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What is an “I”?: The Borders of Enunciation from Statelessness to Sovereignty

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Organizer: John Namjun Kim

Co-Organizer: Rana Sharif

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Émile Benveniste’s notion of “enunciation” defined as the “enactment of language (langue) through an individual act of  use” has had a transformative effect across critical discourses in the humanities, as exemplified in the work of Kristeva, Lacan, Barthes, Todorov and Foucault, among others. Its transformative effect can largely be attributed to the critical distinction it introduces between the the subject of the enunciated and the subject of enunciation, that is, between the subject posited within an utterance (or declaration or narrative)  and the subject that is retroactively posited as the efficient “cause” of the utterance. This distinction problematizes any unitary or stable notion of an “I,” upon which modern philosophemes of selfhood and state sovereignty are premised. What, then, is an “I” in these political contexts?


The co-organizers of this seminar invite papers that explore the notion of enunciation with reference to zones of social and political exclusion and their representations. In centering Benveniste's notion of enunciation in questions of exclusion, we neither privilege the state nor foreclose the possibilities of other declaratives, narratives, or statements. Rather, we read Benveniste as an intellectual invitation into critical literary spaces that are, at their core, political in nature. We are interested in both the intellectual and political motivations of enunciation as it confronts power. How does the notion of enunciation intersect with the questions of statelessness, for example, in Palestine? What does enunciation mean in the context of the global refugee crisis where possibility of enunciation is often foreclosed, for example, among Haitians seeking asylum in the U.S. or Rohingya in Bangladesh? How is the question of enunciation implicated in former and continuing zones of (de-)colonization, for example, in the European colonization of Africa or Japanese imperialism in East and Southeast Asia?

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