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Bersani and Art

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Organizer: Colin Buist

Co-Organizer: Ben Koonar

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Leo Bersani’s work is frequently cited in queer theory and literary studies on questions of sociality, sexuality, and intimacy. Curiously unexplored, however, is Bersani’s career-long engagement with an impressive range of art and artists that includes Assyrian relief sculpture (The Forms of Violence, 1985), Mark Rothko and Ellsworth Kelly (Arts of Impoverishment, 1993), Caravaggio (Caravaggio’s Secrets, 1998), and George Segal (Artforum, 1999). In the wake of his recent passing, this seminar offers an opportunity to critically reflect on Bersani’s remarkable treatment of such a diverse range of art, and to consider how the consistency of his aesthetic argument might inform methods that, in the spirit of his work, seek to ask fundamental questions about ethical forms of being in the world.


Participants are encouraged to pursue Bersani’s aesthetic argument across the many fields and disciplines he engaged: literary studies, psychoanalysis, queer theory, trans studies, film studies, visual studies, and art history. Questions that papers might address include: what does an aesthetics of incompletion look like? How does an aesthetic comportment of “neutral fascination” elaborate a new ethics of looking? Following Bersani's reading of Genet, in what sense is betrayal an aesthetic as well as an “ethical necessity”? What does Bersani’s theory of inaccurate replication and the communication of forms contribute to ongoing questions of difference, identity, mimesis, and sameness? How might “aesthetic subjectivity” provide the means to radically rethink singularity and the role of the object, artist, critic, curator, and/or audience? Finally, how might Bersani’s insistence that the aesthetic and the ethical are “a single category” inform not only our thinking of belonging, community, and the social, but that of art and the political, as well?




This seminar is organized by Colin Buist, Ben Koonar, and John Paul Ricco.

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