June 26 and 27, 2018
2.00 - 4.00 pm
Aula Specola (Piazza San Giovanni in Monte, 2)

This two-day workshop will engage with the idea of ‘form’ in contemporary critical thought and aesthetic practice.  In particular, we will explore the potency of form in literary and visual materials that trace the entanglement of the ‘human’ with natural, material and technological worlds. If the idea of the ‘social’ (after Latour) can be seen to include not just human actors but material, environmental and technological agents or actants, what literary and art forms become possible in relation to the work of these actants and human-nonhuman assemblages?

Questions about social form have historically been thought of in relation to literary form, and especially, the novel. The workshop will explore the novel form and visual art as powerful sites from which to tackle emerging questions about social form at the limits of the human. We will read Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide, a novel that explores the role of non-human actors such as tides, rivers, bays, tigers and dolphins in shaping the precarious lives of a community of refugees, social activists and fisher folk in the mangroves of Sundarbans in the Bay of Bengal at the eastern most edge of India. We will also study the art works of William Kentridge and Jason Decaires Taylor, both of whom experiment with the human form at the threshold of technological shifts and environmental transformation.

Syllabus and Readings

Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, Harper Collins, 2004.

Jason Decaires Taylor, ‘Underwater Sculptures’ (submarine art installation)

William Kentridge, ‘Walking Man’, 2000

David J. Alworth, “Introduction, Site Reading: Fiction, Art and Social Form, Princeton UP, 2016.

Rob Nixon, ‘Unimagined Communities: Megadams, Monumental Modernity and Development Refugees,’ Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, 2013.

Elizabeth DeLoughrey, ‘Submarine Futures of the Anthropocene,’ Comparative Literature, 69: 1, 2017

Sarah Nuttall, ‘Intimate Lives, Interior Places’, Image & Text, Number 29, 2017.


Debjani Ganguly  is Professor of English and the Director of the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures at the University of Virginia. She works in the fields of world literature, postcolonial studies and the South Asian Studies. Her research interests include the contemporary Anglophone novel, literary forms in the new media age, literature and human rights, caste and dalit studies, language worlds in colonial/postcolonial South Asia, and Indian Ocean literary worlds from 1750-1950. In recent years, Debjani has researched the links between globalism, information technology, ethnic violence and humanitarian connectivity through the genre of the novel, the result of which is a book with Duke UP entitled This Thing Called the World: The Contemporary Novel as Global Form (2016). She is the author of Caste, Colonialism and Countermodernity (2005) and coeditor of Edward Said: The Legacy of a Public Intellectual(2007) and Rethinking Gandhi and Nonviolent Relationality: Global Perspectives (2007). Debjani is the general editor of a recently commissioned, multi-volume Cambridge History of World Literature, and co-edits, with Ato Quayson and Neil Ten Kortenaar, the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry.Debjani has held visiting fellowships at the University of Chicago, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a Life Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge, Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and Member on the International Advisory Boards of the Harvard Institute for World Literature, the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI), and the Bologna-Duke-UVA Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory.

Ranjana Khanna is Professor of English, Women's Studies, and the Literature Program at Duke University. She works on Anglo- and Francophone Postcolonial theory and literature, and Film, Psychoanalysis, and Feminist theory. She has published widely on transnational feminism, psychoanalysis, and postcolonial and feminist theory, literature, and film. She is the author of Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism (Duke University Press, 2003) and Algeria Cuts: Women and Representation 1830 to the present (Stanford University Press, 2008.) She has published in journals like Differences, Signs, Third Text, Diacritics, Screen, Art History, positions, SAQ, Feminist Theory, and Public Culture. Her current book manuscripts in progress are called: Asylum: The Concept and the Practice and Technologies of Unbelonging.


Sarah Nuttall is the Director of WiSER since January 2013, where she was a prominent Senior Researcher from 2000 until 2010. Born in South Africa and educated at the Universities of (then) Natal and Cape Town, Sarah won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to read for a D.Phil. at Oxford. A literary scholar by training, Sarah’s varied research interests and prolific publication record have established her as a leading cultural commentator and critic as well as one of the leading scholars of her generation. She has lectured at the University of Stellenbosch and, for the past five years, has been a Visiting Professor at Yale University and Duke University. Sarah has edited several path-breaking books; her influential monograph, Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-apartheid, explores mutuality, transgression and embodiment in contemporary South Africa. Sarah has published in various journals including in Cultural Studies, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Journal of South African Studies, Public Culture, Third Text and Social Dynamics. She is a member of the editorial boards of Journal of Southern African Studies, Humanity, Cultural Studies, Social Dynamics, English Studies in Africa, and English Academy Review.