Transregional Center for Democratic Studies

ONLINE CONFERENCE | Suspended Present: Downloading the Past and Gaming the Future in a Time of Pandemic

April 21 – 23, 2021

The Memory Studies Group at the New School is hosting its annual conference on April 21 – 23, 2021. This is the group’s seventh annual international conference since its founding in 2007 by advanced doctoral-level students at the New School for Social Research (NSSR) — see our past conferences here.

This year’s keynote speakers include Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History at Yale University; Hana Cervinkova, Professor of Anthropology at Maynooth University; and Juliet Golden, Director of the Central Europe Center at Syracuse University.


 Conference theme and topics

Augustine of Hippo (353-430 AD) stated in his Confessions that “if the present were always present, and did not pass into past time, it obviously would not be time but eternity” (Book 11, section 14.17). Uncannily, this phrase echoes our suspended present enforced by COVID-19. It is as if we have lost the memory of the recent regular past when we did not wear masks and could freely gather in person. Neither are we sure about our once predictable future, nor is it clear that the way we relate to the past remains unchanged.

From our confined spaces dominated by small computer screens, we see how the pressing issues of our time begin to float in front of us in new condensed forms. The perilous biopolitics of the pandemic, combined with the politics of fear, have reinforced an upsurge of nativism, right-wing populism, xenophobia, conspiracy theories, etc. The outbreak of COVID became an opportunity for authoritarian governments to further solidify their power, which includes restricting civil rights, imposing a state of exception, and fortifying the mass surveillance infrastructure.

However, the pandemic has exposed how incredibly vulnerable we are, not just to this deadly COVID-19 but to an infection that affects the way we think about our past, present, and future. This sickness, like a computer virus, has much to do with the way we download the past and re-frame our memory. What and how we are downloading from our virtualized imaginary serves the goals of governmentality and the politics of “care”. Needless to say, we are all very interested in how to end the suspended time we now live in.

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