Commitment

full name / name of organization: 
The department of Comparative Literature, UC Irvine
contact email: 
commitmentconference@gmail.com

The Graduate Students of the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine present an interdisciplinary graduate student conference on April 29th, 2011.
COMMITMENT
Keynote Speaker: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
With the advent of postmodernism and the tragicomic end of communist dreams of utopia, we found ourselves, to borrow from Lyotard, bidding goodbye to the grand narrative and saying hello to the little narratives. Ideologically demystified, the left embraced a relativistic ethos that has proven to be politically ineffective. Meanwhile, the world political stage continues to be driven by the twin engines of a capitalist global market economy and a roguish realpolitik of counter-terrorism. Situated between, on the one hand, a political left that seems incapable of coherence, and on the other hand, a growing urgency for progressive intervention, our conference seeks to address a simple question: What is commitment?

Answering this question requires a reexamination of the notion of commitment in light of both contemporary theory and political praxis. Within the humanities, the notion of commitment has played an important part in the history of thinking the relation between art and politics, most notably in continental debates surrounding Sartre’s call for a littérature engagée (committed literature). Though this incitement drew ire from critics such as Adorno, it resonated with many writers engaged in anticolonial struggles, directly influencing, for example, the debates over adab al-iltizām (literature of commitment) in the mid-to-late twentieth century Arab literary world. Recent theoretical trends have problematized the relationship between aesthetics and political action, positing an inextricability that renders obsolete any meaningful distinction between art and politics. The fact that art has a political function today is undeniable, yet the notion of a committed art sounds theoretically naive and ideologically anachronistic. We propose this disjunction as a point of departure for reflections on political action, artistic production, cultural positioning and subjectivity. What does it mean to be committed? What are the aesthetic and political conditions for the positing of a commitment? To what can we commit? And where are the limits of commitment?

Our invitation extends to graduate students and independent scholars working in the social sciences, humanities or the arts, engaged in thinking through the idea of commitment in politics, art, literature, film, culture or pedagogy, with a special emphasis on interdisciplinary work. Possible topics include (but are not limited to):
• Performative acts of commitment and the temporality of the promise
• The role of public intellectuals and the decline of the public sphere
• Commitment, disengagement, and the aporia of community
• Commitment(s) to identities or communities in the postcolony
• Psychoanalysis and the commitment to therapy
• Honor codes and ethics
• Political commitment as aesthetic choice
• Parrēsia and the ethical commitment to truth
• Aesthetic commitment as political choice
• Cosmopolitan versus national commitments
• Ethical commitments in translation practice
• Queer or feminist critiques of matrimonial commitment
• Commitment as performance
• Commitment to environmentalism, sustainability, and conservation
• Global commitment to universality, justice, and human rights
• Alternatives to commitment: compromise, treason, infidelity
• The commitment to theory today
The conference will take place April 29th, 2011 in UC Irvine. Please send an abstract of 250-300 words to commitmentconference@gmail.com by January 30, 2011

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