The Pharmakon Today (ACLA 2023)

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
American Comparative Literature Association
contact email: 

The Pharmakon Today (ACLA 2023)

What is the relevance of the pharmakon today in literary and cultural studies, more than half a century after Derrida first published “La pharmacie de Platon”? In Greek, a pharmakon (φάρμακον) means a drug that can be either beneficial or harmful. It can act as a remedy but also as a poison. It is a potion, charm, or spell that can be healing or toxic. In Plato’s Phaedrus, writing is a pharmakon that enables memory but also allows forgetfulness. For Derrida, this kind of ambivalence is productive, indicating the indeterminacy that characterizes important philosophical concepts. For Derrida’s precursor, Nietzsche, whose work has long been read as an investigation into the aesthetics of intoxication, narcotic tropes carry the same ambiguity: narcotics both banalizes and dulls the senses, while intoxication (Rauch) is a necessary precondition for heightened excitability, without which art cannot be created. More recently, Bernard Stiegler has theorized the use of digital technologies as a pharmakon, examining their effects on the formation of attention and memory.

This seminar invites papers that explore the notion of the pharmakon from various angles and in relation to any number of subjects. For example, how does the pharmakon help us rethink or reconfigure socioeconomic systems such as capitalism or colonialism? How do current debates about vaccines and boosters connect with the undecidability of the pharmakon: medicine/poison, medicine as poison, poison as medicine? What is the relation between intoxication and toxicity, and how can the energies of intoxication be mobilized to produce new aesthetic experiences and objects or new social formations? What is the value of thinking about digital technologies as a pharmakon? How does the undecidability of the pharmakon–its movement between positive and negative attributes–help us perceive and create new strategies for reading and interpretation? 

In addition to the themes and ideas mentioned above, papers may address topics including but not limited to the following.


    • Democracy as pharmakon
    • Digital technologies
    • Vaccines and disease
    • Drugs and intoxicants
    • Addiction
    • Climate change and the anthropocene
    • Social movements
    • Individual vs. state
    • Forms of reading and interpretation

Please submit an abstract by October 31 through the ACLA website:

If you have questions, feel free to contact Bishupal Limbu ( and/or Rob Ryder (