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Possibility and Sovereignty: The Modern Conjunction

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Organizer: Joseph Albernaz

Co-Organizer: Kirill Chepurin

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Possibility and sovereignty are central concepts to many accounts of the modern Western world: This seminar seeks to explore their conjunction--including imagining alternative forms and refusals--in theory and literature.

Modernity is the time of sovereignty and exception (Schmitt, Agamben). Yet modernity also sees the world as a world of possibility – manipulable and infinitely open to change, ripe with projects and possibilities that the subject’s “self-assertion” (Blumenberg) can master. Possibility is at once telos and resource; progress is the increasing actualization of “the best possible” – competitive, collaborative, or both.

Possibility has of late come under suspicion. From attempts to think “another possibility” (Malabou, Derrida), “without beginning with the possible” (Levinas) or “impotentiality” (Agamben), to queer theory’s critique of futurity, to current work in Black Studies, recent theory has exposed and refused the mechanisms by which modern claims of possibility reproduce exclusionary structures, while promising change and freedom.

What might be gained by thinking at the intersection of (largely separate) critiques of possibility and modern sovereignty? If, as Moten writes, “modernity (the confluence of the slave trade, settler colonialism and the democratization of sovereignty) a socioecological disaster,” what role does possibility play in this confluence? Who in modernity has access to possibility, and how is this related to sovereignty and freedom? How is the conjunction of possibility and sovereignty joined with the logics of racialization and “global immanence” (Jared Hickman)? Can freedom be delinked from this conjunction? How might we articulate general trajectories of refusing it?

Papers – literary-critical, theoretical, or both – can take up any aspect of this conceptual nexus from any perspective, including:

-Alternative modernities – e.g. Lucretian, mystical, non-Christian, non-Western, or decolonial – that refuse or problematize this conjunction of possibility and sovereignty
-Logics of relation or opposition between possibility and sovereignty in modernity, structurally or in individual figures, works or periods (e.g. Early Modern, Enlightenment, Romantic)
-Temporalities of actualization and sovereignty in their interrelation in modernity; rethinking relations between periodization, sovereignty, and the “politics of time” (Kathleen Davis)
-“Tracking the figure of the unsovereign” (Nahum Chandler) and its relation to instances and logics of (im)possibility in modernity
-Possibility and sovereignty in the Anthropocene or “fossil fuel modernity”
-Christianity, secularization, and the possibility-sovereignty nexus
-This conjunction’s (racialized, gendered) implications in and for contemporary theory (political theology, Black Studies, gender studies, queer theory, discourses on/against the Human (Wynter))
-Literary form, alternative possibilites vs. alternatives to possibility

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