Striking Back? On Imperial Fantasies and Fantasies of Empire
Since the turn of the century, empire as a concept, an object of research and a target of political critique has experienced a dramatic renaissance—“empire” seems to be expanding, as it is wont to do. It has inspired Marxist manifestoes (Hardt and Negri 2000; Harvey 2003), reanimated postcolonial critique (Mehta 1999; Stoler 2016), and fueled innovative imperial histories (Barkey 2008; Judson 2016; Kivelson and Suny 2016; Daughton 2006). In the vexatious time of Brexit, apologies for imperialism have also increased in frequency and volume (Ferguson 2018). In short, “empire” is a predominant political fantasy of our day and age. With this backdrop in mind, we invite proposals for our interdisciplinary, exploratory conference, Striking Back? On Imperial Fantasies and Fantasies of Empire. We seek contributions from political theorists, anthropologists, historians, sociologists, and sundry interrogators of colonialism and imperialism that speak to two broad questions and themes. First, how are we to understand imperial fantasies as inherent to the political formations of empires, both in the present and in the past? Secondly, what political, social and semiotic lives are lived by fantasies of empire?
On a conceptual plane, we aspire to mediate productively between the two dominant currents of theorization about fantasy: the Marxian and the psychoanalytic. From Marx and his legatees, we take the fundamental lesson that, in the time of capital, commodity fetishism, and the relations of production they entail, the real is itself fantastical.” (Miéville 2002: 42). From Freud, Lacan, and their interpreters, we inherit a notion of fantasy as inherent to the making and breaking of realities. Rather than an escape from reality or a supplement to the real, fantasy, as Lauren Berlant has mused, animates “the unconscious continuities we project that allow us to trust the world enough to test it and change ourselves“ (Manning and Berlant 2018). In this spirit, we heed China Miéville’s call for a “notion of fantasy as embedding potential transformation and emancipation in human thinking” (2002: 46). Furthermore, we contend that this project entails explicit attention to the constitutive doubleness of fantasy as a mode of power and as a genre of speculation about this power.
Concomitantly, we also aim to shed new light on empire as a persistent theme in the literary and filmic genre of fantasy. From H. G. Wells’ marauding Martians to the Death Star’s depredations, works of science fiction and fantasy have thematised imperialism with incisive verve. Two general questions follow: What can we learn about the means and ends of imperial power from fictional fantasies about empire(s)? and, How are the genres of fantasy and science fiction themselves entangled with imperialist projects and worldviews?
Finally, we also seek submissions that explicitly draw out the relationships between imperial fantasies and other, competing and converging fantasies of the political. How do imperial fantasies and nationalist fantasies conflict and collaborate? What fantasies undergird the resurgence of toxic populism and its affects, and how do they relate to empire? How often is “empire” in the eye of the beholder, as easily clothed in the costumes of a neofascist as a neoliberal? Who is wearing empire’s new clothes (Murphy 2018)?