VISR Spring 2019 Session: CATASTROPHE

Vancouver Institute for Social Research
Spring 2019 Session: CATASTROPHE
@ Or Gallery
555 Hamilton
7pm on Monday nights in March

March 4th – 7pm

Geoff Mann: Permanent Emergency

The effort to understand contemporary sovereignty (“rulership”) might best be pursued not through Schmitt’s influential characterization of sovereignty as inaugurated in the decision on the exception, but by concentrating on necessity. If, as has been said for a century, we are in a “permanent state of emergency”, the exception loses its critical grip. If the “exception” becomes the rule, what does the sovereign decide? Necessity points to a conception of sovereignty—which we might describe as the determination of the distribution of the burdens of life—able to help us grapple with crucial challenges to the modern state. The problems associated with accelerating climate change and inequality, for example, are no longer “exceptional”, but so unexceptional as to be paradigmatic of the current conjuncture. For the state, the problem is not the decisive act in the declaration of a state of emergency. Instead, the present calamity demands daily, almost mundane answers to the question of the distribution of life’s burdens. As the management of “permanent emergency” becomes more central to state function, the “exception” proves an increasingly inadequate conceptual tool. This gives new meaning to the “tragic” understanding of politics in liberal political theory and political economy.

Geoff Mann is a professor and undergraduate programs chair in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University, where he also directs the Centre for Global Political Economy. His most recent books are In the Long Run We Are All Dead: Keynesianism, Political Economy and Revolution (Verso, 2017) and Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future, co-authored with Joel Wainwright (Verso, 2018).

March 11th – 7pm

Christine Kim: Brutalist Imaginary – North Korea through a Minor Transpacific Lens

For audiences located in the West, and perhaps beyond, North Korea is a dystopic spectacle that appears ludicrous, terrifying, and tragic. This effect is created through periodic media coverage, films, memoirs, and other cultural representations that fashion North Korea as a cultural fantasy of the inhuman for the West. In this talk, I examine the film The Interview as well as the security concerns surrounding Sony Pictures in order to reflect upon perceptions of North Korea. Given that the film was shot in British Columbia, it also offers a useful opportunity to reflect upon Canada’s position in relation to North Korea and, more specifically, as part of what might be called a ‘minor transpacific’ in order to map the minor histories and cultural flows that connect locations in the Asia Pacific region. This paper takes a minor transpacific as a perspective and a methodology to complicate how North Korea invokes the Cold War for local audiences and to ask what is at stake in popular tendencies to write North Korea in terms that are simultaneously fascinating and horrifying.

Christine Kim is an Associate Professor in the English department at Simon Fraser University. Her teaching and research focus on Asian North American literature and theory, diaspora studies, and cultural studies. She is the author of The Minor Intimacies of Race (University of Illinois Press, 2016) and co-editor of Cultural Grammars of Nation, Diaspora and Indigeneity (Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2012). She has contributed chapters to essay collections on Asian Canadian literature and theatre and published articles in Interventions, Mosaic, Studies in Canadian Literature, and Journal of Intercultural Studies. Christine is co-director of SFU’s Institute of Transpacific Cultural Research. Currently she is working on a SSHRC funded book-length project on representations of North Korea, cultural fantasies, and Cold War legacies.

March 18th – 7pm

Transition and Identity in the Post-Yugoslav Environment

Nermin Gogalic in conversation with Jerry Zaslove

What was then seen as “The End of History” by Francis Fukuyama was actually the beginning of a long lasting catastrophe for many of us living in the former Yugoslavia. The turmoil of political transition, which in our case coincided with a civil war, brought upon a state of unrest and confusion.

What happened with identity in the midst of such radical changes? What strategies and techniques were employed to dismantle the pre-existing identity once it was deemed inadequate by those in the position of power, and what was offered instead?

This conversation will attempt to create a narrative that will inspect these questions within a specific geo-political period. It will attempt to show what happens to both common and individual identity, as well as that of the city. In doing so we will rely mostly on intimate personal recollection and reflections provided with the privilege of both geographical and temporal distance.

Nermin Gogalic is a Vancouver based writer from Rijeka (Croatia) with a special interest in identity politics and the city. He is currently a student in Graduate Liberal Studies at Simon Fraser University.

SFU Professor Emeritus Jerry Zaslove is a teacher and writer who studied Comparative Literature at Western Reserve University and the University of Washington. Since 1965 at Simon Fraser University he has taught Literature and Humanities, influenced but not limited by the traditions of the relationship of social radicalisms and the arts, the worlds of psychoanalysis and aesthetics. He is the Founding Director of the Institute for the Humanities and has published numerous essays and monographs on the subjects he loves and teaches. Currently Simons Fellow in Graduate Liberal Studies. A volume of his collected essays Untimely Passages: Dossiers from the Other Shore, 1965–2015 is in preparation.

March 25th – 7pm

Sasha Langford: “An Atmosphere of Certain Uncertainty”: Knowledge, Embodiment, and Ecology in Thick Time

Anthropocene discourse over the past decade has often framed global warming as a form of “certain uncertainty” that demands new empirical and speculative methodologies in order to be properly known. In this talk, I consider the “certain uncertainty” of climate science and ecological theory in relation to postcolonial and psychoanalytic accounts of embodiment that situate the body as an ambivalent site of knowledge. Accepting climate change as a process with roots in colonial history, I ask how concepts such as “weathering,” “atmosphere,” and “acclimatization” may blur the boundaries between social and meteorological forms of bodily duress. In doing so, I propose that thinking “certain uncertainty” as a mode of resilient embodiment to environmental conditions may serve to further politicize contemporary ecological theory.

Sasha J. Langford is an independent scholar, composer, and musician. Her recent research has considered the visual discourse of the Anthropocene, the placenta as a site of Marxist critique, and the symbolic role of the fee in psychoanalytic practice. Other recent work includes the 2017 essay and hybrid-writing collection Ephemeral Institutions, and performances at the International Noise Conference in Miami, FL; the Ende Tymes Festival of Noise and Experimental Liberation in Brooklyn, NY; and the Lines of Flight Festival of Experimental Music in Dunedin, New Zealand. She currently teaches media history and theory at Columbia College.

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The Vancouver Institute of Social Research takes place on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples; the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

Spring 2018 Semester

The Body, Movement, Technology, Apparatus

Movement, gesture, protocol, and choreography of specific bodies are continuous in language, politics, technology and other structures that signify and organize material. This semester of the Vancouver Institute of Social Research seeks to discuss ways in which the body and systems co-articulate each other and the inertias of power that attempt to frame them and the disruptions to various sovereignties that emerge. These discussions will take place also as a way to gesture towards the morphing forms of capture that are developing within the everyday hand-to-hand combat with apparatuses.

7 weeks on Monday nights at 7pm at the Or Gallery

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February 19th – April 2nd

Feb. 19th – Sanem Güvenç-Salgırlı – Resisting Emergencies or the Time of the Idiots
Feb. 26th – 
Phanuel Antwi – Black Body and the Ether of History: Autobiography as a Larger Project than the Self
March 5th – Lee Su-Feh – Wrestling for Autonomy: choreographic gestures
March 12th – Ray Hsu & Eyemole Collective – God Mode
March 19th – Hilda Fernandez – Will a Cyborg Steal My Jouissance? Unconscious Labour and the Enjoying Body of the Virtual.
March 26th – Denise Ferreira Da Silva –(TBA)
April 2nd – Closing Panel – Choreography, Politics, and the Movement of Bodies -Alana Gerecke, Sasha Kleinplatz, and Laura June. Moderated by Justine A. Chambers

Feb. 19th – Sanem Güvenç-Salgırlı – Resisting Emergencies or the Time of the Idiots

From climate change to mushrooming authoritarianisms, natural disasters to economic and humanitarian crises, contemporary ontology is overwhelmingly problematized as a multiplicity of emergencies, which calls for faster and swifter modes of action, and ostracizes any other engagement as regressive, reactionary, and unrealistic. This talk puts a question mark to the political imperative of conceptualizing social and political issues on the basis of emergencies. For that, it resuscitates Dostoevsky’s idiot. As a figure of uninitiation (a la Deleuze and Guattari), who constantly reminds us to slow down in whatever task we are undertaking (a la Isabelle Stengers), the idiot opens up the possibility of a different political engagement. Rejecting both nihilist and moralist alternatives, it instead offers the aleatory prospects of encounter in transitory spaces, and suggests to suspend time through the unknown of radical empiricism.

Sanem Güvenç-Salgırlı is a Vancouver-based scholar, who currently teaches science studies inspired social-political theory at Emily Carr University of Arts and Design. Before moving to Vancouver in 2016, she was an assistant professor of sociology at Marmara University, Istanbul, Turkey; and before that a PhD student and an associate of the Fernand Braduel Center at Binghamton University. Lying at the intersection of science studies, political theory, and historical sociology, her most
recent work explores the concepts of the swarm and the cloud, and is particularly inspired by, and a product of the social movements of the post-2010 period. She has published articles and essays in academic, semi-academic, and activist journals in English and Turkish.

Feb. 26th -Phanuel Antwi – Black Body and the Ether of History: Autobiography as a Larger Project than the Self

March 5th – Lee Su-Feh – Wrestling for Autonomy: choreographic gestures

How do I know my body and its pleasures are mine when they have developed under oppressive systems? If our conscious sense of self is a social construct, how do we discern between our autonomous self and our socially-obligated or machine-mediated self?

Lee Su-Feh will discuss how these questions drive her work and practice as a choreographer and teacher; and how they show up in her current work Dance Machine.

Dance Machine will be performed at the Anvil Centre the week following, March 16-18, 2-8pm.

March 12th – Ray Hsu & Eyemole Collective – Dessicated Utopianism God Mode

frenz r gud

God mode, a general purpose term for a cheat code in video games that makes a player invincible
Windows Master Control Panel shortcut, sometimes referred to as Windows God Mode
— Wikipedia

In this hybrid talk/tech demo, we at the Eyemole art collective reflect on our interventions into late capitalism’s “God mode”: specifically, the future of futurities that Achille Mbembe describes as the “negative messianism” of “apocalyptic libertarianism.” We argue that a key articulation of Silicon Valley theology operates via intellectual property–specifically the patent–that lays the conceptual groundwork for monopoly capitalism’s vision of the end time.

Behind its urgent walling off of the intellectual commons lies the fields of Virtual Reality and Neurotechnology. These two technologies promise, alongside techno-utopian dreams of ultimate liberal humanist empathy, ever new heights of panoptic control over every aspect of everyday life via sensation (VR) and volition (Neurotechnology), abetting all the while the complicit handover of data to the state or simply opening such data to hacker attack, state-sponsored and otherwise.

Via guerrilla hacks and golem-like creations, we aim to seize control of a fiery spark from the heights of contemporary techno-capitalism and formulate a new critical dystopian praxis offering redemption beyond the apocalypse.

March 19th – Hilda Fernandez – Will a Cyborg Steal My Jouissance? Unconscious Labour and the Enjoying Body of the Virtual.

Jouissance, understood as a sort of pleasurable pain, expressing an excessive tension of psychical nature, coded in the body, consumptive, and inaccessible to the symbolic order, is a universal characteristic of the human subject as bestowed by psychoanalysis. Based on the premise that jouissance and the body share interrelated yet separate spaces, as the latter is always displaced in an imagined other, in this talk I approach the virtual enjoyment dominating our current times to inquire the interrelation between the body, the unconscious labour and jouissance.

I will engage with Alfie Bown’s report on videogames “The Playstation Dreamworld” (2017), Jon Raffman’s recent work “Dream Journal” (2017) and some examples from HBO TV Series “Western World” (2016) and Netflix’s “Black Mirror” (2011-2017) to read the unconscious labour, firstly, as an investment in the virtual space, via our dreams, fantasies and even symptoms (techno-addiction). And secondly, this same unconscious labour it is the subject’s jouissance-ingrained production, and as such, it involves an undecidable and paradoxical loss and a gain (surplus jouissance), which I aim to locate it with regards to the body (individual and social).

With the concept of surplus enjoyment, which Lacan assumes to be parallel to surplus value, I argue that the enjoyment of the subject, via its disembodiment in the virtual space, has resulted in a larger social disembodiment which Tomsic explains as a “self fetishisation” of capitalism. I try to articulate it as a radical shift in subjectivity, where the temporal spatial conditions of embodiment are ever more reliant on mediation and where the lack is unbearable, unless the proliferating world of virtual images mediates it.

At the dawn of artificial intelligence and the consolidation of virtual spaces, what relation can be thought between our bodies, the unconscious labour power and our enjoyment? Will our enjoying bodies, the last frontier of our imaginary property, turn out to be stolen goods by a cyborg in servitude of wealth accumulation of big data corporations who have algorithmically manufactured our desires?

March 26th – Denise Ferreira Da Silva –(TBD)

April 2nd – Closing Panel – Choreography, Politics, and the Movement of Bodies – Alana Gerecke, Sasha Kleinplatz, and Laura June.
Moderated by Justine A. Chambers

In this panel that closes off the VISR semester, ideas and issues around creative movement practices and their relationship to both aesthetics of activism and political protocols that move bodies will be discussed. Differentiations between metaphor, reality, and analogous relationships between these often-siloed practices, and politics as a form of choreography are of interest to the panel.

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The Vancouver Institute of Social Research takes place on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples; the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

July 29, 2017 @ 1:30 pm: Special VISR Event: Jerry Zaslove “Identification with the Adversary? Some Theses on Trump”

The Vancouver Institute for Social Research (VISR) is delighted to announce a special lecture with Dr. Jerald Zaslove. The title of his lecture will be “Identification with the Adversary? Some Theses on Trump.” Here is Dr. Zaslove’s abstract:


“I must confess that I was obsessed by the idea that it could not really happen.” (Hans Keilson, Death of the Adversary).

“It is a very embarrassing kinship. I will not however close my eyes to it, for once more: better, more sincere, more productive than hate is the rerecognition . . . to make this connection . . . to the hysterical . . . proclamation of his offended greatness”. (Thomas Mann, “Hitler my Brother”).

“It could happen that, looking back upon one’s life, one might come to the realization that all the deeper relations one had undergone originated with the people about whose “destructive character everyone was unanimous” . . .The destructive character’s only watchword is: Make room; his only activity: clearing out . . . “ (Walter Benjamin “The Destructive Character”).

What can psychoanalysis teach us about populist Trumpism? What can our identification with the adversary teach us about ourselves? And about myself and my own experience with Fascism by referring to Thomas Mann’s 1938 essay “Hitler my Brother”. What can “Trumpism” and its “resistible rise” (Brecht’s play in 1938 “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”) teach us about historical judgement in regard to a system in which less than 50% actually voted for a leader? I will refer to Walter Benjamin’s and Brecht’s discussion about the rise of Hitler and the feeling that Fascism provoked in them about the fear of a coming of an endless destruction that “they have in mind”. I will refer to Benjamin’s “Destructive Character” as an outline of Trump’s destructive character and its effects on what it feels today to be alive facing fascism. We need anthropology of the present synchronicity of capital, state power, and the powerlessness of “the people” before the Thaumaturg, wizard, medicine man, faker and victimizer. The presentation discusses another kind of alienation one that is not within Marx’s “1844 Manuscripts”: the force feeding of an ideological realignment that denies how the tradition of the dead generations weighs on the head of living labour. This is death narcissism that psychoanalysis understands as the “foreclosure” of thinking that something is missing in our political life. It is beyond alienation because we don’t know the words for the destiny of work and labour where we feel that we are thrown into the world and that we are being played with. The dispossession (Enteignung) of our past and future leaves us with the monetized present without end. Trump “the thaumaturg” plays with us in his role as victim and scapegoat performing with his Fascistoid character type, which is a character disorder by any other name.

-Jerry Zaslove, July, 2017.


Dr. Jerald Zaslove holds the titles of Professor Emeritus, Humanities and English, and Director Emeritus, Institute for the Humanities, at Simon Fraser University, where he has mentored several generations of scholars.

The Vancouver Institute for Social Research (VISR) is a critical theory free school that has been run out of the Or Gallery (555 Hamilton Street) since 2013.

The Or Gallery is an artist-run centre committed to exhibiting work by local, national, and international artists whose art practice is of a critical, conceptual and/or interdisciplinary nature. Since its inception in 1983 the gallery has acted as a space for research, proposition making, conceptual experimentation and documentation.

The gallery space occupies the main floor of 555 Hamilton Street. It is wheelchair accessible.



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