Gun Rights and the Black Panther Party: A Talk on February 21, 2014

UPDATE 2/15/2014: The talk has been rescheduled to Friday, February 21, 2014 at noon. It will still take place in Bryan Hall Faculty Lounge, Room 229.

In my Ph.D. program, each fifth-year student gives a formal, hour-long presentation of research from the dissertation. It’s a wonderful tradition and I’m excited to be giving my “diss talk” soon. You are invited. The talk will take place February 14 21, 2014 at noon in the Bryan Hall Faculty Lounge at the University of Virginia.

Here’s the abstract:

Defensible Selves: The Black Panther Party and the Right to Bear Arms

In the last half century, the Second Amendment has transformed from a “revolutionary” tool of leftist minority groups to a rallying cry for white supremacists and the far right. This paper examines the Second Amendment’s volatile racial politics by looking to some discredited or ignored narratives of arms bearing that appear in minority performance and discourse. Homing in on the emergence of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966, the paper analyzes the early Panthers’ theatrical armed protests, including “police patrols” aimed at protecting black neighborhoods from police brutality and an iconic open-carry demonstration at the California State Capitol. Broadcast images of organized, legally armed African Americans provoked public fear and outrage, leading to a drastic new gun control measure nicknamed the “Panther Bill.” This swift legislative response laid bare the extent to which the Constitution’s ideal arms bearer is popularly imagined as a white, male property owner defending colonized space—not a politically active African American with life and liberty to protect. The Panthers’ embodied political speech drew from and recast familiar narratives of self-defense, tyranny, revolution, peoplehood, and individual self-determination. By reconfiguring popular Second Amendment myths, they perhaps offer a way to reframe present-day gun debates. The right to bear arms, more than a question of domestic policy, is fundamentally tied to how we imagine the nation—and how we imagine the horizon of violence that keeps the nation whole.

Call for Applications: Law, Culture & Humanities Graduate Student Workshop 2014

In conjunction with its just-announced Annual Meeting in March 2014 at the University of Virginia, the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities will once again hold a Graduate Student Workshop. I attended last year’s workshop in London and highly recommend it. ASLCH is a wonderfully eclectic scholarly community—and peculiarly supportive of graduate students and interested in mentorship. Here’s the announcement:

The Annual Law Culture and Humanities conference is pleased to offer a graduate student workshop designed for graduate students who are undertaking research that cuts across law, cultural studies, literature, philosophy, legal studies, anthropology, political science, economics. The workshop is designed to provide mentoring, practical advice on publishing and applying for work, as well as have some fun. Applications to the workshop should include a statement of research, a current curriculum vitae, and a short statement of the paper that each student will be presenting at the conference. There is limited space for the workshop, and so we cannot admit all (although we will do our best!). Please forward your application to ckellogg[at] by November 15.

CFP: Law, Culture & the Humanities Annual Meeting, March 10-11, 2014, Charlottesville, VA

The Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities has announced its 2014 Annual Meeting. I’m particularly excited about next year’s conference, as it will be held at my home university, the University of Virginia.

Here’s the call for proposals:

We are pleased to announce that the Seventeenth Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities will be held at the University of Virginia School of Law, March 10-11, 2014. We invite your participation.  Please note, panel and paper proposals are due Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

The Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities is an organization of scholars engaged in interdisciplinary, humanistically-oriented legal scholarship. The Association brings together a wide range of people engaged in scholarship on legal history, legal theory and jurisprudence, law and cultural studies, law and literature, law and the performing arts, and legal hermeneutics. We want to encourage dialogue across and among these fields about issues of interpretation, identity, and values, about authority, obligation, and justice, and about law’s place in culture.

This year’s conference theme is as follows:

The Politics of Law and the Humanities: Crisis, Austerity, Instrumentalism

How will law and the humanities scholarship fare against the pressure of the science and technology paradigm that has now permeated the institutional frameworks of academia? Will it mime the general humanities and, as suggested by the defeatist pomp of many national “crisis reports”, merely retreat to its traditional position as the well-mannered guardian of liberal values? Will law and the humanities scholarship be subsumed under the science paradigm’s instrumental ethos by either taking on aims and objectives sanctioned by government policies or by domesticating its own political potential to address those very same policies? Or can we imagine more salutary alternatives to defeatism and instrumental subsumption?

The terrain is well known. The ongoing economic crisis has engendered a worldwide decline in funding for research in the humanities showing sharp decreases between 2009 and 2012 with funds almost cut in half each year. The global trend is also detectable at national levels, with growing gaps between public investment into STEM subjects and the humanities. But the changes do not merely concern the fiscal prioritization of diminishing resources. The social sciences, including law, are under constant political pressure as lawmakers question the value of curiosity-driven basic research. This pressure is then mirrored at the institutional level of individual law schools emphasizing their vocational remits at the expense of research and scholarship. And this research and scholarship is itself increasingly cast in reformist, practical, and “policy relevant” terms, and directed to issues of perceived topical and regulatory concern.

The implied allegation is simple enough: basic research in the humanities and social sciences is, if not obsolete, then at least a luxury we can’t afford in these times; because it cannot satisfy the more immediate needs of market-driven societies in the current economic climate, it is politically irrelevant.

But can we imagine new ways to claim – or, perhaps, to reclaim – our political relevance? Are we relevant in other, perhaps more radical ways? And if we are, how? Is there a politics that is specific to law and the humanities? Or can we articulate the limits to the conversation about “relevance” in a way accessible to minds focused on instrumentality? How might we respond to our critics, or do we ignore them?

Participants are encouraged to reflect on this broad, but not exclusive, conference theme.

In addition to sessions that connect to the theme, examples of other types of sessions we expect to organize include: History, Memory and Law; Reading Race; Law and Literature; Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism; Speech, Silence, and the Language of Law; Judgment, Justice, and Law; Beyond Identity; The Idea of Practice in Legal Thought; Metaphor and Meaning; Representing Legality in Film and Mass Media; Anarchy, Liberty and Law; What is Excellence in Interpretation?; Ethics, Religion, and Law; Moral Obligation and Legal Life; The Post-Colonial in Literary and Legal Study; Processes and Possibilities in Interdisciplinary Law Teaching.

We urge those interested in attending to consider submitting complete panels, and we hope to encourage a variety of formats-roundtables, sessions at which everyone reads the papers in advance, sessions in which commentators respond to a single paper. We invite proposals for session in which the focus is on pedagogy or methodology, for author-meets-readers sessions organized around important books in the field, or for sessions in which participants focus on performance (theatrical, filmic, musical, poetic).

How to register:

ASLCH uses a two part registration system (this will all be explained in detail on the website). First you register your paper or panel and pay a $35 membership fee. Then after January 10th, 2014, assuming your paper or panel is accepted, you go back to the same website (an email will be sent on that day to remind you) and pay the conference fee.

Here is the link to register:

Call for Applications: ‘Rechtskulturen’ Postdoc for Legal-Cultural Studies, Berlin, 2013/14

Thanks to @abubanda for the tweeting this interesting postdoctoral position, based in Berlin:

Rechtskulturen (‘legal cultures’) is a Berlin-based postdoctoral research program which is designed to explore the law in new and innovative ways. We intend to create a space of reflection and communication where fundamental and salient questions of the law and its context(s) can be re-negotiated from a variety of disciplinary and regional perspectives, and re-connected with jurisprudence and legal methodology. As a central element of the Berlin research network Recht im Kontext (‘law in context’) based at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Rechtskulturen aims at re-contextualizing established understandings of law by transcending the scope of comparative legal studies and international law. It is designed to enhance a re-location of law among its neighboring disciplines—the humanities, the cultural and social sciences—, and can thus allow affiliated scholars, fellows and faculty to develop innovative research agendas in transregional constellations beyond a European or Anglo-American focus.

The program addresses scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, regional contexts and academic fields of discourse. In Berlin, the postdoctoral fellows will work on projects of their own choice. The program’s scholarly environment is designed to enable and to encourage both fellows and the wider community to explore and create new orientations in their transdisciplinary research on law. The program Rechtskulturen is directed by Susanne Baer (Bundesverfassungsgericht/Humboldt-Universität), Christoph Möllers (Humboldt-Universität/Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin) and Alexandra Kemmerer (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin), and is supported by an international group of scholars.

The brochure and application details are here.

Futures of American Studies Institute 2012: Would You Like Some Speculation With That?

A few highlights from this year’s Futures of American Studies Institute, held June 18-24. The Institute, which takes place every summer at Dartmouth College, is a lively week jam-packed with plenary lectures and grad student workshops. It’s a great place for grad students to connect with top-notch scholars from around the U.S. and Europe, receive feedback on their own work, and generally take the pulse of the field. Sleep is optional. This year, a sizable crew of us tweeted the plenary lectures, which allowed us to share notes and discuss tangents while talks went on.

I was fortunate to be part of the workshop led by Alan Nadel. Over four days, ten advanced grad students presented work in progress and received feedback from each other, Alan, and other faculty whom we invited individually. (We were assigned to workshops roughly based on areas of interest; there was a foreign policy/governmentality theme in my group.) I invited Andy Doolen to join us when I presented my dissertation prospectus, and was grateful for the rich, detailed comments he provided. Alan and my workshop-mates also offered great suggestions.

Some of this year’s hot topics, in no particular order:

  • Race and speculative fiction. I know it’s been a while since white geekdom completely ruled the speculative genres. But these days, it seems like if you’re doing ethnic studies and haven’t at least thought about futurism or sci-fi, you might as well go live in a cave. Most memorable were Aimee Bahng on “queer Asian American futurity” in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl and Soyica Diggs Colbert on the prophetic in Octavia Butler’s Parable series.
  • The financial crisis, or, speculative everything. Speaking of living in caves, the housing market crash and general economic apocalypse have heightened interest in property, markets, and global capital. Indeed, the “What if?” that lies at the heart of “speculation” (financial and literary) seems to offer an exciting convergence of the material and the imaginative—and what do American studies scholars love more than that? Although I tend to get skeptical when literary critics put on their economist hats, I really enjoyed Annie McClanahan’s talk on photography and the foreclosure crisis.
  • Geography and territory. For better or worse (mostly better, I think), disciplinary boundaries don’t faze American studies scholars. Often borrowing theory and methods from human geography, scholars trained in literature or history are producing increasingly nuanced work on territory, space, and mapping. I especially liked Elizabeth Maddock Dillon’s talk on theater as a “virtual commons” and Andy Doolen’s on the “failed” explorer Zebulon Pike and the American geographic imagination.
  • Neoliberalism (or, I suppose, liberalism for the earlier period folks). The field of American studies tends to be, to put it mildly, critical of the faith in individualism and “free markets” that underlies today’s global capitalism. A good portion of the speakers related their topics to capitalism or uneven economic development. I especially liked Donatella Izzo’s talk on The Great Gatsby and “democracy to come” (à la Derrida).
  • Digital humanities. The final afternoon featured a digital humanities “unconference” (very fashionable, in case you didn’t know), with lightning talks on a wide range of DH projects. Major props to Lindsay O’Connor, who spoke on the new Praxis Program at U.Va., Mary Caton Lingold for her work with sound technologies at Duke (which you can follow on Twitter at #dhsound), and Jane Greenway for her archival project with the Schomburg Center.

There were also occasional hints about the rather sorry state of humanities higher education. A panel on (the end of?) academic publishing put a damper on things, even after John Carlos Rowe’s uplifting decision to go open access with his latest book. Also, in between (and, I confess, during) lectures, six of us from U.Va. were also checking Twitter and our overflowing inboxes for the latest on the President Sullivan debacle, which fortunately came to an end this past Tuesday.

Finally, and importantly, I want to extend a huge thank you to the U.Va. English Department for funding my and my classmates’ attendance. (But shhh—don’t tell the neoliberals who now run higher education that money is being spent on humanities enrichment.)

Prospecting in The Martial Imaginary

Both halves of Legal Lacuna have been cramming for comprehensive exams and producing our dissertation prospectuses this spring, and I’m happy to report that we’re now both ABD. This magical point of the PhD program—all but dissertation—is when some aspiring academics chuck it all and go to law school. Luckily, that ship has sailed for us. Instead, we are heading full steam into our respective projects.

My dissertation examines race and militarism from World War II to the post-9/11 era by analyzing what I call “the martial imaginary.” This is the field of images, signs, narratives, values, and feelings that surround and structure representations of the military. The dominant martial imaginary—the one we are taught by school and Hollywood—is where we find stock elements of literature and reportage about war. The soldier carrying his wounded brother away from battle. The ultimate sacrifice. Flags, monuments, and more flags. This is where we sublimate the “horrors of war,” as they say, into palatable narratives of heroism and patriotism. But the twentieth century showed us that the martial imaginary is also rife with dissonance and moral danger. The alienated veteran driven to his (it’s usually “his”) breaking point. Soldiers run amok, killing for revenge or profit. Interchangeable Third World villages laid to waste. In this sense, the martial imaginary is where we negotiate collective beliefs about violence, the nation, and, increasingly, globalization and American hegemony.

As a conceptual device, the martial imaginary foregrounds the figures, gestures, objects, and emblems we associate with the military, and detaches them from the more familiar “war literature” paradigm. It allows us to see how these elements operate far outside the space-time of war, appearing throughout American literature and culture in both recognizable and abstract forms. I begin by observing that literature, visual media, performance, and discourse by and about racial minorities often feature troubling or seemingly anomalous expressions of martial (of or relating to the military) power. These expressions include, among other things, governmental violence enacted inside the U.S. against minorities (think Japanese American internment or the zoot suit riots) and resistive uses of military style and gestures by radical minority activists. To the extent that the military is (supposed to be) an instrument of the U.S. as a unified, sovereign nation-state, these expressions challenge core nationalist beliefs about American democracy and state power.

Black Panther Party for Self-Defense demonstration against new gun control legislation, California state capitol, 1967.

The “texts” I have chosen range widely and include, to name a few, the Black Panther march on the California state capitol in 1967, Luis Valdez’s play Zoot Suit (1978), Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony (1982), and the popular Berlin Wall tourist site known as Checkpoint Charlie. Following the wisdom that you shouldn’t write your first chapter first, I’ve decided to start with Chapter 2, “Regulating the Militia: Spectacles of Black Power and the Right to Bear Arms.” The chapter examines how “militant” activists of the 1960s and 1970s manipulated and recast a racialized martial imaginary, most notably with the Black Panther Party using the Second Amendment as the basis for its campaign against racist policing. I argue that gun rights are fundamentally connected to how we imagine the nation—and how we imagine the horizon of violence that keeps the nation whole.

Law, Culture & the Humanities 2012: Panel on “Global Citizens: Violence and the Transnational Subject”

This past weekend in Fort Worth, TX, I was pleased to be part of the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities. This year’s theme was “Representing Justice.” Tweets can be found at #ASLCH.

Audrey Golden, Nicolette Bruner, and I formed a law and literature panel called Global Citizens: Violence and the Transnational Subject, graciously chaired by Marc Roark of The Literary Table. Here are the paper abstracts:

Translating the ‘Self’ from Central and Eastern Europe: Putting Theory to Practice thought the Works of Aleksandar Hemon and W.G. Sebald by Audrey Golden

The second half of the twentieth century has borne witness to forced migration and statelessness in numbers previously unimaginable within modernity. Through the works of Aleksandar Hemon, a Bosnian-American émigré writer, and W.G. Sebald, a second-generation German novelist, this paper looks to the narratives of displaced persons and questions the role literary theory might play in imagining the processes of transnational movement and of internal “self-translation” that emigrants must undertake. This paper conceives a broader and more abstract model of “translation” that looks beyond natural language to include a cultural self-translation, and then asks if such a process is fraught with previously unimagined identity problems, or whether, although stemming from acts of violence, translating oneself might have ameliorative qualities for an individual caught between places, or in “nowhere” spaces.

Corporate Citizenship as U.S. Empire in Richard Harding Davis’s Soldiers of Fortune by Nicolette Bruner

Published in 1897, Richard Harding Davis’s novel, Soldiers of Fortune, describes the travails of a mining company that operates in the fictional Latin American country of Olancho, a thinly-veiled version of Cuba. The hero, filibustering engineer Robert Clay, facilitates the success of the corporation through military and financial interventions in Olancho. Meanwhile, Clay romances and marries Hope, the young daughter of the sole owner of the company’s stock. In this paper, I examine how Davis complicates the boundaries between corporate employer and human employee even as he glorifies the deeply unequal relation between U.S. corporations and the countries they exploited for profit. Corporate imperialism, as represented by the incursion of the U.S. citizen stockholder and his employees upon Latin American territory, becomes more than a matter of domination, but also an illustration of the complex interdependencies between business, storytelling, and violence in the fin de siècle.

Another Vietnam: War, The Archive, and the USS Kirk by Mai-Linh K. Hong

In late 2010, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a special series about the USS Kirk, a U.S. naval ship that was sent during the fall of Saigon to rescue the “remnants” of the South Vietnamese navy. The rescue was accomplished partly by transferring the Vietnamese ships’ sovereignty to the U.S. through a change of flags, a peaceful, quasi-legal transformation that dislodges the conventional Vietnam War narrative of violence and moral failure. Placing this “never before told” redemption story in the context of today’s U.S. war in Afghanistan, my project examines NPR’s historical revisionism and its production of a new visual iconography for the war that has haunted all later U.S. wars. I argue that, with “the archive” a site of suspense in the Wikileaks era, the rewriting of Vietnam must be understood as a response to contemporary anxieties about American imperialism, militarism, and national identity.