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On the 28th of October, the Research Training Group Minor Cosmopolitanisms hosted its inaugural event with an exclusive lecture by distinguished scholars Ella Shohat and Robert Stam (New York University). Stam and Shohat’s lecture Variations on a Transatlantic Theme marked the outset of a range of diverse doctoral and postdoctoral projects. The talk was preceded by an introduction of the programme's aims and approaches, as well as addresses from both the President of the University of Potsdam, Prof. Oliver Günther, and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Prof. Dr. Thomas Brechenmacher. The fellows of the training group, in turn, set forth some of their goals for the coming three years:
Exploring the implications of the ideas of Orientalism and Occidentalism for transnational knowledge production, this presentation argues that the concept of the “Sephardi-Moorish Atlantic” can renarrate and complicate the genealogy of Orientalism. In contrast to a postcolonial studies emphasis on the grand 19th century European empires, we can take 1492 as a cataclysmic moment linking Reconquista discourses about Muslims and Jews with the Conquista imaginary of the colonized indigene and the enslaved African. Alongside the question of when Orientalism began is the question of where Orientalism went. In another contrast, with the Occidentalism thesis, this presentation envisions Orientalism as already constitutive of the Americas, deeply embedded in Occidentalism itself, and vice versa. What could be called "the Moorish-Sephardi Unconscious" of Latin America, in this case Brazil, reveals a deep ambivalence toward "the Orient," informed by simultaneous denial and desire—here discussed within a broader demonstration of a multi-directional approach to the circulation of ideas and tropes.
Ella Shohat is Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the New York University. Her research subjects include Hebrew Mizrahi Literature and Cinema, Arab Diasporic Studies as well as Gender and Postcolonial Studies. She has also published distinguished contributions in the fields of memory studies, politics of representation, and visual culture.
The emergence into European consciousness of the indigenous peoples of the Americas triggered an epistemological crisis and excitement that generated both the dystopian image of the brutish savage, and the utopian vision of an alternative social model. This lecture focuses on the circulation around the “Red Atlantic” of the “Indian” as “exemplar of freedom,” as manifested both in popular culture and in social thought, as well as in indigenous self-representation. A transnational approach will highlight the cross-border interconnections between indigenizing social discourses in the U.S., France, and Brazil, especially highlighting the 500 year Franco-Brazilian-indigenous continuous dialogue concerning social philosophy that traces back to the 16th century French colony in Brazil. “First peoples,” the talk suggests, were also the First Deconstructionists of westocentric normativities, and their social thought catalyzed expanded notions of freedom and equality around the Atlantic, including on its European shores.
Robert Stam is Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University and an international leading scholar in the fields of postcolonial, diasporic, and intertextual studies. His main subjects are Anglo-American, French, and Brazilian Literature and Cinema.