The second issue of Bellona is organized under the rubric of ‘Empire’. We invite submissions that address the various ways in which the economic, political and historical apparatuses of the colonial, imperial and neo-imperial eras continue to shape the locations and forms of cultural production today. In particular, we are interested in pieces that look to the relations between cores, peripheries and semi-peripheries, discussions of the metropole and the country, the international division of labour, discourses of development and underdevelopment, the geographies of the culture industry and forms of international solidarity, decolonial politics and other related topics.
Empire, thought broadly, denotes a mode of domination that encompasses the expropriation of land, the extraction of raw materials, the destruction of indigenous life-worlds, and the exploitation of life and labour, whether in the form of chattel slavery, the plantation or the wage-form. It indexes various hegemonic states, institutions and epistemes that span modernity, beginning with Columbus’s initial voyages to the Americas in 1492 and the rise of the Spanish Empire, through to the post-war rise of U.S. hegemony, with its systems of economic dependence and underdevelopment, interventionist military operation and destruction of Left projects across the Global South.
Since its earliest formulations at the turn of the 20th century–from J.H. Hobson, V.I. Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and others– Marxists have understood Empire as a mode of domination, a specific historical periodization and an all-encompassing theory of capitalism’s development. Both prior to, and following, these theoriziations, resistance movements have fought against, and been shaped by, their particular relationships to Empire. Thus, in hindsight, we can understand the Haitian Revolution of 1791, the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 and the ongoing Palestian struggle in a larger compendium of anti-imperialist struggle.
After the so-called End of History, theories of Empire were argued to be irrelevant in the face of an endlessly unfolding (non)political horizon and globalized economic system. Yet when considering the political and economic history of the last three decades – of American and NATO wars of aggression, the securitization of the European Union’s southern and eastern borders, and the renewed circuits of extraction in the Global South – points to a reality wherein imperial logics have been suffused even more deeply into the fabric of the contemporary economic and social structures.
Culture is intimately entangled with these forms of domination, operating as both a tool to legitimate and reproduce Empire and a means to critique and resist it. From the Orientalist fantasies of Western Europe in the 1800s to the decolonial imaginaries of newly independent nations in Africa and Asia in the second half of the 20th century, cultural production has mirrored, diagnosed and revolted against conditions of dependence, expropriation and control. Today’s globalised and networked world provides us with a new set of conditions from which we can examine Empire’s influence on culture. As a consequence of the historical movement of wealth from the colony to the metropole, a small group of western cities – London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles – exist as the epicentres for culture, whether in terms of its performance, funding or criticism.
Taking the example of music, we can note how the development of new hubs in post-colonial cities like Johannesburg, Shanghai and Kampala has revivified contemporary experimental music, but musicians emerging from these scenes are still subject to the well-worn circuits of imperial expansion and wealth extraction, relying on the media apparatuses, distribution networks and audiences of the Global North for exposure and remuneration. Further, the borders of the most powerful supranational configurations today–the United States (with its satellites) and the European Union–form often impermeable barriers to performance, and therefore remuneration, for the majority of artists from the Global South. What results is not only the subsumption of art produced in the periphery to the dictates of (largely) Western capital, but increasingly violent processes of borderization and securitization that can quite literally lock those artists out of the circuits of culture industry production and discourse.
Put differently, if we are still living in the shadow of U.S. empire, then the shape of the world economy and the concomitant production, distribution and reception of culture is still conditioned by the latter’s ideologies, forms and technologies. Within these conditions, what shapes does experimental, emancipatory or ‘avant-garde’ culture take on? Where might this cultural production arise from? And how is it transmitted? In this issue, we hope to tackle these questions, and thereby contribute to an understanding of contemporary cultural production which foregrounds the deep and persistent impacts of Empire.
If you are interested in submitting to this upcoming issue, please reach out with a 3-4 sentence pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submissions is February 1.