The Politics of Theory: Postcolonialism, Cultural Studies, and their Aftermath: Session 3

Venue: Birkbeck Cinema, Birkbeck, University of London, Bloomsbury, 43 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PD
Booking details: Free entry; booking required

Session 3: In the Wake of Postcolonialism:  Deconstruction, Posthegemony, Neoconservativism, Neo-Fascism, Neo-Utopianism.

Speaker: John Beverley, Distinguished Professor of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, Adjunct Professor, Department of English and Communication, University of Pittsburgh.

General Description: That the conjunction of postcolonial struggle and structuralism in the 1960s produces a kind of earthquake in academic knowledge and institutions, particularly in the domain of what the French call the human sciences.   The shock effect of that earthquake may be named for sake of convenience "theory," and the disciplinary outcome of theory “studies" (cultural, postcolonial, queer, women's, Africana, Atlantic, global, global Pacific, etc.).  The core issue is the relation of culture and politics, or to use Raymond Williams' term "cultural materialism".  As the revolutionary vanguardist political formations of the 1960s, epitomized by the armed struggle in Latin America, collapse or are defeated, theory and studies nourish and in turn are nourished by new forms of politics, based on the principle of multicultural hegemonic articulation.   One compelling form of this possibility are the new governments of the so-called Pink Tide in that emerged in Latin America in the first decade of the new century, which incorporated into their strategy elements of both poststructuralist and postcolonial thinking. 

However, the tremors of the earthquake of "theory" have subsided.  The politics of theory are resisted from both the right--in the form of a kind of "left neo-conservatism"-- and the left--in the form of deconstructive or libertarian ultraleftism.   New theories of cultural agency emerge, often with a Deleuzian inspiration or provenance. (e.g. Hardt and Negri on the "multitude," "affect" theory. "posthegemony") and new, less overtly political forms of "studies" (media, visual culture, digital humanities, neo-philology etc., etc.). 

Session 3: The third session will examine finally, the waning of the politics of theory in the new century: and the major forms of its critique of (deconstruction, neo-conservatism, Deleuzian and anarchist ultraleftism ),  from both  the right  of the left ("left conservativism")  and  the left of the left, if that distinction holds meaning.   That will bring us to the edge of the present, where the "theory,” along with Marxism and psychoanalysis, has lost practically all purchase.  At a moment when the neoliberal consensus that emerged in the 1990s is in a state of crisis (or, some would say, reorganization), what are the new possibilities for a politics of theory?  We'll look at some contemporary arguments for egalitarianism and utopianism.

Suggested readings: (they are supplementary rather than required or necessary for following the sessions; the main issues in them will be part of the presentation).

  • Concept of hegemony and “hegemonic articulation" in Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Columbia U. P., 2011 (use the index) and Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, Verso, 2001.
  • Concept of the “multitude” in conditions of globalization in e.g. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire, Harvard U.P., 2001.
  • Alvaro García Linera, “State Crisis and Popular Power,” New Left Review 32 (2006)
  • John Beverley, “Deconstruction and Latinamericanism,” in his Latinamericanism after 9/11, Duke U. P., 2011.
  • Some engagement with Jon Beasley Murray, Posthegemony, U. of Minnesota P., 2010 (Beasley Murray has a blog)
  • Alain Badiou and Marcel Gauchet, What Is To Be Done?  A Dialogue on Communism, Capitalism and the Future of Democracy, Polity, 2016.
  • Some engagement with the thought of Alexander Dugin, e.g. via his book The Fourth Political Theory, Arktos Media, 2012.
  • Fredric Jameson, An American Utopia. Dual Power and the Universal Army, Verso, 2016 (in the collection –Verso—with the same title, or (so I’m told) live on You Tube:

Free event open to all: Book your place here.

John Beverley is Distinguished Professor of Hispanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches critical theory and literature.   He is the author or editor of some twenty books, including Essays on the Baroque, Against Literature, Subalternity and Representation, The Postmodernism Debate in Latin America, Testimonio and the Politics of Truth, and Latinamericanism after 9/11.   He was part of the group, including Gayatri Spivak, and Paul Bove, that created the Graduate Program in Cultural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1980s, one of the first such programs in the US academy. He was a founding member of the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group.  He now co-edits the University of Pittsburgh Press series, Illuminations. Cultural Formations of the Americas. He serves on the editorial boards of boundary 2 and the Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, among others.  His most recent seminar was on Roberto Bolaño's novel 2666, and he is working currently on a collection of essays about what might be called the "post" of postcolonialism.

Hosted by Birkbeck's Centre for Iberian and Latin American Visual Studies