The Spatial Language of Literature: Sovereign Space and the Borders of Capital


Global Anglophone / British

Matthew Gannon (Boston College)

Alex Moskowitz (Boston College)

As capital flows freely across national borders, the sovereign state demarcates strict boundaries for people. Capitalism forges global connections with international solidarity organized around wealth. Yet as Foucault has argued, intranational spaces are increasingly heavily policed in the name of homeland security, giving rise to the security state and technologies of surveillance.

These issues are not foreign to the concerns of literature. At the end of “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau questions whether “democracy, such as we know it, [is] the last improvement possible in government.” Perhaps Thoreau’s skepticism of liberal political economy stems from his time, albeit short, spent in the Concord prison – an experience that prompted Thoreau to agitate for “a still more perfect and glorious State.”

This panel is interested in the mobility of borders, both internal and external, and the dependency of those borders on the state. Thoreau’s desire for messianic transformation is made possible by the hard, concrete walls of the prison: it is only from deep inside the institution that we can begin to think a state beyond its current relation to sovereign power, and as Agamben argues, bare life. If the state of exception in effect erects an internal border, the movement of capital, on the other hand, seeks to dissolve external borders – trends endemic to the capitalist moment and modern governmentality.

We seek papers that problematize the relations between borders, capital, sovereignty, and governmentality. We welcome presentations that think through these issues with British, Transatlantic, and postcolonial literature. How does the spatial language of literature, as Jameson puts it, disrupt or resist the logic of borders? What messianic or utopian spaces can literature imagine as alternatives to the globalized inequality of neoliberalism as well as the populist rhetoric of local ethno-nationalisms?

This panel is concerned with shifting borders, national sovereignty, and literature’s relation to spatiality under the regime of capital. We seek to think through these issues with British, Transatlantic, and postcolonial literature in particular. This panel explores how literature reimagines the possibilities for emancipatory politics, social transformation, and resistance to oppression in the globalized spaces of capitalism.