Aestheticization of Relationality? Really?

The following is a call for papers to be delivered at the Society for Cultural Anthropology meeting next May aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Frankly, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us, so as we struggle to understand, we ask you readers for help. This passage, we can all agree, is intensely felt and may well be packed with meaning. But what would that meaning turn out to be if the text is successfully rendered into English? To enlist your help, we are making this a contest. The author of the best (or most original) English-language translation of this passage will receive a prize, to be described at the end of this post. Ready? Here is the call for papers:

“Recent work in the human sciences has made questions of ethics and aesthetics central to the analysis of politics once again. Part of the impetus for this work comes from dissatisfaction with older paradigms that have often treated ethics and aesthetics as an ideological byproduct of the workings of capital and power politics. Recent developments within domains as disparate as the media, the bio-sciences, religion, and finance have forced the human sciences to rethink this older logic of cause and effect, content and form. Scholarly explorations have increasingly focused on how ethical concerns have at times helped spawn new forms of governance (such as truth and reconciliation commissions, novel auditing practices, social networks) and at other moments been the basis of imagining new forms of intimacy, publicity, secrecy, and relationality. Similarly, emergent aesthetic forms have given rise to unique communication regimes, sensory experiences, and politics of deliberation, critique, and persuasion. It is not surprising that anthropologists are at the center of such explorations given our discipline’s focus on existing and emergent forms of human action. The 2008 SCA annual meeting will focus on recent work produced around the thematics of ethics, aesthetics, and politics. Some of the questions and issues we want to explore are: What are the forms of critique implicit within contemporary ethical and aesthetic formations? How do these emergent practices reconfigure the classical schism between form and content so germane to the human sciences? How does the concept of “the political” needs to be rethought in light of the ethicization and aestheticization of contemporary politics? What, if anything, is left of culture in this debate? How do we rethink the notion of ‘practice’ in this moment beyond the dual axis of structure and effect? How might reflection on contemporary stagings of deliberation and debate help us rethink the relationship between affect and reason?”

The contest deadline is 6 p.m. November 25, eastern standard time. The prize will be a copy of The Location of Culture by Harvard’s hard-hitting but indecipherable post-colonial scholar, Homi K. Bhabha. The book contains this argument by Bhabha, which no one has even attempted to refute:

If, for a while, the ruse of desire is calculable for the uses of discipline soon the repetition of guilt, justification, pseudo-scientific theories, superstition, spurious authorities, and classifications can be seen as the desperate effort to ‘normalize’ formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the rational, enlightened claims of its enunciatory modality.

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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