German Studies Association (GSA) 2020 Seminar: Theory Critical, or Marx, Nietzsche, Freud NOW!*
What form does Marx’s class struggle take in an age of extinction? Have Nietzsche's readers been born, yet, or have they come and gone? And what of Freud’s unconscious in a world of infinite exposure? Paul Ricoeur identifies in Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud (MNF) a so-called "hermeneutics of suspicion,” which he claims inaugurated and deeply influenced the vigorous critical theory tradition of which he was a part and that spanned the 20th century. Through an emphasis on MNF, this seminar examines the contemporary status of that tradition. Although the explanatory power of MNF laid bare the surface and subsurface forces that shaped the 19th and 20th centuries, one has reason to wonder whether the world over which this grasp extends hasn't changed significantly enough and what impact this change has had on the nature and scope of their thought and influence. To answer questions like these, we invite scholarship that explores how the hermeneutic shift represented by MNF informs, or fails to inform, contemporary thought and practice, and where the 21st century perhaps demands lines of inquiry into MNF and their legacy that the 19th and 20th centuries did not.
Such an inquiry is built upon two premises captured in the seminar title: theory remains vital (critical) even as it finds itself in a weakened (critical) condition. On the one hand, the pressures are external. In the past, it was simple enough to establish that the world(s) of modernity and postmodernity reflected critical theory’s own preoccupations and vice versa. However, the question remains whether the same can be said of the capacity of MNF and their legacy to adequately encompass issues related to emergent 21st century social, political, cultural, economic, environmental, and epistemological circumstances and crises.
On the other hand, the pressures are internal. Contemporary scholars, many from within the theory community itself, emphasize critical theory’s blind spots. Some, for instance, argue the Western critical-theoretical tradition cannot accommodate complex 21st century intersectionalities related to race, gender, class, identity, ability, and environment. Others cite an outdated humanism and metaphysics at the core of the critical theory project and have committed to moving beyond it. Meanwhile, public critics outside of academia have reissued the allegation that critical theory, and, in particular, the strain of postmodern critical theory inspired by Nietzsche, is somehow responsible for the so-called post-truth, “everything is permitted” society in which we now, allegedly, live.
These pressures, of course, frequently overlap and where they intersect is especially fertile ground for further study. Whatever the case, whether one begins with the theory itself or the world to which it refers, the constellation of MNF offers a focused way of thinking through a broad and influential intellectual project in order to establish whether today it is a merely historical or still an active critical-theoretical endeavor (or something in between).
The seminar takes a necessarily broad view of the seminar subject matter. Topics and perspectives not listed above are encouraged as are approaches that engage or challenge the premises themselves. Most importantly, perhaps, contributions may isolate one author, combine two authors, or approach all three, as Foucault and Ricoeur do, as a single constellation. Furthermore, although all responses should be grounded in the core ideas of MNF or in ideas constructed upon the bedrock of MNF (and this grounding should be evident in the topic/thesis), contributions needn’t be limited to the treatment of these thinkers alone; instead, one should conceive of MNF in this context as the progenitors of a long historical-intellectual milieu that may be traced at least through 20th century Marxist, post-structuralist, and psychoanalytical traditions. Insofar as the historical and ongoing evolution of MNF's legacy involves theory adapting over time to the changing world around it, the status of this milieu is precisely what is under investigation.
The seminar also seeks broad and diverse representation; consequently, scholars from a wide variety of disciplines across the humanities and social sciences and scholars of all ranks (including graduate students) are encouraged to apply.
Finally, this seminar corresponds with a soon-to-be released call for contributions to an edited volume on the same subject. While it isn’t necessary that seminar participants contribute to the book project, if you would like to be included in correspondence related to the book project, please let us know when you make first contact. It is the hope of the conveners that the seminar will serve as a kind of live rehearsal for potential contributors to the volume, and, for other participants, as an opportunity for extended, collaborative engagement with those questions at the heart of the seminar.
Please contact the conveners directly with any questions or concerns. We look forward to collaborating with you. Respectfully, Kevin and Robert
Abstract (no more than 500 words) and short CV should be submitted through GSA seminar application portal no later than January 26, 11:59pm, EST: https://www.xcdsystem.com/gsa/member/index.cfm. Candidates will be notified of the outcome of their applications on Feb 1.
After the enrollment phase is complete, conveners will distribute three common readings and a bibliography (<50 pp.). Complete written drafts of seminar papers will be pre-circulated (5000-7000 words, due 1 September 2020), and seminar discussions will be organized around the individual scholarly work and interests of its participants.
* GSA seminar meetings allow for extended discussion of a given topic. Seminar meetings take place each day of the conference. Individual sessions last two hours for a total of six contact hours over the course of the conference. Participation in seminars counts the same as presenting a conference paper.