Keynote sessions

Frederik Tygstrup (Copenhagen Doctoral School for Cultural Studies)

Affective Spaces

As is well known, experiences of panic and mourning reach well beyond individual emotions and states of mind. Panic or mourning is not merely something you feel, but also something ‘in the air’, as the saying has it, i.e. not only pertaining to the subjective psychic life, but to an atmosphere, a shared collective experience, a quality of specific events and specific places.  However evident this insight is, languages to describe such experiences are nonetheless quite rare, and most of them tend to simply apply the concepts of individual psychology to collective states of mind.

The present paper will suggest two closely related approaches to the understanding of atmospheric and collective emotional experiences. The first will be an attempt to introduce the notion of affects and the affective, as theorized by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. This notion of affect is interesting precisely because it turns upside down the relation of the subjective ‘I’ and the affect inhabiting it, paving the way, thus, for a non-individual understanding of experiences of panic and mourning and related affective phenomena.

The second approach will focus specifically on the spatial nature of such atmospheric and social affects. Profiting from the recent ‘spatial turn’ in cultural studies, which has radically extended our understanding of space and enabled us to map spatial relations that go beyond the merely positional, the paper will highlight the affective component in the relational production of human space. Combining a more traditional phenomenological understanding of human space with contemporary mappings of social space, the paper will examine how geographic, social and existential relations are involved in the production of affects, and inversely how the affective takes part in the production of social experiences of space.

Part of the paper will be theoretical, discussing these conceptual moves, and part of it will draw on a number of literary and cinematic works, where important contemporary affective spaces are mapped and examined.

Eduardo Cinta Torres (CECC – UCP / Institute for Social Sciences – University of Lisbon)

Catastrophe in Sight & Sound

“There are no words to describe what happened”: these are the words most commonly used whenever one attempts to describe a catastrophe. How should the sublime, either applied to horror or to beauty, be described? From the Bible onwards, catastrophes have been put into words but, given their enormity, they are beyond the human capacity of verbal expression. Painting, drawing, and later mechanical reproduction of images, from photography to digital mobile phones, solved the difficulty in describing the horror with words.

The mechanical reproduction, with its aura of truthfulness and faithful imitation, coincided with the outbreak of mass media, which reinforced the power of catastrophe representation. In the société du spectacle, catastrophes were turned into sight and sound becoming as a popular theme as they always were, particularly on television, the most suitable medium for catastrophe representation. In my presentation I will survey  and representations of catastrophe through sight and sound.

António Sousa Ribeiro (Centre for Social Studies  – University of Coimbra)

A Culture of Fear. Panic, Mourning, Testimony, and the Question of Representation

Organized violence, in particular state violence, is directed towards the production of a culture of fear as an essential control mechanism. The seemingly arbitrary and, from the point of view of the victims, unpredictable exercise of power through collective violence leads forcibly to an anomic situation in the context of which any sense of identity and belonging are profoundly destabilized. In turn, the memory of fear often has a traumatic character that precludes mourning and stands in the way of a meaningful confrontation with the past. Drawing mainly, but not exclusively, on Holocaust testimonial literature, my paper will try to provide a theoretical reflection on these issues, particularly on the function of representation through testimony as a means of resistance and agency.

Ban Wang (Department of Comparative Literature – Stanford University)

The Banality of Trauma in the Conditions of Capitalist Modernity

This presentation seeks to looks into traumatic consequences on the laboring body. Delving into the systemic foundation of modern capitalism based on the traumatic training of the productive body, I examine the excessive focus on the clinical inquiries of trauma and reveal this approach to be a theoretical reflex of commodity fetishism, effecting an aestheticization and privatization of trauma.  The overwhelming attention on horrendous events and short-term impacts on the psyche elides the “banality” of workaday trauma as the long-term and daily catastrophe of modern institutions and labor-conditions under neoliberal production. I will briefly comment on the Chinese film Durian Durian (Liulian piaopiao) by Hong Kong director Fruit Chan.  The film demonstrates the subtle ways in which the female, artistic body becomes accustomed to banal trauma by becoming a laboring machine.  But the film also suggests alternative conceptions of the aesthetic body sustained by nostalgia, memory, and tradition.

Liliane Weissberg (Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures – University of Pennsylvania)

Deep Waters: The Early Scenes of Claude Lanzmann’s Film “Shoah”

At the very beginning of Claude Lanzmann’s monumental film Shoah, we encounter an older man in a boat, drifting through an idyllic landscape. Soon, however, we learn that this man is repeating a task of his youth, while a prisoner in a concentration camp. As a young boy, he was asked to transport goods on a boat, and was praised for his singing voice, used while rowing. In the face of death, the boy’s voice, now refracted as that of an older man who repeats the songs, proved to offer a beauty that ultimately saved his life. My paper will analyze the beginning of Lanzmann’s film, focus on the early images, and reflect on the significance of this scene for his project.

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