CFP: Failure: Ethics and Aesthetics (grad) (1/15/06; 3/3/06-3/4/06)

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Failure: Ethics and Aesthetics

University of California, Irvine
March 3 and 4, 2006

The Visual Studies Graduate Student Association at the University of
California, Irvine, calls for papers from a wide-range of areas of study
that investigate and critically explore, contest, engage with, the concept
of “failure.”

The concept of failure has always remained closely tied to that of
progress: economically, morally, culturally, and politically. In an effort
to denaturalize this binary, we would like to examine what failure means
through papers that deal critically with its various forms in both
historical and contemporary circumstances, not only because this will help
us understand how narratives of success and progress operate, but also
because we wonder what potential “failure” as a political and aesthetic
tactic may offer. Might we discover a “loser theory”? We ask for papers
that do not just explore failed visions or failed experiments, but that
examine what those particular failures mean, generate, expose. In
addition, we recognize that in the past two decades a new archetype of
success has emerged in popular culture, in the figure of the slacker—for
example, MTV’s Jackass and the musician Beck’s “Loser,” while politics and
art provide other examples—the media image of President George W. Bush as
an “average guy” and the video art of Tony Oursler. At these moments,
failure functions as a hollow gesture, a style. On the other hand, the
discourses of deconstruction and poststructuralism show us that
failure—failures of understanding, of communication, of translation, of
domination—might have radical political potential. The binary of success
and failure translates into an economic realm as well, with success
equated with financial accumulation and failure with poverty. What has
this meant for colonial projects of emancipation and their postcolonial
entry onto the international stage? With this in mind, how might failure
provide a location for revolutionary activity, political critique, or
aesthetic experimentation? How does visual culture mobilize the concept of
failure beyond empty aesthetics? Might the concept failure provide an
ethics of its own?

In addition to academic papers, we invite participation from practicing
artists, filmmakers, and videomakers. We are committed to opening our
community to intellectual and creative producers who critically and
rigorously engage in rethinking “failure,” regardless of artistic or
academic identification.

Possible essay topics include, but are by no means limited to:

Failure and Aesthetics: Ephemeral art; Invisibility as tactic;
Deconstruction and the task of the translator/Miscommunication; “Bad”
painting; “Pitiful” art (as described by Paul Virilio); “Pathetic” art
(coined by Ralph Rugoff); Medium conservation/deterioration; Death of the
author; Documentary film; Forgetting; Entropy; Problems of access; Design
issues; The failure of modernist utopias

Sexuality: Camp; Critiques of heteronormativity; Failures of “proper”
gender identification; Adolescence; “Failures” of social assimilation

Failure and Theory: European avant-gardism and the question of elitism;
Alternative discourses of failure; Loser theory; What is the role of
critical theory today? Has it failed? What does that mean?; Postructuralim
and the critique of the subject

Politics and Failure: Fantasies of success and the American Dream; Failure
as ethics; Colonialism and Liberation; Collectivism and Communalism;
Revolutionary success as overall failure (Stalinism) versus immediate
failure as potential future success (Zapatistas); Martyrdom and
messianicity; Failure of the nation-state; Human rights and social justice

Economic Breakdowns: Reaganomics/Thatcherism; Monetary policies of the IMF
and the World Bank and/or strategies of resistance; Specific policy
failure—No Child Left Behind; Failed nations; National “security”

Popular Culture: Punk rock; Sports films; Box-office failures, eg.
Waterworld; Self-help and the Culture of Betterment; Critiques of slacker
culture and the cooptation of failure

Please submit 250-500 word abstracts along with your name, institution,
email address, and phone number to Vuslat Demirkoparan (,
by January 15, 2006.

For general questions about the conference, please contact Heather Murray
( or Mark Cunningham (

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Received on Fri Sep 16 2005 - 11:13:25 EDT

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