Call for Papers: Soapbox 6.0 – On the Uses of Absence

— peer reviewed; open to critical and artistic work; submission deadline: June 10; extended proposals 

Can we speak of a turn to absence? Across the contemporary academic conjuncture, theory is reapproaching the absent in all its varying fleshly and rhetorical forms, revalorizing ‘absence’ itself as a critical matter. Enduring scholarly investments in re-presenting and re-presencing the absented body (from the archive and media, from power and institutions, from theory and writing) have become supplemented in current critical work by an affirmative interest in staying with absence as such. We are thinking of Rizvana Bradley’s recent aesthetic analyses of the forms and shapes of the black body as the absence in ontology; of Lee Edelman’s insistence on and reappreciation of queerness as the inevitable, generative absence at the heart of the symbolic; we are thinking of the optimism attached to absence in trans studies’ reappropriation of and investment in techniques of destruction (Marquis Bey) and destitution (Jack Halberstam). The figure and body of the absent has started to matter similarly outside the academic. Absenteeism in the workplace and in university rooms are on the rise; not showing up, not producing or delivering, being absent, and withdrawal – acts such as these formalize and mobilize absence, relocate it at the heart of myriad resistances against exploitation, appropriation, assimilation, and normativity.

For its seventh issue, Soapbox: Journal for Cultural Analysis invites (young) researchers, (established) scholars and creatives alike to submit work on the uses and aesthetics of absence in and outside of theory today. It is our point of departure that absence fails every time to be purely nothing. In all of the scenes and settings described above and below, absence is given a shape, meaning, form; it is put in writing, where it has a function, a flavor, and a politics – absence rarely looks the same. Staying with absence rather than straying from it, we invite responses to questions such as: What are the shapes and forms of absence that inflect and structure the contemporary theoretical debate? Where does absence turn up, where doesn’t it? How is absence mobilized politically, to what ends and with which results? In your fields or for your objects, how does absence matter, make matter? How is absence formalized (anti-)(re)productively? How is (some) form absent(ed)? What are the uses of absence, what can they be, and what have they been, for better and for worse? Finally, how to think the contradiction and the provocation of a contemporary aesthetics of absence?

possible clusters to think alongside:

absence and queer theory, sex, gender  think, e.g., of the sustaining investments in thinking sex and gender via psychoanalysis and negativity; of Edelman’s turn to ab-sens and sens-absexe; of Leo Bersani’s older investments in impoverishment and ascesis and its entanglements with the critical work of reading and writing; of queer theory’s origins in (AIDS and policy-related) death.

absence and trans studies — think of trans studies’ increasing embrace of a de-presencing: destruction, destitution, the jouissance of failure; of the ‘afterwards’ of destruction; of what’s at stake and what goes hidden in staking critical programmes on a desire for formlessness.

absence and afropessimism/afrofuturism — think, e.g., of Frank B. Wilderson III’s claim of “Black absence,” of a blackness ontologically outside the dominant social order; of afrofuturism’s intent on remobilizing or filling such absences as sites of creative and generative reclamation.

absence and decolonial scholarship & migration studies — think, e.g., of the way absence has been read as problem in decolonial scholarship; of whether an affirmative take on absence can ever be a decolonial praxis; of whether erasure is the same as absence; think of figures of absence tied up in the many layers of discourse surrounding migration (studies) today; of the absence of citizenship; but also of what will emerge if we treat absence as a place that people live and make life in, forced or otherwise.

absence and philosophy — think, e.g., of the epistemological challenge of the nothing; of whether it is possible to demarcate and frame absence; of whether can we know of or appoint meaning to matters which are out of sight, touch, heart and mind; of approaches to absence ranging from phenomenology, making the absent known and felt, to analytical considerations on the structure of absence.

…and then there is absence and abjection, violence, art, the anarchitectural, affect, signification, silence, void, lack, the unthinkable, the unintelligible, the repressed, the dark, the out of reach, and what about anti-absence thought and thinkers?

the details:

We are inviting extended proposals in MLA formatting and referencing style to be submitted to by June 10th, 2024. Each proposal must include an abstract of 300-500 words and a brief outline of the content and its order (up to 200 words, can be in bullet-points!). The outline is meant to give an indication of the intended structuring and weighing of the various elements of your text; we understand and expect that this will change again during drafting and editing. Submissions should be sent as a file attachment to the email, and the content of the file should be anonymised.

Guidelines for creative submissions are more flexible. They can be finished works, word-based or otherwise, but please keep in mind our spatial limitations: we publish and print in book format, and we have a limited amount of pages to give to each submission. A sense of the formatting possibilities can be garnered from previous issues and our Instagram (open-access pdf versions are available on our website).

We will try to send out conditional acceptance emails by June 21st. Upon acceptance, the authors of the academic essays will be asked to submit a 4000-6000 word full draft by September 2nd. The editing and publishing process will span the next academic year (September 2024 – February 2025).

It would be very helpful if you could let us know in your email where you saw our CFP. If you have any questions regarding your submission, do not hesitate to contact us at

works referenced and suggested:

  • Berlant, Lauren, and Lee Edelman. Sex, or the Unbearable. Duke University Press, 2014, Durham and London.
  • Bersani, Leo. “Is the Rectum a Grave?” October, vol. 43, 1987, pp. 197–222. JSTOR.
  • Bersani, Leo and Ulysse Dutoit. Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett, Rothko, Resnais. Harvard University Press, 1993, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Bey, Marquis. Cistem Failure: Essays on Blackness and Cisgender. Duke University, 2022, Durham.
  • Bradley, Rizvana. Anteaesthetics: Black Aesthesis and the Critique of Form. Stanford University Press, 2023, Stanford.
  • Brinkema, Eugenie. Life-Destroying Diagrams. Duke University Press, 2022, Durham.
  • Caseria, Robert L., Lee Edelman, Jack Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz and Tim Dean. “The Antisocial Thesis in Queer Theory.” PMLA, vol. 121, no. 3, May 2006, pp. 819-828.
  • Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Duke University Press, 2004, Durham.
  • Edelman, Lee. Bad Education: Why Queer Theory Teaches Us Nothing. Duke University Press, 2022, Durham.
  • Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of  Failure. Duke University Press, 2011, Durham.
    [and new and forthcoming work on “destitution”]
  • Wilderson III, Frank B. Afropessimism. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020, New York.