The Official World

Date: 18 April 2011
Time: 5:00 - 6:15pm
Venue: Convocation Room, Main Building, The University of Hong Kong

The Official World by Mark Seltzer (Evan Frankel Professor of Literature, UCLA)

Abstract: Processes of modernization posit the game-like and artificial character of a social order that nonetheless stipulates its biological characterization.   No doubt that crisscrossing of bodily and artificial realities determines our situation:  it makes up what has been described as the modern 'biocratic' state and counts as what Durkheim would call a social fact.   But the game-like, and self-modeling, character of this world and its cultural techniques —'the official world' — merits then a more differentiated description.  I have been tracing, in a series of studies, the formation of our contemporary pathological public sphere:   a wound culture.  Here I want to take up the sense of 'social pathologies' — the relays of malady and crime — from a somewhat different perspective.  The official world is a self-making, self-administering, and self-evaluating world. It everywhere generates little working models of itself — small worlds, little systems, sealed crime scenes, quarantine zones, game spaces.   These are the scenes of an indoor social life and scene of the crime both.  The modern world comes to itself via these scale models of a unified and autistic world.  Hence it presupposes possible or contingent or counterfactual worlds — other worlds, a war of the worlds, and the end of the world.  The social science fictions of this world are then nowhere clearer than in modern crime fiction and end-of-the-world stories — for example, what the novelist Patricia Highsmith calls the 'sweet sickness' of contemporary crime, or what Cormac McCarthy, in ultraviolent novels like No Country for Old Men and The Road, marks as the end of the world, that is, the end of the world as we know it.  These are some of the torn scenes and lethal games of the official world that I want to take up here.

About the Speaker:
Mark Seltzer is the Evan Frankel Professor of Literature at the University of California at Los Angeles. He taught previously at Cornell, at Stanford, and at the Free University and the Humboldt University in Berlin. His books include Henry James and the Art of Power; Bodies and Machines; Serial Killers: Death and Life in America's Wound Culture; and True Crime: Observations on Violence and Modernity. He is currently completing a book called The Official World.

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