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New York 2014

Capitalogos: Literary Theory With and Against Capitalism

Three-day seminar at ACLA (NYU), March 21-23, 2014

From today’s perspective, 20th c. theories of literature appear neither as consistent epistemologies competing for scientifically verifiable truth, nor as analytic methods that can be adapted or abandoned at will. Rather, a theory constitutes a resource and an affiliation that, while compelling a long-term commitment as well as ideological allegiances, allows for strategic negotiation and ad-hoc bricolage on the part of the individual scholar or a group of scholars. Theories can gain or lose currency, undergo inflation (structuralism), become a state monopoly (Soviet Marxism), be converted (Bakhtin’s appropriation by Western academy), capitalized on (uses of Auerbach’s Mimesis), invested in other, more risky ventures (deconstruction’s applications), even hoarded (some aspects of New Criticism). At worst, entering broad academic fashion, they can become mere symbolic capital.

Constituted during the age of Capital, literary theory can also reflexively engage with its workings. The stream’s particular focus is on the ways in which the major paradigms of Russian literary theory (Historical Poetics, Formalism, Sociological Poetics) arose and defined themselves with the help of categories that had explicit bearing on the logic of (anti)capitalism.  Formalist (de-)automatization (“labor theory of value,” “machine production,” “the commodity form”) and autonomy (“division of labor”), Bakhtin’s dread of monologism and emphasis on process (“reification”), Veselovsky’s interest in collective rather than individual creation (cf. “primitive communism”) – examples of such conceptual overlap can be complemented by encounters that were more properly activist, since a number of Russian theorists (Shklovsky, Tynianov, Pereverzev) were also at one time or another involved with anti-capitalist parties or institutions. Their investment in theory was part of a life lived in a polemical engagement with the politics of (anti)capitalism.

Co-organized by Ilya Kliger (NYU) and Boris Maslov (University of Chicago)

Day 1

  • Dean Casale, Bakhtin and the Living Dynamics of the Human Sciences: A Critique of the Thingliness of the Natural Sciences and Capitalism
  • Anastasiya Osipova, Problem of the Tragism of Inner Life in Soviet Literary Theory: the Cases of Valentin Voloshinov and Andrey Platonov
  • Jessica Merrill, Anti-Capitalist Utopias and Roman Jakobson’s Poetic Language
Day 2
  • Michael Kunichika, The Image in the 1920s
  • Alexander Dmitriev, Literary Tradition as National Capital: on Cultural Isolationism in Russian Formalism
  • Jan Levchenko, Biography as a Resource for a Capital of Literary Theory: On the Material of Petersburg Formalist triumvirate
Day 3
  • Boris Maslov, Remembering Idealist Literary History
  • Hyeryung Hwang, Modernism and Beyond: Adorno, Jameson, and Williams
  • Ilya Kliger, Modernism and Materialist Literary History
  • Anke Hennig, Retro-Formalism. On the Economics of a Project in Poetic Theory

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