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Language, Finitude, and the Human: The Afterlife of Theory?

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Organizer: Patrick Dove

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This seminar takes up the question of what becomes of critical practices in the Humanities at a time when theory no longer holds sway in the academy. The death of theory, as we are describing it, is not tied to specific proper names or biographies; it is registered in the fact we humanities scholars as a whole no longer feel compelled to count the question of language among our primary concerns. We may opt to study history, the body, materiality, the environment and climate change, politics, ethics, race, gender, migration, the digital, or something else—but with very few exceptions we as a collective have come to see these as realities outside of language. To the extent that it turns away from the question of language, humanistic scholarship also avoids confrontation with what the Hegelian and Heideggerian traditions called negativity and finitude respectively. Hence, it also severely limits its capacity to reflect critically on the humanities and humanism. As Claire Colebrook has argued, more than ever the human asserts itself today as the unquestioned ground for both knowledge production and practice—even within those discourses and practices that claim to embrace a non-human point of departure.

We invite participants to reflect on how thought and critical practice today can be seen to open up new avenues for inquiry into the relationship between whatever it is that we study (history, the body, materiality, etc.) and finitude in whatever guise (language or some other referent). As the concerns that frame our seminar have to do with changes that affect the way research is carried out in the humanities, contributions need not focus on contemporary thinkers or contexts; much more relevant is the issue of how our changing world (beyond but also within the university) affect the ways in which we seek to understand this world.

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