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English and American Studies

Cultural Studies Colloquium

Our Program To Date:

This research seminar takes its cues from Simon During's observation that "popular music is crucial to cultural studies" and from Richard Middleton's belief that "a breakthrough in popular music studies would […] reorientate cultural studies in a fundamental way."

Following such leads, the purpose of the seminar will not only be to better understand the music or the practices attending it. Rather, we propose using popular music culture as a productive provocation – a provocation that will invite us to re-think the tenets of cultural theory and to test the purchase of its concepts.

Always opening our ears to the music and to the moves and visuals inspired by it, we will thus embark on a journey to seminal sites of cultural theory and methodology – from the paradigms of historiography and aesthetics via the domains of technology and media studies to theories of performance, body and affect.

"For twenty-five centuries, Western knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for the beholding. It is for hearing. It is not legible, but audible. […] Now we must learn to judge a society more by its sounds […] than by its statistics. By listening to noise, we can better understand where the folly of men and their calculations is leading us, and what hopes it is still possible to have."

Thus claimed Jacques Attali in his pathbreaking book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, which was first published in French in 1977. Looking at key theoretical texts published in the last forty years and at current research in cultural studies, our seminar will assess the grand hope that close listening will not only provide new modes for understanding social systems and everyday practices but that a detailed attention to sound might also furnish a basis for envisioning a more sustainable relationship to the human as well as the non-human world.

Since its inception in mid-20th-century Britain, the field of cultural studies has undergone significant transformations: while starting out as a distinctly national discourse of British self-ethnography and democratic empowerment, it also took up influences from continental Europe and was quick to be adopted and modified in many parts of the world. Today, it is common practice to conceive of the various strands of cultural studies according to a vocabulary of related, but fundamentally different and compartmentalized sub-divisions (such as 'American Cultural Studies' vs 'British Cultural Studies').

The overarching goal of this seminar is to develop both an understanding and a critical re-examination of these lines of division in their historical and current forms. By taking into close consideration [1] theoretical foundations like Marxism and structuralism as well as [2] the past and present of cultural studies in India along with [3] key texts from the two formations of 'British' and 'American Cultural Studies', we hope to enable a discussion of the problems and merits surrounding these 'nationally specific' perspectives. Finally, it remains to be seen whether this kind of compartmentalization is inevitable, or whether cultural studies might also be configured as a transnational or global field of research and critical intervention.

This course is part of "WueGlobal - Writing, Learning, Digital Connection" funded by the International Virtual Academic Collaboration Program (IVAC) / Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) / Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF).

Teaching Team: Prof. Dr. Zeno Ackermann (British Cultural Studies), Prof. Dr. MaryAnn Snyder-Körber (American Cultural Studies), and David Janocha, BA (WueGlobal Tutor & International Writing Fellow)

While there are good reasons for understanding cultural studies as an attempt to reach beyond the exclusivist rhetoric of the nation, it is (still) common practice to gear its manifestations to distinct national discourses. Thus, we firmly distinguish between 'American Cultural Studies' and 'British Cultural Studies', implicitly or explicitly constructing the two as self-contained endeavors rooted in specific traditions and serving specific discourses of democratization.

Looking at [a] seminal key texts in the long history of cultural studies as well as [b] new theories, programmatic texts and case studies, the seminar will assess the reasons and effects of such compartmentalization. We will be particularly interested in opening up bipartite constructions of the discipline by paying close attention to the history and present of cultural studies in India. In doing so, we will attempt to bring in a third (seminal) 'national' perspective. However, we will also try to trace the contours and critically test the potentials of a transnational or global cultural studies.

"For indeed, no one has determined what the Body can do," remarks the philosopher Baruch Spinoza in his Ethics (1677): a work that problematizes all too simple divisions as well as hierarchies of mind over body in the philosophical tradition. Three centuries later, a further philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, continues this problematization, but transforms Spinoza's observation into the more direct (and activating) form of a query: "What can a body do?" is the deciding question not only for Spinoza's philosophy according to Deleuze, but also for issues of ethics, dynamics of power, and a full accounting of the interrelations that constitute the worlds we live in (Expressionism in Philosophy, 1968).

This seminar takes up the call to explore what the body can do. Yet more particularly, the course is interested in what study of the body (or of specific bodies) can mean for cultural studies. The goal is, thus, not to neatly answer the question "What can a body do?", but rather to explore a multiplicity of approaches to 'the body' and 'the bodily'. Accordingly, the course has a two-part structure: 

(1) After initial orientation in regards to "Frameworks and Intellectual Legacies" of thinking (through) the body, further sessions focus on "Theories of the Body/Bodies." Among other topics, we will explore the phenomenological project and the notion of "a queer pheno­menology" (Ahmed), the civilizing process and concept of habitus in sociology (Elias & Bourdieu), body discipline and biopolitics (Foucault), the project of a "body without organs" (Deleuze & Guattari), and the possibility of posthumanist embodiment (Haraway & Wolfe). 

(2) In the second block of the course – "Practices of the Body/Bodies" – our discussion will shift from general theories to specific case studies. As a first step we propose considering the bodily intricacies and implications of immunization by way of Eula Biss's experimental text On Immunity: An Inoculation (2014). Further case studies will be developed by course participants and discussed during the end-of-term symposium or 'Study Day' which we have scheduled for Wednesday, 22 January from 10-16.

Wie hängt nun alles zusammen? Auf welche Weise werden Körper und Geist, Subjekt und Norm, Erfahrung und Repräsentation miteinander vermittelt? Dies sind Kernfragen der Kulturtheorie und der Kulturwissenschaften. In unserem Seminar für fortgeschrittene Studierende werden wir uns mit einem Konzept auseinandersetzen, das Antworten verspricht, aber zugleich weitere Fragen aufwirft: dem Konzept der Artikulation.

Im Deutschen am meisten vertraut ist wohl die Verwendung des Begriffs 'Artikulation' als Bezeichnung für eine deutliche Aussprache. Oft heißt es, dass Personen über eine 'gute' oder 'schlechte' Artikulation verfügen. In der Phonetik handelt die Artikulation genauer von der Positionierung der Zunge oder der Regulierung des Atems, um gesprochene Rede hervorzubringen. Gleichzeitig wird in der Semantik die Gliederung von Gedanken als ein Prozess der Artikulation begriffen.

Kulturwissenschaftler wie Raymond Williams und Stuart Hall haben sowohl auf solche sprachwissenschaftlichen Diskussionen wie auch auf den Gliederungsbegriff bei Marx (im Englischen: 'articulation') rekurriert, um die komplexen Verbindungen zwischen materiellen Grundlagen, subjektiven Positionen und kulturellen Prozessen zu beleuchten. So erklärte Hall:

You have to ask, under what circumstances can a connection be forged or made? [...] Thus, a theory of articulation is both a way of understanding how ideological elements come, under certain condition to cohere together, within a discourse, and a way of asking how they do or do not become articulated at certain junctures, to certain political subjects. ("On Postmodernism and Articulation" [1986] 53.)

Unser Seminar beginnt mit einer Annäherung an das flüchtige Phänomen der 'Stimme' und an die soziokulturelle Signifikanz von Klangphänomenen in den Voice und Sound Studies. Einen zweiten Fokus bildet die Auseinandersetzung mit Artikulation in den Sprachwissenschaften und in der Sprachphilosophie. Abschließend werden Schlüsseltexte der Artikulationstheorie in den Cultural Studies sowie den Popular Music Studies diskutiert.

"Boom! The Cathedral is a torch, and the houses next to it begin to scorch. Boom! […] The old lady cannot walk. She watches the creeping stalk and counts. Boom! – Boom! – Boom!" Amy Lowell's prose poem "Bombardment" (November 1914) bears witness to the destructive terror of military conflict. Yet more particularly, the poem evokes warfare as an assault on the senses which seemingly cannot be described. Lowell instead recreates the attack in unrelenting repetitions of "Boom! – Boom! – Boom!"

In this seminar, World War I will be approached as an experience which involved, but also radically challenged cultural structures of feeling: from hearing and vision to smell, taste, touch, and – not least – experiences of pain that both involve and obliterate the senses.

The seminar is a part of the faculty-wide project "Krieg und Frieden: Der Erste Weltkrieg." During the Winter Term 2018/2019 courses will be considering the events and impact of World War I from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The project culminates in an exhibition that will bring together work from a range of seminars in our faculty. These contributions can take graphic-textual form (such as a large-scale posters) or they can bring together film and audio materials. In keeping with the approach of our seminar, our exhibition contributions will explore key 'sense-scapes' of the war.