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Feeling Conflicted: States of Ambivalence and Narratives of Confusion

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Organizer: Omid Bagherli

Co-Organizer: Bekah Waalkes

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Not so much thinking “with” or “through” contradiction as about contradictory thoughts and feelings, this seminar will explore unique expressions of ambivalence and confusion in contemporary literature, film, culture, and theory, broadly conceived. This seminar seeks to track ambivalence— that admixture of love and hate— as the unsteady affective baseline of the social field and all group formations, or of one’s relations with others. Following Lauren Berlant (among others), we want to examine ambivalence in a less negative or resolute sense and more in a way that recognizes its inevitability and pervasiveness. How does ambivalence manifest in contemporary literary, subjective, and political spheres? Are there new ways or new objects through which to talk about this conflictual (and occasionally volatile) affect?


Confusion names a similar disorderly problem to the idea of the “self-governing subject,” but places stronger emphasis on the cognitive fuddling of conceptual objects. What, in our historical present, provokes acute forms of confusion? How are modern writers describing and theorizing the queer lapses of logic, the mistaking of discrete categories, or the experience of encountering the pre (or post) linguistic? Perhaps with today’s “merchants of doubt” in mind, what does confusion do and feel like in contemporary social fields?


Looking at conceptual mistakes, formal incongruities, affective muddles, Freudian slips, and more, this seminar will ask about the rhetoric and politics of confusion and the multitude of ways that writers have taken on the problem of mixed thoughts and feelings. What new theories do they provide? How practical and how fantastical is it to resolve these perpetual dilemmas?


We recognize that all texts tarry with ambivalence or confusion. What this seminar asks is for a concentrated effort on studying the description, experience, structure, and effect of these phenomena in contemporary literary, filmic, cultural, and theoretical texts. Contributors are welcome to consider the following when submitting:
  •  “Ugly feelings,” queer desire or attachments, psychic states of disorientation, perplexity, or maladjustment

  • Narratives of troubled embodiment such as gender dysphoria, body dysmorphia, or the Fanonian “nausea” of experiencing racialization

  • Theories of ambivalence in group formations (or studies of conflicts within group solidarity)

  • Readerly ambivalence or confusion

  • Narrative structures centered on epistemological crises and investigation, quests for clarity, plot holes and incongruous form

  • Revisitations on the “undecidability” of deconstruction and the “blindness” of cognition

  • Readings of/with psychoanalysis (from theories of ambivalence from Freud and Klein to Ferenczi’s “confusion of tongues”)

  • The role of “merchants of doubt” and misinformation in today’s media society

  • A range of styles and genres, from the detective and thriller to modernisms and the avant-garde

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