Blog Post

Posting from LCLC 2010

HASTAC blog post from LCLC 2010


At the end of February, I attended and presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900. Over the course of three days I was fortunate to see a number of excellent panels, three of which I have given summaries of below. For further information, here is the link for the conference’s program:

C2: Exhibition/s

This panel was comprised of Barrett Watten, renée c. hoogland, and Sarah Ruddy, all from Wayne State Univ. Generally, the themes discussed by all three panelists were visual culture, visual studies and gender theory, and all used Detroit as their locus, or at least the jumping off point, for their analyses.


Sarah Ruddy’s paper, “Documenting Disappearance: Exhibiting Community in the Work of Nan Goldin,” discussed the role of the image in the gay and transsexual communities in the early to mid-1970s. Goldin’s goal was to document this community’s history as it happened, and her images are representative of a “snapshot aesthetic,” or an aesthetic that is meant to record what things (kinship structures, emotional ties, etc) looked and felt like. This emphasis connected to one of Ruddy foundation questions for Goldin’s work: “What sort of remembering is at stake?” These images are not representations of loss; instead, they are meant to enact the loss of a community that, for Goldin, was disappearing before her eyes because of the spread of AIDS. Drawing on Certeau, Ruddy made clear that Goldin’s images do not amount simply to protest images; these images instead are meant to provide a history for those who are not included in traditional histories.


renée c. hoogland discussed the notion of the exhibition and the image in her paper, “Imploding Communion: Actualized Alienation in Rineke Dijkstra’s ‘Family of Man.’” hoogland began by interrogating the very notion of exhibition as the existence of a gap between “that which is displayed” on the one hand, and “the subject placed before the camera” on the other. Contrasting MOMA’s “Family of Man” exhibit, curated by Edward Steichen in 1955, with Dijkstra’s portraits from the early 2000s. Highlighting the universalizing and humanist qualities of Steichen’s collection, hoogland interrogated the relationship between contemporary art photography and its audience. Dijkstra’s images, for hoogland, work to bridge the gap in the exhibition space, to both demystify/particularize the subject while also remaining aware of the irreducibility of the subject and its image.


Finally, Barrett Watten’s paper, “Berlin Exhibitions: Between Destruction and Community: Tod—Kein Tod, Palast der Republik, 2005,” explored the global conceptualization of exhibitions within the context of pre-1989 Germany. Watten looked at two artists, one from “each” Germany as a means of exaniming a “systemic detotalization” in order to question the universality of art. Like hoogland, Watten addressed the gap between image and that which it represents by situating the image as a material object in space. Building on this materiality, Watten developed an analysis of “each” Germany that explored the conditions in which aesthetics becomes a technical operation. 

E12: Space, Multiculturalism and Science Fiction in Film and Novel

This panel ranged from dystopic and multicultural films to the production of mapping aesthetics in a post-colonial context. The presenters were: Andrew DeSelm (Indiana University, South Bend), Lesley C. Pleasant (Univ. Evansville), and Chinmayi Kattemalavadi (Wayne State Univ.).


Andrew DeSelm looked at the films The Matrix, Dark City, and Logan’s Run in his paper, “Dystopic Films and the Unexplained Variable.” The populations of all of these films have only a limited amount of individual agency; they are batteries, test subjects, and cogs. DeSelm drew from Plato’s discussion of the cave as a way of foregrounding the inevitable escape of the anomalous character, the unexplained variable, in each film. At the heart of these dystopic films, DeSelm stepped through the discovery, articulation, and activation of this singular character in each that in separating himself (they were all male) ironically confirmed the universalizing nature of humanity’s ability to overcome.


In her essay, “Moving Multiculturalism to the Next Level: Andrea Staka’s Fraulëin and Yilmaz Arslan’s Brudermord,” Lesley C. Pleasant developed her reading of two films in which the body and the nation are seen as sick. In each film, the protagonists are caught between two worlds—their homelands and their adoptive countries—and in both cases, they are struggling to find a third space to inhabit. This future space is what Pleasant identified as the “post-national,” or the multicultural. Tracing this post-nationalism in the registers of language (the use and misuse of an adopted tongue) and repetitions of the body (in mirrors and in the interactions with other people), Pleasant’s paper dug into the category of the multicultural in order to move beyond the blending of cultures but to explore it as a potentially third space fitting neatly into neither of the original cultures or their spaces.


Chinmayi Kattemalavadi’s “Mapping Space, History, and People: W. G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn” explored what she described as Sebald’s “cartographic fiction”; geography, she noted, is the presence of history in space, but more explicitly, the act of mapping identifies the history of violence in a given space. And yet this violence is more than that which is visibly expressed. Kattemalavadi, drawing from Peter Turchi, described the notion that any mark on one side of a map always leaves an impression on the reverse side. The acts of naming and mapping in Sebald’s novel, she claimed, worked in a cyclical nature between the colonizers and the colonized where the acts of mapping and of being mapped, while different, are the only the reverse sides of the same coin. Kattemalavadi’s reading of Sebald’s “10,000 foot” view of region and its people, made possible by the mapping of the colonizers, challenged us to see the act of choosing what (not) to map as a colonizing act that affects the map makers as much as the mapped.

H17: Tapping the Wire I (Bubbles’s Revenge): Subjectivity and Politics

As someone who enjoyed The Wire greatly, revisiting the show in this panel was a lot of fun. The presenters were Ernest L. Gibson III (Univ. Massachusetts, Amherst), Jeremy Justus (West Virginia Univ.), and Alan Nadel (Univ. of Kentucky).


Ernest L. Gibson discussed the character Stringer Bell as caught between Gramsci’s distinctions of the traditional and organic intellectuals in his paper “For Whom the Bell Tolls’: The Wire’s Stringer Bell as a Tragic Intellectual.” Struggling to balance his knowledge learned in the economics classroom with his knowledge learned on the street, Bell falls prey to his own “beautiful idealism.” Ultimately, argued Gibson, this leads Bell to be seen as a “tragic intellectual,” one that experiences a series of devastating financial losses coupled with a total breakdown in fraternal trust, and all because of his attempts at success in competing worlds from the “wrong” intellectual vantage point.


Jeremy Justus examined social systems in “On Being Green and Turning Brown: Johnny Weeks in Hamsterdam.” Taking the character Johnny Weeks, a young white heroine addict in The Wire, Justus questioned whether social systems can be autopoetic and how one could (if at all) enter into them. This question is best asked, for Justus, with regards to Hamsterdam, a section of Baltimore where police look the other way, an act that essentially legalizes drugs. As such, Hamsterdam acts as an Agambenian state of exception that blurs the lines of social systems, allowing Weeks to stray across these social boundaries by acting as “one of exception within this state of exception.” Despite Weeks’s entrance into this other social system of Hamsterdam, his transition is marred by the repetition of his drug use and other problems that he carries over from his previous social system and which ultimately lead to his death.


Alan Nadel’s very entertaining paper, “When Homeland Terror Passes for Bureaucratic Security: The Wire Meets The Office,” traced the roles that the actor Idris Elba in the two television shows. Drawing parallels between Elba’s two roles, Nadel located the incompetence of management regardless of whether the organization sells drugs or paper. Citing the Peter Principle, Nadel discussed how these two roles, despite obvious differences, portrayed each character’s trajectory as one in which he rose to the level of his own incompetence. Dovetailing well with Gibson’s paper from earlier, Nadel used Elba’s characters as examples of the “cinematic sense of self,” in which we are seduced by our own self-image. This seduction dictates how we interact with and understand the world around us (corporate, fraternal, social, etc), and it is this faulty sense of self that we rely on to move beyond our own capabilities. This model of incompetence can be use, Nadel suggested, to explore further the ways we try to know or know about the actions of our own government.



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