This talk elaborated the tension between the effulgence of the failed state as a verdict on postcolonialism and attempted to reimagine postcolonial spaces. The postcolonial struggle to produce states that are relatively autonomous from colonial predations has, since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of actually existing socialism, become more intense and vexing. On the one hand, this talk seeked to understand the complex logics of paroxysm that give us the failed state; on the other, Hitchcock suggested to theorize this as an imaginative challenge rather than simply one of structural adjustment within the state-craft of the South. While errant states might seem a cruel reversal of postcolonial delinking, they also critique the doxa of stable nation narration. The postcolonial imaginary has no need to suture the modern nation state but it can make it “fail better” (as Beckett would say). Hitchcock considered the aesthetic implications of such material conditions.
Peter Hitchcock is Professor of English at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York where he also serves on the faculties of Women’s Studies and Film Studies and as Associate Director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics. He is the author of five books, including Imaginary States: Studies in Cultural Transnationalism and The Long Space: Transnationalism and Postcolonial Form. His most recent publications deal with a wide range of topics, from financial markets to the spectral turn in cultural studies, from Mikhail Bakhtin to Hanif Kureishi. He is currently at work on a monograph devoted to the cultural representation of labor and another on worlds of postcoloniality.
The lecture is part of the ICI Lecture Series ERRANS. The English verb ‘to err’ has largely lost its positive connotations. It no longer invokes wandering, rambling, or roaming, and is now understood negatively in relation to a prescribed path or goal. To be sure, errors are acknowledged to play an important role in the pursuit of knowledge and happiness, but usually only to the extent that their recognition allows for their elimination, correction, and avoidance. Recognizing that a critique of ideals of productivity, success, goal-orientation, and determination is necessarily paradoxical, the lecture series takes the shifting meanings of ‘erring’ – connoting the violation of norms as well as the activity of wandering – as a prompt to explore the critical potentials and risks of embracing error, randomness, failure, and non-teleological temporalities, and to do so across different disciplines and discourses.
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