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Hospitality at the End of the World

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Organizer: Penny Vlagopoulos

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What can hospitality do in end times? The crises of the twenty-first century—climate change and ecological disaster, technological determinism, militarized conflicts and their devastating aftermaths, the ravages of capitalism and its seemingly endless capacity to regenerate, and the exponentially growing waves of global refugees to name a few—have solidified the sense in which the end is “immanent rather than imminent,” as Frank Kermode wrote, posing significant aesthetic-political problems for artists.

Contemporary fiction has turned increasingly to post-apocalyptic imaginings of the present to make sense of realities so startling they seem to overflow human scales of understanding. Yet these times are rife with possibilities for rethinking our sense of responsibility. In her recent book, Jennifer Wenzel describes the genre of ecoapocalypse as “another mode of unimagining the future, rendering it still unimaginable.” She argues, “the desire to imagine our own destruction, or living on in the aftermath of collapse, distracts attention from the collapse and the alternatives already at work in the present.”

If the present can be retheorized as apocalyptic, yet already anticipating a livable future, the ancient notion of hospitality, a vital model for envisioning viable collective futures, might serve as an organizing principle.  As Seyla Benhabib puts it, “The universal right to hospitality which is due to every human being imposes upon us an imperfect moral duty to help and offer shelter to those whose life, limb, and well-being are endangered.” How can contemporary fiction that engages with the cataclysmic realities of the present resuscitate a commitment to hospitality, in what may seem the most inhospitable of periods?

This seminar seeks to examine hospitality in literature and film that engages with a multiplicity of post-apocalyptic scenarios, from those that have conventionally defined the genre, to those that represent end times in more nuanced ways, such as the experiences of refugees, diasporas, and histories of slavery and dispossession. Presenters might consider the following questions:

How do texts use post-apocalyptic tropes in nuanced ways that formally and thematically engage with the concept of hospitality?

How might the post-apocalyptic reinvigorate ideas about hospitality, and vice versa?

Does end-of-the-world hospitality have an aesthetics? Can it revitalize our commitment to social justice?

What would it mean to be steeped in both the collapses and the hospitable alternatives of the present?

How can we explore hospitality to rethink the ethics of end times and, as Derrida theorized, “do the impossible”?

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