Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies

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Critical researches into capitalism, its cultures, histories…

Detail from Walker Evans, Winston Salem, North Carolina, 1935. Nitrate negative, 36 x 24 mm. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.

Join us for a symposium on the theme of Capitalism’s cultures of fragmentation, with speakers Luisa Corna, Fiona Allen, Simon Constantine and Daniel Mourenza, followed by our reading group looking at Vladimir Lenin’s Materialism & Empirio-Criticism.

Seminar Room 7.83
EC Stoner building
University of Leeds

12.30-14.30 Symposium: Capitalism’s cultures of fragmentation
Speakers: Luisa Corna, Fiona Allen, Simon Constantine and Daniel Mourenza

Like many of the concepts associated with postmodernism, the fragment has acquired an uneasy status within the current intellectual climate. Whilst it is no longer common practice to view the term as a rejoinder to totalizing theory, alternative definitions are yet to fully emerge. As a result, there has been a return to various earlier ways of addressing the fragment, most notably, those proposed within Western Marxism. This development, however, raises a series of further complications. For writers such as Georg Lukács and David Harvey, the fragment is a product of the historical transitions and socio-economic structures which inform capitalist society. However, it has also been understood as a challenge to the apparent coherence of the social totality; a standpoint epitomised by the writings of Ernst Bloch. Over the course of the twentieth century, this conflict has underpinned many of the key debates within aesthetic theory. Yet despite their initial urgency, the divisions which emerged from this literature – most famously, between realism and modernism – have ceased to the possess the theoretical and political significance they once held. But what, if anything, can be revived from these debates? How does the fragment operate under advanced neoliberalism? How might it be rethought following the political turn in contemporary art? Building upon these lines of enquiry, this session will consider the possibility of establishing an alternative position from which to address the category of the fragment; one which seeks to avoid the uncritical celebration of fragmentation or a return to traditional models of aesthetic totality.

14.30-15.00 break

15.00-17.30 Reading Group
Materialism & Empirio-Criticism, Vladimir Lenin

Reading group information: What matters to Lenin?

In recent years we have witnessed a distinct resurgence of interest in the theme and question of materialism. Object oriented ontology and speculative realism have emerged as burning concerns within academic philosophy while various preoccupations with things, objects (even hyperobjects), materials, environments etc. have fanned out across the humanities and social sciences. Much of this development has proceeded as if either ignorant of, or in unspoken disagreement with, the tradition of materialist thought that one can trace up through Spinoza to Marx.

In light of this it seems urgent now to think a bit more carefully about this tradition, and precisely as it came to square off with positive science (or critical rationalism), on the pages of Vladimir Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism from 1908. This text (comprising an entire volume in the collected works), sadly neglected within Marxism as more philosophical than political, not only generates a richly generative framework for grasping the present moment of materialism, but also, because its reception history includes the role its arguments came to play in the formative Positivismusstreit that dominated German philosophy in the 1960s, this text illuminates the path taken to the present.

Thus, as part of the Capitalism research project, we will be hosting a series of reading groups in which we will work our way through two central sections of this text: the lengthy and ambitious chapters gathered together under the rubric, The Theory of Knowledge, and the subsequent chapter Philosophical Idealists. Participants are encouraged to read the text in its entirety, but only these portions will figure in the discussions of the reading group.

This series of sessions focuses on exploring the cultures of capitalism, organised by Richard Checketts, Gail Day and John Mowitt (Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies).

The Critical researches into capitalism, its cultures, histories… research group aims to bring together historical, historiographical and theoretical perspectives, with an eye not only to the social formation classically known as ‘capitalism’, but also to its prehistories and its possible ‘post-histories’; to questions of value, capital, processes of capital subsumption; the interdependencies of capital and colonialism; the reshaping of spatial and temporal experience; and the revival of marxist-feminism. The question of ‘materialism’ is addressed directly through our reading group.

We invite those who wishes to join us in this collective endeavour to contact Gail Day at g.a.day@leeds.ac.uk.

Image: Detail from Walker Evans, Winston Salem, North Carolina, 1935. Nitrate negative, 36 x 24 mm. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.

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