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Literature and Surveillance

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Organizer: Keegan Finberg

Co-Organizer: Stephen Pasqualina

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Influenced by recent work in cultural studies such as Jackie Wang’s analysis of algorithmic policing in Carceral Capitalism and Simone Browne’s research on counter-surveillance (or “sousveillance”) in Dark Matters, as well as the rapid growth of the field of “surveillance studies,” our seminar asks: What does surveillance tell us about literature? And, what does literature tell us about surveillance? How does literary studies or literary history supplement and expand Foucault’s writing on disciplinary power and visual strategies of control? What can literature tell us about the racializing powers of surveillance as well as its utility to resist oppressive regimes? As David Rosen and Aaron Santesso argue in their study of surveillance and liberal personhood, “surveillance, the monitoring of human activities for the purposes of anticipating or influencing future events, is not the same thing as literature. It does, however, share some of literature's interests—most notably discovering the truth about other people—and is susceptible to some of the same temptations as literature.” Like Rosen and Santesso, we define surveillance at its broadest, and are also interested in creating taxonomies and categories in order to clearly locate these “temptations.” These temptations, pitfalls, or catastrophes might include the racializing powers of various visual and tactical devices as well as the acceleration or perpetuation of war, genocide, and systems of oppression that stem from surveillance practices.
Relevant questions include: What do works of literature and literary studies reveal about new surveillance technologies, such as facial recognition and biometrics? Are there literary historical predecessors for our current surveillance regime? Can counter-surveillance itself productively be read as literature? How can we trace a changing aesthetic of watching? What might replace Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon as a metaphor for the current strategy of visual control? How does literary studies foreshadow what is next in the field of surveillance? What might drone technologies tell us about the goal of “discovering the truth about other people”? If “discovering the truth about other people” is the goal of certain literature, how can we understand its politics? How is the lens of “surveillance” helpful for this task of reading?
Among our considerations:
-Literary strategy, technique, or aesthetic as surveillance
-Poetics and politics of racializing surveillance
-Disciplinary power and visuality
-Poetics of counter-surveillance, obfuscation, or anti-surveillance
-Modes of reading as strategies of surveillance
-Technologies of visual strategies of knowing (drones, panoptics, predictive and biometric policing, facial recognition technologies, etc.) and their connection to literary history
-The economy, policing, and/or municipal finance as/ through/ with literary surveillance

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