard E. Harcourt and Daniele Lorenzini will coordinate the session in Paris. Jesús R. Velasco will coordinate the session in New York. Kofman studied with Deleuze and attended Derrida’s seminars, so we will put Derrida’s writings in the background as well. >>

Special Events

Nietzsche 13/13: Frantz Fanon

with Emily Apter, Homi Bhabha, and Brandon Terry. Frantz Fanon’s (1925-1961) thought and writings are marked by an orientation toward a possible future both in time and space, captured so poignantly in the closing chapter of Black Skin, White Masks (1952)—his call to constantly introduce “invention into life,” to “endlessly create myself,” to “build the world of you”—and in the closing line of The Wretched of the Earth: “comrades, we must make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavor to create a new man.” Fanon’s call on the colonized to “start over a new history of man” is striking, and naturally brings to mind many of the themes we have been discussing in Nietzsche 13/13. >>

Special Events

Workshop: Applying for Academic Jobs in the Humanities

The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities invite graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and PhDs in the humanities to a workshop on the academic job search led by Professor Ellie Hisama. Topics to be covered include preparing the cover letter and CV, interviewing by Skype, giving a job talk, teaching a sample class, meeting with the search committee and administrators, and negotiating an offer.  >>

Special Events

Great Incompletes: Italy’s Unfinished Endeavors | An Interdisciplinary Conference

This is an interdisciplinary conference spanning two days. The keynote speech will be delivered by Professor Thomas Harrison (UCLA),  on February 3, titled: "The Art of the Incomplete", in which he will rethink art as "articulation of incompleteness". The event will take place in the Deutsches Haus at 6 pm. The keynote speech will be preceded by the screening and a Q&A with the author of Benoit Felici's documentary titled "Unfinished Italy" (33'), set for 4 pm. The graduate conference proper will take place on February 4, from 9 am to 8 pm, in Detusches Haus. Twelve graduate students from different backgrounds (Italian Studies, Philosophy, Art History, Critical Theory, Film Studies) will reflect on the relationship between incompleteness, art, and hermeneutics from different disciplinary perspectives.  >>

Special Events

Nietzsche 13/13: Foucault & Nietzsche

In his Rio lectures in 1973, Truth and Juridical Forms, Foucault targeted what he referred to as “the great Western myth”: the myth that, in order to achieve knowledge, one had to neutralize the effects of power, the illusion that it is even possible to sever knowledge from power. “This great myth needs to be dispelled,” Foucault stated. “It is this myth which Nietzsche began to demolish by showing… that, behind all knowledge [savoir], behind all attainment of knowledge [connaissance], what is involved is a struggle for power. Political power is not absent from knowledge, it is woven together with it.” >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Shock and Reverberation

RESCHEDULED: Shock of the Old/Reverberation of the New | Now 2/10/17 at 12:15pm

A number of scholars in the 1990s lamented that we can no longer truly hear the Ninth, and exhorted us to listen with fresh ears. A recent radical rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth should make them prick up their ears: Leif Inge’s 9 Beet Stretch (2002), a digital installation stretching the sounds of a CD recording of the Ninth to a length of 24 hours. At this glacial pace, the phrases, motives, and rhythms of Beethoven’s music are almost unrecognizable. Is it in fact still the Ninth? In this paper, Harvard Professor Alexander Rehding argues that this digital installation responds to a number of specific cultural and philosophical challenges of the turn of the millennium—temporality, monumentality, and selfhood. Not only is Leif Inge’s innovative 9 Beet Stretch an appropriate version of the Ninth for the digital age, for our time. What is more, its fundamental principle—which media theorists call “time axis manipulation”—can also be read as a parable of the pair shock/reverberation itself.  >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Shock and Reverberation

Tensions of Refuge: Revolt, Backlash and the Sanctuary Ideal in 19th Century America

This talk explores a crisis in the sanctuary ideal as a fundamental approach to US immigration policy and the United States’ role in the world.  Nineteenth-century Americans took very seriously the idea that the United States, as an emerging republic in a world of powerful monarchies, had a duty to offer safety to those escaping political repression elsewhere: if America wanted the distinction of being an exemplary and exceptional republic, Americans must hold open their doors for the persecuted.  According to this ideal, refugees fighting for their homelands’ freedom could keep their torches alight in America, mobilizing fellow exiles, financial resources, and public opinion to advance their causes worldwide; Americans would promote the global advance of liberty precisely by serving as a welcoming harbor for the persecuted.   >>

Special Events

Global Perspectives in Histories of Music Theory

This conference brings together music scholars and historians of science to develop new insights into global histories of music theory. Together, our participants investigate convergences and divergences across time and place. With talks on subjects including tuning theories in ancient China and court music in fifteenth-century Korea, this event explores how complex concepts in mathematics, cosmology, and artisanal practice arose in response to similar concerns around classifying pitches, modes, and instruments. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Shock and Reverberation

The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Why it Matters Today

On September 9, 1971, almost 1,300 prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York to protest years of mistreatment. Holding guards and civilian employees hostage, the prisoners negotiated with officials for improved conditions over four long days and nights. On Sept. 13, the state abruptly sent hundreds of heavily armed troopers and correction officers to retake the prison by force. Their gunfire killed 39 men -- hostages as well as prisoners -- and severely wounded more than 100 others. In the ensuing months, troopers and officers brutally retaliated against the prisoners.Ultimately, New York State authorities prosecuted only the prisoners, never once bringing charges against the officials involved in the retaking and its aftermath and neglecting to provide support to the survivors or the families of the men who had been killed.This talk considers the 1971 Attica prison rebellion and why it matters today >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Shock and Reverberation

Fracking, Earthquakes, and Public Science in Rural America

The middle of the United States has shaken in recent years with unexpected earthquakes.  The most recent large midcontinent quake, an M5.8 tremor centered in eastern Oklahoma, was felt from the Dakotas through Texas. Scientists studying these earthquakes have implicated our recent shale energy revolution, particularly the pressure created by the massive volume of toxic wastewater produced when we use hydraulic fracturing to harvest oil and gas from shale formations.  In some states, regulators have restricted the underground injection of wastewater, but other states are taking only limited action or continue to deny the science linking fracking to earthquakes.  What can we make of such divergent responses to earthquakes that shake across state lines? >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Shock and Reverberation

Visualizing Fascism

Today, we are well immersed in the politics of shock, where unexpected events are carefully designed to jar the political system and civil society, causing a disorientation and disruption among the public and the political class that aids the leader in consolidating his power. This talks takes aim at the designed strategies of fascist politics, current and historical, as these unfold in the aesthetic realm. Drawing from research on the cultural practices that undergirded the regime of Benito Mussolini in the Italy of the 1930s, the talk will include reflections on how to deal with Fascist visual sources from the period, and what lingers of those sources and the Fascist aesthetic now. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Shock and Reverberation

Women’s Work: Allusion and Education in Mid-Twentieth Century Fiction

This paper is drawn from a new project that shows how the expansion of university education into the formal study of English literature profoundly shaped the form of the English novel. Catherine Robson has described the educational reforms that led to a wider incorporation of English Literature as a field of study.The subjects of this paper, Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Pym, were both trained in the Oxford and both embed allusions – to the texts they studied at University and to the Victorian and modernist texts they read in their free time – throughout their work, though their uses of these allusions are quite different. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Shock and Reverberation

Sensing the Limits of the World: Towards a Transhuman Ear

At several points in the history of acoustics, figures have argued that human hearing can or should access ultra or infrasound. And certain recent post-tonal works have notated pitches that explicitly play with, or exceed, the ordinary range of human hearing (cf. Schoenberg, Per Nørgård, and Salvatore Sciarrino). This talk asks what kind of listener such works imply. Amid recent moves toward sound as vibrational force, it argues that hearing has a special role in determining our natural sensory limits and human identity, and that attempts to push against these limits foreground the underlying matter of what status the biological body has for performance and the perception of music. In a historical critique of auditory sense augmentation, I contrast Jakob von Uexküll’s theory of Umwelt (where sensory limits are a material fact of biology) with a transhumanist worldview which anticipates—and for some, already realizes—the enhancement of biological sense capacities through technology. The discourse of transhumanism poses questions for musical listening as soon as the body becomes an assemblage subject to variation. It raises the question of how identity—ours as well as that of musical works—might be affected by “morphological freedom,” the extent to which self-identity becomes the lost referential when agency is distributed between biological and non-biological parts, and it asks what value are the new intellectual vistas that emerge when musical experience is conceived in material terms as communication between bodies. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Shock and Reverberation

Powers of Hearing: Acoustic Defense and Technologies of Listening during the First World War

During the First World War large-scale aerial warfare necessitated new methods of acoustic defense: tracking the enemy through listening and acoustic sensing. Referencing now-declassified military reports, military manuals and scientific literature from this period, this presentation investigates the the development of WWI-era acoustic defense technologies including geophones, double trumpet sound-locators, acoustic visors, listening wells, sound mirrors, acoustic goniometers, the Baillaud paraboloïde and the Perrin télésitemetre. It examines new modes of listening that emerged in relation to these devices, including “alt-azimuth" listening and other modes of collaborative and cooperative listening. It further uncovers historical phenomena like the establishment of écoles d’écoute, “schools of hearing” where Allied soldiers received training in operating acoustic defense technologies, and it examines the design of “ear training exercises” for a new class of expert military auditor. It argues that, during this period, the listening act was reconfigured as a complex, fragmented act of data collection in ways that prefigured modern notions of “machine listening.” Similarly, directional listening, which had previously been studied in terms of perceptual psychology, was newly understood in strategic terms: a tactical activity that could determine human and even national survival. >>

Special Events

Steel, Synth, and Silk: The Musical Worlds of Martial Arts Cinema

Giorgio Biancorosso examines the soundtracks of both the original (1994) and the redux (2008) versions of Ashes of Time (dir. Wong Kar Wai) in light of both Japanese and Chinese-language precedents as well as the recent reconfiguration of film distribution occasioned by the rise of the PRC. Treating music as 'symptom' of a modus operandi, he presents a few examples of the persistence of the legacy of jidaigeki and the Zatoichi (aka "Blind Swordsman") series. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Shock and Reverberation

Cruel Empathy: The Shocking Case of Beatrice Cenci

This talk will illustrate the practice of cognitive historicism as it develops the theoretical foundation for a new reading of P. B. Shelley’s The Cenci. Rather than inquiring into the morality of Beatrice Cenci's murder of her father, as numerous readers have done, Richardson will consider the efficacy of Count Cenci’s program for corrupting his daughter and turning her into a version of himself. Count Cenci, he will argue, engineers a perverse kind of empathic identification, one that Shelley calls, in Prometheus Unbound, “loathsome sympathy.” Richardson understands “loathsome” sympathy in turn as an extreme or inverted form of the sympathy that plays so crucial a role in Shelley's poetic and ethical theory and that he develops from 18th century writers including Hume, Rousseau, and Adam Smith. >>

Special Events

Coping with Waste: Copropolitics Ancient and Modern

The fecal has a singular capacity to tantalize and transfix. If Piero Manzoni’s notorious Merda d’artista cans did not make the case persuasively enough, a recent installation at the Guggenheim Museum has re-activated questions about the valence and signification of the fecal in the realm of the aesthetic: is it “just” play? Calculated satire? Transgression for transgression’s sake? Far from being restricted to the precincts of art, shit the artifact has enjoyed a distinguished career as the stuff of political satire; here we might summon to the witness stand the street artist Hanksy’s Trump mural on Orchard Street in New York City. Not despite but because of its repulsiveness, the excremental has a power to signify equalled by only a few other liquids or solids. My talk will argue, first, that the signifying potency of shit justifies a disciplinary program of its very own, a “fecopoetics” and a “copropolitics”; and second, that this disciplinary program should be incubated within the field of Classics. >>

Thursday Lecture Series

Learning/Teaching at Rikers Island: A Critical Reflection

For the past year and a half, Natacha Nsabimana, a PhD Candidate in the Anthropology Department, has been working with Columbia University's Justice-in-Education Initiative at the Rose M Singer Center at Rikers Island.  Nsabimana will reflect on the experience of teaching “inside” as well as learning from it. More than a presentation, the talk is an open invitation to engage with issues surrounding mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. >>