Events , San Francisco

Session 5: Present Future of Emancipation

Session 5: Present Future of Emancipation


With Pheng Cheah, professor of rhetoric at UC Berkeley, and Tarek Elhaik, assistant professor of media and culture at San Francisco State University.

In this session, Pheng Cheah and Tarek Elhaik tackle the fundamental issues at play throughout The Secession Sessions and take them to their most critical horizon: the question of emancipation.

How can we be free, living in the community of our choice, according to rules we fashion, in dignity and equality? Nationalism was the nineteenth-century answer to this question of emancipation, and the paradigm persisted within the postcolonial movements of the twentieth century. The result is a world of states, where every piece of the map has been divided up and flagged. Guided by the same answer, we see conflicts still raging in many parts of the world (Abkhazia is one of them). We see also the poverty of this way of thinking and acting in a world that is increasingly globalized (a dead-end on the road to nowhere?) and we witness the impossible coexistence of nationalist aspirations on a map where ethnic and cultural boundaries do not match the demarcations of existing states, and never will. What is the present future of emancipation in the twenty-first century? What alternatives are there to nationalism and the state? Does nonterritorial emancipation have any meaning in a world of states? Must emancipation always be grounded in territory to have lasting power? Can individual emancipation provide real answers that are meaningful at the community level? Can we imagine new forms of emancipation?

Follows a screening of Eric Baudelaire’s 2014 film Letters to Max at 3 p.m.

Pheng Cheah is professor of rhetoric at UC Berkeley. He has published extensively on the theory and practice of cosmopolitanism and his current research focuses on world literature, globalization, and human rights. He is the author of Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation (Columbia University Press, 2003) and Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights(Harvard University Press, 2006). His work has appeared in journals such as Diacritics, Boundary 2, Public Culture, Daedalus, New Literary History, and PMLA. Cheah has recently completed a book on theories of the world and postcolonial world literature in an age of financial globalization.

Tarek Elhaik
 is a media anthropologist, film curator, and assistant professor of media and culture at San Francisco State University. He works on transnational avant-gardes, media arts, and curatorial platforms in Latin America, the Arab World, and the Mediterranean. His writings have appeared in books and journals including FrameworkRevista de Antropologia Social, and Critical Arts. He is currently part of a collaborative team of researchers, hosted by the Los Angeles Film Forum and funded by the Getty Foundation, that will curate and edit an anthology on experimental cinema and media in Latin America. He is the author of The Incurable-Image: Curating Post-Mexican Film & Media Arts(Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming).