Spring 2020

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: Ambivalence

Ambivalence and (anti)Blackness: a Prolegomenon

What, precisely, is the Black’s relation to her own death—unyielding in its familiarity, belated in its arrival, unheimlich in the effects its fantasies engender? This talk maps ambivalence within the Black psyche’s wrestling with, and wresting itself of, the death-drive on two primary fronts: a retreat within, or return to, fantasy, and the destruction of the notion of the subject, or the political, itself. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Ambivalence

Atmospheric Misogyny and the Lyric Tradition

This presentation describes the role of levity in the reproduction of gender subordination. It seeks to understand the relationship between literary atmosphere and gendered habits of perception, arguing that lyric poetry, with its fine-tuned instruments of attention management, is an especially useful site for exploring this problem. Looking to poems by John Donne and Aphra Behn, and giving special attention to Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," I describe a version of levity that depends on an incomplete or frozen decision that someone or something is unworthy of attention -- a decision that establishes an experience of ambivalence in which the outcome is determined but not actually pursued. In these cases, the gendered conferral of triviality on someone or something does not direct attention elsewhere but instead reframes attention as pleasurably superfluous. Ultimately, I make an argument for the importance of levity, understood in these terms, as a subject for feminist and queer inquiry, and reflect on the challenges of cultivating an anti-patriarchal sensorium. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Ambivalence

“Europe Does Not Know Anything about the Orient”: A Proto-Saidian Discourse

Reacting to the misconceptions, distortions, and factual errors in European representations of the “Orient,” a passionate Ottoman discourse emerged in the 1870s and continued with fervor into the 1930s. Well-acquainted with the European political and cultural scene and charged with their own ideological agendas, the Ottoman and early Turkish Republican intellectuals turned and twisted the familiar debates around in an attempt to deconstruct the tired clichés.  Listening to their voices forty years after the publication of Orientalism helps to re-contextualize and complicate Edward Said’s important arguments from an unlikely perspective. My presentation will unpack several themes that dominated this response. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Ambivalence

Race, Class and Empire: The Struggle over Leisure in Colonial Sudan - CANCELLED

This lecture focuses on the struggle over leisure activities in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan during the period of British. The paper is particularly interested in the way in which British colonial officials to control access to alcoholic and dance clubs and the response of the various segments of Sudanese society to these policies. The paper attempts to show that  popular culture has become a site of struggle between the competing paradigms of Sudanese identity, the role of religion, ethnicity, class, gender, and marginalization as well as the interplay between such elements as race, class, power, and gender.   >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Ambivalence

Antidoting - CANCELLED

This talk addresses a turn in the interdisciplinary field of black studies toward an ethos of care and wonders what complications may arise from insufficient attention to the subjective paradox caused by caregiving. With the benefit of distinct but related insights from psychoanalysis and health sciences, it asks: How do you prevent caring-about from being conflated with or subsumed by caring-for? How can caregiving eschew the self-congratulatory logic of all conventional giving, if the genuine gift requires the double-blind anonymity of a giver who must be anonymous both to the receiver and to themselves, without obligation or claim? >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Ambivalence

Notes from the Home Front: One Woman’s Chinese Revolution, 1897-1975 - CANCELLED

How can we re-create the world of a woman who left no trace in the public record? This talk considers the life of a woman from a politically active Chinese family. She was the daughter of a reformer, wife of a Nationalist official educated at MIT, mother of an underground Communist revolutionary. Unlike the men in her family, she left no first-person accounts of her life. She emerges primarily in interviews with her son and in an unfinished and unpublished historical novel by her daughter. Filial duty, household politics, sexual propriety, marital expectations, maternal loyalty, domestic cosmopolitanism, and shrewd political judgment mingle in her story, raising questions about where revolution lies and how we should track its less visible effects. Her life illuminates the gendering of China’s long revolution, the central importance of women as symbols of the nation, and the limits of what we can know about the past. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Ambivalence

Sacrificial Limbs: Ambivalence and Ethnography in Turkey’s Kurdish War - CANCELLED

The war-damaged bodies of disabled veterans are a ubiquitous but ambivalent presence in modern warring states. Ambivalent because the disabled veteran body embodies the horrors of war yet is often mobilized militaristically as an icon of sacrifice, thereby serving as an affective and ideological impetus for further bloodshed. Ambivalent also because it occupies both the center and the margins of normative masculinity, lionized through the masculine ethos of nationalism, while also being violently expelled from ableist forms of masculine privilege and public citizenship. Ambivalent, finally, because it inhabits an indeterminate space, a sort of “gray zone,” where the distinctions and boundaries between perpetrator and victim, sacred and profane, hero and abject get puzzlingly blurred. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Ambivalence

How To Murder Your Tortoise - CANCELLED

You adore your Oriental carpet. Its glinting yellow and plum hues sing. But they are just a little too bright. One day, you hit on an ingenious idea involving your pet tortoise. You decide to encrust its shell with dazzling gems, so that when it crawls on your rug, it will dull the fabric's tints by contrast, finally making it easy on the eye. But something goes wrong. Your pet fails to cooperate, suddenly expiring under the weight of its new jewels. Instead of the perfect rug, you have a dead tortoise. This talk explores the dark side of collecting. In 2018, the World Health Organization classified Hoarding Disorder – or "extreme collecting" – as a global phenomenon. Enter the hoarder: an addict whose urge to accumulate verges on insanity. Yet the hoarder is only the latest incarnation of a figure who recurs throughout history: the obsessive collector driven not by sublime reason but a dangerous passion. Who are the mad collectors that came before the hoarder and what is the nature of their madness? >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Ambivalence

Epochal Shifts: The Death of the West, and the Future of Us All - CANCELLED

In this talk, I will interrogate the afterlives of imperialism in the language of epochal shift, and I will position the endpoint of this shift as the death of the West, its models of sovereignty, and its conventions of knowledge production.  I will probe aspects of this shift in relation to the project of anthropology, a discipline central to the solidification of Western ontological and epistemological categories.  New World colonization was foundational not merely to the construction of the dominance of the West, but also to the disciplines that would legitimate the hierarchies of humanity created in and through the new forms of production and labor organization that emerged with the development of plantation-based agriculture and settler colonialism.  The current challenge has to do, in part, with the resurgence of China on the global stage, and is also signaled by a new spatial and temporal organization of policing and control, and by new modalities of knowledge production that in turn produce new audiences and mandate new forms of accountability.  If we are witnessing the development of a new geopolitical condition, we must also develop new theoretical frames.  By reflecting on my current research in Jamaica, I will think through the challenges posed by the contemporary condition in a way that is also designed to exemplify a decolonial vision for knowledge production substantially informed by transnational black and queer feminist critique. >>

Thursday Lecture Series: Ambivalence

Ignorance as domination: Modes of imperial activity on Guahan - CANCELLED

Certainty, ideological clarity, and technoscientific method are often associated, at least popularly, with the sources of sovereign or imperial power.  Research on the years of imperial occupation of the island of Guahan in the western Pacific and, in particular, recent moves by the Pentagon to take further control of island resources reveals instead the role of ignorance or a variety of ignorances in producing the workings of power. >>