Schedule of Events
The three-day conference is organized around a series of presentations prepared by teams of speakers. The first, kick-off event will commence on the evening of November 29, 2018, with a film screening and discussion, followed by two days of panel presentations. Please see below for more information on particular sessions. A downloadable PDF of the events schedule is available HERE.
All events take place in the Betts Auditorium.
I. Film Screening
Film Screening + Discussion :
Compost-ography and Embodied Narratives
Film: Donna Haraway: Stories of Survival (Director: Fabrizio Terranova)
Angela Creager • bio
Donna Haraway (via skype) • bio
[ + more info ]
For famed scholar, biologist, and science philosopher Donna Haraway, storytelling matters. Indeed, as she states in Staying With The Trouble, “[i]t matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.” That we only become with each other is one of the red threads that run through this body of work, in-forming the patterns of string figures she continuously offers throughout. As such, this very each-otherness exceeds all forms and formations of human embodiment. “Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?” Haraway asks, pushing the matter of storytelling as the making legible of compost, rather than, say, the posthuman—beings that are yet another step further by claiming that “[d]iverse human and nonhuman players” are necessary in every fiber of the tissues in the urgently needed Chthulucene story. What is at stake for Haraway is response-ability, that is, a praxis of care and response that is about “both absence and presence, killing and nurturing, living and dying—and remembering who lives and who dies and how in the string figures of naturalcultural history.” This is also what becomes visible in Fabrizio Terranova’s film Donna Haraway: Story Telling of Earthly Survival, in which Haraway performs and enacts what we might call a compostography, that is, a narration of (her)self as becoming-with both fellow mortal critters, and shared earth histories.
This panel will start with a screening of Terranova’s film, which will provide the foundation for discussion between Haraway and Professor Angela Creager. Professor Creager’s expertise in historiographies of science provides a strong basis for exchange. Within such studies, the role of narrative—indeed, storytelling—in situating moments of invention, failure, and circumstance within the otherwise ‘hard’ sciences, reveals the co-constitutive nature of scientific practices as social, cultural, governmental, and ‘scientific’ at once. In her own work, she has carefully traced how the material cultures of science, like those involving methodology, technique, and instrumentation, create substantive changes in their own right, though have been historically minimized or overlooked so to favor conceptual and theoretical breakthroughs.
II. Panel Presentations
Introduction + Panel I :
Reading as Terrestrial Operations
Jane Bennett • bio
Raviv Ganchrow • bio
[ + more info ]
In her widely read book, Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things, Bennett sets out to challenge what seems to run through both Western philosophical and political thought, namely the “image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalized matter” which, according to Bennett, “feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption.” In the course of her book, Bennett aims to de-center the exclusively human subject by drawing the reader to a world in which what lies beyond the category of both the subject and the human, is all the more vibrant and, indeed, matters. The anthropocentrism at the core of humanist thought and the resulting conception of matter as passive and inanimate “stuff,” ready for human exploitation and consumption is “preventing us from detecting (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling) a fuller range of the nonhuman powers circulating around and within human bodies.” In order to not only develop ethical and ecological sensibility but also counter rampant forms of consumption and exploitation, it is thus crucial to develop “a cultivated, patient, sensory attentiveness” to precisely these non-human forces.
Ecological sensibility—though conceived in a slightly different way and paired with acoustic sensibility—is also what lies at the core of Raviv Ganchrow’s work, which explores the interdependencies between sound and its materializations and spatialization, and especially in relation to alternative ways of non-human modes of listening. Interrogating the “contextual binarism” according to which there is “no mimetic similarity between the qualities of perceived sounds and the presence of the vibrations in air from which the perceptions arise,” Ganchrow’s work investigates the status of sound, its modes of materialization and (de)territorialization. Accordingly, his installations examine context-dependent sites of contemporary listening relating to environmental infrasound (Long-Wave Synthesis), mineral piezoelectricity (Quarzbrecciakammer), materiality of radio transmission (Radio Plays Itself & Forecast for Shipping), and anechoic chambers (work in progress), while his Listening Subjects project tests an ambient circuitry whereby audibility, surroundings, and subjectivity are mutually conductive.
In the course of this panel, Bennett and Ganchrow will engage in a conversation on terrestrial modes of reading and sense making. This dialogue will be discussed within the context of terrestrial operativeness and will include such questions as : How are sentient and other forms of sense-making material-bound operations? Could "sense" itself be considered in terms of material properties? How do earthly operations inform human faculties of reception and communication, and vice versa? What becomes of “reading” once it is set into its earth-circuits? And what is the potential of such a mode of reading?
Panel II :
Eduardo Cadava • "Desert, Seas, and Bodies : For Ever More Graveyards" • bio
Stefan Helmreich • "Reading a Wave" • bio
[ + more info ]
This panel deals with modes of reading that leave written texts and attend to different media as they offer alternative forms of expression. These forms challenge our conceptions of how we read, the materiality of what is read, and thereby also alter our processes of meaning production in general. The further our ideas about what expression and content actually is, or can be, stray from conventional understandings —such as written texts, books, linguistic sign systems — the more inevitable does the question about the seemingly unbridgeable gap between representation and matter, and the call for alternative forms of reading become.
As an attempt to challenge conventional notions of reading and to bridge the gap, Cadava and Helmreich will reflect on the relationship of materiality and form from different angles, reaching out to different bodies, objects, and assemblages, navigating through unruly fluid spaces and petrified landscapes, waves and light. Each will make use of different media, and their different particular understandings therein, to elaborate a mode of reading that captures both life forms and forms of life. While Helmreich articulates an alternative mode of reading as sounding, and Cadava formulation refers to it as seeing, both convincingly argue that it is not just language, representation, and the letter that needs our readerly attention. Rather, reading has to borrow from modes of sensing—analogously and digitally—in order to respond to urgent issues and to attend to articulations of violence that cannot be fully grasped by merely representational modes of knowledge production. In this panel, Helmreich and Cadava will thus demonstrate how reading as sensing helps to bridge concept and matter, thereby rendering legible what has been otherwise overseen, overheard, and untouched.
"Reading a Wave" • Stefan Helmreich
In Italo Calvino’s short story, “Reading a Wave,” the protagonist, Mr. Palomar, standing on a beach, seeks to follow with his eye the arrival, passage, and eventual decoalescence of a single ocean wave. Calvino later explicated this tale as one inquiring into how to interpret the non-linguistic — how, as he phrased it, to “read something that is not written.” In this paper, I think with and against Calvino about waves, using the notion of “reading” to interpret the scientific, technical, and political work of devices — buoys, satellites, computer models — designed to monitor and report ocean wave heights, periods, and directions. I note, to begin, that, unlike Mr. Palomar, such devices are not imagined as seats of phenomenological or subjective experience, but rather as mere material recorders and relays of measure, instruments that take readings rather than do readings in the sense of offering informed exegeses. And yet, just as Mr. Palomar’s human apperceptions are saturated with the technoscientific, so too are wave measuring and monitoring devices constructed and situated within worlds of human interpretative concern — a claim I anchor in ethnographic fieldwork I conducted with wave scientists. I offer a mix of surface; distant; Marxist; new materialist; feminist, queer, and trans; critical race theoretic; and post-structuralist mathematical readings of wave monitoring/measuring devices. Inspired by the work of ocean media theorists Eva Hayward, Melody Jue, Astrida Neimanis, Nicole Starosielski, and Stacy Alaimo — and drawing, too, on materials from art history — I argue that the waves of the sea may be apprehended as media, channeling messages about histories of climate, recreation, ecological transformation, radioactive colonial enterprise, and much more, even as they also press for reworked conceptualizations of time, space, and human/nonhuman agency.
Panel III :
Karen Barad • "After the End of the World : Entangled Nuclear Colonialism, Matters of Force, and the Material Force of Justice" • bio
in conversation with
Zulaikha Ayub • Princeton University
Daniela Gandorfer • Princeton University
[ + more info ]
III. Panel Presentations
Panel IV :
Reading Climaxes : High Points of Close Reading
Katrin Pahl • "Transorgasmics" • bio
Gayle Salamon • Response • bio
[ + more info ]
Faced with this dilemma of representing without reducing, embodying without disembodying, Katrin Pahl turns to the work of Heinrich von Kleist. It is Kleist’s anachronism in the beginning of the nineteenth century that renders “Kleist’s queer notion of language” urgent for queer theory today—his joining of “the apparent messiness of the world with messy thoughts and messy utterances.” As she quotes from Kleist’s The Broken Jug in a deliberately chaotic translation of the German unentworren: “Suppose the matter here, / As I’m afraid it may, remains undisentangled.” The queer potential of Kleist work is contained in this resistance to reductive representation—whether it be the refusal to manage messiness or the striking through of an unspeakable violence. With this reading, Pahl demonstrates “how sex might change if we learn, with Kleist, to see what has long remained invisible and to speak to what could continue to remain unintelligible: queer female sexuality and queer procreation.”
"Transorgasmics" • Katrin Pahl
In this talk, Pahl will demonstrate how and why close reading can reach its high points. By reading Heinrich von Kleist’s comedy and analytic courtroom play The Broken Jug (Der Zerbrochne Krug) as mackled, i.e., as improperly overlaying several different dramas, Pahl will show that The Broken Jug is a play with multiple climaxes. It is via the title character, Pahl argues, that these orgasms traverse the play’s human protagonists, the peasant girl Eve, her fiancé Ruprecht, and the village judge Adam. This reading, then, develops a different take on the well-worn story that Adam sexually harassed Eve.
Response • Gayle Salamon
Gayle Salamon, author of Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality (2010) and The Life and Death of Latisha King: A Critical Phenomenology of Transphobia (2018) will respond to Pahl, situating Pahl’s talk in relation to both reading and matter. As Salamon herself argues in her critical phenomenological reading of the murder of Latisha King, doing so entrails “readings of absence as well as presence, imaginings that try to animate what is occluded and its relationship to what is manifest.” In responding to Pahl, Salamon will address how Pahl’s queer phenomenological reading of Kleist enacts the ways in which reading matters.
Panel V :
Reading Matter (in)formation
[ + more info ]
A scholar of law, Patricia J. Williams’ oeuvre encompasses the politics of race, gender, class, and (dis)embodiment. Perhaps most radically, her engagement in the field of Critical Legal Studies intersects with her professional practice as a lawyer and law educator, thereby necessitating the domain of law practice itself to indispensably confront issues of politics, indeterminacy, contradiction, and individual autonomy. Within this broad field of interrogation, Williams’ consistently presences the body in its multifarious conditions—bodies in air, bodies of scholarship, bodily intrusions, bodies incarcerated, bodies of burden, bodies surveilled—analyzing also their respective relation to law and language. The very materiality of language has the potential to (de)form bodies as one thing or another, through its structural deployments of grammar, syntax, and semantics—and this is what Williams is most concerned with, namely with “[h]ow things live in language and how we objectify in a way that is ultimately translated into laws.”
The question of organizational structures, the relationship of the body to (and within) the environment, and the epistemological histories of memory, perception, and space, are some of the dominant thematics explored by Sanford Kwinter in the span of his scholarship. Regarding the term ‘organization’ in particular, he narrates how philosophical conceptions implicate discourses of form, having dislocated ‘form’ from the purely biological, and transported it into the realm of phenomena—like those of morphogenesis, systems theory, and the materialisms of Spinoza, Simondon, Bergson, Foucault, Deleuze, and DeLanda. Kwinter argues against the “too narrow notion of ‘vision’”, and rather for more complex readings of the signaling environment, considered by encompassing all of its indeterminacies, and to furthermore understand our embeddedness within an expanded ecological manifold.
"Where Does Salience Come From and Where Does it Go?" • Sanford Kwinter
"The salience of an item—be it an object, a person, a pixel, etc.—is the state or quality by which it stands out from its neighbors." Wikipedia, Salience (neuroscience)
The ontological problem since the time of the Greeks has been to account for how the Indefinite substance (apeiron, arche) or primary material of Nature gives way to an apparent, continuous arising (physis) of distinct and interesting qualities or things. At stake, then as now, is to preserve the concept of the unity of Nature while affirming the infinite variety of what actually occurs. A great deal of the effort expended in the history of thought has been to remove the ‘breaks’ in the continuum of Nature, nowhere more solemnly than in Spinoza who sought to mend the rift between extension (matter) and understanding (mind). But the problem of everyday “intelligibility” has always rested upon the more fundamental one of essential disclosure of unknown or unexperienced things. It is properly conceived as belonging to the effort of thought—or more generally experience—to penetrate ever more deeply into the opacities of the material world and the individuating (salience-producing) enterprises through which it expresses itself.
And yet, such a one-sided account in no way exhausts the means by which the human nervous system (mind, sensation, understanding) connects to and metabolizes the world around it. Since at least the time of William James (or Nietzsche before him) a certain direct knowledge of the “immanent lawfulness” that underlies the parade of ‘individuals’ has been the proper object of concern for human attention. The lyrical intelligibility referred to here does not follow the formal doctrine of differentiable outlines but rather that of an ascent to undifferentiation and to the fevers of matter in which ‘mind’ discovers its own processes.
Panel VI :
Minor-Legibility : Multiplying Illegibility
[ + more info ]
Halberstam and Sanyal, each situated in literature departments and trained as literary scholars, are highly engaged in raising questions that not only exceed disciplinary borders by far, but furthermore never fail to address political and ethical urgencies. Although looking at different sets of problems in different time-space configurations, both scholars document processes of becoming, change, movement, persistence, unfolding and enfolding in the constant struggle to embody, perform, or redefine legible subjectivity. These processes, however, involve inhabiting illegibility in order to create the very possibility of rethinking our notions of both legibility and literacy.
By looking at the conditions, processes, dangers and potential of becoming illegible, this panel will address the potential of embodied and performed illegibility to engender alternate subjectivations and challenge our notions of presumably adequate politics. How can we learn to read these new embodied and performed states of becoming? How can aesthetic forms teach us to attain this literacy, and what would it mean to attend to aesthetic forms in our attempts to make a case for precisely this literacy? Or is it perhaps precisely the un-making of conventional literacy that not only challenges regimes of exclusively distributed legibility, but actively creates alternative possibilities, potentials and paths? In other words: where to go with our practices of reading? The concepts, arguments and thoughts presented by both speakers will – at some point and simultaneously many points – engage with each other in Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.
"Exit Routes: On Dereliction and Destitution" • Jack Halberstam
For so long we have proposed to consider the politics of this or the politics of that – the politics of transgender, the politics of sex, the politics of performance, the politics of resistance – what if politics itself, as a concept and a framework is not the solution but the problem. In a recent manifesto titled NOW, The Invisible Committee instead call for destitution and a wide-spread disengagement, a disengagement that is not indifference or apathy but that indicates a complete lack of faith in the processes we currently call politics. They propose that disengagement does not “abandon the struggle; it fastens on to the struggle’s positivity.” Thinking with and through processes of destitution and dereliction, this paper explores modes of unmaking the world. From anarchitectural practices to girl punk rebellions, from speculative narratives about queer migrancy to lesbian utopias, this paper compiles and thinks with an archive of exit routes.
"Swarm, Storm: Border Technology and Arts of Persistence around Melilla" • Debarati Sanyal
New technologies of border control and detention cast racialized bodies on the move according to the tropes of colonial racism, as swarms requiring identification, detention or expulsion. But under humanitarian governance, this battle is rehearsed as an operation in which the illegalized body is both a security threat and a life to be secured. Technologies such as biometric capture differentially target moving bodies in relation to their “risk” factor, scanning bodies not to kill them outright, but to sift through them according to a hierarchy of life worth saving or life worth leaving to die. How, then, do these technologies of the border force a reconsideration of the “human”? The port city of Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the other side of Morocco is, with Ceuta, the European Union’s only land border with Africa. A triple fence topped by barbed wire separates these two worlds as it redraws the boundaries of the human species itself. The border’s surveillance is ensured by fixed and infrared cameras, motion detectors, and patrols designed to canalisar el flujo migratorio, in the words of a Guardia Civil. Using propaganda and cinematic responses to Melilla’s border regime, Sanyal will consider shadow arts of persistence and emergence among asylum seekers who, in their attempt to cross the border, reimagine conceptions of selfhood and embodiment enshrined in human rights and humanitarian discourses.