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“Attritional Catastrophe”: Accumulation, Enclosure, and the Commons

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Organizer: Joseph Albernaz

Co-Organizer: Lenora Hanson

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Literary critics have long attended to the historical event of enclosure in the long Romantic period, as that specific dispossession of land that created a modern, industrialized labor force and its attendant surplus army of labor. But as Carolyn Lesjack suggests (invoking Rob Nixon), enclosure was also an “attritional catastrophe” with “long-term human and environmental costs” that continue in the present. In other words, enclosure—along with “so-called” primitive accumulation—is also a story of anachronism (Angela Davis), translation (Sandro Mezzadra), non-identity (Jason W. Moore), relationality (Tithi Bhattacharya), infrastructure (Daniel Nemser), and analogy (Celeste Langan). This seminar seeks to engage with more expansive rhetorical, literary, and conceptual discussions that are suited to the violence of enclosure, as it expropriates self-possessed, linear narratives from history. If expropriation is the logic that holds together different forms of social and ecological enclosure, then in writing about enclosure we might say that any easy history of progress covertly hiding behind capital or empire is also dispossessed. Paradoxically, it is the absence of such a history that has made it possible for the “many-headed hydra” (Linebaugh and Rediker) of commoners and the dispossessed to resist, riot, and adumbrate alternative visions of a common life. 

We invite papers from any period, though we are especially interested in the Romantic century (1750-1850) understood as a global field and as a period with resonant afterlives. Guiding questions include: How new are new forms of dispossession? How can literary and cultural forms unthink and undo the logics of appropriation and differentiation that accompany accumulation? Which literary modes best invoke, imagine, and enflesh the commons? On the other hand, how might a poem work to enclose? Which new concepts and fields need to be constellated to address the strange configuration of continuity and rupture that defines enclosures in a long duree?

Possible topics and inspirations could include:

-Work and worker vs. commoner, idler, vagrant
-Non-work, anti-work, inoperativity
-Racialization, enslavement, colonization, indigeneity
-Gender, sexuality, sociality, and social reproduction
-The work of JM Neeson, David Harvey, Silvia Federici, Peter Linebaugh, Jordy Rosenberg, Denise Ferreira Da Silva, Jean-Luc Nancy, Brenna Bhandar, E.P. Thompson, Glen Coulthard
-Globality and borders
-The undercommons (Moten/Harney)
-Ecology and the Anthropocene/Capitalocene
-Extraction and expropriation
-Time and rhythm, poetic time, seasonal time, common time, work time
-Synonyms for the common: open, waste, excess, feast, festival, subsistence, provisional, everyday/quotidian, idle, level, shared
-Antonyms: enclosed, closed, private, proper, property, industrious, improvement, work, development, efficient, solitary, individual, possession

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