Spring 2017

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

“Why do you shrink and speak so faintly? Are you superstitious?”
“I am constitutionally nervous. I dislike the discussion of such subjects. I dislike it the more because--”
 You believe?” --Charlotte Brontë, Villette

Throughout history, conceptions of the supernatural have permeated art, science, culture, and politics, from the divine right of kings to the practice of illusionists, from transubstantiation to witchcraft, and from the power of political myth to the technological sublime. Conceptions of the supernatural make sense of seemingly irrational forms of knowing the world and experiencing it. They manifest in material ways in the form of religious and mystical experiences, in the “placebo” effect in medicine, in eerie sounds and optical illusions, and in debates about “post-truth” and “alternative” realities.


This lecture series explores the interdisciplinary facets of the supernatural from the symbolic to the spiritual, from the metaphorical to the political: What counts as supernatural in a religious, artistic, scientific or political context? What are the processes and structures around belief in the supernatural and what are the debates around supernatural tenets in traditional or occult religions? What aesthetic or scientific technologies--from gothic narratives to spirit photography--engender illusion and a belief in magic? How and why does the supernatural become productive, political, visible, and experiential--and how does it disappear? How do we understand efforts to obstruct, confront, or even dismantle the supernatural? And what role does the supernatural play in the formation of state-sanctioned ideologies and charismatic personalities? How might conceptions of the supernatural reshape our visions of new secular futures?

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.” >>

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. >>

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. >>

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. >>