People / Faculty

Karen Benezra

Karen Benezra
Assistant Professor Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, Institute for Latin American Studies, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society
  • Address
    503 Casa Hispánica
    Department of Latin American & Iberian Cultures
    612 W116th Street
    New York NY 10027
  • Office Hours
    By appointment for the academic year 2019-2020
  • Email

Profile

Karen Benezra earned her Ph.D in Romance Studies from Cornell University. Her first book, Dematerialization: Art and Design in Latin America (University of California Press, 2020) deciphers a way of reading the becoming immaterial of the art and design object operative in the work of Oscar Masotta, Octavio Paz, Felipe Ehrenberg, Alberto Híjar, Tomás Maldonado and Gui Bonsiepe. Re-signifying descriptive and historicist uses of the term in the field of post-1960s art criticism, the book proposes dematerialization as a concept that allows us to see how their work mobilized the materiality of art and design as a way of figuring the movement and reflexivity of the social both in and beyond the aesthetic qualities and sociocultural content of the object.

Her second book, The Inorganic: Collective Life under Capitalism (in progress), interrogates and expands upon the notion of inorganic life present in the work of Marx and Freud as a way of considering how the ethical relations of the collective can function as a source of wealth and potential limit to capital. Drawing upon the work of thinkers such J.M. Arguedas, Claude Meillassoux, and Roger Bartra, among others, The Inorganic asks how to define the historical, anthropological, or political subject of contemporary capitalism in societies defined by the complex articulation of different modes of production.

Karen is also at work editing a scholarly collection titled Accumulation and Subjectivity. Contributions address the relationship between capitalism and subjectivity from within the colonial archive and with respect to the logic of history in Marx; by reconstructing key concepts for the critique of political economy in Latin American social thought; as a problem manifest in contemporary film, narrative, urban planning, and immigration policy; and as a issue concerning the historicity of the subject in post-structuralist theory and in Marx’s economic writings.

Karen has been an editor of ARTMargins (MIT Press) since 2012.

Academic Statement

I think of my role as a teacher and adviser as one of structuring a space in which students can develop their own critical relationships to texts and the problems that they present. I address my students both as intellects and as subjects, each defined by a singular set of personal and political experiences, and structure their engagement with assigned readings—through syllabi, process writing assignments, in-class group exercises, and lectures—in such a way as to build upon and estrange common sense ideas and suppositions. At the same time, in attempting to put these ideas into practice over the last several years, I have often considered the ways in which the relations of knowledge and authority at play in the classroom constitute a sphere of sociability with the potential to reproduce or critically resist the racialized, gendered, and class relations of power that shape society. In negotiating the intertwined social, ethical, and intellectual conditions of the classroom, I often return to the relationship between professor and students that philosopher Marilena Chaui describes as one of generous asymmetry. Rather than supposing that the artifice of equality in seminar-style exchanges dismantles hierarchies of knowledge and authority, I try to mobilize the distance that separates me from students in order to solicit their desire to know more about the readings, images, or problems at hand. In this sense, rather than opposing the equality of the intellect and the hierarchy of knowledge, in my experience, helping students to develop their own critical relation to course material or to their own research means constructing a different kind of artifice: a fictional, symbolic structure in which they feel comfortable expressing questions, doubts, or observations regardless of their command over technical terminology and in which their classmates and I are willing to register the quality and relevance of their curiosity or disquiet. Sustaining the intellectual dynamism of such exchanges simultaneously implies listening and reading carefully for the question embedded in students’ comments and asserting my understanding of the text and context when necessary in order to direct their attention to a more nuanced aspect of the argument or narrative in question.