Except Asia: Agamben's Work in Transcultural Perspective Agamben's Work in Transcultural Perspective (31 December 2013)

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Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies

Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies
Vol. 40 No. 2 | September 2014
Call for Papers

Except Asia:
Agamben's Work in Transcultural Perspective

Guest Editor: Jon Solomon
in collaboration with Han-yu Huang

Deadline for Submissions: December 31, 2013

Over the past several decades, Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben's work has attracted a growing amount of interest spanning a wide range of disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences, including philosophy, literary theory, political philosophy, migration studies, security studies, geography, social and cultural studies of science and medicine, etc. The increasing recognition accorded to Agamben's oeuvres has more recently resulted in the beginning of a serious dialogue about the transcultural aspects of his work, particularly with regard to the epistemological legacy of colonization, state-building, and revolution in the non-Western world. This special issue of Concentric aims to explore the transdisciplinary and transcultural dimensions of Agamben's work. It is open to researchers from any discipline interested in the mix and mutation of Asia and Agamben as a platform for transcultural investigation.
Too complex to characterize under a single rubric, Agamben's work is probably best known for the Homo Sacer series of books and essays that trace out the contours of "the logic of the exception" that operates across discrete domains of modern experience. Sovereignty, as Agamben shows, is the name given to the forms of experience that adhere to an exceptional logic, beginning with the ontological status of the philosophical subject and extending directly through the political one. For Agamben, this is as much a foundational moment of Western civilization as a trajectory of historical development. Sovereignty itself, in its relation to social ontology, is not a modern invention. The specificity of modernity lies in appropriating the distribution of the exception between politics and life in such a way that the format of the exception is no longer invisible and/or concentrated in a single point in the social body, but has rather been generalized throughout the body politic, creating spaces of "permanent exception."
This special issue of Concentric solicits submissions that reconsider the logic of the exception in relation to Asia. This means, first of all, that they will have to abandon the normativity of the historically-determined notion of social organization that has come to coalesce around the term sovereignty in the modern age. Although sovereignty's excess of normativity has always been open to wild oscillations induced by the incessant transitions of capitalist development, for that part of the world whose historical experience of modernity has been mediated by colonization, sovereignty has never been something that could be taken for granted. Stimulated by Agamben's genealogy of sovereignty, an increasing number of postcolonial theorists have begun to question the role of the exception in the constitution of that very particular spatialized form of exception known as "the West and the Rest."
"Except Asia" thus begins with the status of the universal that Agamben has recently done so much to problematize and reinvigorate. The term "Asia," like that of "the West," names neither an essential civilization nor a substantial geographical entity but rather something like what Agamben identifies as an apparatus: a network of heterogeneous elements spanning several registers. Throughout the period of colonial/imperial modernity, the apparatus of "Asia" was explicitly used to manage spaces of exception. It goes today without saying that it can no more be a question of attempting to assimilate Asia to yet another form of a particularism-masquerading- as-a-universalism than an attempt to establish a simple equivalency between the two terms, "Asia" and "exception." "Asia" and "Agamben" are points of departure for discussions about subjective formation in transcultural practice. Although these two points taken together certainly might open, for instance, discussions about "Asia" as, alternately, civilizational construct, market assemblage, economic player, knowledge archive, translation machine, site of exceptional space or practice, etc., the conference title is definitely not intended to limit discussion to either "Asia" per se or to Agamben's contributions to political philosophy. It is intended to act rather as a moment of invitation that points to something manifestly common and multiple in the human being. It might, if we are lucky, even engage the process identified by Agamben as profanation: the process whereby an apparatus (of capture), such as the civilizational region in this case, is wrested away from the exception and returned to the common.
How should we respond to the urge to categorize Agamben's work—like that of countless other important theoreticians of modernity—as symptomatic of that asymmetry that maps the universality of theory onto a region—currently called "the West"—that is but a particularity in its own right? What elements in Agamben's work present particularly useful—or disruptive—points of departure for reconsidering the relation between genesis and validity, origin and propagation? What is the cost of ignoring, or cordoning within a single civilizational tradition (if not a historically-determined idea of the human itself), the idea expressed by Agamben in Homo Sacer that we must "put the very form of relation into question, and to ask if the political fact is not perhaps thinkable beyond relation and, thus, no longer in the form of a connection"?
In keeping with our bias towards transversal, transcultural approaches, this special issue is interested in accommodating a variety of perspectives on Agamben's diverse body of work. Two general trajectories of encounter between Agamben and the non-West suggest themselves from the outset. The first, a comparative approach, would actively pursue a comparativist agenda, matching Agamben's characterization of the Western tradition with what we know about other civilizational traditions. To what extent have other traditions offered contrasting solutions to the problems, and powers, of ontological and political exception? How have other traditions identified and managed the problems of indication and signification that are understood, by Agamben, to lie at the heart of the metaphysical quest? What does Agamben's analysis of sovereign power in the West mask from view in our approach to non-Western societies? The second, an applied-theory approach, would find in Agamben's work an intriguing set of analyses about Western culture that could provide a powerful template for re-examining the understanding of other cultures caught in the multi-faceted processes of modernization. How can Agamben's work be effectively mobilized in contexts far from those of its inception?
Beyond the strategies of application and comparison, can we not also imagine a third trajectory of encounter that would seek to problematize the political relation that characterizes the meeting between Agamben and Asia at every point in its formation and development? What kind of work needs to be done to mobilize Agamben's accomplishments in the service of a general economy of politics no longer indebted to the restrained economy of colonial and postcolonial relations? Situated as we are at a point of historical transition affecting the humanities as a whole, we launch this call for papers as an open invitation to invent anew the meaning of theoretical reflection for a fractious global age.

Jon Soloman is professor in des universités en littérature chinoise
Co-director, Comparative Cultural Studies M.A. Program
Membre, Institut d'Études Transtextuelles et Transculturelles
Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3

Han-yu Huang is associate professor in Department of English, National Taiwan Normal University.

Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, currently indexed in Arts and Humanities Citation Index, is a peer-reviewed journal published two times per year by the Department of English, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan. Concentric is devoted to offering innovative perspectives on literary and cultural issues and advancing the transcultural exchange of ideas. While committed to bringing Asian-based scholarship to the world academic community, Concentric welcomes original contributions from diverse national and cultural backgrounds. Each issue of Concentric publishes groups of essays on a special topic as well as papers on more general issues. The focus can be on any historical period and any region. Any critical method may be employed as long as the paper demonstrates a distinctive contribution to scholarship in the field.

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