CFP: Except Asia — Agamben’s Work in Transcultural Perspective

Over the past sev­eral dec­ades, Italian philo­sopher Giorgio Agamben’s work has at­tracted a growing amount of in­terest span­ning a wide range of dis­cip­lines in the hu­man­ities and the so­cial sci­ences, in­cluding philo­sophy, lit­erary theory, polit­ical philo­sophy, mi­gra­tion studies, se­curity studies, geo­graphy, so­cial and cul­tural studies of sci­ence and medi­cine, etc. The in­creasing re­cog­ni­tion ac­corded to Agamben’s oeuvres has more re­cently res­ulted in the be­gin­ning of a ser­ious dia­logue about the transcul­tural as­pects of his work, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to the epi­stem­o­lo­gical legacy of col­on­iz­a­tion, state-​building, and re­volu­tion in the non-​Western world. This con­fer­ence aims to ex­plore the enormous trans­versal po­ten­tial of Agamben’s work by sta­ging its trans­dis­cip­linary and transcul­tural di­men­sions. It is open to non-​specialists (“spe­cial­iz­a­tion” defined here in re­la­tion to both Asia and Agamben) from any dis­cip­line in­ter­ested in the mix and muta­tion of Asia and Agamben as a plat­form for transcul­tural investigation.

Too com­plex to char­ac­terize under a single rubric, Agamben’s work is prob­ably best known for the Homo Sacer series of books and es­says that trace out the con­tours of “the logic of the ex­cep­tion” that op­er­ates across dis­crete do­mains of modern ex­per­i­ence. Sovereignty, as Agamben shows, is the name given to the forms of ex­per­i­ence that ad­here to an ex­cep­tional logic, be­gin­ning with the on­to­lo­gical status of the philo­soph­ical sub­ject and ex­tending dir­ectly through the polit­ical one. For Agamben, this is as much a found­a­tional mo­ment of Western civil­iz­a­tion as a tra­jectory of his­tor­ical de­vel­op­ment. Sovereignty it­self, in its re­la­tion to so­cial on­to­logy, is not a modern in­ven­tion. The spe­cificity of mod­ernity lies in ap­pro­pri­ating the dis­tri­bu­tion of the ex­cep­tion between politics and life in such a way that the format of the ex­cep­tion is no longer in­vis­ible and/​or con­cen­trated in a single point in the so­cial body, but has rather been gen­er­al­ized throughout the body politic, cre­ating spaces of “per­manent exception.”

The con­fer­ence or­gan­izers would like us to re­con­sider the logic of the ex­cep­tion in re­la­tion to Asia. This means, first of all, that we will have to abandon the norm­ativity of the historically-​determined no­tion of so­cial or­gan­iz­a­tion that has come to co­alesce around the term sov­er­eignty in the modern age. Although sovereignty’s ex­cess of norm­ativity has al­ways been open to wild os­cil­la­tions in­duced by the in­cessant trans­itions of cap­it­alist de­vel­op­ment, for that part of the world whose his­tor­ical ex­per­i­ence of mod­ernity has been me­di­ated by col­on­iz­a­tion, sov­er­eignty has never been some­thing that could be taken for granted. Stimulated by Agamben’s gene­a­logy of sov­er­eignty, an in­creasing number of post­co­lo­nial the­or­ists have begun to ques­tion the role of the ex­cep­tion in the con­sti­tu­tion of that very par­tic­ular spa­tial­ized form of ex­cep­tion known as “the West and the Rest.”

The con­fer­ence title — “Except Asia” — thus be­gins with the status of the uni­versal that Agamben has re­cently done so much to prob­lem­atize and re­in­vig­orate. The term “Asia,” like that of “the West,” names neither an es­sen­tial civil­iz­a­tion nor a sub­stan­tial geo­graph­ical en­tity but rather some­thing like what Agamben iden­ti­fies, fol­lowing Michel Foucault, as an ap­par­atus: a net­work of het­ero­gen­eous ele­ments span­ning sev­eral re­gisters. Throughout the period of colonial/​imperial mod­ernity, the ap­par­atus of “Asia” was ex­pli­citly used to manage spaces of ex­cep­tion, seen for in­stance in the frame­works of ex­tra­ter­rit­ori­ality that anchored the dis­tinc­tion of an Asian “con­tinent” on the Eurasian land­mass stretching from the Bosporus to the Yellow Sea. It goes today without saying that it can no more be a ques­tion of at­tempting to as­sim­ilate Asia to yet an­other form of a particularism-​masquerading– as-​a-​universalism than an at­tempt to es­tab­lish a simple equi­val­ency between the two terms, “Asia” and “ex­cep­tion.” In this sense, the con­fer­ence title is pre­cisely a ges­ture, which, as Agamben notes, is the “com­mu­nic­a­tion of a com­mu­nic­ab­ility.” From this per­spective, “Asia” and “Agamben” are points of de­par­ture for dis­cus­sions about sub­jective form­a­tion in transcul­tural prac­tice. Although these two points taken to­gether cer­tainly might open, for in­stance, dis­cus­sions about “Asia” as, al­tern­ately, civil­iz­a­tional con­struct, market as­semblage, eco­nomic player, know­ledge archive, trans­la­tion ma­chine, site of ex­cep­tional space or prac­tice, etc., the con­fer­ence title is def­in­itely not in­tended to limit dis­cus­sion to either “Asia” per se or to Agamben’s con­tri­bu­tions to polit­ical philo­sophy. It is in­tended to act rather as a mo­ment of in­vit­a­tion that points to some­thing mani­festly common and mul­tiple in the human being. It might, if we are lucky, even en­gage the pro­cess iden­ti­fied by Agamben as profan­a­tion: the pro­cess whereby an ap­par­atus (of cap­ture), such as the civil­iz­a­tional re­gion in this case, is wrested away from the ex­cep­tion and re­turned to the common.

How should we re­spond to the urge to cat­egorize Agamben’s work — like that of count­less other im­portant the­or­eti­cians of mod­ernity — as symp­to­matic of that asym­metry that maps the uni­ver­sality of theory onto a re­gion — cur­rently called “the West” — that is but a par­tic­u­larity in its own right? What ele­ments in Agamben’s work present par­tic­u­larly useful — or dis­ruptive — points of de­par­ture for re­con­sid­ering the re­la­tion between gen­esis and validity, origin and propaga­tion? What is the cost of ig­noring, or cor­doning within a single civil­iz­a­tional tra­di­tion (if not a historically-​determined idea of the human it­self), the idea ex­pressed by Agamben in Homo Sacer that we must “put the very form of re­la­tion into ques­tion, and to ask if the polit­ical fact is not per­haps think­able beyond re­la­tion and, thus, no longer in the form of a connection”?

In keeping with our bias to­wards trans­versal, transcul­tural ap­proaches, the con­fer­ence is in­ter­ested in ac­com­mod­ating a variety of per­spect­ives on Agamben’s di­verse body of work. Two gen­eral tra­ject­ories of en­counter between Agamben and the non-​West sug­gest them­selves from the outset. The first, a com­par­ative ap­proach, would act­ively pursue a com­par­at­ivist agenda, matching Agamben’s char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion of the Western tra­di­tion with what we know about other civil­iz­a­tional tra­di­tions. To what ex­tent have other tra­di­tions offered con­trasting solu­tions to the prob­lems, and powers, of on­to­lo­gical and polit­ical ex­cep­tion? How have other tra­di­tions iden­ti­fied and man­aged the prob­lems of in­dic­a­tion and sig­ni­fic­a­tion that are un­der­stood, by Agamben, to lie at the heart of the meta­phys­ical quest? What does Agamben’s ana­lysis of sov­er­eign power in the West mask from view in our ap­proach to non-​Western so­ci­eties? The second, an applied-​theory ap­proach, would find in Agamben’s work an in­triguing set of ana­lyses about Western cul­ture that could provide a powerful tem­plate for re-​examining the un­der­standing of other cul­tures caught in the multi-​faceted pro­cesses of mod­ern­iz­a­tion. How can Agamben’s work be ef­fect­ively mo­bil­ized in con­texts far from those of its inception?

Beyond the strategies of ap­plic­a­tion and com­par­ison, can we not also ima­gine a third tra­jectory of en­counter that would seek to prob­lem­atize the polit­ical re­la­tion that char­ac­ter­izes the meeting between Agamben and Asia at every point in its form­a­tion and de­vel­op­ment? What kind of work needs to be done to mo­bilize Agamben’s ac­com­plish­ments in the ser­vice of a gen­eral eco­nomy of politics no longer in­debted to the re­strained eco­nomy of co­lo­nial and post­co­lo­nial re­la­tions? Situated as we are at a point of his­tor­ical trans­ition af­fecting the hu­man­ities as a whole, we launch this call for pa­pers as an open in­vit­a­tion to in­vent anew the meaning of the­or­et­ical re­flec­tion for a frac­tious global age.


Department of English, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan

With the par­ti­cip­a­tion of

Institut d’Études Transtextuelles et Transculturelles, Université Jean Moulin, Lyon, France




June 25 – 27, 2013


Simone Bignall (University of New South Wales, Australia)

Joyce C. H. Liu (National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan)

Brett Neilson (University of West Sydney, Australia)

Mark Rifkin (University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA)

Naoki Sakai (Cornell University, USA)

Marcelo Svirksy (University of Wollongong, Australia)


500-​word ab­stracts in English should be sub­mitted to conference2​0​1​3​@​gmail.​com be­fore September 21, 2012. Abstracts should be ac­com­panied by a list of keywords and a brief cur­riculum vitae.

Your punc­tual sub­mis­sion would fa­cil­itate our ad­min­is­trative work. If you are in­ter­ested in par­ti­cip­ating but need more time, please write us by September 21 providing a tent­ative title of your paper and a copy of your CV, and we will be happy to dis­cuss a new dead­line for you.

For pro­posals sub­mitted by the due date, no­tice of ac­cepted ab­stracts will be sent out by e-​mail be­fore October 10, 2012.


Full-​length con­fer­ence pa­pers (ap­prox­im­ately 4,000 – 5,000 words) are due a month prior to the con­fer­ence. Papers may be com­piled into a reader for con­fer­ence participants.


Publication pro­jects are planned fol­lowing the con­fer­ence. Details will be an­nounced in due course.


For gen­eral in­quiries, please con­tact Chun-​yen Chen (chunyenchen@​hotmail.​com or jochen@​ntnu.​edu.​tw).



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