Totality and Culture, a special issue of Qui Parle
Is theoretical resistance to totality still viable today, in this moment of totalizing crisis? How might we reclaim totality as a conceptual ground that can account for the relationship between experience, on the one hand, and the historical-material processes that shape cultural production, on the other? Almost a century after György Lukács reinstated the concept at the very center of Marx’s project, and some four decades since the publication of Fredric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious, we are compelled to ask: how might we think about cultural production, circulation, and consumption in relation with, rather than in opposition to, totality?
At least since the Anglo-American institutionalization of “French Theory,” scholarly accounts of culture have tended to privilege the fragment, the supplement, the remainder, and the margins, over and against the totality. Even amidst lively cross-disciplinary debates over the analytic validity of the very concept of “culture,” theorists have looked to cultural practice and production as means to resist, escape, or undercut grand narratives or the bad determinism of capitalism’s historical logic, be it through the relative autonomy of culture as a site of counter-hegemony or subversive resignification, the political or ethical force of the literary and “the text itself,” or the proliferation of hybridized identities as the privileged ground of an eruptive subaltern politics. Crucial as these interventions may have been for their respective disciplines, in this special issue, Qui Parle asks if many such efforts have not left us with a one-sided understanding of culture’s relationship to the totality, one that feels increasingly untenable in light of the multiple and interlocking crises––of climate catastrophe, of racialized and racializing violence, of knowledge production, and of the continued transformation of everything everywhere into exchange value––that overwhelm our contemporary moment.
And indeed, we already detect the beginnings of a theoretical sea change in recent attempts across disciplines to get past the antinomy between culture and totality––that is, to reclaim totality as the crucial conceptual ground for understanding the relationship between particular cultural phenomena and the social, political, and economic forms that render them plausible. Recent work in and around areas as disparate as Literary and Cultural Studies, Black Studies, Labor Studies, post-2008 returns to Marx and the Frankfurt School, Indigenous Studies, Russian, Eastern European & Eurasian Studies, Geography, Media Theory, International Relations, Anthropology, and others has sought, often implicitly, to account for the complex mediations between culture and totality such that we might understand cultural phenomena in their full particularity and emergent historical contingency. This special issue seeks to shape and carry forward this transdisciplinary conversation by making explicit both the coherences and the tensions that join totality to culture, and that have set culture––in all of its ambiguity––against totality for so long.
We welcome submissions from any discipline. The following topics are of particular interest:
-World Literature and cinema
- The culture industries, neoliberalism, and financialization
- Dispossession, primitive accumulation, and settler colonialism
- Racial capitalism
-World(liness) and home(lessness)
-Space, scale, and distance in relation to totality
-Finitude, temporality, and totality
-Phenomenological and post-phenomenological accounts of totality
- Uneven and combined development or non-synchronism
- Society, mediation, and aesthetic form
-Attempts to sense/represent totality, including photography, sound, etc
-Historicizations of Theory and its institutionalization
- New approaches to reification, real abstraction, and the value-form
-Social reproduction and the domestic sphere
- Planetary Urbanisation
Submissions of up to 12,000 words, along with a brief author bio in a separate document, are due by September 1st, 2022. Please email submissions and queries to email@example.com.