Scholars of conspiracy typically examine the phenomenon on the level of large master plots and superconspiracies, focusing on the phenomenon of semiotic overdrive. At times, we are also motivated by two particularly hygienic impulses: we try to cordon off “warranted” conspiracy theories from their “unwarranted” counterparts, and we reject the label of “paranoid” to describe either the theories or the theorists. This talk argues that, if we move away from intentionality, personal subjectivity, and grand narratives to the level of the utterance and the meme, paranoia can be reclaimed while the truth value of conspiracy becomes less relevant. Drawing on Derrida’s critique of speech after theory, Eliot Borenstein argues that the persistence of conspiracies in popular entertainment points in the direction of a paranoid subject position rather than a paranoid subject, and a conspiratorial mode rather than a full-fledged belief system.
Eliot Borenstein is Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University. His publications include Men without Women: Masculinity and Revolution in Russian Fiction, 1917 –1919 (2001) and Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture (2008). A 2009 Guggenheim recipient, Borenstein is working on two projects: a monograph entitled Russia’s Alien Nations: Imagining the Other after Socialism, and an essay collection called Catastrophe of the Week: Apocalyptic Entertainment in Post-Soviet Russia. He is also the editor of All the Russias, the blog site and web portal for the NYU Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia (http://jordanrussiacenter.org/all-the-russias/).