The Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften: EventsThursday, 04 November 2021, 11:00
Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften, Am Wingertsberg 4, 61348 Bad Homburg
Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften of Goethe University
Russ Castronovo (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
»American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability: Some Propositions and Axioms«
Security emerges as the original motivation behind human beings’ desire for stable community in the political fairytale that philosophy tells of the social contract. If the concept of security takes shape as a story, it is crucial to examine the narratives that it sets in motion as well as those that it forecloses. While discussions of security are often dominated by social science, an understanding of security—how it makes us feel, how it contours ideas of privacy and property, how it affects our thinking about whiteness and race, how it serves as both the origin and endpoint of political community—requires attention to literary and other aesthetic materials. The topic of cannot be left to policy investigations that fail to take up the full range of emotions from safety to terror that literature displays.
American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability explores the concept of security and investigates the structures of state as well as the structures of feeling that flow from what philosophers posit as the impetus to form a political community in the first place. The question is not whether people need security since risk, as Ulrich Beck contends, represents a defining feature of modernity. Rather, the goal is to examine how security provides an organizing principle for collective life in ways that both enhance freedom and limit it. In the contexts of early America, the violence of settler colonialism and ever-present fears of mass slave rebellion made white vulnerability a constitutive feature, not simply of political life, but of existence itself. Across a multiracial society organized around the frontier and the plantation, the demands for constant readiness, surveillance, and other security measures spawned feelings of unease, fear, terror, in a word, insecurity. Through critical attention to a range of novels, tracts, pamphlets, and newspapers, including the complete run of the first Black newspaper in the US, Freedom’s Journal (1827-29), American Insecurity examines how security’s generative capacity to provide a foundation for art and culture, as Hobbes proposed in Leviathan, is matched only by its capacity to incite fear and promote terror.
Russ Castronovo‘s research and teaching span three centuries of American literature and culture from the 18th through the 20th centuries, concentrating on the intersections of politics and print culture. From the broadsides and pamphlets of the American Revolutionary era in Propaganda 1776 (Oxford UP, 2014) to the aesthetic treatises, films, and anarchist tracts of the 1870s-1920s in Beautiful Democracy (University of Chicago P, 2007), the four monographs he has authored and the five books he has edited or coedited all build upon interdisciplinary foundations in political theory, film, art history, philosophy, and literary studies to engage questions about race and democracy in the humanities broadly. His publications appear in journals such as PMLA, Critical Inquiry, New Literary History, boundary 2, American Literature, American Literary History, and the Journal of American Studies.
In November 2021 he is, on the invitation of Professor Johannes Voelz and the research focus »Democratic Vistas: Reflections on the Atlantic World«, a fellow at the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften.
Participation and registration
For participation, online or on site, please register in advance (contact: Beate Sutterlüty; email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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