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Despair

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Organizer: Sangina Patnaik

Co-Organizer: Sarah Chihaya

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Wailing, keening, rending: this seminar explores political, formal, and cultural expressions of despair.  From climate crises to the politics of fear, despair has become the dominant affect of our contemporary moment.  But what is despair?  Is it performance? An affective state? Does it allow for catharsis or signal utter hopelessness? How does it relate to conditions like depression, anxiety, or anomie? Does it have political potential or formal qualities? And how might it be expressed through genres such as tragedy, horror, or farce? From Antigone to Fleabag, does despair manifest differently across eras, cultures, or regions?

 

Recent cultural criticism on sites such as Slate, Vice, and The New Republic have drawn attention to the psychic toll of living in despair today. Rather than an end to critical discourse, might we approach despair as an opening to new or alternate modes of engagement with a disheartening time? Using our contemporary moment as a jumping-off point for exploring different aesthetic manifestations of despair, both individual and collective, this seminar will explore how and why we represent despair.  We invite experiments in creative forms as well as traditional seminar presentations.

 

Contexts and prompts for considering despair might include:

 
  • Climate crises and/or the politics of fear

  • Psychogeographies of despair, sadness, and trauma

  • Complex trauma and theories of the non-event

  • Generic or political histories of despair

  • The relationship between despair and apocalyptic thinking

  • Visual or aural representations of despair

  • Does despair have radical potential?

  • The gender politics of despair

  • Consider the despairing humor of Brecht or Beckett: when or how is despair absurd? Is despair ever funny?  

  • Despair’s social dimensions or relation to political activism

  • When is despair a nihilistic state, and when does it become a prompt to action?  


 

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