Embodiment, Perception, and Critical Practice
International Conference Bochum embodiment.blogs.rub.de 8-9 July 2016 English Department
DJH Jugendherberge HumboldtstraĂ&#x;e 59-63 Bochum | Germany
International Conference Bochum embodiment.blogs.rub.de 8-9 July 2016
Embodiment, Perception, and Critical Practice
Friday, July 8 9.00-9.30
Panel 1 Rebecca Longtin Hansen State University of New York at New Paltz Lived Meaning: Embodiment and Art in Dilthey and Merleau-Ponty Alexander Flaß Ruhr-Universität Bochum “I Am Multitudes”: Towards a Cultural Phenomenology in Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World Chair: Heike Steinhoff
Keynote Chris Tedjasukmana Freie Universität Berlin Embodied Politics: Audiovisual Media and the New Publics Chair: Michael Bucher
Panel 2 Liane F. Carlson Princeton University Lung Disease and Luck: On the Critical Limits of Contingency Ralph James Savarese Grinnell College/Iowa “The ‘Why’ and the ‘Why Not’ of a Yellowing World”: Autism, Literary Writing, and Synesthesia Pilar Martínez Benedí University of Rome “Gigantic Stilts”: “Prosthetic” Embodiment and the Incorporeality of the Body in Melville’s Moby-Dick Chair: Evangelia Kindinger
Keynote Stephen Kuusisto Syracuse University Many Blind Rivers: A Phenomenology of Blindness Chair: Ralph James Savarese
Dinner at Neuland, Rottstraße 15
Saturday, July 9 9.00-10.30
Panel 3 Bryan A. Smyth University of Mississippi Enacting Reification: ‘False Consciousness’ as Situated Embodied (Mis)cognition Kathryn Holihan University of Michigan Bodily Engagement and Exhibition Fatigue at the 1911 International Hygiene Exhibition Dresden Sandra Danneil Technische Universität Dortmund Bodies of Unpleasure: Von Trier and The Dark Side of Seriality Chair: Cornelia Wächter
Keynote Gail Weiss University of Washington Feeling Differently: Cultivating Anti-Discriminatory Perceptual Habits Chair: Simon Dickel
Panel 4 Alexandra Hartmann Universität Paderborn The (In)visibility of Embodied Blackness Marlon Lieber Goethe-Universität Frankfurt/Main Bodies and Logic of Capital: A Reading of Ben Lerner’s 10:04 Sarah A. Garrigan Tufts University Embodying Confusion in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood Alexandra Berlina Universität Duisburg/Essen Flesh Made Strange Ostranenie of the Human Body in Anglophone Fiction Chair: Anne Potjans
Conference Venue Jugendgästehaus Bermuda3Eck Humboldtstraße 59-63 Bochum | Germany Organizer Simon Dickel firstname.lastname@example.org Assistant Alexander Flaß embodiment.blogs.rub.de
Alexandra Berlina Universität Duisburg/Essen Flesh Made Strange: Ostranenie of the Human Body in Anglophone Fiction A hundred years ago, the Russian literary critic Viktor Shklovsky published “Art as Device,” in which he coined the concept of ostranenie. Our perception, he writes, is deadened when body and the embodied mind are exposed to routine: “And so, what we call art exists in order to give back the sensation of life, in order to make us feel things, in order to make a stone stony. The goal of art is to create the sensation of seeing, and not merely recognizing, things; the method of art is the ‘ostranenie’ of things and the complication of the form, which increases the duration and complexity of perception, as the process of perception is its own end in art and must be prolonged” (translation by Alexandra Berlina). The paper will begin by arguing that formalism as practiced by Shklovsky had much in common with approaches that are often construed as its opposite, ranging from reader-response studies to sociocultural, evolutionary and, above all, cognitive frameworks. Far from dealing with texts in a vacuum, Shklovsky constantly speaks about the mind and the body; contemporary psychological and neurological research has much in common with his ideas. Having delineated this context, the paper will proceed to discuss the ostranenie of the human body in Anglophone literary texts ranging from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Brontë’s Vilétte to Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions and Amis’ Other People. Alexandra Berlina is the author of Brodsky Translating Brodsky: Poetry in SelfTranslation (2014), the editor and translator of the forthcoming Viktor Shklovksy: A Reader (2016) and the laureate of several translation awards. Born in Moscow, she studied in London, taught American literature in Essen and is currently holding a post-doc position in literary studies at the University of Erfurt. She is working on a book on ostranenie and cognition.
Liane F. Carlson Princeton University Lung Disease and Luck: On the Critical Limits of Contingency This paper explores a neglected bodily heritage of a key concept in cultural studies: contingency. For many thinkers in cultural studies, such as Judith Butler, Foucault and those interested in genealogy, contingency is understood in temporal terms as events that could have been otherwise. This tradition understands contingency to have subversive political implications, arguing that it allows us to understand seemingly natural categories—such as race, sex, and religion—to be the product of undetermined historical events. Because such
categories could have been otherwise, the argument runs, they still could be otherwise. Thus, contingency at once critiques the status quo and holds open the possibility of a better, less restrictive future. Yet speaking about the contingency or necessity of history in sweeping terms obscures the reality of suffering on the ground by those whose lives were upended by contingency. Paradoxically, a concept meant to hold open hope for the marginalized becomes yet another theory of meta-history that flattens the lived experience of suffering bodies. Accordingly, this paper seeks to reground contingency in the specificity of human experience by returning to a neglected understanding of contingency that claims we feel most acutely the fragility of contingency through the body’s vulnerability to the external world and the passions as they ambush the soul. In order to flesh out the stakes of this alternative, bodily conception of contingency, this presentation focuses on the work of contemporary philosopher Havi Carel on the phenomenology of illness. In 2006, at the age of 35, Carel was diagnosed with a degenerative lung disease that came with a prognosis of death in ten years. Between the first and second editions of her book Illness, new medication was developed that arrested the course of her disease, allowing Carel to become a mother. When reflecting back on these developments in the preface to the second edition, Carel ended by voicing her awareness of her own contingency: “But I am also deeply conscious of the precariousness of life and the extraordinary luck that brought about the two events. I remain acutely aware that it could have been otherwise.” Placed in the context of Carel’s book, there are three reasons why her bodily infirmity opened her to a greater awareness of her contingency. 1) The rapid onset of her illness meant she was constantly straining to do activities out of sheer, bodily habit that were no longer in her power. Thus, in every movement she was thrown up against the knowledge of how different her life could have been, had she never fallen ill. 2) The diminishment of her powers also altered her experience of space. She was constantly forced to grapple with the gap between the distances she used to be able to traverse easily and her new, affective experience of the same space insurmountably far or steep. 3) Her horizon of lived time contracted. Thus, desires that had seemed modest in her previous life, such as the wish for a child, suddenly seemed unreasonably dependent on good fortune. The paper ends by suggesting Carel’s experience of illness at once expands our understanding of contingency and pushes against any easy narrative of its revolutionary potential. Liane F. Carlson received her PhD in philosophy of religion from Columbia University in 2015. She is currently Stewart Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in Religion at Princeton University. Her research interests include the philosophical and theological history of Critical Theory, with particular emphasis on German Romanticism, phenomenology, the limits of the critical power of history, the problem of evil, and the intersection of religion and literature.
Sandra Danneil Technische Universität Dortmund Bodies of Unpleasure: Von Trier and The Dark Side of Seriality Whether students or my parents, my environment has always been wary about my cinephilic preferences, which led them to the question: ”Why do you watch those films?“ By those films, people mean films that follow paths of articulate unease and affective irritation. After years of film theoretical research and a considerable number of motion pictures, I cannot stop wondering why the masses are still yearning for the pleasures of fictitious stability; and I cannot stop thinking of those others who are looking for a distinctly different experience, because those (like me) are searching for unpleasure. What I would call unpleasure adds up to the theoretical corpus around what Williams termed “body genres” and complements it with a whole new vocabulary. Not only has the latest fashion of the New Extremity brought up a new sensibility within radicalized auteurism; the films that I put under scrutiny in this category, and among them Von Trier’s Antichrist and Nymphomaniac, have moreover established a new understanding of extreme physicality, of visceral sensitivity, and of nauseating the viewer in unpleasurable ways, be it aesthetically, due to narrative strategies or the ambivalence of motifs and topics. Why does SHE (Charlotte Gainsbourg) unleash our ethical hell, when she uses her excessive sexual nature to punish her female abjection. Why do we feel guilty when we watch Joe’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) insatiable craving, getting lubricated at the deathbed of her father? In my talk I approach unexplored territory, on which the promise for pleasure takes on a different form of bodily experience. By arguing that in Von Trier’s Antichrist and Nymphomaniac seriality functions as a capitalization of “commercial continuation,” I approach Von Trier’s recent films exemplarily by looking at the films’ framed bodies as reference for a wider truth: How is satisfaction corrupted by a physical bluntness? What kinds of different affect(s) are inscribed in the excessive nature of the corporeal? In how far becomes unpleasure both an addictive quality and a serial policy, which brings its viewer to his/her borders of concern, shame, and will to ethical investment. I myself belong to an audience that wants conventional satisfaction to be withheld and I am thus looking for what I would call unpleasure. To me, the viewers’ repetitive desire for unpleasure seems thereby based on a need to experience the unpleasant through feeling rather than seeing only and where every different ‘again’ is always a new ‘more’. To feel the loss of stability in the depicted body puts into question the precarious status of myself, i.e. the subject that is looking and thereby exposes its limited stability. In the study of serial unpleasure, Lars von Trier’s auteur cinema puts on another layer to the conventions of capitalist consumption and the status of the ecstatic body in popular media culture. In his films, I argue, the pornographic is by no means taken as a commercial bracket, but creates an alliance with the tainted desire of its audience to unravel its psychosocial identity behind bare satisfaction.
Sandra Danneil has an M.A. in Film and Television Studies from the Ruhr University of Bochum and received a B.A. for Teacher Education in German and English. She is a Ph.D. candidate and a faculty member of Cultural Studies and the Media at the Institute of American Studies at TU Dortmund University. In her dissertation project Sandra Danneil works on comedy theories of Transgression and Liminality in the American sitcom The Simpsons. She worked in the film and television industry for several years and dedicated much of her time to writing about gender issues involving new masculinities, pornography, and the New Extremity. Besides teaching courses in Cultural and Media Studies, she is also involved in the extensive Dortmund-USA exchange program, organizer of the annual Ruhr Ph.D. Forum of the UAR, and equal opportunity officer of the Faculty of Cultural Sciences at TU Dortmund University.
Alexander Flaß Ruhr-Universität Bochum “I Am Multitudes”: Towards a Cultural Phenomenology in Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World Siri Hustvedt’s sixth novel The Blazing World (2014) has a focus on the gender bias deeply ingrained in New York’s art world. Crafted as an academic investigation, the American writer presents the character Harriet “Harry” Burden, a passionate artist and intellectual, whose astutely conducted experiment unveils how the term ‘female genius’ amounts to a cultural oxymoron in a maledominated industry. However, aside from the art establishment’s institutional misogyny, the narrative subtly investigates the underlying root of discriminatory tendencies, that is, the habitual intricacies of human perception and how unconscious ideas about cultural categories fundamentally shape a person’s reception and understanding of a given work of art. Yet, on another layer, by contrasting notions of autonomous and definitive self-presence, the novel raises questions concerning the ambiguities of our bodily being-in-the-world. Drawing on concepts of intersubjectivity and the dialectical structure of identity formation within the existentialist phenomenological tradition, the narrative addresses the complex and dynamic facets of the constitution of self. Building on what the anthropologist Thomas J. Csordas has termed ‘cultural phenomenology’—a method of inquiry that aims at bridging “the immediacy of embodied experience with the multiplicity of cultural meaning in which we are always and inevitably immersed” (Perspectives on Embodiment 143)—I will argue that, by pointing to the ambiguous and transgressive nature of identity categories, The Blazing World intricately opposes both atomist and essentialist interpretations concerning the mode of human existence. Instead of joining the ranks of (radical) constructivist thought, however, Hustvedt gives Butlerian theory of body performativity a phenomenological twist, for her narrative subtly
explores the fundamentally intersubjective nature of how our embodied minds encounter the world. Thus, apart from exposing the pervasive sexism in the world of art, Harriet Burden’s pseudonymous masks do not disguise but reveal the inherently dialogic character of her artistic creation. The novel’s trajectory goes beyond clear-cut distinctions between art and reality, however, for it also puts into question other binaries such as nature/culture, subject/object, or self/other, that are so deeply rooted within Western academic discourses. Alexander Flaß is a graduate student and research assistant in the English and American Studies Program at the Ruhr University Bochum. Presently, he is working on his master’s thesis on selected writings by Siri Hustvedt, in which he offers a phenomenological reading of her recent fiction and non-fiction texts, focusing on Merleau-Pontian body concepts as well as feminist notions of gendered embodiment. His research interests include: Cultural Studies, Disability Studies, Embodiment and Merleau-Pontian Phenomenology, Spatial Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory
Sarah A. Garrigan Tufts University Embodying Confusion in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood Modernist texts are famously difficult, preventing a reader from reading the text straightforwardly and thereby creating confusion and uncertainty. I argue that this confusion is an imperative critical tool that forces readers outside of their familiar paradigms and can therefore be used to invigorate literary study. Building on Eve Sedgwick’s practice of reparative reading and Rita Felski’s practice of reflective reading, I argue that that confused reading provides another method for exploring both how and why texts mean. Confused reading modulates between cognition and affect, working within a hazy space that has elements of both extremes. Our best work as both critics and common readers, I argue, must take place within this paradigm. I use Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood as a text that calls for this type of reading, arguing that it advocates a reading practice that rejects traditional coherence and understanding in favor of bodily affect and aesthetic pleasure. Barnes uses the character of Robin Vote to destabilize categorization by offering confusing and contradictory depictions of Robin that refuse to reify her, as those around her constantly attempt to do. As readers, we are put into the position of other characters that attempt to control Robin by understanding her, but our initial confusion and frustration at not being able to place her in a category is dissipated by the lyrical qualities of Barnes’ prose and the subsequent affect these qualities evoke in the readerly body. When we learn to read not for understanding alone but also for feeling, when we deny the easy satisfaction that comes with categorization for a reading experience that can accept not knowing,
we can begin to appreciate Robin’s own journey through Nightwood to a similar place of knowledge rejection. Sarah Garrigan is a Ph.D. candidate at Tufts University currently working on a dissertation on the aesthetics of confusion in American and British modernist novels. She has previously delivered papers on E.M. Forster, Henry James, Virginia Woolf at the Northeastern Modern Language Association Conference, the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Conference, and the Nomadikon Conference.
Rebecca Longtin Hansen State University of New York at New Paltz Lived Meaning: Embodiment and Art in Dilthey and Merleau-Ponty This paper takes up the philosophy of Dilthey and Merleau-Ponty to explore the relation between meaning and lived experience as it is grounded in the body and expressed in art. Both Dilthey and Merleau-Ponty present the body as a nexus of lived meanings and the source of understanding. As our understanding of the world is grounded in the body, rather than in the mind as an isolated res cogitans, meaning is not simply conceptual or intellectual in nature. Meaning is embodied. For both thinkers, art takes up these embodied meanings and finds expression for them. Dilthey describes our relation to the external world in terms of resistance, a tactile, bodily relation. Here Dilthey argues against Descartes’ problem of the external world and the idea that external objects are “projections of sensations into an outer visual or auditory space.”1 Dilthey calls this concept of projection “superfluous” because the separation of self and world is secondary to our relation to the world and must be established through the experience of external objects resisting us. Dilthey describes this resistance through the body—“a self begins to set itself apart from the objects within this spatial reality, as a body, as delineated and oriented in space” (SW II 25). For Dilthey, the self is dynamically formed through one’s bodily relation to the world. Resistance, a lived and felt relation to the world, cannot be completely theorized or articulated, but it can be explored and expressed through art. Similarly, for Merleau-Ponty perception, understanding, and meaning are all rooted in the body: “The thing, and the world, are given to me along with the parts of my body … in a living connection …”2 The body presents itself as a synthesis of sensations, an intersection of relations. The body “is a nexus of living meanings, not the law for certain number of covariant terms”, which means that it cannot be reduced to functions and separate operations but must be seen as a meaningful whole (PoP 175). In “Eye and Mind,” Merleau-Ponty calls the body an “enigma” insofar as it is the center of a “complex system of exchanges.”3 For this
reason, Merleau-Ponty posits that “[t]he body is to be compared, not to a physical object, but rather to a work of art” (PoP 174). Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology uses art to understand the dynamics of embodiment and the relation between the self and world. For both thinkers, art engages in this fundamental connectivity between the body and world. Art thus embodies our existence and makes its meaning palpable and tangible. 1 Wilhelm Dilthey, The Origin of Our Belief in the Reality of the External World and Its Justification, trans. Maximilian Aue, Understanding the Human World, Wilhelm Dilthey Selected Works, vol. II, ed. Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjob Rodi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 8 – 57. Henceforth cited as SW II. 2 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith, (London and New York: Routledge, 2002) 237. Henceforth cited in the text as PoP followed by page number. 3 Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind” in Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting, trans. Michael B. Smith, ed. Galen A. Johnson (Evanston: Northwestern University, 1993), 121 – 149. 125.
Rebecca Longtin Hansen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Her work examines the intersection of phenomenology and aesthetic theory, especially insofar as works of art allow phenomenological insight into the nature of experience.
Alexandra Hartmann Universität Paderborn The (In)visibility of Embodied Blackness What is the black body? Ever since the forced arrival of African Americans in the New World, this question has yielded a range of answers, to a large extent accounting for the enslavement of blacks, their liberation, but also continued marginalization in the 21st century. Both blacks and whites alike have pointed to the supposedly obvious ontological characteristics of the black body. Whites have referenced the black body in order to justify inequalities and to show the rightfulness of white supremacy. Advocating black exceptionalism and the superiority of African Americans and their culture, influential black intellectuals ranging from W.E.B. DuBois to Martin Luther King have similarly drawn from notions of ontological blackness as Cornel West illustrates (Prophesy Deliverance! 70). Thoughts like these continue to shape contemporary discussions of social justice for blacks and frequently serve as the basis of, for instance, New York’s stop and frisk law and racial profiling. However, African Americans, I would argue, have always also stressed the phenomenal character of the black body, revealing a long tradition of engaging ideas of embodiment. Frederick Douglass’ 1845 Narrative already explores how the bodily experience of resistance influences cognition and leads to a positive self-perception. The body has an impact on the world while it is impacted by it at the same time. This is a rejection of the sharp mind/body dualism typical of Western literature and philosophy.
Taking Ralph Ellison’s 1952 Invisible Man that I read as a black humanist work as a starting point, I will highlight African American conceptualizations of embodiment. I propose that the novel well illustrates the tensions around competing notions of the body, the embodied mind, and embodiment in relation to race. Bodies in Invisible Man are contested sites of struggles as they are always already situated in time and space, but point to a historical dimension beyond the here and now; as they work self-efficiently and are yet indispensably interconnected with other bodies. I thus conduct a reading based on Gail Weiss’ Body Images and Anthony Pinn’s Embodiment that both take serious these tensions. The novel explores the ways in which the black body often accounts for simultaneous visibility and invisibility. The hypervisibility of the black body frequently coincides with a social and cultural invisibility and/or marginality. In line with Linda Martín Alcoff, I work from the assumption that “race is real” and shapes us in our individualized and nonetheless intercorporeal entireties (“Towards a Phenomenology of Racial Embodiment” 15). The interplay of and tension between the black body as flesh and material, as socially and culturally informed, and as a specific experience with and perception of the world that Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes as “sedimented” and Pierre Bourdieu as “habitual” is at the heart of the novel. It reveals the difficulties that arise from racialized encounters but also points to chances that present themselves to alter those sediments and habitus. Analyzing the ways in which Invisible Man frames the black body proves fruitful for a theoretical approach to a phenomenology of racial embodiment. Alexandra Hartmann is currently employed as a research assistant and lecturer at Paderborn University. In the fall of 2014, she graduated from Paderborn, majoring in English, Theology, and Sport Science. Since 2015 she has been a PhD candidate. Her dissertation is located in the field of Black Studies and explores the impact of a black humanist worldview on African American literature and culture. Her research interests further include 20th century American literature, American intellectual history, and film.
Kathryn Holihan University of Michigan Bodily Engagement and Exhibition Fatigue at the 1911 International Hygiene Exhibition Dresden This paper investigates the embodied experience of the exhibition-goer at the 1911 International Hygiene Exhibition (IHE) in Dresden. The IHE sought to bring popular hygienic enlightenment to the urban public through aesthetic and experiential means. It defined hygiene as the preservation and care for human health and wellness and instructed visitors on hygienic issues ranging from personal hygiene and nutrition, to basic knowledge about bodily functions. This paper proffers the IHE as an exemplary site for the study of embodied experience. In this venue, gendered bodies, laboring bodies, fetal bodies, unhealthy bodies, and fragmented bodies were put on display for the visitor, who was meanwhile corralled and policed by guards, stanchion ropes, and queues as they navigated the exhibition crowd. The study of the embodied visitor surfaces but is rarely configured in exhibition studies, though exhibition-going is a physical act where techniques of vision and navigation are deployed in a calculated manner. My exploration of embodied visitor experience analyzes what Jonathan Crary deems the “observing body.” At the IHE, the seeing body of the visitor and the exhibition display were in constant communication. The IHE was staged for the mobile, urban inhabitant who entered the exhibition and activated the display, making sense of its visuals and signs. To investigate embodied visitor experience, I mine the communicative space between visitor and display, between consumption and representation. First, I explore the bodily experience of Ausstellungsmüdigkeit. I investigate visitor reports on this feeling of dreariness and bodily fatigue. Indeed, visitors wrote of the demands on their bodies: of the mental exhaustion, of the weariness from walking the extensive grounds. And in turn, the IHE acknowledged and responded to exhibition fatigue and the “körperliche Arbeit” of exhibition-going. A Ruhehalle was provided for visitors, tending to their “seelische Hygiene.” Additionally, exhibition-goers could rent cabins and reclining chairs by the hour. Even the expenditure of the eye was considered in the exhibition’s use of sachlich Grotesk type font for display captions. The IHE’s attentiveness to the labor of the body had a unique valence given the nature and thematic focus of the hygiene exhibition itself. Next, I investigate particular moments of contact between the visitor and display interactives. The IHE pioneered opportunities for exhibition visitor engagement through the development of exhibition apparatuses. Within the popular exhibit “Der Mensch,” for example, the visitor learned about the role of blood in the body. First, the visitor observed blood samples under a microscope— not only a cognitive, but also a sensory experience. An accompanying rubber ball apparatus allowed the visitor to see and feel the work of the heart pumping blood through veins and arteries, as a squeeze from the visitor sent blood through glass pipes that ran three meters high along the exhibit wall. Through the embodied
practices of seeing and feeling—by walking the grounds and observing fellow visitors and exhibit displays—the peripatetic visitor experienced enigmatic bodily processes on both a personal and sensorial level. Kathryn Holihan is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the department of Germanic Languages & Literatures at the University of Michigan. She received her B.A. from Oberlin College with a triple major in German, History, and Art History. Her research interests include cultural history, exhibition culture, and the history of the built environment. Her dissertation examines the mass appeal of international hygiene exhibitions and the experience of the exhibition visitor.
Stephen Kuusisto Syracuse University Many Blind Rivers: A Phenomenology of Blindness Let us assume blindness is never static and always takes its meaning in phenomenological terms from movement. Let us describe blindness as “Proleptic Imagination." Proleptic: Rhetoric. the anticipation of possible objections in order to answer them in advance. Traveling blind is a performance both within normative subventions of assistance and outside cultural denotations of helplessness. This paper asserts blind travel, taken as performance, is proleptic, both anticipating and answering implicit objections to the concept of blind independence in the very process of navigation. Drawing on poems and literary nonfiction this paper will demonstrate the polysemous tropes of blind travel as they pertain to the incitement and enactment of art while walking. Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”) and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light, and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, and The Ohio State University. He currently directs the Renée Crown Honors Program at Syracuse University where he holds a professorship in the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker on disability and diversity issues around the US and abroad.
Marlon Lieber Goethe-Universität Frankfurt/Main Bodies and the Logic of Capital: A Reading of Ben Lerner’s 10:04 In a striking passage in Ben Lerner’s 2014 novel 10:04, its narrator—Ben—has a bodily reaction vis-à-vis a particular commodity—a container of instant coffee— that makes him “viscerally aware of both the miracle and insanity of the mundane economy” (19). In short, this “alteration” of his “vision” (18) that has a corporeal origin makes him question the “murderous stupidity” (19) of the fact that coffee and, by implication, all kinds of goods are shipped all over the world. It seems, then, that the novel suggests that a critical perspective on global capitalism can have the fact that “we are bodily situated in the world” (as the Call for Papers puts it) as a starting point. And, indeed, as the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu shows, the pre-reflexive and, hence, very much corporeal ways of approaching the objects of the social world can go a long way in helping us to analyze the mechanisms through which class differences are reproduced. At the same time, 10:04 seems to suggest certain limits to a critical perspective that proceeds from the relationship body-commodity. After all, Ben’s visceral reaction does not ultimately lead to a questioning of the fact that products of labor (say, instant coffee) assume the form of commodities (that can be exchanged for money). In other words, the outcome of his bodily reaction to the “murderous stupidity” of global commodity chains is the decision to buy local rather than to end commodity production. Later, however, the novel introduces a relation not between body and object, but between two objects (in this case, works of art) in order to imagine the possibility of “material things” losing their “magical power” when they are no longer equipped with a “monetizable signature”—that is to say, when they are “liberated” from the “logic” of capital (133). Marx was aware of the fact that he had to proceed not from the perspective of the individual— and her body—but from that of the commodity or, more precisely, the relation of exchange between two commodities in order to understand the logic of the capitalist mode of production on the most abstract level. At the same time it is necessary to keep in mind that Marx’s categorical critique is situated at this abstract, conceptual level and is, thus, unable to explain a host of mechanisms of reproduction which are taking place at a more empirically concrete level. The point of my talk would, thus, not be to reject the role of “embodied perception” and to defend a merely conceptual critique but to argue for awareness of the different levels of analysis that both approaches represent. Marlon Lieber is a doctoral candidate at Goethe-University Frankfurt, where he is finishing a dissertation tentatively titled “’You’re not going to tell me how it turns out?’ Colson Whitehead’s Novels and the ‘Ends of Race,’” in which he analyzes this author’s œuvre in the light of recent discussions about African American literature and neoliberalism. After graduating in 2013, he worked as an Assistant Professor at Goethe-University for two years. From July to December 2015 he was a visiting
research scholar at the Department of English at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He has published articles on Colson Whitehead, ‘post-blackness’/’post-raciality,’ and Leo Marx. He has also contributed to Jacobin and the Marx & Philosophy Review of Books.
Pilar Martinez Benedi University of Rome “Gigantic Stilts”: “Prosthetic” Embodiment and the Incorporeality of the Body in Melville’s Moby-Dick Chapter 35 of Moby-Dick, “The Mast-Head,” is widely considered by the critics as emblematic of the “metaphysical” Melville. When perched upon the masthead on the lookout for whales, Ishmael tells us, “everything resolves you into languor” (MD 153) until you lose your identity. Lulled into listlessness, the masthead stander’s body seems to recede, to lose its contours as his spirit ebbs away to become “diffused through time and space” (MD 157). Bent on philosophizing, Ishmael’s mind seems excised from his body and to float freely as it becomes one with the All. Unsurprisingly, the attention of the critics has focused mainly on Ishmael’s mind, and his body has joined the critical discussion only when seen as pathological—when, at the end of the chapter a miscalculated move of foot or hand might cause a fatal fall, bringing back the self back to awareness “in horror” (MD 155). Melville criticism has often stressed the metaphysical drift of “The MastHead,” largely ignoring or underestimating its pervading sensorimotor texture. Drawing on philosopher Drew Leder’s phenomenological critique of the Cartesian body/mind dualism (The Absent Body, 1990), I will conversely argue that Ishmael’s “absent body” points to the materiality of Melville’s metaphysics. Ishmael’s “corporeal disappearance” (and abrupt “dys-appearance”), in Leder’s terms, reveals actually an instance of deep embodiment—call it “prosthetic” embodiment. Ishmael characterizes the masts as “gigantic stilts” (MD 153) that seem to be felt as extensions of his limbs. Not unlike Merleau-Ponty’s blind man’s walking stick, the mast seems to have become “an area of sensitivity, extending the scope and active radius of touch” (Phenomenology of Perception: 165) of his perched body. Acting as an everyday artifact that extends cognition beyond bodily boundaries, the “prosthetic” masts channel a continuous flow of kinesthetic, proprioceptive and sensory sensations that enable an organismenvironment mutuality that well accords with current views of embodied, embedded and extended cognition. Seizing on the idea of the “incorporeal dimension of the body” as devised by Brian Massumi in Parables for the Virtual (2002), I propose a non-objectivist model that emphasizes the radical openness of the body; its fluid relational and transitional nature. Rather than emblematic of an opposition between the body
and the mind, my reading of the masthead seeks to show how Melville constantly blurs the boundaries between the Cartesian categories of being on which he (apparently) insistently relies. In this way, I will propose, Melville (in Moby-Dick and elsewhere) calls into question the basic assumption of the Cartesian attitude: the split between sensory perception and higher-order cognition, or abstract thought, suggesting instead an orientation to experience in which categories do not hold. Pilar Martínez Benedí holds a J.D. from the University of Zaragoza (2000) and a M.A. in English from the University of Rome “La Sapienza” (2012), where she is a PhD candidate in English. (Defense expected in Fall 2016). She was the Melville Society Archive – Walter E. Bezanson Fellow for 2012. She has spent two residencies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an IFUSS Fellow, in where she spent a second residency in Spring 2015. Her dissertation focuses on the perceptual-embodied aspects of the works of Herman Melville through the lenses of the cognitive sciences of embodiment.
Ralph Savarese Grinnell College/Iowa “The ‘Why’ and the ‘Why Not’ of a Yellowing World”: Autism, Literary Writing, and Synesthesia I work at the intersection of cognitive approaches to literature and disability studies. While there are many scholars in disability studies who adopt a neurodiverse view of autism, they do so strictly by critiquing the discipline of science, by insisting “on the social construction of disability.” For such scholars the current conception of autism as lack, not autism itself, disables autistic lives. Moreover, that conception fails to make room for another way of being in the world. While there are many scholars in cognitive approaches to literature who mention autism in their work, they do so strictly to illuminate typical functioning, to show us what reading literature requires. For example, novelists exploit the reader’s ability to infer what a character is thinking on the basis of what she is doing with her body. Lacking theory of mind, autistics, these scholars maintain, can’t help but struggle with an art form as intensely social and introspective as the novel. If disability studies frequently over-emphasizes the deterministic effects of human culture, then cognitive science frequently overemphasizes the deterministic effects of human physiology. The former corrects for a kind of biological reductionism and normativity; the latter, for a kind of material obliviousness. As a literary scholar and writer who regularly teaches creative writing workshops to autistics and who adopted a nonspeaking six-year-old boy
with autism from foster care, a young man now double-majoring in anthropology and creative writing at Oberlin College, I know what damage stereotypes can do, but I also know that autistics have indisputably distinctive brains. What that distinctiveness means and what it can do are up for grabs. In my work I thus aim to give the progressive concept of neurodiversity some actual neurological content and, at the same time, to push back against narrow conceptions of autistic possibility. In my paper I explore the phenomenon of synesthesia, which a recent study found to be at least three times more common in autistics than in nonautistics. Laurent Mottron’s model of “enhanced perceptual functioning” in autism nicely dovetails with how Stephen Farmer has theorized synesthesia. Farmer underscores “the maintenance throughout development of topographic symmetry in brain maps as higher-level cognition is shaped by the biases of lower-level systems.” In autistic cognition, these lower-level systems figure more prominently than they do in non-autistic cognition. “In less extreme ways,” Farmer writes, “all of us are synesthetes.” Recent research on synesthesia reveals that synesthesia is “closely related to normal sensory integration going on in everyone below the level of consciousness …. Clinical forms of synesthesia,” Farmer argues, “simply involve higher than normal activation of synaptic links binding analogical maps in different brain systems.” Synesthetes, in short, retain a “heightened awareness” of these lower-level perceptual maps.” In this way, the trope of synesthesia—for example, “your voice is so smooth”—might be thought of as the conscious transposition of apparently distinct sensory modalities, modalities that are in fact unconsciously and fluidly multi-sensory. In my paper I relate the case of a radically synesthetic young man with autism whom I mentor: Tito Mukhopadhyay. The author himself of five books, he uses a text-to-voice synthesizer to communicate. We spent 2012-2013 discussing Moby Dick, two chapters a week, by Skype. His synesthesia figured prominently in this enterprise. Ralph James Savarese is the author of Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption, which Newsweek called “a real life love story and an urgent manifesto for the rights of people with neurological disabilities.” It was featured on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” ABC’s “Nightly News with Charles Gibson,” and NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show.” A documentary about his son, DJ, who is Oberlin College’s first nonspeaking student with autism, will appear on PBS in late 2016. The author of some twenty-five articles on autism, Savarese is also the co-editor of three collections, including the first devoted to the concept of neurodiversity. In 2012-2013, he received a Humanities-Writ-Large fellowship, which allowed him to join the Neurohumanities Research Group at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences. While on fellowship, he investigated the science of neurodiversity. He teaches American literature, creative writing, and disability studies at Grinnell College in Iowa.
Bryan A. Smyth University of Mississippi Enacting Reification: ‘False Consciousness’ as Situated Embodied (Mis)cognition The concept of reification—denoting the misperception of dynamic complexes and processes as things in the sense of ossified unchanging entities— is historically central to critical theory and practice, and in recent years it has been the object of renewed interest. But there persists an objectionable tendency to view it in negative or privative terms—prototypically as ‘false consciousness’— rather than as a positive phenomenon in its own right. The problem with this does not have to do with the implicit normativity, but with the lack of insight that such views provide into what reified experience involves concretely, in particular concerning the active implication therein of the experiencing subject. Relying on a traditional model of consciousness, most approaches to reification thus ultimately construe it as a fateful kind of manipulation of passive subjects, thereby obscuring how transformative critical practice might be motivated and effected—how, in other words, de-reification might be achieved. In this paper I sketch out a way of rethinking reification on the basis of phenomenological considerations concerning the pre-reflective horizonalintentional Gestalt structure of perceptual experience, combined with resources drawn from contemporary work on situated and embodied cognition, in particular the dialectical framework of enactivism. The idea is to salvage the criticaltheoretic import of the concept of reification by coming to more robust material terms with it as a form of embodied cognition—or, if you like, miscognition— understood neither as the representation of an ontologically reified world, nor as the ideological misrepresentation of an unreified world, but rather as the mutually generative enactment of a world and a mode of experience based upon the dynamic interaction between perceptual capacities and social environment. Approaching reification in this way can shed strategic light on the possibilities and prospects of overcoming it. The discussion has three parts. (1) First, I present a phenomenological account of the perceptual experience of things in general, in particular how this account reveals the Gestalt character of perception in the sense that discrete things are always experienced in relation to a tacitly apperceived horizonal background. This implies treating cases of reified (i.e., normatively problematic) thing-experience in terms of horizonal inappositeness. (2) Second, I turn to enactivism—especially the work of Francisco Varela, Alva Noë, and Evan Thompson—to consider how horizons supportive of reified perception are formed and instituted in situated interaction. Crucial here is the recognition that such horizons are compensatory in the sense that in certain conditions they provide what R. D. Laing termed ‘ontological security’—however problematic, the reification of the ‘natural attitude,’ even construed as a ‘second nature’, is positively motivated from the perspective of embodied self-actualization. This suggests that the primary issue in confronting reification concerns ‘nature’ as
a narrative of meaningfulness that forms the outermost horizon of perceptual experience and how, if at all, this may be altered. (3) In the final part of the paper, I take up Hanne De Jaegher and Ezequiel Di Paolo’s work on ‘participatory sense-making’ and briefly consider how it might be applied to this dimension of experiential horizonality—how, through embodied social interaction, we could enactively generate an overarching sense of reality that would afford a more normatively defensible perceptual hold on what was previously reified, yet without insupportable loss of ontological security. Bryan Smyth teaches philosophy at the University of Mississippi. His research deals primarily with phenomenology and Critical Theory, in particular problems concerning perception, embodiment, and reification. His first book, MerleauPonty’s Existential Phenomenology and the Realization of Philosophy, appeared in 2013 (Bloomsbury), and he is currently working on two other book projects: Hyperdialectical Materialism: Rethinking Merleau-Ponty and the Political, and Rethinking Reification: Toward a Phenomenological Critique of Critical Theory. In addition to other projects, he is also producing the English translation of MerleauPonty’s Le monde sensible et le monde de l’expression: Cours au Collège de France, 1952-53 (Northwestern University Press).
Chris Tedjasukmana Freie Universität Berlin Embodied Politics: Audiovisual Media and the New Publics The “somatic turn” of the 1990s in media and cultural studies enabled a systematic consideration of the affective dimensions of human perception beyond cognitive processes and narrative patterning. At the same time, phenomenological characterizations reintroduced a pre-discursive notion of the subject and culminated in an introspective and unworldly description of film experience as a form of “self-touching” (Vivian Sobchack). Countering the double tendency towards an innocent and detached body, my talk argues for a concept of embodiment that transcends the opposition between the lived body and the mechanical machine. I understand the human body as an entity that is both spontaneously lived and at the same time constituted by the discursive machinery of the social. In this context, film experience may function as a model of embodiment, which highlights the temporary suspension of the coercion of identity. Secondly, I want to propose an alternative to the subjectivism by re-evaluating the phenomenological notion of life-world. This concept does not simply refer to the prior sphere of lived experience but rather to an inherent relationship of tension: to a conflict between the intimate processes of one’s own mortal body on the one hand, and the requirements of the societal and public sphere, on the other. Drawing on the post-phenomenological political
theories of Hannah Arendt, Judith Butler and Marina Garcés, the productive tension between life and world might offer an understanding of politics as embodied and collectively shared practice that finds its expression in the recent occupations of public squares and their complementary web 2.0-networks and imagery. Chris Tedjasukmana, Dr. phil., has studied Theatre, Film and Media Studies, Philosophy and Political Science in Frankfurt, Berlin, New York City, and Copenhagen. He is Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Freie Universität Berlin, and principal investigator of the research project “Video Activism Between Social Media and Social Movements” (funded by the Volkswagen Foundation). He is also a Research Fellow at the International Research Centre for Cultural Studies (IFK) in Vienna and co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Montage AV. His book Mechanical Vitalization: Aesthetic Experience in Cinema was published in 2014 in German. That same year, he received the Karsten-Witte-Award for the Best Publication in Film Studies. Outside academia, he is part of the publishing collective Kitchen Politics: Queerfeminist Interventions.
Gail Weiss University of Washington Feeling Differently: Cultivating Anti-Discriminatory Perceptual Habits One of the most striking features of the natural attitude, as Edmund Husserl describes it, is that it is not natural at all, but rather, is a developmental phenomenon that is acquired through, and profoundly influenced by, specific socio-cultural practices. As the largely unquestioned set of habitual beliefs and behaviors that establish the parameters for “normal” experience for both individuals and communities, the natural attitude is culturally, geographically, and historically variable. Yet, even if we acknowledge that contingent events may have influenced the formation of a given natural attitude, and even if we are aware of major differences that may distinguish one person’s or community’s natural attitude from another, this recognition does not usually prevent our own natural attitudes from being naturalized, that is, accepted as natural. Insofar as our natural attitudes reveal, as Husserl informs us, not only a practical world but
also a world of values, they supply the normative standards we implicitly appeal to on an ongoing basis in our daily lives. It should not be surprising, then, that the embodied, ethical norms associated with a given natural attitude also tend to be naturalized, or presupposed as givens. This naturalization and normalization of our own natural attitudes, I maintain, poses significant challenges to any movement for serious social change since the latter almost always requires dramatic changes in our natural attitudes, and in turn, the expression of new feelings, according to which accepted norms of the past, whether on the part of individuals or larger communities, no longer appear to be natural or justified. Turning to the visceral experience of her own white skin privilege that Beauvoir recounts in her memoir, America Day by Day, I maintain that she not only de-naturalizes anti-black racism, but also reveals an existential responsibility that extends beyond one’s own actions and one’s own natural attitude to encompass not only the attitudes and actions of other people but also the society in which one is immersed even if, as in Beauvoir’s case, this is not one’s own native country. In contrast to traditional, liberal accounts that emphasize personal autonomy and thus associate responsibility exclusively with one’s own actions and intentions, Beauvoir’s account reveals an excess of responsibility for antiblack racism that overruns bodily borders, flowing not only from body to body but also between bodies and societies. Two years before her 1947 trip to the U.S., Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes in the Phenomenology of Perception that “an attitude towards the world, when it has received frequent confirmation, acquires a favoured status for us.” (PhP 441) This latter account, I suggest, offers us a way of understanding how racist attitudes are confirmed and sedimented in our bodies over time, becoming self-fulfilling prophecies for those who express them. Taken together, I argue, Beauvoir’s antiliberal expansion of bodily responsibility beyond the body proper and MerleauPonty’s account of the sedimentation of attitudes in the habit body reveal the intercorporeal, ethical challenges posed by racism, homophobia, sexism, and disability for all members of a society, including those who are most committed to combatting them. Gail Weiss is Professor of Philosophy at The George Washington University and General Secretary of the International Merleau-Ponty Circle. She is the author of two monographs: Refiguring the Ordinary (Indiana U. Press, 2008) and Body Images: Embodiment as Intercorporeality (Routledge 1999) and she has edited/co-edited four other volumes: Intertwinings: Interdisciplinary Encounters with Merleau-Ponty (SUNY 2008), Feminist Interpretations of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Penn State Press 2006), Thinking the Limits of the Body (SUNY 2003), and Perspectives on Embodiment: The Intersections of Nature and Culture (Routledge 1999). She has published numerous journal articles, book chapters on embodiment and co-edited a Special Issue of Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy on “The Ethics of Embodiment” in Summer 2011. She is currently completing a monograph on Merleau-Ponty and Simone de Beauvoir.