Theories of Life in the 20th and 21st Centuries - Rutgers University - February 26, 2011

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Rutgers English 20th Century Group
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    Theories of Life in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Interdisciplinary Humanities Conference

Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ
Saturday, February 26, 2011

Plenary Speaker: Donna V. Jones, UC Berkeley English, author of The Racial Discourses of Life Philosophy: Négritude, Vitalism and Modernity. Columbia University Press, 2010.

Sponsored by: Rutgers English Department 20th Century Group, Rutgers Women and Gender Studies Department, the Institute for Research on Women.

This conference aims to understand what concepts "life" requires and to grapple with how different concepts and definitions of "life" alter our understanding of ethics, politics, and aesthetics. In doing so, we hope to articulate the resources the humanities bring to the critical investigation of life and to reflect on the stakes for turning to life at this historical moment. Thus we seek to bring together a wide range of contemporary methodologies and intellectual projects—grouped under the rubric "Theories of Life in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries"—to investigate the forces of life and to problematize the study of life as such. These areas of inquiry include, but are not limited to, bio- and necro-politics, affect, cognitive science, embodiment, animal studies, gender and sexuality, and vitalism.

While philosophers and artists have considered the ontological properties and ethical imperatives of life for centuries, this concept has acquired a renewed and unique purchase in the humanities today. We seek to address how these fields of inquiry intersect with, extend, and/or pose a challenge to the major artistic and philosophical movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—from modernism to postmodernism; from psychoanalysis and existentialism, to structuralism and post-structuralism. Does a philosophy of life presuppose a unique set of axioms about ontology and ethics, and if so, how do these concepts converge and diverge with the humanist and anti-humanist traditions that cut across the twentieth century? Further, how might we historicize the philosophical genealogies of life—from Freud and Bergson, through Marcuse and Fanon, to Deleuze and Haraway—within the context of the socio-political and technological upheavals of the twentieth century? Do theories of life enable a politics that adequately responds to these social conditions?

Other possible topics to consider:

- The raced and gendered aspects of vitalist philosophies
- The appeal of primitivism to Modernist vitalisms
- How vitalist theory manifests itself in literary style and form
- The ethical implications of vitalist ontologies
- Theorizing life after the linguistic turn
- Vitalism across the transitions from modernism to postmodernism
- Gender, sexuality, and sexual difference as forces of and/or obstacles to life
- Vitalism and media theory, new media ecologies, and visual studies
- Vitalist intersections with and challenges to identity politics
- The divergence of dialectical and anti-dialectical approaches to life

Presentations might address these or other questions related to theorization of "life." Please send 250-word abstracts to and Presentations will be limited to 20 minutes.  Submission by November 1, 2010