'Decision Time: Neoliberalism Personhood, Popular Aesthetics, and the Inexorability of Agency'
In this talk, I examine the challenges that the hegemony of neoliberal forms of governance presents to our understanding of the relations among time, power and agency. While many such theorizations seek means through which agency might be located or enhanced—Judith Butler’s performativity would be one classic example—the work of many contemporary thinkers has made clear that neoliberal governance works through rather than against individual agency; it constantly requires that people make meaningful choices whose outcomes differ significantly, and it assigns sole responsibility for these choices and outcomes to the individual in question. I consider the effects of this transformation by turning to a series of texts that focus on what I term suffering agency, or the experience of agency as a form of anguished entrapment rather than self-enhancing empowerment. These works, which include texts from Dave Eggers’ novel What is the What to the torture-porn Saw franchise, offer visions of neoliberal personhood in which to be an individual making agential choice appears either akin to or literally a form of torture. I offer an account of how these works map suffering agency and the role that time plays in both generating this experience and in imagining potential alternatives.
Dr Jane Elliott's research focuses on three main areas: post-1945 fiction, with a particular emphasis on the intersection between popular forms and political theory; contemporary theory; and the novel during and after postmodernism. She also has interests in contemporary fantasy fiction and film, ethnic American literature, and contemporary American popular culture.
Dr Elliott's current research explores the conjoined aesthetic and political developments that have emerged since the turn of the 21st century and the waning of the postmodern moment. This interest is reflected in the twenty-essay collection she has recently co-edited, entitled Theory after 'Theory' (Routledge 2011); the second editor for the collection is Derek Attridge. The collection draws together a diverse body of thinkers from various disciplines, including Rey Chow, Roberto Esposito, Simon Gikandi, Brian Massumi, Elizabeth Povinelli, Bernard Stiegler and Eugene Thacker, in order to examine the ways in which theory has taken on new forms that challenge some of the fundamental intellectual stances that once defined ‘Theory’. Dr Elliott is currently working on a monograph that explores the intersection of neoliberal microeconomics, popular aesthetics and the Left theorization of agency in a variety of American and British novels and films, from the novel and film Never Let Me Go to the horror franchise Saw to Hurricane Katrina documentaries. Essays from this project have appeared in Novel and the collection Old and New Media after Katrina.
Dr Elliott's first book, Popular Feminist Fiction as American Allegory: Representing National Time was published by Palgrave in 2008, and her work on contemporary literature and theory has also appeared in Cultural Critique, Modern Fiction Studies, and the PMLA. In addition, she serves as the Humanities Editor for The Public Intellectual, an online journal devoted to bringing academic insights to a mainstream audience.
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013