Dramaturgies of Resistance: The Labour of the Negative

March 3, 2023 by Dramaturgies of Resistance

The JHI Program for the Arts aims to enhance, improve, and raise the profile of the Arts at the University of Toronto by supporting a variety of events, both small and large. Funding up to $10,000 is available for visitors, lecture series, symposia, exhibitions, performances, or other imaginative and arts initiatives, which will serve to promote the mission of the Jackman Humanities Institute and showcase the University of Toronto's excellence in humanities research. As applications for JHI's 2023-2024 Program for the Arts get under way, we check in with one of 2022-2023's funded groups: Dramaturgies of Resistance: The Labour of the Negative. Led by Professor Rebecca Comay (Comparative Literature/Philosophy), Dramaturgies of Resistance includes group members from Philosophy, Cinema Studies, and Comparative Literature. They provided the following account of their 2022-2023 activities.

Dramaturgies of Resistance: The Labour of the Negative is the second installment of the successful 2020/21 JHI-funded event series, the Dramaturgies of Resistance Collective. “The Labour of the Negative” is a well-known Hegelian phrase. It refers to the work done in and by dialectical thought through its characteristic act of negation, which must be repeatedly and relentlessly performed anew—as Marx would later put it, “the ruthless critique of everything existing.”

The goal of our series is to take a broadly Marxist approach to some of the urgent contemporary questions of labour. Another part of our goal is also to reflect on and experiment with the existing forms and practices of academic labour (including lectures, workshops, symposia and conferences).

We hope our events can bring scholars, students, and other members of the public together for engaging interdisciplinary discussions. As we do this, we also invite the audience to reflect with us on the practices of academic and intellectual labour and how this labour forms community.

Our series last year was very well attended thanks to the availability of Zoom. This year we are able to organize lectures, screening, and workshop events in person with Zoom options. It is really lovely and encouraging to come back together into the same room and see the conversation come alive.

For example, in the first lecture of our series, Princeton University’s Nick Nesbitt discussed “What is Captialist Slavery”, sharing concerns and questions that sprung out of his recent book The Price of Capitalist Slavery. The talk considers the construction of capitalist slavery in Marx’s writing in relation to the black Jacobin tradition of revolutionary Caribbean thought. The result is a theoretically stimulating and historically detailed presentation, which attracted attendees from history, philosophy, literary studies, Caribbean studies, sociology, and more.

Michael Heinrich joined us on January 19th via Zoom to discuss “The Changing Concept of Labour in Marx.” The talk oscillated between a broader structural account of the development of Marx’s thought, and insightful intervention into the details of individual works. Lively discussion followed the lecture, invigorated by a (virtually) packed Zoom room of enthusiastic attendees.

We have two more exciting events planned in March and April.

On March 31st, Pietro Bianchi (University of Florida) and Ling Zhang (SUNY Purchase) will join us in person for an event made up of a combination of screening and lecture. “Cinema and Labour” will begin with a screening of Margot Benacerraf’s 1959 poetic meditation on salt mining in Venezuela, Araya, and will then be followed by two talks on the particularities of cinematic representation of labour.

Finally, the Dramaturgies of Resistance group will host the series’s final event on Friday, April 21. In a day-long workshop, Emmanuel Renault (Université Paris Nanterre) will speak on the return of labour in contemporary critical theory, addressing democracy and the division of labour (morning session) and theories of exploitation (afternoon session). Students and faculty interested in participating in the pre-read afternoon session should email Matthew Delhey (matt.delhey@mail.utoronto.ca).