On the Subject of Ethnonationalism: The Transgressive Style and the Claim to Critique

Conference/Symposium | April 28 | 10 a.m.-6 p.m. | 3335 Dwinelle Hall

 Department of English, Townsend Center for the Humanities, Center for the Study of Sexual Culture

Today, newly prominent strands of right-wing discourse assert themselves not simply as political positions but also as styles. Instead of traditional concerns with decorum, we see tactics of shock and various attempts to be transgressive. Moving away from conservative propriety, some movements accept or even celebrate the sexualization of political figures and positions. The normalcy of the majority is replaced with the right’s self-understanding as a protest movement. Valorization of self-sufficient individuality gives way to a “white identity politics” that ironically celebrates the perverse, “deplorable” body. Running through these discourses is the claim that the new right is practicing a critique of its own, a critique that accuses left discourses of hardening into dogma and that claims to point out the limits and inadequacies of liberalism.

This conference aims to assess these stylistic, tactical, and cultural shifts in right-wing discourse, to track their genealogies, and to explore effective strategies for countering them. What are the implications for the left of the practice of a transgressive style on the right? How should we analyze the rhetoric of minority identity and cultural grievance used by traditionally privileged groups? Which histories of cooptation or appropriation can we learn from to this end? Do “critical” discourses on the right inevitably lead to dogmatic or illegitimate forms of critique? Can we be sure that critical methods will necessarily yield progressive political outcomes, and if not, what other resources might we employ? Or if, refusing recent claims that it is now exhausted, we remain committed to critique, how can we practice it anew in the face of adversaries who appear fluent in some of its characteristic moves? If we can label these tendencies “ethnonationalism,” then how should we understand the subject of ethnonationalism, its cultural politics, and the distinctive practices of colonization, exclusion, and destruction in which it engages?


***Note: all panels start at the exact time listed below, not Berkeley time***

“Rereading the Southern Agrarians in the Trump Era”
Ashley Brock (Hispanic and Portuguese Studies, University of Pennsylvania)
“Conjuring Conspiracy: Racial Paranoia and Radical Sympathy”
--Poulomi Saha (English, U.C. Berkeley)

“Cathedral of the Iconoclasts: Bolaño against the Fascist International”
Paco Brito (Comparative Literature, U.C. Berkeley)
“The Affective Commons: Gay Shame, Queer Hate, and Other Collective Feelings”
--Eric Stanley (Sexuality and Gender Studies, U.C. Riverside)

“The Return to Exile: The Ideology and Style of Neo-Zionism”
Shaul Setter (Tel Aviv University & Haaretz)
“A Critique of Mascquerade: Homotribalism and Call Me By Your Name”
--Joshua Branciforte (English, U.C. Davis)

“Nonconsensual Desire, or, Did Sissy Porn Make Me Trans?”
Andrea Long Chu (Comparative Literature, NYU)
“The King’s Two Anuses”
--Grace Lavery (English, U.C. Berkeley)

“Darkness Visible: The Contingency of Critique”
Ellen Rooney (English and Modern Culture and Media, Brown University)
Closing Remarks
--Ramsey McGlazer (Italian Studies, U.C. Berkeley) & Joshua Branciforte (English, U.C. Davis)