Next Event

The 20th & 21st Century Cultures Workshop is pleased to welcome:

Cassandra Lerer

PhD Student, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Chicago

Symbolic Eccentricity: Discrepant Figuration and Postwar Culture

Tuesday Nov 28, from 5:00-6:30 pm

Rosenwald 405 

with respondent Rivky Mondal, Humanities Teaching Fellow
Department of English Language and Literature, University of Chicago

In this dissertation proposal, I advance the claim that the symbol emerges as an epistemic unit of great importance across the arc of 20th century thought, as a locus for competing truth claims about the reading of social structure. In the wake of the Second World War and the dawning of a putatively post-colonial world system, the totalizing claims of symbols cut against and move across the temporal and spatial boundaries of national and cultural imaginaries, an ambivalent capacity recruited by thinkers aligned with both the left (Lebfevre, Jesi) and the right (Jung, Eliade) during an interstitial period of political ferment. Against this backdrop, I argue for the elaboration of a theory of “symbolic eccentricity,” a variant of symbolic practice to be found in cultural production that, through modeling its own excessive mode of il/legibility and hermeneutic dislocation, calls attention to the ways in which constitutive “externalities” are enfolded figuratively into the contemporaneous symbolic order of a fracturing world. How do particular symbols reflect Henri Lefebvre’s insight that symbols are “the result of an initial displacement, an initial broadening of the semantic field”? What symbols encode the enfolding of an “otherness” eccentric to the normative orbits of western modernity, and what are their histories? In particular, I’m interested in tracing the cultural trajectories of specific symbolisms or symbol-repertoires in the midcentury/ postwar decades (roughly, 1950-1996) for how these critically represent specific relational capacities condensed as latent symbol-theory: fetishism, mediation, figuration, and transmutation.

Cassandra’s paper (to be read in advance) can be found here. The password will be circulated on our listserv.

Our meetings are open to the University of Chicago community and visitors who comply with University of Chicago vaccination requirements. We are committed to making our workshop fully accessible for people with disabilities. Please direct any questions and concerns to the workshop coordinators, Cassandra Lerer ( and Rhya Moffitt (

Image Credit: Ithell Colquhoun, Dance of the Nine Opals (1942)