Concentrationary Imaginaries/Imaginaries of Violence
in Contemporary Cultures and Cultural Forms
Andrew Benjamin (Monash) Adriana Cavarero (Verona)
Paul Gilroy (LSE) Ian James (Cambridge)
Paul Willemen (Ulster) Samuel Weber (Northwestern)
With a plenary by Zygmunt Bauman (Leeds)
An international transdisciplinary conference organized by the AHRC Research Project Concentrationary Memories: The Politics of Representation directed by Griselda Pollock(Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory and History) and Max Silverman(Centre for French and Francophone Cultural Studies)
April 13-15 2011
University of Leeds
In 1946 French Trotskyist political deportee to Buchenwald coined the phrase ‘concentrationary universe’ to describe the terrifying sociological experiment in total destruction of humanity in which, according to Hannah Arendt, ‘everything is possible’. Our question is : has anything of the concentrationary universe seeped into and been disseminated through contemporary culture? Going beyond the work of Agamben and Virilio who suggest that the camp and war are now the matrices of modern society, we want to enquire into cultural forms and subjectivities. Is there now a concentrationary imaginary? What would be its indices, symptoms, locations, tropes and affects? Where might we find it? Is the concentrationary a dimension of heightened violence, of fantasies of apocalyptic, end-of-time confrontations, of the manner in which ‘others’ are projected as both fascinating and deadly? Is it about thoughtlessness and amnesia? Has it been eroticised and stylized via fascist kitsch? Has it found a home or a counter-imaginary in science fiction? Is it linked with images of pestilence, viral contamination, deadly epidemics? What might resist its seepage and normalization?
Far from being contained as a one-off, geopolitically contained event, the Nazi-created concentrationary and its horrific extension, the exterminationary, initiated the political novelty that Arendt defined as totalitarianism. Totalitarianism was an experiment in the destruction of the human, which Arendt came to identify with spontaneity and plurality. Not confined to the Third Reich, the concentrationary was a feature of Stalin’s Soviet Union but also in differing guises is typical of racist societies and dictatorships. If the political lessons of the concentrationary universe led Hannah Arendt to seek to refound a basis for social life in the human condition, is the concentrationary imaginary continuing to put humanity, or our humanity, at risk?
In this conference we wish to investigate the often oblique manifestations of the legacies of the concentrationary in diverse forms of contemporary culture from literature, to cinema, and video games. Can aspects of the increasing obsessions with violence in media culture be related to an unacknowledged concentrationary legacy? Where is the concentrationary most visible? Is it identifiable by a lack of conscious memory that might continuously warn of its menace? In what forms has the concentrationary continued in political realizations, but also in their underlying imaginations and in imaginary forms? Where might we locate its signs? What are its effects on the subjectivities such cultural manifestations help to shape?
We suggest the following areas for the study of the emergence, persistence and transmogrification of a concentrationary imaginary and for seeking to challenge the continuing menace of that which the concentrationary universe and gulags initiated in the heart of twentieth century Europe.
Post Holocaust Political Theory
Science Fiction and the Concentrationary Empire
Contemporary Apocalyptic Art :Images of Fear
Popular Culture, Racism and Others
Dark Times: Arendt’s Legacies in Cultural Theory and Practice
Cinema and the Concentrationary Imaginary
Identifying Sites of Cruelty
Agamben and the Camp
To submit an abstract for a 20 minute paper download form:
and send directly to: firstname.lastname@example.org marked Concentrationary Imaginaries Conference 2011.
Deadline for the submission of abstracts: 1 November 2010.
School of Fine Art, Old Mining Building
University of Leeds
LS2 9JT, UK
T: +44 113 343 5267
F: +44 113 245 1977
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