'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.
Time and Agency: A Critical Reflection on Marxist Temporalities
Marxists have an ironically contradictory approach to time and the scope of agency in time. Time is the essence of value and the primary expression of what is exploited in the commodified system of production - “As values, all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labour-time.” (Marx 1998 Capital p60). It follows that the re-appropriation of time, the re-evaluation of how time relates to value and the transformation from the quantitative measure of exchange value to measures of value in quality and are central to Marxist critique. Yet critical attempts to subvert chronormativity within post-structural influenced critical temporalities appear to query this radical project in two senses. First it engages time outside of some measure and concept of time outside of subjective experience – as a material condition and variable. Second, it queries the relationship between categories of time, labour, quality, utility, quantity and exchange, and so diminishes the Marxist diagnoses of exploitation and alienation in contemporary capitalism. This double bind in relation to theorising time – in diagnosis and emancipation project, sets an agenda for Marxist engagements with the idea of critical temporalities, and there are fruitful sources from which to engage. Drawing from Marx and critics such as Lukacs, Thompson, Marcuse, Meszaros, Jameson and more recently Negri and Postone, this paper will emphasise the dialectical tensions between chromonormativity and critical temporalities, and argues for a critical temporality that recognised the constitution of time as conjunctural, contextual and phenomenological, yet allows for a materialist basis for time from which a Marxist radical critique can critique both subjective and objectivist notions of time.
Paul taught at Universities in Hull, York and Leeds in areas as varied as political economy, political sociology, public administration, politics and social sciences before taking up a lectureship at Edge Hill in 1992. His current teaching and research reflects his main trans-disciplinary interest in the intersection of ethics and politics with identity and difference, with particular reference to sexuality. Paul leads teaching in the 2nd and 3rd year modules on sexuality and on Marx and Marxism in the Sociology Programme, and leads the 1st year module on social and cultural theory and thinking for sociology, early childhood and childhood and youth programmes, as well as leading the professional practice module in the 3rd year of the childhood programmes. His current writing interests include sexual ethics and politics, focused on the relationship between sexual consent, sexual literacy and sexual well-being, and the problems of sexual law and citizenship, although he also writes on radical intellectuals and the ethics and politics of political radicalism.
This talk considers the ways in which people currently involved in political action in Athens think about the Polytechnic Uprising of 1973. The uprising is an event which is memorialised annually, and part of the dominant narrative of collective history surrounding post-dictatorship Greek 'democracy' and resistance. This talk will focus on the importance of temporality in exploring the ways in which the past acts as a resource for current action, through memory, myth and embodied performances. It will also touch upon the ways in which the position of the uprising within the landscape of political action, has changed over the years; the how it has been embedded in different public discourses and part of the political system that is currently being contested.
Miranda is a Sociology MPhil student at Goldsmiths, looking at how people talk about political subjectivity through participation in memorialised violent events of the past, and how these events are talked about today by people involved in political action.
Time and Agency in the Global Thought of Li Dazhao
Li Dazhao (1888-1927) is well-known as “China’s first Marxist” and founder of the Chinese Communist Party, but he also offers one of modern China’s most sophisticated understandings of human agency, which he understands as a capacity to transform human and non-human environments through the orientation of one’s self to the dynamic passing of time. This paper uses his thought in two ways. First, I show how Li justifies revolutionary action in an understanding of time as an ontological, non-human force that shapes, but also makes possible, human efforts to change their political and social worlds. Li focuses specifically on transforming whole epochs of shared history through the narration of selective pasts, the mobilization of present energies, and the propulsion of human will through progressive time. Second, following Li’s insistence on the capacity of present action to confound entrenched cultural and historical boundaries, I take Li’s work as a precedent for my own theorizing. Li draws on ancient Chinese cosmology, Daoism, contemporary social Darwinism, the materialism of Henri Bergson, and Marxist historical materialism to show how action in the present has the power not only to shape future outcomes but also to reorder the way we view and use past thought. His eclecticism chastens attempts to ascribe to him a classically Marxist worldview, even as it offers a new way of situating his own work within a refigured, global trajectory of thought that generates its own modes of inquiry. I therefore hope to establish Li as both theorist and example of a truly cross-cultural temporal ideology, which resists identification with parochial Western lineages to orient us toward future possibilities of hybridization.
Leigh Jenco (BA, Bard College; MA and PhD, University of Chicago) since 2012 has been Lecturer in Political Theory at the Department of Government of the London School of Economics and Political Science. She was born near Pittsburgh, PA, USA but has since lived for extended periods in Nanjing, Chicago, Taipei, and Singapore. Before joining LSE she was appointed Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Political Theory Project, Brown University, USA (2007-2008); and Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore (2008-2012). She situates her research and much of her teaching at the intersection of contemporary political theory and modern Chinese thought, emphasizing the theoretical and not simply historical value of Chinese discourses on politics. To that end, she has given talks in English and Mandarin across Asia and North America, and has published articles in journals such as the American Political Science Review, Political Theory, Journal of Asian Studies, and Philosophy East and West.
Keywords: Chinese political thought, comparative political theory, global political theory
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013