March 30 symposium to explore what we don’t talk about when we talk about hate

“The Third of May” by Francisco de Goya

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Scholars will draw insights from a range of fields, including literature and art history. Pictured: “The Third of May” by Francisco de Goya.

Marta Wallien | March 25, 2024

In the ongoing effort to better understand hatred and minimize its destructive impact on society, much of the discussion is led by scholars from the sciences. An upcoming UCLA symposium will reframe the conversation about hate using lessons from literature and art.

“The arts and the humanities don’t work by aggregating data about hate as many other disciplines do,” said Sarah Kareem, a UCLA English professor and a co-organizer of the conference. “The humanities can help us to acknowledge hatred as part of the spectrum of human experience and therefore not something we can expect to eradicate like a disease.”

The March 30 event, “The Uses of Hatred,” is sponsored by the UCLA Initiative to Study Hate and the UCLA English Department.

“Topics like hatred are valuable themes for the humanities to focus on,” said English professor David Russell, the other co-organizer of the symposium. “Everyone has a stake in big human emotions like hatred, but everyone comes to them from their own perspective. They need to be discussed, and these discussions are what the humanities are good at.”

In addition to Russell and Kareem, the day-long symposium will feature scholars of literature and art history from New York University, Oxford University and the University of York, who will explore the concept of hate through the disparate lenses of psychoanalysis, queer theory, philosophy and anthropology.

UCLA professors Sarah Kareem and David Russell

English professors Sarah Kareem and David Russell (Dana Colwell and Rebecca Jeffrey)

Russell’s presentation will draw upon the writing of the 19th-century British literary critic William Hazlitt to discuss the emotions behind criticizing or hating an object.

“Hazlitt wrote about the pleasures of hating,” Russell said. “That sounds like a paradox. But lots of people enjoy hating. You wouldn’t have the popularity of the platform formerly known as Twitter if people didn’t enjoy hating things.”

In her talk, Kareem plans to offer examples from psychoanalysis research and literature — including a Jane Austen classic — to highlight what can happen when people acknowledge their hatreds: acceptance.

“In ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ Elizabeth Bennet has to hate Mr. Darcy before she can love him,” Kareem said. “Useful forms of hatred involve accepting the otherness of people who are not you. To see an object or another person as they are means being willing to let go of your own preconceptions and projections.

“You can only really see the thing as it is, instead of the thing that you expect to see, when you accept its otherness.”

Ultimately, Russell said he hopes the symposium helps give humanities scholars a new voice in the discussion about hate.

“Although you can’t turn a novel into data, you can get other kinds of knowledge from the humanities,” he said. “We think that’s what is at stake.”

The symposium will be held from 9:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Royce Hall room 306. Admission is free and open to the public, but registration is required.