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Impasse Miseries, or Archiving the End of a World

Fri, October 9, 12:00 to 1:45pm, Sheraton Centre, Pine


This paper explores the implications of recent scholarship on impasses for political inquiry into states of misery and resistance to the disciplining of knowledge. “Impasse” designates an intensive period in which a world might be lost and when alternatives seem undesirable or unavailable. Lauren Berlant has suggested that impasses “can only be approached awkwardly, described around, shifted” because they involve the disorganization of sensoria through a plenitude of intensities. Building on her theorization of subjectivity in impasses as intuitive, this paper elaborates the conceptual and methodological consequences of impasse for political theory. Drawing upon queer theory, new materialisms, and affect studies, it tends to misery in the potential end of a world while considering how theorizations of impasse might resist the disciplinary imperatives of political inquiry. In a word, the misery of impasses disorganizes modes of knowledge production and presses scholars to develop alternative ways of theorizing politics.

The paper first elaborates how intuition arises in impasses due to disturbances in habituated circuits of knowing and feeling. Departing from Berlant's attention to ideology and from Henri Bergson's attention to duration, it approaches intuition as plugged into affects that have yet to be consolidated as a material thing or cultural form. The paper then describes the subject of impasses as an intuitive archivist of ordinary affects. Following the writings of Kathleen Stewart, it conceives impasses as replete with social, cultural, and material affects that decompose ordinary life. Subjects of impasses can intuit the potential dissolution of cultural identities, political infrastructure, and material ecologies that have held up their world. They archive perturbations, low-level feelings, and incipiences into an impassive sensibility of “watching and waiting” for what might arise (or not) from within a scene of misery. Finally, the paper considers how political inquiry might approach and write about impasses. It describes how the intensive and intuitive dimensions of impasse remains at odds with the dominant genre of political theory that seals the borderlines of abstract concepts, privileges rigorous argumentation, deploys moral prescriptions, and remains overly enamored of clarity. Scholars might resist these disciplinary imperatives by keeping archives of impasses open as the ongoing accumulation of mixed feelings, uncertainties, and ineloquences. Such an approach might cultivate an experimental form of political inquiry that appreciates speculation, incoherence, and loose ends.


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