New Writings

A few new essays are now available: one on the politics of Buddhist philosophy in the work of Joseph Conrad (here); a review-essay of the complex paintings of Meleko Mokgosi (here); and my brief reflection on the need to move past content and think about “Performative Scholarship” (here).

Carlos Motta at PAMM

My review of Carlos Motta’s show at PAMM (Miami) has just been posted online at the Miami Rail. You can read the full article here. And here is an excerpt: In Carlos Motta’s video Deseos/ تابغر  (co-written with Maya Mikdashi), a slow pan of the camera moves up the side of a moldy and abandoned hamam in Beirut. The film is narrated through fictional letters exchanged by Nour, in Beirut, and Martina, in Colombia, and is based on nineteenth-century archives. As Nour describes to Martina her passionate love for Aisha, and her fear of Aisha being taken away from her by patriarchal demands, the camera moves from the decaying wall to a kaleidoscopic series of skylights. While Nour’s story moves from passion to fear, the camera appears to work at cross-purposes, moving from decay to beauty. Motta’s skill in moments like these is placing our positions and values in turmoil. The mold on the wall (distinctly vaginal in shape) is not only decay here, but also representative of the space where we are left alone to grow and develop our own logic. The skylight not only depicts beauty, but also the way in which claims to beauty and harmony can deny what Edouard Glissant called “the right to opacity.”

Global Buddhism Project Update

My essay, “Buddhism between Worlds: Contested Liberations in Kipling, Salinger, and Head” has just been accepted for publication in Religion and Literature. This essay is part of my new book project, Fragments and Ruins: Buddhism in the World. The book traces how modern writers, artists, and thinkers around the world have engaged with Buddhism over the past century. It argues that while Buddhism remains a vague, utopian idea for many critics, the complexities of its worldly history have been central to the literary and artistic imaginations of modernity. Further, it suggests that Buddhism’s varied history should guide us to think more deeply about the relationship between theoretical advancements and the difficulty of their potential institutionalization. One essay (on Severo Sarduy) from this project is available on my publications page. Two more are forthcoming, including a brief theoretical reflection on the project in Politics/Letters. I also gave a presentation about my research into contemporary artists who work with fragmented sculptures of the Buddha while at the Fountainhead Residency in Miami. this past month.

Dictionary of the Possible Launches

The Dictionary of the Possible, the culmination of a two-year project I co-organized with Rit Premnath, has just launched at the New York Arts Fair Book Fair at PS1 MoMA. A second launch is current being planned at Regards Gallery, Chicago for November. You can read more about the Dictionary on our website, and on my “Practice” page. And here is the list of wonderful contributors, who made the project possible! — Abhishek Hazra, Adam Spanos, Alison O’Daniel, Allan deSouza, Amanda Parmer, Andrea Geyer, Andrew Weiner, Yannik Thiem, Arlen Austin, Atul Bhalla, Billy Galperin, Brendan Fernandes, Brian Block, Cassandra Guan, Chelsea Knight, Chitra Ganesh, Colin Jager, Colleen Macklin, Danilo Correale, Devin Kenny, Dominic Pettman, Dwayne Dixon, Francesca Coppola, Edward Schexnayder, Eric Angles, Gabriel Rockhill, Géraldine Gourbe, Henry Turner, Hong-An Truong, Jane Jin Kaisen, Jaret Vadera, Kajsa Dahlberg, Kanishka Raja, Keith Tilford, Lana Lin, Lauren Denitzio, Leah DeVun, Lindsay Benedict, Liz Park, Margarita Sánchez, Mari Cruz Alarcón, Matthew Metzger, Mériam Korichi, Mimi Winick, Mira Schor, Molly Dilworth, Mylo Mendez, Naeem Mohaiemen, Nick Keys, Oliver Kellhammer, Philipp Kleinmichel, Pushpamala N, Railbird, Raphael Zollinger, Raqs Media Collective, Rebecca Alpert, Research Service, Rey Chow, Roger White, Shadi Harouni, Siddhartha Lokanandi, Steffani Jemison, Sudha Premnath, Tara Kelton, Terike Haapoja, Thom Donovan, Tyler Coburn, Veronika Zink, Will Lee, Yamini Nayar, and Zac Gunter

New Work in Art Criticism

A short essay I wrote on the work of Shadi Harouni and a critique of some recent writing about abstraction is now online at On Verge. Other reflections on contemporary art criticism occasioned by responses to the Berlin Biennale is now up on Temporary Art Review. I am also preparing a brief essay on ideas of reality in contemporary photography that should be out by the end of Summer, as well as a short review of excellent new works by Carlos Motta. I was recently on a Danish Arts Council grant for research in Northern European art, especially around long histories of globalization, and am also excited to announce I’ll be a writer in residence at Fountainhead, Miami, for October.

New Publications

Two new essays are now available on my publications page: an essay on the concept of a global conscience in the work of Henry David Thoreau, and a discussion of the role of Buddhism in Severo Sarduy’s novel Cobra. Both essays continue my interest in understanding how global influences are handled and understood by modern writers. The Thoreau essay is particularly significant for me as it also gives a teaser for the extension and critique of Michel Foucault’s late work that I discuss at length in my book manuscript, Unbearable Identities.

Forthcoming Non/Violence Essay

Pleased to announce that an essay I have been working on for several years – “Philosophy Against and in Praise of Violence: Kant, Thoreau, and the Nonviolent Revolutionary Spectator” –  will be published in a forthcoming volume of Theory, Culture & Society. The essay considers several moments in history when committed nonviolent partisans – especially Immanuel Kant and Henry David Thoreau, but also William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King – found themselves confronting heroic violent acts  that were aligned with their broader cause (constitutionalism, abolitionism, civil rights). It argues that there is a remarkable similarity to their responses, in which they recommit themselves to nonviolence as an ongoing activity, while simultaneously bearing witness in their writing to the cause and underlying meaning of the violent act.  I call this the position of the “nonviolent revolutionary spectator.” These spectators are only truly revolutionary if they are committed to effectively ending the underlying causes of violence through their political activities. They bear witness to violence in order to create a community of nonviolent spectators who may someday move beyond it. The essay works to tease out some of the seeming contradictions of this position and argue for its coherence and cogency. It was borne out of our current political moment, and aims to develop a theoretical stance that enables nonviolent revolutionaries to condemn violence while still remaining comrades in a broader struggle. I will post a copy on the Publications page when it is published.

Performative Scholarship in “Futures of Comparative Literature”

My brief essay on “Performative Scholarship” is moving from the digital edition of the American Comparative Literature Association’s State of the Discipline Report to the print volume, Futures of Comparative Literature, forthcoming from Routledge later this year, edited by an Editorial Team led by Ursula Heise. The volume is the fifth decennial report from the ACLA and looks to be a very interesting volume. Some information about this unique version of the Report is available here.

MLA Panel: Call for Papers

I am co-organizing a panel with Gabriel Rockhill (Philosophy, Villanova University) for the 2017 MLA convention in Philadelphia. The panel is on “Literature and Philosophy Otherwise.” We have found that “literature and philosophy” has often meant looking at abstract concepts in philosophy and applying them to literature, or finding philosophical themes in literary texts. While this is all well and good, we’d like to raise questions about literature and philosophy from more practical and institutional perspectives, as well as from a broader range of philosophical positions than the standard Continental names or emerging interests in post-analytic philosophy. Some questions we are considering: how do literature and philosophy interact around the lived experience of revolution? How do we factor the lived realities of philosophical concepts into our analysis of those concepts — for example, what might a “Buddhist” analysis of literature look like if we go beyond generic ideas like “nondualism,” and take into consideration the history of power and violence that has always accompanied Buddhist philosophy? If you have a paper or an idea that might be of interest, please send a 150-word abstract to us by March 14, 2016: avram (dot) alpert (at); gabriel (dot) rockhill (at)

Symposium on “World Literature and Secularism” this Friday at Rutgers

This Friday, October 16th, I’ve organized a symposium on world literature and secularism with myself, Colin Jager, Justin Neuman, and Yi-Ping Ong. Should be a great event! Please join if you’re in the area. Event details: World literature was not always so worldly. In Goethe’s early theorization, after all, religious texts were central. And recent critiques of secularism are once again challenging the meaning of “world” in literary studies today. This panel will bring together young scholars who are investigating both the potentials and limits of the secular model. How do young scholars intervene in a debate of such depth and magnitude? How do those in literary studies, frequently trained in just one or two national traditions, begun to take on such complex, interdisciplinary issues? Is there too much or too little “world” in literature so constituted? 2-4pm in Murray Hall 302, reception to follow. Here’s the event poster, with a nice background image of the work of Gonkar Gyatso, whom I will discuss in my talk.