Eighteenth Annual Cultural Studies Conference
ENGAGEMENTS, EVENTS, ENERGIES: THE HUMANITIES
BETWEEN AFFIRMATION AND CRITIQUE
April 18-19, 2014
The formation of "Cultural Studies" under this title in the later decades of the 20th century drew on diverging traditions and impulses. Continental European critical theory, including the debates between Sartre and Adorno on the meaning of “committed literature,” were joined – as well as contested – by the project of Marxist British Culture Studies. In and since the 1980s, new historicism as well as a range of adaptations of deconstructivist criticism by feminist, postcolonial, critical race and queer studies scholars were hotly debated. In the 1990s, many hoped – or feared – that these various approaches loosely grouped together as Cultural Studies had acquired relative hegemony, and were in the process of lastingly reconfiguring humanities scholarship within – and beyond – the traditional fields of literature and art criticism.
Since the new century, however, the energies of these various critical approaches have been perceived to wane; some have proclaimed the end of the era of Cultural Studies as such (see critically Hegeman, The Cultural Return). Against the backdrop of widespread calls for a return to the canon and a recentering of literary and art criticism around questions of aesthetics or poetics, the contours of a politically engaged “cultural studies” may in fact seem threatened – which, obviously, concerns the future of our distinguished program by that name. However, emerging twenty-first century approaches offer a host of different, more or less immediately resonant, paradigms that we hope to bring into timely dialogues with the aforementioned older paradigms. Thus, the returns to aesthetics and poetics are, upon closer investigation, highly heterogeneous; many of their proponents argue for complex interpenetrations of aesthetics and politics through revised historicist approaches or the methodologies of ‘surface reading’ & co. Simultaneously, new paradigms of explicitly political, often (by intention) radical scholarship have found broader resonance in contemporary academia, ranging from Badiouvian epistemologies of the revolutionary event to the presumably subversive energy flows of affect studies and ‘new materialism’. While these new approaches are often programmatically opposed to twentieth-century models of engaged scholarship (with their sociological, ideology-critical, discourse-analytical etc. affiliations), we hope to begin a dialogue that moves beyond these frontlines, and opens new perspectives for contemporary articulations of the complex relations between aesthetics and politics, culture, art and worldmaking for twenty-first century Cultural Studies in the curricular as well as broader sense.