SLSA Conference Preview

By Rachael Sullivan

“Reed Coral with Spread Tentacles” by Leni Riefenstahl. Her underwater photographs and films will be the subject of Eva Hayward’s SLSA presentation, “How Like a Reef.”

Around C21, excitement has been building for the SLSA (Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts) Conference coming up September 27-30. The buzz isn’t just about the location—right here in Milwaukee!—or the fact that C21 Director Richard Grusin has had a key role in coordinating the conference. We’re also thrilled that SLSA’s “Nonhuman” theme will extend the momentum from our successful Nonhuman Turn Conference last May. SLSA’s CFP cites the organization’s longstanding engagement with the nonhumanities such as computer science and mathematics, and suggests that approaches such as animal studies and systems theory are “critical to the future of literature, science, and the arts.”  Participants come from a range of disciplines, and the conference promises to be richly provocative in its unsettling and reimagining of the human and humanistic inquiry. If you haven’t had a chance to peruse the schedule yet, or if you’re thinking about making the trip to Milwaukee, here’s a sampling of some panels that caught my eye and might catch yours.

Session 1G (“Identity, Gender, and the Line Between Mimesis and Emergence” Thursday @ 1:30pm) takes up representations of artificial intelligence in film and electronic literature. The speakers raise questions about how and what human identity means amidst the neural nets, cyborgs, and humanoids of uncannily real fictional worlds. Heather Warren-Crow, a performance artist and professor at UW-Milwaukee, will present her paper “Formatting Girlhood.” A former C21 Fellow, Warren-Crow’s presentation resonates with the work she did on her fellowship project, entitled “Girlhood and the Plastic Image.”

Session 3J (“Time and Mediation 1: Duration and Synchrony” Friday @ 8:30am) is a must for anyone interested in how new media affect the experience of being a human living in/through time. Approaching their topic through first-person shooter games, films, micro-computing, and molded plastic, these speakers will give you a reason to hesitate the next time someone asks you, “What time is it?” Mark Hansen is the most established scholar on the panel. As I think back to his plenary talk at the Nonhuman Turn Conference, I’m guessing that his SLSA talk will be dense, though rewarding if you are familiar with his work or have a basic background in media theory, continental philosophy, or phenomenology in general.

Session 4E (“Aquatic Animals II: Touching the Animal” Friday @ 10:30am) seeks to uncover and draw near to the affective seam connecting humans and animals. A common thread is the notion of sense perception as a means of not only creating awareness but also maintaining distance and difference. As panelist Ron Broglio asks, “What calls from the body of the other are we unable to heed?” This will be an interdisciplinary discussion; the speakers all have diverse backgrounds and hail from departments of English (Broglio), Psychology (Helen Bullard), and Cinematic Arts/Gender Studies (Eva Hayward). For those who follow our C21 events, Hayward’s presentation would be a good preview for her C21 talk, “Sensuous Seas,” on November 30 in Curtin Hall 175.

Session 5A (“Cosmic Cinema” Friday @ 2pm) should be on the radar of all UWM Film Studies students! The panel features Alison Winter (History of Science and Medicine at U. Chicago), Tom Gunning (Cinema and Media Studies at U. Chicago), and Weihong Bao (East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University). Each of these historically-grounded talks seem wonderfully ambitious, and they take a range of examples into consideration: scientific films in the mid-20th century, technologies of looking (such as x-rays and negative photography), and Chinese Propaganda film theory during World War II.

Session 6M (“Feminist Materialisms” Friday @ 4pm) is worthwhile in its attention to women and the study of objects, a union that often doesn’t get enough air time. (Just consider The Speculative Turn anthology, for example, which includes just one woman.) At C21, we’re particularly excited to see Rebekah Sheldon on this panel. She is a former C21 Provost Fellow, and this year we’re welcoming her back as an Affiliated Scholar.

Session 7H (“Family Resemblances and Videogame Histories” Saturday @ 8:30am) features names that will be familiar to anyone who has studied gaming or interactive media: Zach Whalen, Ian Bogost, and Nick Montfort. The speakers are all published scholars, and their perspectives and disciplines are different enough to make this a lively discussion about computer/video games. In particular, each panelist takes the emphasis on “family resemblances” in a very different direction.

Session 7K (“Object-Oriented Feminism: Getting Closer” Saturday @ 8:30am) would be a shame to miss! N. Katherine Hayles, Timothy Morton, Patricia Ticineto Clough, and Katherine Behar—plus respondents Eileen Joy and C21 Affiliated Scholar Rebekah Sheldon—will tackle the broad question of “how practices constitute relationships between humans and things.” I expect to be thoroughly enthralled during this panel, considering the diverse research interests of the speakers, as well as the variety of presentation styles. Clough (who teaches sociology, women’s studies, and intercultural studies at Queens College and CUNY) will be doing a performance piece, and Morton’s presentations are pretty performative in of themselves. (Anyone remember his Nonhuman Turn talk? How could we forget it?) Hayles is a leading figure in digital literary studies, and Behar is a performance artist and professor of new media.

Session 10H (“E-Cologies and (Post)human Nature” Saturday @ 3:30pm) takes up some tricky binaries: nature/technology, queer/normative, newcomer/indigenous, and biological/digital to name a few. Lisa Nakamura is the most well-known scholar on the panel. She is the author of Digitizing Race (2007) and Cybertypes (2002), and I have no doubt that her talk (entitled “Sexual Harassment and the Discourse of Indigeneity in Digital Game Culture”) will be great.  She’ll be a plenary speaker at C21’s  Dark Side of the Digital Conference this May.

Session 10i (“The Non-Human Reader” Saturday @ 3:30pm) brings together a stand-out lineup of figures in electronic literature and the digital humanities: Marjorie Luesebrink, Jeremy Douglass, Sandy Baldwin, Mark Sample, and Stephanie Strickland will examine instances of non-human reading. If you want to remain comfortable with traditional, pre-digital definitions of terms like “audience,” “narration,” “writer,” and of course “reader,” then I suggest avoiding this panel!

Session 11G (“Rhetoric, Code, and the Nonhuman” Sunday @ 8:30am) asks “How must we revise rhetorical theory to account for machinic audiences, style in the construction of software, and the rhetorical education of computers?” All three panelists (Annette Vee, Kevin Brock, and James Brown) work at the intersection of rhetoric and digital media. As younger scholars, they’ve already done a lot to expand and complicate the traditionally human-centered field of rhetoric. I’ve seen Vee and Brown present a few times in the past (he also presented at C21’s Nonhuman Turn Conference!), and they are engaging speakers who care deeply about critical code studies.

[Rachael Sullivan is a Ph.d. student in UWM’s English department, concentrating in Media Studies.  We’re very excited to have her join the C21 team as a project assistant for the 2012-13 academic year.  She volunteered at C21’s Nonhuman Turn Conference, and helped plan the Midwest Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference (MIGC) last spring.]

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