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McKelvey School of Engineering

Brown School

Hurst Talk: The Political Aesthetics of Compromise

Friday, March 4, 2022 | 2:00 PM

Hurst Lounge

From New York Times op-eds to SNL skits, the fantasy of compromise and the end of polarization is a recurring theme in contemporary U.S. culture. As political partisanship intensifies alongside the rise of a neo-fascist far right, compromise often seems like the only alternative to autocracy, minority rule, or even civil war. But what happens when compromise is no longer a viable pragmatic tool for the temporary reconciliation of conflict and instead becomes an ideal? Unmoored from specific negotiations and agreements, compromise as a value in and of itself begins to resemble an aesthetic category as much as a political tactic. This talk will place the rise of compromise as an aestheticized politics alongside the rise of compromise as an aesthetic value in literature and the arts, demonstrating how a position that claims immunity from the passion-driven political positions of our moment has itself become a site for irrational affective investment.

As part of her Hurst visit, on Monday, 3/7, 2:30pm, Professor Smith will conduct a seminar for English Department graduate students on public-facing writing. Ana Quiring and Laura Evers will help moderate the discussion, which will take place in the Coffee Room. We will read in advance one of Professor Smith’s public-facing essays: “Friends and Enemies: On Slogan Tees,” which draws on Professor Smith’s recent book On Compromise, and was published in the Los Angeles Review of Books. During the seminar, we will discuss the essay and strategies for how to translate academic research for public-facing audiences. We are planning this as an informal, friendly, hands-on conversation, a time to ask questions and share ideas among ourselves.

Rachel Greenwald Smith is Professor of English at St Louis University. She is the author of Affect and American Literature in the Age of Neoliberalism (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and On Compromise: Art, Politics, and the Fate of an American Ideal (Graywolf Press, 2021). Her research interests are in contemporary American literature, politics and aesthetics, culture and capitalism, and theories of emotion and embodiment.

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Join us for a lecture by Professor Rachel Greenwald Smith.
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