“Photographing (with) the Muses” with Lauren Guilmette
Abstract: This image-text essay is a meditation on the photographic encounter with ancient artworks, with a focus on Greco-Roman sculpture and architecture. What does one attempt to capture when taking a photograph of the first Temple of Hera in Paestum, built around 550 BCE? As continentally-trained philosophers, we come to interpret these practices through the insights of philosophers such as Barthes, Sontag, and Derrida, as well as through contemporary photographers engaged in a philosophical practices, like Joan Fontcuberta and Brad Feuerhelm. The essay will be divided into sections, which we outline in this abstract, and placed in conversation with the photos that will separate the sections.
“Goffman and Foucault: Framing the Micro-Physics of Power” The Routledge International Handbook of Goffman Studies (planned for 2021)
Abstract: Goffman and Foucault are important thinkers of institutional power, Foucault working from the perspective of institutional structures and Goffman working from the perspective of individuals who find themselves enmeshed in those structures. Foucault was aware of Goffman’s work and spoke about it approvingly (Foucault 1984). Their work is also theoretically compatible, and several notable thinkers have explored these compatibilities (Battershill 1990, Burns 1992, Hacking 2004, Hancock and Garner 2011, Leib 2017). However, more can be done to deepen the theoretical relationship between them, even as their interests change and their works shift focus.
“Without Provenance: Doing Phenomenology in the USHMM’s Photo Archives”
Abstract: Unlike personal testimonies, photographs have, according to Barthes, a more certain referent and stable existence: “I can never deny that the thing has been there.” In Marianne Hirsch’s work, this ‘there-ness’ of the photo is sufficient to explore questions of constructed postmemories, which are 2nd and 3rd generation means of maintaining a connection to places and people never directly experienced. These postmemories are problematic for the historian, insofar as one’s “connection to the past is thus actually mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation.” For well-documented archival collections, postmemory is ameliorated by the details of their provenance. Yet, what is ‘there’ for one who finds a collection of photos for which the extra details of this ‘there’ have been eviscerated by a lack of provenance—where investment, projection, and creation are the extent of our ability to grapple with the ‘there’? This paper considers the “John Howell” collection at the USHMM: an album of anti-Semitic signs taken across northern Germany in 1935. The lack of information regarding the photographer, the purpose of the photos, their preservation, and donation strongly preclude the production of anything but a ‘mere’ postmemory experience attached to them. I argue, however, that where the details of archival materials fail us, the possibility of a distinctly phenomenological and ethical engagement remains that can be taken up as a source of meaning and significance for the future.
“The Nazi War on Language”
Abstract: In this article, my guiding questions concern the discursive conditions for German fascism, on the one hand, and for the genocide against European Jews, on the other. How, I ask, can language be understood as a cause of both nationalism and genocide? How are these related in the case of the Third Reich, and what can we learn from this process that allows us to better understand the relationship between power and political subjectivity in general as a function of language? Underlying my analysis is the assumption that language in its various forms—as a grammatical system, as a vehicle for cultural logic, as a political tool, as the primary medium of sociality—can have profound effects upon the ‘truth’ of material reality. Far from being a mere vehicle for the presentation of facts about the world, or a mere vehicle for normative prescription about ethical aims, there is a level at which language is responsible for the very shape of social and material reality insofar as it is linked to different forms of political power—power which may become violent on the basis of its prevailing truth.