UPDATED (9/13/22): The Spirit of Freedom: Conference Schedule
September 15-16, 2022
Smith Warehouse Bay 4, The Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall
Duke University East Campus

Thursday, September 15
2:30 Opening Remarks
2:45 Panel 1: Globalism and Technology
Chair: Griseldo Dule

1. “Using Wittgenstein to Think about Freedom on the Internet”
Sandra Luksic (Stanford)

2 .“A Radically Hotter Future: Queer Freedoms and the Climate Apocalypse
Drew Kiser (UC Berkeley)

3. “Captive Maternals’ and Democracy Under the Shadow of Hegel: The Case of
Non-Citizens in the United States and India”
Nitin Luthra (Duke)

4:15 Panel 3: Idealism and Karl Marx
Chair: Grant Ray

1. “Freedom, Necessity, and Purposiveness: Marx and the Problem of Freely Associated Production
Ernest Pujol-León (Duke)

2. “Toward a Political Theory of Exploitation and Freedom”
Kate Petroff (UChicago)

3. “Kant and Hegel on Fear and Freedom”
Lucas Johnston (UC Riverside)

6:15-8:15 Reception, outside of Smith Warehouse

Friday, September 16
8:30 Catered Breakfast
9:00 Panel 2: Perspectives on Race in Literature


1. “Reclaiming the Homeland: Palestinian American Understandings of Home in Literature” Dyala Kasim (Columbia)

2. “The State v. Black Mater, or Celia’s Confessions as the Will to Be Otherwise” Jorden E. Sanders (Rutgers)

3. “The Neo-Indentured Servitude Narrative within a ‘Free’ Jamaica” Isabel Jaramillo (Rutgers)

4.“‘A Thousand Freedoms’: Jupiter Hammon and the Limits of Political Freedom” JP Sloan (Rutgers)

11:00 Catered Lunch
11:45 Reading Seminar: Literature and Freedom, with Toril Moi

12:45 Panel 4: Autofiction
Chair: Britt Edelen

1. “Back to the Future: Jameson, Autofiction, and Professional Managerial Class” – Daniel Weaver (University of Michigan-Ann Arbor)
2. “Is the Reader Free?: The Existential Experience of Reading Autofiction”- Tiffany Frye (Duke)
3. “‘Leave Them to Their Event Proper’:Anecdote, Contingency, and Maggie
Nelson’s The Argonauts” – Ryan Nhu (Northwestern)

2:00 Break
2:15-3:45 Keynote Speaker: Professor Joshua Landy of Stanford: “I’m like a Helicopter: For a Two-Point Theory of Creative Imagery.” 

Presentation Abstracts:
Friday, September 16

Panel 1: Globalism & Technology
“Captive Maternals” and Democracy Under the Shadow of Hegel: The Case of Non-
Citizens in the United States and India

Nitin Luthra, Duke University

At the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, the state of New York met
the shortage of hand sanitizer by exploiting the wage labor of its prisoners. Around the same
time in a different part of the world, undocumented laborers in North-east India built detention
centers for illegal immigrants which could incarcerate them or their relatives. This paper reflects
on political freedom and incarceration by investigating the fraught biopolitical relationality
between these (potential or actual) captives and their captor polities that see them as threatening
pathogens, yet mine their labor. I theorize the labor and corporeal carcerability of these
(Anti)bodies through a revision of Joy James’ critical analytic of the “Captive Maternals.” This
framework allows scrutiny of the relations of the undocumented, aliens, and incarcerated—those
beyond the pale of law and citizenship— with the neo-liberal democracies they inhabit.
Critically engaging with Hegel’s discussions of freedom and the modern state, this paper
attempts to unmask the violence that democracies require for the production of the liberties they
guarantee their citizens. It maps the marriage of slavery and freedom in the context of
contemporary democracies of India and the United States. In doing so, it critiques the normative
ideals of Western democratic thought which work in a dual capacity- offering liberties and rights
to citizens while, simultaneously, denying the same promise to its noncitizen (Anti)bodies, even
as it exploits their labor.

A Radically Hotter Future: Queer Freedoms and the Climate Apocalypse
“most of our freedoms so far have been energy-intensive”

Drew Kiser, University of California-Berkeley

When I invoke queerness as a sign of the apocalypse, I don’t mean to say that queerness portends
an eschatological dissolution of morals—though, if this be true, I will ride the first flaming steed
out of hell. Rather, I propose that queerness’ role as a hotly contested site of transnational rights
discourse lays bare an informative tension between the kind of freedom we’re used to talking
about (liberal rights of the individual) and the freedom we need to talk more about (namely, the
freedom of the continuance of life on earth).

Dipesh Chakrabarty overlays the development of the concept of the “human” from the 17th
century onwards alongside, and inextricable from, the entrenchment of fossil fuels. The primacy
of the rational individual, and the rights that inhere in him, is only legible withing the context of
resource extraction. “Man” has always been a bio-political advent, and the shift from colonial to
neo-colonial power dynamics doesn’t change that.

Queer is only the most recent arena for this discourse. For a rights model heavily reliant on
narratives of individual predilection, individual choice, and individual identity, we may struggle
to imagine: how can we “queer” the energy-intensive basis of the rational individual that
undergirds our discussion of queer rights? What survives a rights approach oriented toward

In a political moment where the future increasingly seems like a choice between eco-fascism and
Original Recipe fascism, I want to ask how we can keep “freedom” as a useful analytic in
imagining a future rich with options. This will require unhitching freedom from the human, and
opening doors for polyphonic constellations of being-with.

Using Wittgenstein to Think about Freedom on the Internet
Sandra Luksic, Stanford University

As a scholar working in the field of Science, Technology, and Society (STS), these are the most
common ways I hear people talk about “freedom” in the context of the internet:
-Freedom of speech and freedom of reach
-Freedom from surveillance
-Freedom from algorithmic profiling and predictive analytics
-Freedom from the constraints of the material world; digital avatars; the ability to virtually cross
countries and time
-Free will and algorithmic control; the threat of addictive or mind-controlling technology to free will
-An app called “Freedom” which turns off internet access so academics can focus on writing

Using examples such as these, I take stock of the many uses of “freedom on the internet” in order
to clarify what kind of concept it is, reveal its underlying assumptions, and point to any
contradictions and similarities in its uses. I draw on Wittgenstein’s ideas about grammar, meaning,
language games, and forms of life to show that “freedom on the internet” is largely a liberal,
individualistic, and anti-social concept related to property rights and ownership. Finally, I suggest
that this way of conceptualizing freedom is undesirable because it narrows the window of
possibilities for responding to the threats to wellbeing on and off the internet.”

Panel 2: Karl Marx and Idealsim
“Freedom, Necessity, and Purposiveness: Marx and the Problem of Freely Associated Production”
Ernest Pujol-Léon, Duke University

In This Life, Martin Hägglund has offered a compelling account of the conception of freedom underlying Marx’s critique of the capitalist mode of production. In contrast to the productivist interpretations that have prevailed in the Marxist tradition (according to which communism amounts to no less than the liberation of humanity from natural necessity), Hägglund proposes a more modest vision of what he has termed “spiritual freedom.” Without relinquishing the basic socialist commitment to autonomy and self-governance (that is, so-called “positive” freedom), Hägglund’s notion nevertheless foregrounds freedom’s existential character as an intrinsic property of living rational beings who cannot but ask themselves how to best allocate the limited time of their finite lives. Contrasting with this ethical rendition of the Marxian dialectic of freedom and necessity, the political reading of Das Kapital proposed by William Clare Roberts in his 2016 book Marx’s Inferno has taken a different route to elucidating Marxism’s vexed relation to freedom as a normative political commitment. For Roberts, the key to the conception of freedom implicit in Marx’s analysis of the modern world and its social pathologies is to be found not in the classical theorists of positive freedom, like Rousseau or Hegel, but in the republican tradition of political thought and its associated ideal of freedom as “non-domination.”

In this paper, I propose a tentative reconciliation between these two contemporary interpretations of Marx’s (largely unarticulated) conception of freedom by turning to the German aesthetic tradition, and in particular to Kant’s Critique of Judgment and Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man. By demonstrating Marx’s indebtedness (via Hegel and Feuerbach) to Kant’s treatment of aesthetic and biological “purposiveness” in his third critique, I seek to propose an alternative account of Marx’s view of freedom that integrates both “self-realization” (Hägglund) and “non-domination” (Roberts) in the same conception of freedom as “freely associated production” — i.e., conscious, purposeful activity directed at the production of a way of life in which the material interaction of our species with the rest of nature is not mediated by irrational and unconscious forms of social domination. In this context, I will argue, art and aesthetic practices offer a paradigmatic model of this materialist account of freedom as a harmonious relation between material necessity and human spontaneity.

Towards a Political Theory of Exploitation and Freedom
Kate Petroff, University of Chicago

We may disagree about whether exploitation is eliminable from society, what social movements or political institutions would achieve this objective, and at what cost. However, before we can begin to have such debates in political philosophy, we must determine what exploitation is, as well as why it is of political concern. In this paper, I argue that a recent strand of work in Marxian exploitation theory, the domination theory of exploitation, is uniquely suited to this task. According to the domination theory, A exploits B when A dominates B in order to extract a benefit from B. In the process, A renders B unfree in a special sense: in this case, B is unfree because she is dominated, or constrained by A’s will. I will argue that freedom from domination is a form of uniquely political freedom: the sort of freedom that early modern philosophers thought could be secured by the political state, and Marx thought was only achievable through the collective organizing of the working class. For this reason, the domination theory demonstrates that exploitation is an obstacle to the freedom that, under some interpretations, it is the aim of political activity to ensure. Yet, I will also argue that the domination theory as it stands has a significant problem: no available account of domination provides us with the theoretical resources necessary to capture the role of class in Marxian exploitation. In order to provide an account of exploitation that is not only political, but also Marxian, we need to modify the domination theory to bring class back into the philosophical analysis of exploitation.

Kant and Hegel on Fear and Freedom
Lucas Johnston, University of California-Riverside

There is an apparent paradox in suggesting that there is an intimate connection between fear and freedom. The paradox is: insofar as one fears someone or something, one’s mental activity is to that extent subjected to the dominion of that which one fears. Peter, in fearing Paul, acts in such a way to not give Paul cause to exercise his power over Peter. We may say that Peter, in acting in explicit recognizance of his fear of Paul, to that extent acts unfreely: his action is determined by someone other than himself. While Peter chooses what to do, the grounds of his choice is the wants of another and not anything to do with himself. Fear, thus, seems opposed to freedom: insofar as one fears and acts in light of this, one does not act freely.

My contention, in this paper, is that fear, as it features in the ‘Self-Consciousness’ chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology, performs the same function as it does in both he and Kant’s account of the sublime—it is a step along the path of the revelation of one’s freedom. In Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement, he suggests that the experience of the sublime is the thought of an object one fears, but in such a way that one exercises a power of resistance against the object. In such an experience, one reveals, or is reminded of, one’s negative freedom, or the knowledge that one is not determined to act in any particular way in spite of being subject to the physical dominion of another. Peter, in the experience of the sublime—a violent waterfall, perhaps—knows himself to be powerless to physically resist the waterfall. If the waterfall were to sweep him up, Peter would be totally subject to its power. In spite of being under the waterfall’s physical dominion, Peter is able to resist acting in light of this knowledge and this fear.

Similarly, for Hegel, the fear of the lord (or master) is the beginning of wisdom (PhG ¶195) but only the beginning (EL ¶112Z). That is, fear is necessary, but not sufficient, for the revelation of oneself as free: it reveals one’s negative, but not positive, freedom. This is a point in which both Kant and Hegel agree, and is the meaning of Hegel’s suggestion that fear is a ‘universally necessary moment’—for a self-conscious creature to be free, he must both experience and overcome fear. In doing so, one learns how to obey and, in doing so, that he is capable of self-command. This is the lesson of the so-called master-slave (more properly, lord-servant) dialectic, and it is why the next ‘shape of consciousness’, for Hegel, is the free self-consciousness,the consciousness that knows itself to be free.

Panel 3: Perspectives on Race in Literature
“A Thousand Freedoms”: Jupiter Hammon and the Limits of Political Freedom
J.P. Sloan, Rutgers University

Within the African American literary tradition, the question of freedom is often framed by questions of political resistance and protest. As a result, black writers whose work does not promote or portray some form of protest literature are often overlooked, dismissed or neglected. The lack of attention given to the oeuvre of eighteenth century African American poet Jupiter Hammon represents a key example of this literary critical tendency. Because Hammon had relatively little to say against slavery (and often encouraged the enslaved to be obedient to their masters), his work has received very little critical attention. When Hammon’s work does receive attention, it is often in terms of his understanding of slavery and not his conception of freedom. In this paper, I go beyond Hammon’s understated objections to slavery and consider his impicit critique of political freedom. I contend that in his piece, “An Evening’s Improvement,” Hammon presents a nuanced view of freedom. While Hammon is undoubtedly more concerned with spiritual freedom, he is not unreflective with regard to what he calls “temporal freedom”; he is simply unimpressed with it. I explore how Hammon’s downplaying of political freedom overlaps, converges, and resonates with critiques of liberal humanist understandings of freedom within contemporary black studies. Do Hammon’s Calvinistic, politico-theological investments in the otherworldly offer more to us than an escapist disengagement with the world? I contend that, while Hammon’s dismissal of “a thousand freedoms” offered by civil society does primarily represent a religious sentiment, it also puts pressure on the concept of freedom.

The Neo-Indentured Servitude Narrative within a “Free” Jamaica
Isabel Jaramillo, Rutgers University

Set in nineteenth century post-emancipation Jamaica where Chinese emigrant Lowe seeks to realize the social and economic mobility that liberal individualism espouses, Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda’s post-emancipatory setting has led critics to characterize the novel as either a successful or failed queer freedom narrative. However, my reading situates the text as a critique of the generic limitations that the liberal freedom narrative imposes on lives within the globalized liberal and neoliberal paradigm, the normative racial, economic, and gendered identities and relations that represent free subjective identities in the aftermath of colonialism and slavery. Informed by the scholarship of critics Lisa Lowe, Saidiya V. Hartman, and Edlie L. Wong, I examine the connections between slavery, indentured servitude, and freedom and how these system’s historical residues both demand and inhibit the movement of queer, trans life within the black and Chinese diaspora. I argue that in Powell’s novel, the devaluation of Asianness and femininity functions as a critique of the nation-state’s tentative promise of upward mobility, and Lowe’s rejection of normative masculinity coupled with his desire to inhabit the formerly “undesirable” abject realm of femininity is a subversive gesture because it undermines the idealization of colonial masculinity and the “freedom” ascribed to citizenship yet simultaneously underscores the impossibility of a redemptive notion of freedom within this inescapable framework. I argue that Asian femininity is no longer something Lowe seeks to overcome while the immobility and potential violence that accompanies the occupation of this identity disrupt the coherence of freedom within the nation state.

“The State v. Black Mater, Or Celia’s Confessions as the Will to Be Otherwise”
Jorden E. Sanders, Rutgers University

Theorizations of will remain central to studies of Black life and (un)freedom. Concepts such as
Hortense Spillers’ “motive will” and Saidiya Hartman’s “simulation of will” explore the complex
choreography of race, personhood, and agency under slavery. Scholarship’s investment in freedom,
often narrowly considers the will in relation to resistance, complicity, or survival. However, this
leaves little room for the possibility of a will rooted in the flesh’s plasticity not the body’s autonomy.
Weaving Marisa Fuentes’s “reading along the bias grain” and P. Gabrielle Foreman’s “black
simultextuality” into a critical reading methodology, this essay examines the production and
performance of criminal confession by enslaved women as an expression of mater will—blackness’s
refusal to hold form when the State requires blackness to maintain its own coherence. The State of
Missouri v. Celia, a Slave (1855) serves as the primary case study. In the face of certain death, Celia’s
confessional mode destabilizes the foundation of discourses designed to constrain her. By
forestalling the confessional form, Celia fashions for herself a rhetorical garret and impugns the
State’s “moral” authority on both material and narrative registers. Careful attention to confessions
and their refusal to adhere to form might offer an alternative reading of Celia and enslaved women’s
will to imaginatively maneuver.

Reclaiming the Homeland: Palestinian American Understandings of Home in Literature
Dyala Kasim, Columbia University

In my paper, I focus on the children of Arab immigrants — whom I label as
“hyphenated Americans,” or individuals with an ethnic and American heritage — and their
fiction writing, examining authors from the 21st century. More specifically, I study Palestinian
Americans — as they represent what it means to feel unstable in their Arab and American
cultures — and explore how they understand home/homeland within literature. I chose three
Palestinian American female authors and their works: Susan Muaddi Daraj’s A Curious Land:
Stories From Home
(a 2015 collection of short stories), Hala Alyan’s Salt Houses (a 2017 novel)
and Etaf Rum’s A Woman is No Man (a 2019 novel). The main questions I examine are: How do
these authors, who are all products of a historically unstable notion of home, create and
understand this concept within their own works? How is home reflected in their sense of
personal and communal identity? How do Palestinians transform loss into creations of home
within the United States? How is this also a process of freeing themselves from oppression and asserting their personal agency? I argue that the act of writing itself is a liberating act of home
recovery and rebuilding: it allows Palestinian American authors to retrieve memories of their
history, while simultaneously setting down new roots and finding their own place within
America. Fiction writing, specifically novels and short stories, are a prime example of this achievement, as they two are tangible spaces of complete Palestinian American thought, creation and individual/collective freedom.

Panel 4: Autofiction

“Back to the Future: Jameson, Autofiction, and Professional Managerial Class”
Daniel Weaver, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

This paper revisits the closing paragraphs of Fredric Jameson’s 1986 essay “Third-
World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” in which Jameson invokes Hegel’s infamous dialectical master-slave narrative to suggest that American intellectuals, in the position of Hegel’s “master,” are condemned to the “luxury of a placeless freedom in which any consciousness of his own concrete situation flees like a dream.” Where Jameson’s critique presses the question of the possibility of a critical consciousness under the conditions of material plentitude and a virtually unlimited freedom of movement, this paper proposes to evaluate two more recent developments in literary production and historical analysis –– the so-called genre of “auto-fiction,” namely the work of Ben Lerner, Karl Ove Knausågrd, and Rachel Cusk, and the resurrection of the Marxist category of the professional-managerial class by historians such as Gabriel Winant –– as an attempt to grapple with the limits to critical consciousness under conditions of maximum freedom and material plenitude. Finally, this paper asks whether critical attention to those “burdened” by freedom can attach a critical edge to an otherwise self-indulgent and oft-maligned line of critique.

“Is the Reader Free?: The Existential Experience of Reading Autofiction”
Tiffany Frye, Duke University

In The Art of Being, Yi-Ping Ong traces the development of an existential poetics of the novel. One crucial problem she explores is the tension between a character’s freedom and the necessary intervention of the author who creates the circumstances in which that freedom unfolds. The tension between the “form-giving totality of the novel” and the power of the novel to elicit readerly belief in the existence of its characters is central to the existential problem of the novel. My paper argues that autofiction as exemplified by writers such as Rachel Cusk, Karl Ove Knausgård, and Sheila Heti attempts to free the novel of this dilemma. Cusk especially gives up the fantasy of the liberal subject as one imbued with agency in order to investigate the degree of freedom that remains when we negotiate our agency up against the agency of other people. Autofiction gives us a space as readers, too, to consider our own freedom. As Ong describes, the tradition of realism has relied on the fiction of the author’s absence to give the reader of the novel a sense of her own freedom: our sense of privacy and agency is confirmed by our power to observe the private thoughts of characters. Autofiction dispenses with this illusion and requires that we grapple with the constraints on our freedom. I will argue that the indeterminacy that autofiction exposes is the same indeterminacy that both constrains our freedom and requires that we reckon with our agency.

“Leave Them to their Event Proper”: Anecdote, Contingency, and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts Ryan Nhu, Northwestern University

So stylized in its realism, so narrow in the scope of its content, the anecdote remains that most elusive of autobiographical forms. While Peter Fenves asserts that “anecdotes are too varied, too indistinct, and too widespread to constitute a recognizable genre” (2001), Jane Gallop suggests that even upon recognition, anecdotes tend to be dismissed for their seeming triviality; otherwise, they are derided as gimmicks or as self-aggrandizing shortcuts to critique (2002). Nevertheless, recent experiments in autobiography have mobilized anecdotes in order not to retrieve whatever exemplarity or singularity may be embedded in their pastness, but rather to stage the contingencies of their form: the calibration of an anecdote’s affective particularities to the historical present. My paper examines such experimentation in Maggie Nelson’s “autotheoretical” blockbuster The Argonauts (2015), which chronicles the author’s pregnancy and childbirth alongside the transition of her fluidly gendered partner. By using the anecdotal form to launch inquiries into anal eroticism and ordinary language philosophy, among other things, The Argonauts resists the teleological impulse of an array of seemingly linear narratives, from maternity to gender transition to queer histories that trace a neat arc from radicality to homonormativity. Moreover, through their shifts between lyric and narrative, Nelson’s anecdotes subvert the conventions of normative realism that they appear, on the surface, to appeal to. Ultimately, my paper concludes that Nelson’s assemblage of anecdotes in The Argonauts practices an aesthetic freedom that at once refuses the burden of identitarian representation and galvanizes the political affects circulating between motley group identities.

Josh Landy, Stanford
“I’m like a Helicopter: For a Two-Point Theory of Creative Imagery” 

According to a now-standard theory, “Juliet is the sun” is supposed to be a “pregnant” metaphor, ready at any moment to beget a sprawling heap of adorable semantic puppies. Its two parts—“Juliet” and “the sun”—ostensibly meet at a virtually endless number of points, and it’s allegedly illuminating, enjoyable, or at least interesting to sit there all day spelling them out. But what if none of that is true? What if, instead, a successful creative comparison will tend to meet at exactly two points, the first of which makes it adequate, while the second gives it power? To put it metaphorically (as is only appropriate): a good poetic image is neither an iceberg (à la Cavell) nor a simple triangle (à la Aristotle) but a tetrahedron, a muscle, a covalent bond. And the telos of such images, I’ll propose, isn’t to transmit additional information but intensify, or disorient, or even—surprisingly—make us feel at home in this godawful world.