Prosopopoeia, Petrification, and the Political (ACLA 2011 - Vancouver)

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David Kelman
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This seminar proposes to examine the conjunction of the political and the inorganic, via the function of "putting a face on" the force of the political. For Walter Benjamin, history is "a petrified, primordial landscape" that is "expressed in a face — or rather in a death's head." His observation suggests that history imposes an inorganic mask upon the organic evolution of difference, or decomposition. We encourage the exploration of how this prosopopoeiac function may cast in ruins the struggle of politics inherent in any social history. In papers that address the materiality of politics and political ideology in literature and/or performance, we aim to theorize the manner in which prosopopoeia gives a face to history or the human struggle in the polis. What is the relation between politics and death? How does the political relate to terror (i.e., the state of being petrified)? What does it mean to enter into a state of petrification in the social realm? To what extent is the project of comparative literature implicated in a gesture that petrifies the shifting and even violent terms of difference or history, even as it valorizes the literary for "making the stone stony" (as Schklovsky described it)? We invite especially papers that explore these questions in terms of the politics of world literature/comparative literature.