ACLA: The Pharmakon of Politics

deadline for submissions: 
September 23, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
American Comparative Literature Association ACLA
contact email: 

The Pharmakon of Politics 

In Plato’s Phadrus, Socrates relates a myth of the invention of writing, presented to King Thamus by Theuth. While Theuth claims to have invented the means for increased wisdom and memory, Thamus disagrees: “this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember themselves.” Writing involves an exteriorization of the faculties of both language and, significantly, memory. For Bernard Stiegler, drawing on Derrida analysis in “Plato’s Pharmacy” (1968), this story articulates the “pharmakological” practice of technological invention – a dialectic of medicine and poison which marks the exteriorization of human faculty into prosthesis.


Yet various tools of memory and inscription continue to contribute to and intervene in structures of interpretation, power and political stability. This seminar asks about the relationship between shifting materialities of the technological – textual and otherwise – and sovereign politics and responsibility as it relates to practices of the archive, of memory and mediation. How does the technological effect both solutions to and ailments of cultural practices and the human as a cultural product? How do these shifts express, enable or subvert sovereignty as national or daily practices? How is sovereign power visualized or understood alongside media technologies? This seminar proposes the concept of thepharmakon as a lens through which to understand a genealogy of technological change; investigating artifacts, technologies or archives that constitute significant insights into – trembling, impossible – sovereign power.

Themes to explore in this seminar may include:

    • Sovereign responsibility
    • Policing
    • Media practices
    • Representations of race, gender or bodily difference
    • Biopolitics
    • Death Penalty
    • Technologies of warfare
    • Ecology and technology
    • The reading brain
    • Historical or contemporary media systems
    • Technologies of the archive

Please submit an abstract, no longer than 300 words, along with a brief bio to the ACLA website:

Feel free to contact us any time: or