The first draft of the article is finished. It only took a few days! It’s the first time I’ve ever written an outline before starting the writing, and I’m amazed by the clarity this provided. The argument quickly came into focus, despite the many different theoretical layers and nuances uncovered in the research.
It’s being submitted to the open access journal Critical Stages. Hopefully publishing on an open platform will mean it reaches a wider audience than my other academic articles! That being said, the draft I’ve come up with is pretty dense. I’m trying really hard to move away from the ‘here’s the theory and here are some case’ studies approach that I’ve used in all of my other articles. My approach has been to focus on the importance of epistemological hierarchies to analyse the politics of the war on woke requires discussing specific examples of performativity in performances and in public discourse.
It was only as I was finishing the first draft that I realised how the image of contested ‘territory’ was key. Variations of this theme pop up a lot in my research. It’s leading me to think about identities in terms of borders, where discourses at events like the Battle of Ideas are mobilised to police the spaces separating normative identities from transgressive and non-conformist ones. There’s an obvious connection here with how the movement of migrants and refugees is framed as an invasion into culture as much as geographic territory. Too much for one article, but loads to think about as the project goes forward.
Here’s the abstract for the Critical Stages article. It should be published by November:
The war on woke is the latest reactionary spasm in a decades long right wing culture war. The performative affectivity of woke, instantiated in phrases such as ‘cancel culture’, functions to marginalize, exclude and ultimately erase those who search for a new language to ‘render imaginable, and thus tangible, alternative rearticulations’ (Mercer 2017, 29) of identity. Drawing on critical theories that situate Enlightenment philosophy as an assimilationist regime of truth, I will consider how attacks on ‘wokeness’ have become a foundational principle of democracy in right wing political discourse. But I also wish to argue that artists risk making demands for radical societal transformation subordinate to pleas that otherness be tolerated by centres of power. The capacity of performance to disrupt hegemonic discursive constructions of identity by haunting the margins of mainstream political discourse will be discussed with reference to work by Selina Thompson, Javaad Alipoor, Jackie Sibblies Drury, and public talks by Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez Pena. These case studies will be juxtaposed against a discussion of how culture war discourse operates through performative acts of free speech based on my experience as an audience member at the Academy of Ideas’ annual festival, the Battle of Ideas, in October 2022. The audience were invited to participate in a collective fantasy of persecution from the tyranny of environmentalism, ‘gender ideology’, and critical race theory by speakers who represented what the festival excessively reiterated as ‘cancelled’ subjects within contemporary culture. I will analyse how such performances of dissent against political orthodoxies are presented as signifiers of the only authentic systems of meaning to dissimulate alternative forms of social relations.
Mercer, K. (2017) Introduction. In: Hall, S. The Fateful Triangle: Race, Ethnicity, Nation. London: Harvard University Press