The category of the “universal” carries the weight of violence, both epistemic and “real.” To render universal is to eradicate difference, always with a cost. But much of the political—and indeed, the theoretical—carries implicit and explicit calls to some universal, for what is true, or to-come, or would be better. Scholars such as Dipesh Chakrabarty have thus defended the place of thoroughly Western concepts like justice and human rights in postcolonial thought, for without them “there would be no social science that addresses issues of modern social justice” available.

Theodor Adorno captured the paradoxical necessity of universals when he wrote, refuting Hegel’s Philosophy of World History, that “universal history must be construed and denied,” for “no universal history leads from savagery to humanitarianism, but there is one leading from the slingshot to the megaton bomb.” Deployed critically, universals can be transformed from complicity with violence to exposing the “permanent catastrophe” of Western modernity that Walter Benjamin famously described as a “storm” of progress. As Saroj Giri has reprised one such negative universal for today, the so-called “end of history” has opened up not onto a plurality of particular histories but onto the “capitalist universal” that defines our global order.

This group will confront textual and political concerns present in several disciplines, including intellectual history, literature, philosophy, political theory, gender and sexuality studies, and postcolonial studies, as well as concerns held beyond the academy. Confronted with the limits of particular emancipatory struggles, what essential theoretical work do universals still perform today? If we cannot any longer speak of the positive universals of progress, cosmopolitanism, the end of history, or the triumph of liberal democracy, how might these concepts nonetheless continue to function as operative ideals implicit in emancipatory projects? How might such a dialogue generate new universals attuned to difference? In Western disciplinary spaces now reaching more than ever towards the global, how do we contend with politics and tactics for liberation that demand recognizing the particular? We will address these questions—in light of our present political context—by engaging a selection of short texts from authors including Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Jacques Derrida, bell hooks, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, David Scott, Amy Allen, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Cedric Robinson, Vivek Chibber, Maggie Nelson, Pankaj Mishra, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.

For further information please contact Jonathon Catlin ([email protected]).

All meetings are from 4:30-6pm in Scheide Caldwell House Room 209.