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.

New book review

My review of Timothy Brennan’s Borrowed Light: Vico, Hegel, and the Colonies is now up online. You can read it here, and here’s the abstract: “Timothy Brennan’s Borrowed Light is a wide-ranging critique of contemporary postcolonial theory by way of a return to intellectual history. Brennan counter-poses a tradition of institutional commitment, systemic thought, and polemic in Vico and Hegel to the interest in subjectivity, fragments, and language games found in Nietzsche and Bataille. He suggests that though the latter has been ascendant since the late 80s, the former school of thought in fact has been the key to overturning colonialism in the past and continues to be so today. This review critically appraises Brennan’s challenging work.”

New Publications

Two new essays can be accessed on my Publications page. One is an extended reflection on the role of anthropology in the writings of Emmanuel Levinas. It is part of my general research program to investigate the role of geography in the production of critical theory. The other is a review essay of Kenneth Warren’s What Was African American Literature?, focused on the concept of history in literary studies. Warren responded, and I have a brief rejoinder as well.

Interrupt III at Brown University

Research Service will be presenting at the Interrupt III conference this weekend in Providence. More info on the conference here. A description of our project:

“Report On a Day’s Proceedings at the Initiative for Directed Coopetition.” This staging of a conference presentation foregrounds scholarly address as a collective, theatrical scenario. The format borrows from the conventions of both the academic lecture and the stage. Situated between these genres, the performance features PowerPoint visuals, mutations of scholarly mainstays, site-specific citations, and a guest appearance by Judy Garland. Speaking to the form of the conference itself, the Initiative for Directed Coopetition reports from the space where noise fails to reach its signal.

Dictionary of the Possible: Non/Violence

Tomorrow will be a special session of a year-long project I am co-running with Rit Premnath at Shifter Magazine. Follow the RESPOND link below for more details:

Dictionary of the Possible

Over the course of a year SHIFTER, in collaboration with Avi Alpert, is hosting a series of public discussions, each concentrated on unraveling a keyword – a term that carries with it both a sense of urgency and agency in our present climate. By inviting artists, writers, activists and philosophers to propose terms and lead discussions, we have opened up our editorial process to the motivations of others.

In conjunction with the exhibition RESPOND at Smack Mellon, Shifter’s 7th meeting will focus on the hybrid term “Non/Violence.” Discussion leaders Avi Alpert, Arlen Austin, Jason Boughton, and Molly Dilworth will help lead a collective discussion on the question of political violence, and what the meaning and purpose is of nonviolent activity in the face of state repression. We are particularly concerned to provide an opportunity to reflect on the often hardened positions against or in favor of reactive violence in today’s political context. It is often the case today that while many support a political framework of “nonviolence,” few have stopped to unpack the logic by which they have come to this position. Equally, those who support violence do not always pause to consider how their means relate to their political ends. This public presentation and conversation will enable a collective reflection on our positions at this crucial political juncture.

The format of these discussions is central to the project. We do not use the standard mode of lecture or presentation. Rather, we invite two speakers to prepare brief remarks of around 10-15 minutes around the chosen term and pose critical questions for all those present. The conversation is immediately opened up for all. The purpose of the short readings recommended by the discussion leaders is to help stimulate ideas and discussion.

The yearlong series will culminate in SHIFTER’s 22nd issue Dictionary of the Possible. This dictionary will catalog the many keywords taken up for discussion, accompanied by a list of questions provoked during each discussion. Rather than providing static definitions we envision a dictionary that continually incites discussion.

Theorizing at Upenn

On December 4th I will be discussing my manuscript-in-progress, Unbearable Identities: Essaying the Globe from Montaigne to Suzuki, in the graduate student run Theorizing Series at UPenn. I was formerly an organizer of the series during my PhD, and am very honored to have been invited back. Details on the talk will be available at the Theorizing website closer to the date

Alternative Economies of Art and Politics

New on-line: an interview with Gabriel Rockhill and Nato Thompson about art and politics. The interview is available here. Here’s an excerpt from my introduction to the conversation: Writing about art and politics often falls into one of two camps. On the one hand, there are those who espouse “art for art’s sake,” arguing that art is a restricted and autonomous domain, concerned solely with aesthetic quality, the imagination, enjoyment, and so forth. On the other are the partisans of “political art,” for whom art is not only always political, but is to be judged according to how it meets certain political standards. Two new books, by the philosopher Gabriel Rockhill and the curator Nato Thompson, aim to oppose both camps. Neither of these, Rockhill and Thompson claim, offers a framework sufficiently attuned to the complexities of actual artistic and political practice. Rather than abstractly theorizing art’s role in society, they argue, we should follow and engage the artworks through their historical and social contexts—as they are produced, displayed, circulated, and interpreted.