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Violence: Of the Idiom

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Organizer: Tyler M. Williams

Co-Organizer: D. J. S. Cross

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Jacques Derrida first hardened the common notion of “idiom” into a rigorous concept. No longer referring to mere peculiarities of a language or its expressions, for Derrida the idiom now names absolute singularities that defy the repeatability and translatability traditionally associated with language in general. While Derrida already makes recourse to the idiom in his early work, the notion was largely popularized in Monolingualism of the Other (1996). Since then, the idiom has come to dominate discussions not only of the Other but also of ethics at large. Most often, the idiom is presented as a means for preserving the alterity of the Other – that is, the singularity of the Other – against the homogenizing efforts of power as manifested in language. While “language” forces an individual to conform to general structures, “the idiom” would allow for an expression that does no violence to his or her singularity. One recent thinker to articulate this economy is Marc Crépon, who, in his book The Vocation of Writing (2018), locates in "literature" the idiomatic resources for resisting violence. Other examples, although they do not name the idiom per se, might be Deleuze & Guattari's "becoming-minor of language," Glissant's "poetics of Relation," Spivak's sense of "the subaltern," or Celan's treatment of "poetry."

This seminar investigates the relationship between language’s violent forces of conformity and the modes of resistance named by the idiom. Attentive to growing interest in “the actuality of deconstruction,” the organizers seeks interdisciplinary papers that address language’s relation to, perpetuation of, and resistance against violence. We welcome structural approaches to communicability, translation, literature, or poetry in general. However, we are principally interested in papers that address how this economy of language, violence, and the idiom enable critiques of more overt policies of hegemonic conformity, such as the assimilation of immigrant languages to a national language, the standardization of trauma testimony, the perpetuation of epistemic normativities and centrisms (racial, sexual, gendered, ableist, colonial, etc.), the swelling of fascistic discourse -- and how, or if, these and other mechanisms of power entail the possibility of idiomatic resistance.

Additionally, without denying the violence of “language” or the ways in which the “idiom” might reduce it, this seminar proposes to investigate other forms of violence that an absolute singularity in language might entail, forms regularly overlooked in contemporary discussions of ethics, violence, and language. Is such a singularity possible after all? Does the idiom constitute a viable means of resistance, or is idiomaticity another vehicle for further violence? Is the purity of the idiom contaminated and compromised by its communicability? Is there ever nonviolence?

Please provide a 300-word abstract by September 20.

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