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Narrative Theories of Violence: From the Political to the Racial Unconscious

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Organizer: Kevin Pyon

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From Fredric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious (1981)to Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark (1992), theories of narrative so often double as theories of violence, the one theory reciprocally informing the other. For Jameson, the Marxian violence of exploitation central to the long history of capitalism can be interpreted from the internal dynamics of narrative form: just as capitalism works to repress the true reality of its oppressive mechanisms, narratives work to repress the true reality of History itself (that being, the grand narrative of class struggle). For Morrison, the violence of racial slavery central to the long history of America can likewise be interpreted from the internal dynamics of narrative form: just as racism works to oppress the racial Other in service of Whiteness, narratives work to repress the true reality of American history (that being, the “Africanist” presence that haunts America). Though these classic studies were published decades ago, their theorizations of narrative and violence—or narrative as violence/violence as narrative—continue to inform studies (e.g., Afro-pessimism) focused on various politico-racial issues (e.g., racial or neoliberal capitalism, anti-black violence).

This seminar will (1) explore the ontological and epistemological premises upon which narrative theories of politico-racial violence have been and continue to be founded upon and (2) consider the possibilities for new avenues for understanding the relationship between narratives and politico-racial violence. Papers will consider, amongst others, the following questions:

--How do the conscious/unconscious and subject/object paradigms inform how scholars understand the nature of both narratives and politico-racial violence?  

--How might we reconsider the hermeneutic principle of “representation” when understanding the relationship between narratives and politico-racial violence?

--How might narrative theories of violence demand a sui generis priority that precludes the possibility of or lowers the significance of other types of reading or violence? (e.g., class oppression vs anti-black violence)

--How do the interpretative frames of “resistance,” “subversion,” or “agency” make possible and elide forms of politico-racial violence found within narratives? 

--How might we think narratives and violence beyond the “political”? 

--How does the recent debate over “symptomatic” vs “surface” reading challenge or fail to consider the forms of politico-racial violence central to literary theories of the political or racial unconscious? 

Please submit abstracts with a brief bio through ACLA portal. 

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