Reading Kofman in Constellation

Sarah Kofman (1934-1994) was a multidisciplinary philosopher and thinker whose work touched on themes including but not limited to: metaphor, psychoanalysis, feminism, artistic experience, haunting, death, and food. Although Kofman has been well-received by literary theorists and celebrated as an eminent scholar of Nietzsche and Freud, she has not received a broader reception in the anglophone world beyond these fields. The Reading Kofman in Constellation (RKIC) reading group will explore Kofman’s thought in its own right, focusing on its fascination with haunting that traverses her meditations on aesthetic experience and autobiography to bring it into dialogue with other voices.

In “The Melancholy of Art” she writes, “there are remainders, ghosts, and phantoms wandering in limbo, things neither living nor dead, neither sensible nor intelligible, neither present nor absent […] a plenitude that occupies and entirely takes over the spectator’s gaze.” (207) Here, the “melancholy” of art articulates a broader experience of the impossibility of rationally appropriating and thus exhausting the singularity of any other (artwork or person). Between the desire of infinite reason, and the finite experience of an embodied other, there lies a field in limbo. RKIC seeks to witness how Kofman remains in this tension, her life/text taking (its) place there:

“My mouth then stopped being the place from which flowed a reassuring discourse—bocca della verita—and became a cave from which more or less articulate and intelligible words burst forth, cries whose extremely variable tone (booming, evanescent, barely audible, halting, melodious, etc.) surprised even me. I had never heard myself speak like this, and “I” did not recognize “myself.” Generous mouth, spilling its offerings of semen. Closed mouth, mouth sewed shut, pursed, sealed. Constipated.”

The Reading Kofman in Constellation reading group is structured around texts from Sarah Kofman, Karen Bray, Saidiya Hartman, and Claire Colebrook. It is a follow-up project of the 2021 Reading Taubes in Constellation and the 2020 Reading Scholem in Constellation.