Seminar – Wounding and Caring: Vulnerable Bodies in Narrative at the American Comparative Literature Association – Utrecht University in Utrecht, the Netherlands July 6-9, 2017.
Organizer: Andreea Marculescu
Co-Organizer: Amit Baishya
Vulnerability is a key term in a strand of recent feminist scholarship (Adriana Cavarero, Judith Butler, Rosalyn Diprose, Kelly Oliver, Ann Murphy). Vulnerability is not defined here as a temporary situation specific to certain subjects; rather, as Butler points out in Frames of War, it is a condition of social life, one where the subject is exposed to forms of violence that she cannot anticipate or pre-empt. In this sense, vulnerability is intrinsic to definitions of the “human” and captures the subject in intersubjective relations with a host of (unknown and, possibly, unknowable) others. Consideration of vulnerability entails, thus, both the recognition of one’s own dependency on others and the designing of collective mechanisms and frameworks of care for bodies. Furthermore, following the etymological root of the word vulnerability (the Latin vulnus), Cavarero underlines that this category designates a susceptibility to both wounding and caring. As a wounded body, the subject is unilaterally exposed to pain and suffering. The subject afflicted by such violence is trapped in the reality of her own suffering; she cannot step away or fight against the infliction of suffering upon her. Yet, this suffering body can also be cared for by others.
Therefore, while the risk of violence done by the other is a crucial factor in the analysis of vulnerability, frames of care that recognize the existence of particular vulnerable bodies should also be part of the critical discourse about the ethical and ontological status of precarious subjects. Indeed, external socio-political frameworks are crucial in validating which subjects can be placed (or not) under the category of vulnerability. Hence the need, according to Butler, for the introduction of a term such as « grievability »—the condition of possibility that determines whether a life is encompassed within the frames of vulnerability, risk and precariousness. « Wounding, » « caring, » « grievability, » and « responsibility » become, therefore, key terms that must be critically elaborated in tracing the physico-emotional profile of vulnerable bodies and also the recognition of their socio-cultural value.
Keeping these insights in mind, this seminar seeks to discuss the narrative production, valuation and circulation of vulnerable bodies belonging to different historical, social and political contexts. As we mentioned above, vulnerability should be understood as a shared condition that places us in relationships of dependence and linkage to others. We would like to initiate a transhistorical and cross-cultural discussion about the representation of vulnerable bodies in the dual sense outlined above in this seminar.
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