Jan Mieszkowski (Reed) discusses the political promise held–and betrayed–by the radical utterance par excellence: the slogan.
9 Jun 2016
5:00pm – 7:00pm
137, Richard Hoggart Building
Today we tend to regard political slogans as virtually indistinguishable from the buzzwords of the advertising world. It may therefore come as something of a surprise to realize that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mottos and catchphrases were routinely deemed crucial to radical praxis. In this talk, I argue that the vexed pedigree of the modern slogan—alternately hailed as the richest and the most vacuous of speech acts—is one facet of a longstanding philosophical concern with according “one-liners” too much authority. If slogans hold out the promise of a discourse no longer governed by traditional figures of predication and negation, they also threaten to undermine the very possibility of legitimating one’s cause by saying something about it. The revolutionary—be it Luxemburg, Lukács, or Lenin—thus finds herself in the uncomfortable position of not knowing how to share the insight that the truly radical utterance may not share anything at all.
Jan Mieszkowski is Professor of German and Humanities at Reed College, USA. His first book, Labors of Imagination: Aesthetics and Political Economy from Kant to Althusser (Fordham University Press, 2006), explores the doctrine of human productivity that emerges at the intersection of the traditions inaugurated by Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. His second book, Watching War (Stanford University Press, 2012), offers a new theory of battlefield spectatorship since the Napoleonic era. He is currently completing a new book called Crises of the Sentence.