Authority & Transgression (October 2017)

Modern Horizons invites proposals for papers (25-30 minutes long) for our seventh annual conference on ‘Authority & Transgression’ to be held 27-28 October, 2017 at UC Berkeley. Proposals are to be sent to by 31 July, 2017.

Ours is a particularly relevant time to think about authority and transgression in all of their given and potential forms. Politically, in local communities and globally, authority is undergoing a transformation, becoming less legitimate while at the same time becoming more powerful and violent. This is a dangerous trend for many reasons, one being that it skews and disfigures real, possible forms of authority. On the other hand, recent forms of transgression seem to betray the term’s etymology of going beyond or across rule, law and authority, and instead seek to destroy from within or subvert from below, forgoing any potential future benefits. One could call this a nihilistic form of transgression opposing a recklessly utopian, pseudo-fascist authority—to recall our 2016 conference theme.

While the current climate urgently calls for serious discussion of ideas and forms of authority and transgression, we should not limit our scope to the present. We wish to think about the ways authority and transgression are manifest historically. Is authority taken or granted? If so, who or what bestows authority? Does authority rely on time, as in tradition (cf. our 2015 issue “Conversations with Tradition”) or can it (ostensibly) appear without precedence? What are the personal and social benefits of having and/or adhering to authority? Can it be self-regulating, that is can authority safeguard itself from being abused, or is external moderation required? If so, where does this authority come from? Perhaps, to put it simply, transgression—and its possibility— is the only true form of regulating authority. Is this transgression’s only motivation? Does it have to be particular or is there such a thing a general transgression? What is its role in identity- and community-building? Is there such a thing as transgression for transgression’s sake? And, finally, what is at stake when it becomes authoritative, or rather authoritarian?

We are particularly interested in papers that address questions of authority and transgression outside of a strictly political realm. How can literature, film, painting, music, sculpture, dance, etc. offer alternative ways of thinking about authority and transgression? What does it mean to call an image or a text authoritative? In what ways has art been used and abused for authoritative and/or transgressive ends? In terms of spiritual life, while it is easy to find examples of authority gone awry, which forms of spiritual or theological authority maintain their vital presence and fulfill the old Greek sense of authority as ‘that which proceeds from the essence of the matter’?

When thinking about authority and transgression in these (perhaps) less pragmatic terms, one needs to address the question of limits and what is possible. It is too easy to define authority as that which sets limits, and transgression as that which crosses them. Authority, understood as the exercise of power and knowledge, transgresses that which precedes it; transgression adheres to an authority that is other than the one it exceeds. Is the idea of limit, then, what defines both authority and transgression as codependents bound by prescription? If so, limits seem to exist because of the possibility, real or imagined, of their invalidation. Hence the importance of literature and art for exploring the resilience of limits and the ways they are or may be transgressed. Historically, both authority and transgression have always been motivated by and have mobilized texts, images, ideas and language. How do they create or disavow meaning? Are certain forms of knowledge and/or esthetic expression/creation more likely to be authoritative? Transgressive?

Possible topics for presentations include but are not limited to:

-(mis)recognising forms of authority
-private and public transgression
-satire as positive transgression
-historical examinations and critiques of authority and its transgressors
-war as reinforcement of status quo
-Bohumil Hrabal’s incarnate difference
-the dangers of polemics
-monotheism and authority
-the health of boundaries/the boundaries of health
-delimitation as integrity
-feast, fest, carnival
-Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier
-Beethoven’s late string quartets
-against critique: the inevitability of tradition
-maturity and immaturity
-transgression and transgredience
-ideas of congress, egress, redress
-when writers go ‘mad’: Dostoevsky, Lawrence, Celine, Pound
-transgression, excitement, thrills, enthusiasm
-desire, obedience, submission

Please submit proposals to by 31 July, 2017.

Modern Horizons editors
Nicholas Hauck
Andrew Bingham