Next Event

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

 Tim DeMay

PhD Candidate in English, University of Chicago

“Living with the Great Number: Squatters, Participants, and the Unknown Extra”

Monday, May 16 from 5:00pm-6:30pm on Zoom

Meeting ID: 978 7809 2234
Passcode: 980424

with respondent Steven Maye, Humanities Teaching Fellow in English at the University of Chicago

Tim’s paper (to be read in advance) can be found here. The paper is password-protected; please contact the workshop coordinators if you need access. If you join our subscriber list, you will receive passwords for upcoming events in our event announcement emails.

What is the social when perceived from the social’s absolute margins? Asking this question invokes a number of possible answers that depend on the scale of a given social: belonging and participation shift and take on new resonances in an individual squat, for example, versus a squatter colony, versus a nation. By focusing on squatting and squatter settlements to explore artistic participation, housing politics, and conceptions of the social (and even the nation), I ultimately argue for a model of community formation based on the Surrealist game of the exquisite corpse. This first involves drawing out some of the shared features of various types of squats, combining sociological studies with personal visits to squats across France, which help establish a primary tension between a desire for social autonomy and designs that attempt to operate at scale: preserving autonomy limits the scale of housing interventions, and vice-versa. The exquisite corpse, introduced first through the Japanese form of the renga, incorporates multiple individual contributions into a coherent but ultimately unlimited whole, or rather, it is an n+1 form that is always able to accumulate and add. I use the exquisite corpse and the Open Form theory of Polish architect Oskar Hansen to consider ways of privileging the individual within the group. Specifically, I read the 2000 film Mysterious Object at Noon by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Built as a modification of the exquisite corpse, this film sketches a counter cartographic map of Thailand, emphasizing blue-collar and rural voices from the traditionally poor northern regions. At the same time, the film highlights the creative and productive powers of the fold, a structure of the exquisite corpse that blinds the participant (and organizer) to what has come before while the participant makes their own contribution. I see in the fold a larger, institutional critique and possibility and use it to put forward the concept of “institutional blindness” as a tactic to allow for spaces where institutions and states retreat from direct control. I follow this more practical tactic with a symbolic one, expanding the n+1 aspect of the exquisite corpse to encourage the acknowledgment of the “ethnographic remainder,” or the additional other who might be unseen, in representations of the social. The ethnographic remainder is in this sense an attempted revision of imaginary communities that incorporates fallibility and humility in our senses of community.

Please do not cite or circulate the works in progress without the author’s explicit consent.

We are committed to making our workshop safe during these times for as many people as possible, as well as fully accessible to persons with disabilities; we encourage those attending 20th/21st Century workshops in person to wear masks. Please direct any questions and concerns to the workshop coordinators, Dana Glaser (dglaser@uchicago.edu) and Chris Gortmaker (cgortmaker@uchicago.edu)

Image: Cadavre Exquis with Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Max Morise, Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky). 1927. Composite drawing of ink, pencil, and colored pencil on paper, 14 1/8 x 9″ (35.9 x 22.9 cm)