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The main part of the symposium will take place on 10 June. On 9 June, there will be a masterclass and keynote lecture by Kandice Chuh, Professor of English, American Studies, and Critical Social Psychology at CUNY, and author of The Difference Aesthetics Makes: On the Humanities “After Man” (2019).

Event details of Troubling Universalisms: Politics and Aesthetics in Critical Theory Symposium
Start date
9 June 2023
End date
10 June 2023

Troubling Universalisms Symposium – 9-10 June

On 9-10 June 2023 the ‘Troubling Universalisms: Politics and Aesthetics in Critical Theory’ symposium will take place at the University of Amsterdam, supported by ASCA, NICA and the UvA English Department. Non-speakers are welcome to attend. The full programme can be viewed at the link above.

We particularly invite ASCA members to attend our two keynote lectures, the abstracts for which can be found below. 

Keynote Lecture 1 takes place at 16.00-17.30 on Friday 9 June in PCH 1.05. Prof. Kandice Chuh (CUNY) will speak on ‘Wanting Universalisms’.

Is it true, as Anna Tsing has proposed, that we cannot not want the universal? Despite the fact that the universal and universalism have been so roundly criticized -- so thoroughly troubled, to use the idiom of this symposium's theme -- how and why does this proposition hold true? Or, perhaps more generatively, what might we learn from focusing on the wanting-ness -- the desire, but also, the inadequacy of -- universalism? Amplifying aesthetics that help us apprehend and dwell in the wanting-ness of universalism in this doubled sense, this talk considers such entangled matters as imagination, vitality, erotics, and pedagogy as key to recognizing and thinking-feeling in difference from a cruelly optimistic (to borrow from Lauren Berlant) attachment to the universal. By doing so, Kandice Chuh hopes to open collective space for considering what stands at the horizon -- what ways of being and knowing, what social arrangements, what modes of making life -- in our desire for and of the universal.

Keynote Lecture 2 takes place at 16.00-17.30 on Saturday 10 June in the UB Doelenzaal. Prof. Monique Roelofs (UvA) will speak on ‘Aesthetic Relationality and the Imagination of a Public “We”’.

Philosophy faces the task of theorizing the entwinements of aesthetic experiences and values with formations of coloniality, race and gender. In decolonial scholarship by theorists such as Wynter, Glissant, and Anzaldúa, aesthetic practices serve both oppressive and liberatory purposes. By recognizing the ways in which aesthetic relationships take shape around forms of address, including promises and threats, I offer a framework for theorizing the ambivalence of the aesthetic and its centrality to the field of culture. Aesthetic promises point to what cultures can be and become. In the context of the workings of multimodal forms of address, they tie into practices of aesthetic racialization and racialized aestheticization. I indicate how they gesture toward the kinds of values and social arrangements cultures can instantiate. I then show how artworks by Clarice Lispector, Wangechi Mutu, and Claudia Llosa retool the promise of a generalized public, envisioned by enlightenment scholars such as Kant and Hume, into the promise of a differently constituted “we.” Contemplating the role of aesthetic callings in inciting imaginaries of aesthetic collectivity, I consider what this implies for a decolonial aesthetics and the notions of aesthetic publics and normativity through which we can advance its goals.


PC Hoofthuis, Spuistraat 134

13:00 – 15-00 Graduate workshop with Kandice Chuh (PCH 1.15)

15:30 – 16:00 Registration (PCH ground floor)

16:00 – 17:30 Welcome and keynote lecture 1

Kandice Chuh, “Wanting Universalisms” (PCH 1.05)

18:00 – 19.00 Drinks reception at Café de Jaren (all registered participants welcome)

19:30 Conference dinner at Kantjil en de Tijger


University Library, Singel 425

9:15 – 9:45 Registration & coffee (Doelenzaal anteroom)

9:45 – 10:00 Welcome & introduction (Doelenzaal)

10:15 – 11:30 PANELS 1 & 2 (parallel)

Panel 1: Saving, Salvaging, and Loosening the Universal (Doelenzaal)
- Kirwan, James. “The Aesthetic Will Not Save Us”
- Stan, Corina. “Loosening the Hold of Western European Universalism: Dostoevsky, Chaplin, Gombrowicz”
Chair: Marco de Waard

Panel 2: Connection, Consensus, Dissensus, and the Aesthetic (Belle van Zuylenzaal)

- Van Amelsvoort, Jesse. “Cosmopolitanism and Connection”
- Van den Eijnden, Tamalone. “The Aesthetics and Politics of Agreement: An Illiberal
Humanities Approach for Pluralist Commoning Methods”
- Glavas, Zvonimir. “The Catachrestic Ties that Bind: The Literariness of Politics in Laclau’s and Rancière’s Theories”
Chair: Monique Roelofs

11:30-11:45 Coffee Break

11:45-13:15 PANELS 3 & 4 (parallel)

Panel 3: Populism, Platforms, and Unexceptional Art in Digital Cultures (Doelenzaal)
- Azharuddin. “Towards a Flawed Model—Negative Judgment and the Work of Art in
the Age of Digital Reproduction”
- Miller, Michael. “(Un)Critical Platforms and the Problem of Homophilic Universalism”
- Schober de Graaf, Anna. “Facing Everybody: Political Popularisation and Populism in Post-Universalist Times”
Chair: Marc Farrant

Panel 4: Autonomy, Totality, Subjecthood (Belle van Zuylenzaal)

- Feiss, EC. “Autonomy Without Individuality: Norman Lewis’ Materialist Abstraction”
- Khazam, Rahma. “Art and Universalism”
- Woo, Stephen. “The Impossible Object of Memoria”
Chair: Steyn Bergs

13:15 – 14:15 Lunch

14:15 – 15:30 PANELS 5 & 6 (parallel)

Panel 5: Literary Forms and Genres on a Global Scale (Doelenzaal)
- Yanota, Erin. “Yeats’s Celtic Universal and the Problems of Lyrical Epic”
- Ramu, Kaushik. “The Fossil Counterfactual”
Chair: Ben Moore

Panel 6: The Politics and Aesthetics of (Non-)Identity (Belle van Zuylenzaal)

- Hettinga, Lieks. “Minoritarian Aesthetics and the Visual Practice of ‘Making Sense’”
- Stopford, Richard. “The Shudder: Eeriness and Non-Identity”
Chair: Kandice Chuh

15:30 – 16:00 Coffee break

16:00 – 17:30 Keynote lecture 2:

Monique Roelofs, “Aesthetic Relationality and the Imagination of a Public ‘We’” (Doelenzaal) followed by closing remarks

This symposium is made possible with the generous support of ASCA (Amsterdam School of
Cultural Analysis) and NICA (Netherlands Institute for Cultural Analysis).

To say that universalism is a troubled, and troubling, notion would be an understatement. So prevalent are critiques of universalism that it could be argued that all of twentieth-century critical theory amounts to one drawn-out attempt to dismantle the insistence on, and centrality of, universalism in Western and humanist thought. From the emphasis placed on nonidentity in the Frankfurt school, via the deconstructive critique of presence, to the postcolonial critique of the Eurocentrism that underpins the universalising project of colonialism, and to feminist and queer challenges to normativity; many, if not most, academics in the humanities and social sciences consider a critical engagement with universalism part of their intellectual work.

At a moment when these important critiques have become so well-rehearsed that they risk becoming all too routine, it seems opportune to reevaluate where we are today with the notion of the universal. Where has the necessary debunking of universalism left us? What, if anything, comes in its place? It is becoming increasingly evident, in light of contemporary political developments around the globe, that rejecting universalism will not make the place it occupied wither away. The universal lingers and persists as “necessary but impossible,” as Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj Zizek have argued. This antinomy is exacerbated by how the putative “subjective universality” of (some) aesthetic judgments comes increasingly to reflect the real force and effects of a capitalist mode of production now near-universal in its dominance and reach, as Sianne Ngai has demonstrated. Moreover, the limitations of a simple insistence on, or valorization of, singularity and particularity construed only in opposition to the universal have become apparent. In Fred Moten’s words, the effort at thinking “the possibility of a nonexclusionary whole,” which he calls ensemble, remains as important as ever. Such a thinking, Moten contends, “must move through the Enlightenment tradition, and, importantly, through that tradition’s allegiance to the active misprision of singularity and totality.”

We venture that aesthetics is both a unique site for such thinking and an important vector and method for such moving-through. This is because aesthetics, both in the broad sense of the field of sensuous perception and experience at large, and in the more specific sense of the branch of philosophy that examines such perception and experience in relation to rational ‘Sense’ (with a capital ‘S’), occupies an ambivalent position in relation to universalism and its critique. On the one hand, aesthetics has been instrumental to universalism’s legitimation of certain dominant ways of knowing, seeing, and experiencing the world – or what Jacques Rancière would call the “distribution of the sensible.” The aesthetic does so mostly by cementing forms of perception and understanding proper to the Western liberal/bourgeois subject as common sense, as sensus communis, at the expense of others. On the other hand, as Kandice Chuh has written, aesthetic inquiry—which ranges from engaging with works of art and literature to thinking about and through the worldly experiences of all those somehow posited as ‘other’ to the dominant model – has been an important and effective “procedure for calling into question the structures and processes of (e)valuation that subtend the sensus communis and the means by which sensibilities that differ and dissent from liberal common sense are brought to bear.”

Attending to what Chuh calls the “double-voiced quality of the aesthetic,” we invite and call upon symposium participants to consider troubling universalisms in and through the political and the aesthetic. Possible topics may include, but are by no means limited to, the following:

-Universality and universalisms at the intersection of politics and aesthetics

-Aesthetic ‘objects’ (texts, artworks, performances...) that challenge, complicate, or otherwise reflect upon the particular-universal opposition

-Questions of judgment, value, and context in relation to the fraught universal

-Universe and pluriverse (Mouffe, Escobar); commons, cosmopolitanisms, consensus-dissensus, and collectivities on differing scales

-Critique and universality; critique ‘after universality,’ and vice versa

-Attempts to salvage or recuperate (aspects of) universality, including through various forms of relationality

The main part of the symposium will take place on 10 June. On 9 June, there will be a masterclass and keynote lecture by Kandice Chuh, Professor of English, American Studies, and Critical Social Psychology at CUNY, and author of The Difference Aesthetics Makes: On the Humanities “After Man” (2019).

To submit a proposal to present at the symposium, please send a document including your name, institutional affiliation (if applicable), a short bio, and an abstract of max. 350 words to,, and by February 24, 2023, at the latest. Papers should be up to 20 minutes in length.

If you wish to join the masterclass with Kandice Chuh without presenting, please email Ben Moore at 1EC is available via NICA for rMA and PhD students who attend the masterclass and lecture. Participation by others is also welcome.