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Babelic Narrations: Borges, Kafka, etc

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Organizer: Kate Jenckes

Co-Organizer: Patrick Dove

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Jorge Luis Borges and Franz Kafka produced some of the most paradigmatic depictions of architectures of authority and the slippery materiality with which they are built. They both wrote stories that explicitly evoke the fable of Babel, although Babel can also be seen as informing almost all of their oeuvres, which persistently question the structures—towers and walls, discourse and dogma—of modern power, and stress elements of contingency and finitude not accounted for in their systems. This seminar invites papers that consider different manifestations of the story of Babel in literary or other aesthetic works, including but not limited to Borges, Kafka, as well as some of their evident successors, including Roberto Bolaño and Victor Pelevin. Theoretical engagements with texts are also welcome (Derrida and Benjamin spring to mind, for instance), preferably in relation to literary or artistic works.
Some questions to be considered are: How are structures of knowledge, power, and unity represented, and what happens to them in the landscapes of modernity? How do the representations of such structures differ, or not, from the structures they depict? What is opposed to the wager of “Man” against God: that is, in what way do the fictions, et al., unsettle or reject (or not) the stable grounds of humanistic opposition (critical subject, alternative truth, reliable representation, etc.)? How does language relate to power, either as the form of law or truth, or as its material disruption? How do these fictions, et al., represent the continuities and distinctions between modern, secular structures of power and the Judeo-Christian narrative of redemption? Do they approach other forms of time and difference that might be related to a non-religious thinking of messianicity? Finally, do these ideas and depictions have any relevance today, in the face of pseudo-authoritarian pronouncements of power, neo-imperial structures such as the U.S. border wall, and arrogant faith in technology as a ladder to absolute human sovereignty (hang the climactic consequences)?

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