2024-2025 Theme Descriptions  

Fall 2024: Dead Reckonings                                     

A reckoning is an act of accounting or a call to account for conduct or actions past or present.  It punctuates the ongoing transactions of everyday life with a collective adjudication that seeks to balance a ledger–if not the scales of justice–by holding to account.  Whether this account is conceived as a single “day of reckoning” or an ongoing recalculation of indebtedness and/or injustice, it often tallies time, as well as value, as (ac)countable.  This theme queries such notions of accountability by asking: with what methods, from what vantage, in what time or place, may the incalculable losses and gains wrought by the histories of slavery, genocide, settler colonialism, capitalism, and environmental devastation, be reckoned? What theoretical paradigms would afford such a pondering of the imponderable? What forms of reckoning–racial, religious, psychic, political, archival, aesthetic, economic, environmental, legal, linguistic–will call the present moment to account? What kind of “dead reckoning” and/or reckoning of death would these navigations steer toward?  And what forms of death would the tally take into account–whose losses would be mourned?  In this mourning time, what forms of temporality and spatiality would be reckoned, or themselves mourned as reckless or unreckonable or irrecoverable, and how? What miscalculations would be revealed, and in which archives of loss, or lost archives? This theme asks what the work of mourning might look like, what forms it may take, and what temporalities past, present, or future it might imagine in times of reckless and unreckonable reckonings.

Spring 2025: Energy and Exhaustion

If exhaustion is a state of using up completely, consuming entirely, is the present moment experiencing an exhaustion of (utopian) imagination?  Why is it easier to imagine the most spectacularly catastrophic effects of climate change than to imagine post-growth or degrowth ways of living? Energy and exhaustion are not exclusively an issue of politics, economics, or engineering, but also a concern of culture–of the everyday–and of creative work. How are the arts, humanities, and social sciences grappling with the seemingly unstoppable need for ever-more energy input and the phenomenon of psychic exhaustion due to the relentless turnover rates of production and consumption? The “energy humanities” has tracked the intrinsic yet largely unconscious power of fossil fuels and other kinds of energy in our cultural forms, fictions, and imaginations, but also attempts to open interdisciplinary doors to post-growth ethics and psychoanalysis (the challenge of living with “sustainable” needs, e.g., Kate Soper’s “alternative hedonism”); political economy (the connections between current cultural production and consumption and the fraught politics of energy extraction, processing, distribution, ownership, labor, etc.); and cultural history (as in “quantitative” readings of modernity in terms of energy and exhaustion).  This theme invites enquiries from across the disciplines into the forms of our “exhausting modernity” (Teresa Brennan), past, present, and future, and the prospects of continued living under fractured and unequal conditions of too much and too little energy.