3.0. In Lieu of an Ending: Impasse

Spring 2022

Themes in this issue


stuckness and movement

in-betweenness and liminality


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For this issue of Soapbox, we invite young researchers and creatives to critically engage with the theme of the impasse. Responding to the call for papers, the contributions to this issue reflect on material impasses that manifest themselves as borders or other forms of obstacles, the feeling of disorientation that arises in such liminal situations or spaces, and the temporality of crises that throw one into a standstill.


This affective experience of navigating between two opposing states—change and stasis—inspired the theme of this issue: impasse. The authors included in this issue invite the reader to ruminate on the obscurity reigning in an impasse and on the small light appearing at its end. The contributions to this issue reflect on material impasses that manifest themselves as borders or other forms of obstacles, the feeling of disorientation that arises in such liminal situations or spaces, and the temporality of crises that throw one into a standstill. Some words appear time and again in the papers exploring the temporal experience of impasse: perpetual, becoming, stuckness, in-between, duration, elimination of boundaries, liminality, multiplicity, and movement. They describe the often contradicting states that being in an impasse evokes and present a way to find comfort in that feeling at the same time.

Foreword: Running to Stand Still

Jennifer Wenzel

Impasse may well be the concept that has most propelled my thinking in environmental and energy humanities since I first encountered it in the work of Imre Szeman more than a decade ago. In “Crude Aesthetics,” as well as his contribution to the seminal PMLA “Editor’s Column” on energy that was convened by Patricia Yaeger in 2011, Szeman gave a name to a fundamental predicament of the present: impasse is “the yawning space between belief and action, knowledge and agency,” he writes. Although “we know where we stand with respect to energy,” we are unable to take action adequate to the situation (Yaeger et al. 324). One might summarize the main thrust of the energy humanities as a driving tension between impasse and transition: impasse is (or has been) the name for where we are, while transition to a world beyond fossil fuels is the name for where we want and need to be. (What do we want? Transition. When do we want it? Yesterday. Why can’t we have it? Impasse.)

Jennifer Wenzel is a scholar of postcolonial theory and environmental and energy humanities, jointly appointed in the Departments of English and Comparative Literature and of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. Her recent book, The Disposition of Nature: Environmental Crisis and World Literature (Fordham University Press, 2019), was shortlisted for the 2020 Book Prize awarded by the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (ASAP). With Imre Szeman and Patricia Yaeger, she co-edited Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment (Fordham 2017). Her current research examines the fossil-fueled imagination, in literature, visual culture, and public life.

Grabbing through the Screen: Digital Intimacy in a Pandemic

Maria Plitcha

The paper focuses on the ways in which various aspects of intimacy have been reconfigured during the COVID-19 pandemic, exploring the intermingling of public and private in digital modes of intimate practices. Taking a closer look at the recent proliferation of video chat encounters, the essay examines the affective states they generate, especially in terms of the tension between visibility and obfuscation.

Maria Plichta comes from Łódź, Poland. Upon graduating from the Cultural Studies programme at the University of Łódź, she moved to the Netherlands to do a Research MA in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Currently, she works asa PhD researcher at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis.

Return to

Erick Fowler

In empire, of it. How are we to be anything but? Where can you and I lose the division but keep the difference? Oh, how powerful the difference! Hold my hand, feel shakes of ignorance, and drown with me in the dusty depths of us. Self and other complicated in a cloud. In dust, is this a home?

How do you chart a course when confronted with the institutionalised weight of history? Looking, feeling, hearing, and smelling past victories and failures, sensory overload precludes hope and fuels pessimism. Stuck with what has been given, time and resources need to be repurposed for liberatory study in the gaps that are carved away from capitalist logics. Collapse the institutionalised archive; the dust from its fallout is us, it is now, and what should be.

Erick Fowler (b.1996, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA) lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he is pursuing an rMA in Art andPerformance Research Studies at Universiteit van Amsterdam. His current research focus is on the intersection of Abolition, Art Institutions, and Institutional Critique. Previously, he obtained his BA in Digital Culture (Film) from Arizona State University.Outside of his studies he enjoys setting a routine only to break it, overpacking for his hiking trips, and writing words and drawing sketches for no one in particular. He is uncomfortable in the third person, but unsure about the first.

Road to Nowhere

Ani Ekin Ödzemir

This is a piece from my latest work, an artist book which investigates water and the color of blue through different kinds of narratives. Broadly, this book is about being, becoming, giving, receiving, searching, making sense, caring, and engaging in dialogue. My current practice and research are moving around hydrofeminism, hydrocommons, unlearning, and poetry. Thinking with water can be disorienting and you can end up in an impasse. Water may either open spaces or block ways, or leak into un-expected and unwanted places. Our fishy bodies move similarly—we may leak, discharge, float, or fluctuate. The text and the accompanying photographs are an intent to interpret and represent the theme of the impasse. The moments we hold back our tears, as well as the moment in which we weep, might both appear as impasses, as moments in which we seem to be stuck due to the inability of both holding back or holding it together.

Anı Ekin Özdemir holds a BA in Media and Visual Arts with a Minor in Psychology from Koc University, Istanbul. Since September 2020, she is doing an MA in Transdisciplinary Studiesat the Hochschule der Künste in Zurich, where she also works as curatorial assistant at the Shedhalle Zürich since September 2021.She is a visual artist, writer, book-lover, and wanderer. Her tool-kit contains photography, mapping, bookmaking/design, writing, poetry, sketches, and theory. Most of the time, her research is based around the home: losing a home, searching for a home, or building a home, while drifting between different meanings, definitions, possibilities, and questions. She understands home as an in-between space, a space for growth, support, attention, embrace, trust, safety, and acceptance. Through the medium of photography and experimentation with the page as a space she tries to explore the subject of home through fluid and alternative connections and in the influence of different kinds of narratives.

The Interval Of Nothingness: Rhythms of Liminality in Cedvet Erek's Rulers

Suzi Asa

Rulers are tools to measure fixed identities, concrete buildings, and finite materials. They are made to measure space and, hence, are apparatuses that mostly form part of a spatial imagination. In fact, every time they measure things, rulers (re)situate and (re)fix their positions within spaces. In this essay, I look at 0-now ruler, one of the rulers from the series Rulers andRhythm Studies (2011) made by the artist Cevdet Erek. Erek’s 0-now ruler is not meant to measure things within bounded spaces and consequently shakes the idea of measuring through a linear and calendrical understanding of time and space. By engaging with Henri Bergson’s and Jacques Derrida’s ideas on time, this piece rethinks the temporal concepts duration and now/non-now through the concept of liminality. The final section will then touch upon Karen Barad’s concept of the void to explore the possibilities that may arise from the destruction of objective measurement, so that time, in its full plenitude, might be experienced as heterogeneous, multiple, and multifaceted.

Suzi is a multi-disciplinary working artist and a graduate of rMA Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. Previously, she has earned a BA double degree in Media and Visual Arts and Psychology, at Koç University, Istanbul. She is researching both artistic and theoretical ways to study different knowledge productions through the methodology of mapping. Fascinated by maps of various kinds, she is interested in developing ethical methodologies that mobilize different audiences and hence reveal alternative narratives and voices. As a selected guest artist and researcher, she is nowadays part of the Istanbul BiennialProduction and Research Programme at the Istanbul Foundation of Culture and Arts.

Wrapped in Cellophane: FKA Twigs, Cruel Optimism, and Journeying through Impasse

Sam Ellis

This paper explores the depiction of impasse in FKA twigs’ 2019 music video ‘cellophane’. Analysing the video through the lens of Lauren Berlant’s concepts of cruel optimism and the present as impasse, the paper illuminates how impasse is woven into the musical and visual fabric of the work. It further argues that subtle incongruities between the audio and the visual aspects of the video issue an aesthetic challenge to the viewer, one which destabilises their position as a viewing subject and draws them into the piece. As such, twigs’ piece becomes a site around which an intimate public can congregate, affording the members of this intimate public the space in which to rehearse and explore their own experiences of impasse.

Sam Ellis is a musicologist from the West of Scotland. He is currently studying for a Research Masters in Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam, having graduated from Newcastle University’s International Centre for Music Studies, and studied at Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music. His research interests are focused on sonic epistemologies, the interplay between audio and visual explorations and representations of the self in contemporary music video, and in the use of alter egos and constructed personae as a reflexive performance tool within the context of popular music.

The Sociogeny of Religious Discrimination in Indias's Surveillance State

Nathan Sheikh

This paper explores the relationship between religion and surveillance through Simone Browne’s theoretical framework of ‘racialising surveillance’. It investigates the use of a digital biometric device called Automated Facial Recognition System(AFRS) during mass protests in India against the 2019 CitizenshipAmendment Act which has been accused of discriminating against the country’s Muslim minority. This invasive surveillance techno-logy is understood as a social product of India’s larger socio-political context characterised by a Hindu vs. Muslim narrative, helping to maintain and reify religious inequality. The analysis shows how surveillance scholarship developed in a US-context can be expanded beyond the Western hemisphere into spaces that demand critical cultural investigations.

Nahal Sheikh is an Amsterdam-based researcher and writer originally from Lahore. She is a Research MA MediaStudies student at University of Amsterdam and a JuniorResearch Fellow at FemLab.co, covering topics from postcolonial studies to digital rights and surveillance cultures. Her writing cuts through stories about gender, culture, and social change which usually resonate with South Asian narratives.


Jane Lewty

Addendum, appendix, codicil, excursus, supplement to impasse (a state, stalemate, standoff, deadlock, of inaction (or neutralisation) resulting from the opposition of equally powerful uncompromising persons or factions). So, in essence: an extension, an elongation, a prolongation, a stretch, a train of notes, notions, ideas.

Jane Lewty is the author of two collections of poetry: Bravura Cool (1913 Press: 2013), winner of the 1913 First BookPrize in 2011, and In One Form To Find Another (Cleveland StateUniversity Press: 2017) winner of the 2016 CSU Open Book Prize.She has also co-edited two volumes of essays: Broadcasting Modernism (University Press of Florida: 2010) and Pornotopias: Image, Desire, Apocalypse (Litteraria Pragensia, 2009). Herchap book, Pretty Things, was published by The Magnificent Field in 2020. To date, she has held faculty positions at universities int he UK, the US and the Netherlands.

Other Printed Matter

Call for Papers: 5.0: SWAMPED! Muddied Environments and the Ecology of Being Bogged Down

January 17, 2023

Call for Papers: 5.0: SWAMPED! Muddied Environments and the Ecology of Being Bogged Down

For the upcoming issue of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young researchers and established scholars alike to submit academic essays or creative works that critically engage with the theme of swamped. We are inviting extended proposals (500-1000 words) that follow consistent and complete formatting and referencing style to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by February 21st, 2023.

While it may first be thought of as a space of stagnation, the swamp is also a transition zone. A space in which water and land merge, swamps have long represented an area in which the earth resists being controlled, and have functioned as areas of resistance in many Indigenous epistemes and folklores. Swamps, then, are areas that resist human control, and epitomise agency of the natural world, doing so too on a conceptual level (Wilson 1). At the same time, it has been co-opted semantically, as the term “swamped” has become associated with systems, both of society and signification, that are overwhelmed - whether in terms of a job market being swamped, or in the politically loaded draining of “the swamp” as a network of corruption. Where the former strand of signification uses the swamp to highlight agency, the latter points out a lack of it. As a result, swamps have become spaces of contestation and transition both as physical environments, and as linguistic ones. How do these strands of meaning diverge, and where do they come together?

Swamps as they exist in cultural imagination(s).

Swamps speak to the imagination. They feature prominently in folklore and provide fertile soil for myriad mythical creatures: from the nine-headed hydra in ancient Greek mythology, to the South-African grootslang, to the numerous global configurations of the will-o’-wisp. These narratives largely hinge on the swamp’s liminal positioning that makes it hard to traverse, inhabit, or otherwise tame. To this day, when swamps are featured in pop-culture, they are often mythologized to house the monstrous or, at the very least, the off-beat (e.g. Shrek, or the Man-Thing in Marvel comics, or the entire cast of characters in Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!). 

In addition to housing imagined creatures, the swamp is also a famously rich archeological site where we can find many well-preserved traces of past human life. Most notable are the so-called bog bodies, eerily intact corpses that date back as far as the holocene. These findings add to the swamp’s mythical appeal, but are also hypothesised to, in some cases, originate from it. A particularly large amount of bog bodies dating back to the iron age were found in Northern Europe, and the bulk of these corpses bear traces of ritualistic human sacrifice. This has led historians to believe that, at the time, the swamp was seen as a transition space, not just between land and water, but also as a gateway between different worlds (Randsborg). 

So, the swamp is charged with a rich cultural history and subject to wide-ranging meaning-making practices. We invite you to delve further into this and open it up. What stories do we tell about swamps? Which narratives are remembered? And, what does that ultimately say about us? 

The swamp as it appears in political rhetoric.

Since its first use in 1881 by Helen Hunt Jackson in her polemical text, A Century of Dishonor, the concept of the swamp as an area to be overcome has resurfaced repeatedly as a powerful metaphor in the arena of political discussion and rhetoric (most often in the context of US federal politics). Arguing against the so-called ‘Indian Appropriations Act’ of 1871, which rendered Indigenous peoples as wards of the state and, therefore, eligible for forcible relocation, Jackson argued that such panacean responses were immoral and did not address the needs and concerns, of Native peoples, nor did it strive towards the reparations that Indigenous nations deserved. Rather than debate the specifics of individual policy decisions, Jackson argued that ceasing to cheat, rob, break promises, and extending ‘the protection of the law to the Indian's rights of property’ (342) would be the most appropriate first course of action. To illustrate this, Jackson presented the following scenario:

When pioneers in a new country find a tract of poisonous and swampy wilderness to be reclaimed, they do not withhold their hands from fire and axe till they see clearly which way roads should run, where good water will spring, and what crops will best grow on the redeemed land. They first clear the swamp. So with this poisonous and baffling part of the domain of our national affairs — let us first "clear the swamp”. (341).

This metaphorical call to clear, or to drain, the swamp was then exercised by socialist and left-leaning politicians and political commentators such as Winfield R. Gaylord and Victor L. Berger who petitioned for draining the swamp of capitalism (Gaylord 8, Berger 107). In 1966, civil rights activists A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin employed the phrase in A Freedom Budget for All Americans, a policy proposal that, among other things, sought to eradicate poverty (14-15). Ronald Reagan’s use of the phrase in 1982 when authorising the Grace Commision (which investigated inefficiency within the Federal Government), dragged the phrase across the political aisle. Where it had once illustrated a progressive politics, it henceforth became tethered to conceptions of government waste, cronyism and distrust in Capitol Hill, a claim bolstered by the fact of Washington, D.C.,’s construction on supposed marshlands between the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers. From Reagan’s usage  onwards, calls to drain the swamp were almost exclusively directed towards Washington, D.C., as a locus of political venality. The phrase’s most recent, and perhaps most memorable, usage was by former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly uttered the phrase at rallies, during interviews, and in countless tweets. 

The invocation and the power of this phrase can be seen across various areas of cultural and political discourse and analysis; its intent and meaning wavering from progressive to reactionary throughout its history. So begs the question, what does it mean to drain a swamp? Metaphorically speaking, what is the impact of identifying spaces as swamps to be drained? Who does the draining, or the promise of draining, serve? In reality, what are the implications of identifying and draining a swamp? Who does the draining itself? Think of the thousands of people displaced by Benito Mussolini’s draining of the Pontine Marshes, and the many more thousands of workers who were subject to backbreaking manual labour and exposure to malaria and disease (Snowden 155-6). What bubbles to the surface when we delve into the history, use, and the real-world implications of this charged phrase?

The affective experience of being swamped.

But to be swamped is also to feel swamped; to be overwhelmed with work, a sensory overload, stress and clutter. Infrastructures can be swamped; systems too; and spaces can swamp you with stimuli. How does one endure a state of swampedness, feel one’s way through it, resist it or find rest in it? Can objects or texts be swamped? To disconnect, go offline, turn to self-help books, and take time off work – all these are responses to feeling swamped. But then: who can afford to respond like this, and who is unable to withdraw? Or can information overload – to stay with the swamp – be creatively productive or critical? This is the muddy matrix that feeling swamped opens in theory; a space of excessive encounter between ecologies and affects, where swamps become metaphors, and metaphors swamp. 

Thought on the feeling of being swamped and its social-political relationalities are everywhere: from Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep to Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Society to Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism. So too the desire to escape overwhelm has recently been re-conceptualized in edited volumes like Politics of Withdrawal. But “swamp” as a metaphor has not yet passed the floodgates. We invite you to think with this swamp, feel through its conceptual implication. 

We encourage submissions relating to the themes above, as well as, but not limited to, the following: 

  • Critical engagements with/investigations into environments that could be described as marshlands, wetlands, fens, bogs, moors, etc. 
  • Practices of re-wilding and re-swamping.
  • Cultural ethnographies of muddied environments.
  • Environmental humanities and ecocritical approaches to swamps.
  • Investigations into swamps as liminal, transitional, or mutable sites.
  • Swamps as sites of decay (e.g. die-off and algal bloom) and repair (e.g. as fertile sites of regeneration).
  • Socio-cultural explorations of what it means to feel swamped, its implications, and who this affect can belong to.
  • Socio-economic approaches investigating issues such as: 
  • Who is relegated to the swamp?
  • Who has access to the swamp?
  • What are the social impacts of swamped environments on individuals and groups?
  • Investigations of the function of swamps in political rhetoric.
  • Pieces that investigate swamps as veiled, uncharted, or otherred locales or those that approach swamps as spaces to be traversed.

We invite extended proposals (500-1000 words) to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by February 21st 2023. Following conditional acceptance, an initial draft version (3000 words) will be due two weeks after receiving the acceptance email. The editing process will take place throughout Spring/Summer 2023. If you have any questions regarding your submission, do not hesitate to contact us at info@soapboxjournal.net. Editing and peer review guidelines will be sent to authors individually upon acceptance of their submission. For full submission guidelines, see our website.

Guidelines for creative submissions are more flexible and can be finished works, but please keep in mind spatial limitations: there is usually room for one longer or two shorter pieces in the print version. A sense of the formatting possibilities can be garnered from previous issues (open-access pdf versions are available on our website).

We also accept submissions for our website all year round. We encourage a variety of styles and formats, including short-form essays (around 2000 words), reviews, experimental writing and multimedia. These can engage with the theme of the upcoming issue but are not limited to it. Please get in touch to pitch new ideas or existing projects that you would like to have published by reading our submission guidelines and filling in the form.

Works cited.

Berger, Victor L. Berger’s Broadsides, Social-Democratic Publishing Company, 1912.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Duke University Press 2011.

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso, 2014. 

Gaylord, Winfield R. “Gaylord Makes a Statement.” Daily Northwestern [Oshkosh: WI], 10 Oct. 1903, p. 8.

Han, Byung-Chul. The Burnout Society. Stanford University Press, 2015.

Hesselberth, Pepita., and Joost de Bloois, editors. Politics of Withdrawal: Media, Arts, Theory. Rowman and Littlefield, 2020.

Jackson, Helen Hunt. A Century of Dishonor: A Sketch of the United State’s Government’s Dealings with Some of the Indian Tribes. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1881.

Randolph, A. Philip, and Bayard Rustin. A Freedom Budget for All Americans: A Summary. A Philip Randolph Institute, 1967.

Randsborg, Klavs. Roman Reflections: Iron Age to Viking Age in Northern Europe. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.

Snowden, Frank M. The Conquest of Malaria: Italy, 1900-1962. Yale University Press, 2006.

Wilson, Anthony. Swamp: Nature and Culture. Reaktion Books Ltd, 2018.

Call for Creative Work - 5.0: SWAMPED!

October 2, 2023

For the upcoming issue of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young artists to submit creative works that critically engage with the theme of swamped. We are inviting proposals or finished works to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by October 10th, 2023.

Swamps speak to the imagination. While it may first be thought of as a space of stagnation, the swamp is also a transition zone: an area in which water and land merge, a space where the earth resists being controlled. In addition to its geographical referent, the swamp also covers less tangible—though equally murky—semantic ground. It has become associated with systems, both of society and signification, that are overwhelmed—whether in terms of a job market being swamped, or in the politically loaded draining of “the swamp” as a network of corruption. Where the former strand of signification uses the swamp to highlight agency, the latter points out a lack of it. How do these strands of meaning diverge, and where do they come together?

Guidelines for creative submissions are flexible: poems, short-stories (up to 5000 words), visual art pieces, collages, drawings, comics, anything as long as it's printable! Feel free to take a look at our previous issues for inspiration.

Open Board Positions 2023

We are currently looking to expand our team. Soapbox is a student-run journal focused on promoting voices that creatively engage with concepts and cultural objects in the broadest sense, through publishing academic, artistic, and interdisciplinary works. Soapbox is a collaborative effort in gaining experience and experimenting with running a small publishing platform. All members take part in actively shaping what Soapbox is by weighing in on editorial decisions and take part in any aspects of publishing (both online and in print). 

In general, the time commitment expected is between four and six hrs/week, including a weekly two-hour meeting. The journal is run on a voluntary basis. For all roles, applicants should be based in the Amsterdam area and available for weekly meetings for at least the remaining academic year (until June 2024).

If you're interested, please email info@soapboxjournal.net with the particular role(s) you are interested in and a few words of motivation.

Deadline: Sunday, October 15th


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