Archive for the Theory Category

Adventures in Death Midwifery: The Dissertation, and the Dreaded “Rut”

Posted in Death midwifery, Dissertation, Education, Theory on May 30, 2016 by Diana S-V

Hello, death-friends!

Apologies for the delay on this post. I started and wrote the majority of the post on the fourth of April, and four days later I went into labour and gave birth to my son. I also needed a bit of time to learn how on earth one keeps a tiny newborn human alive, happy, and healthy. So far, so good!

In my last post, I talked at length about my first few weeks in the BEyond Yonder Virtual School for Death Midwifery (VSDM) course and how my approach to being a student and researcher began to change as a result of my experience in the course. In this post, I’d like to talk about how my dissertation developed, stalled, and was revitalized by the timing and content of the VSDM course and by the death midwifery movement as a whole.

Beginnings (aka. “the noob years”)

My first academic introduction to the schools of thought that have had the greatest influence on me as a scholar and writer came in my second year of undergraduate work. As with most English programs, my undergraduate program required me to take a full year introductory course on literary theory and criticism and, as I suspect is the way with most undergraduate students, the course was a real game-changer for me. I was fortunate to have an instructor whose mission it was to not only introduce us to the concepts but to facilitate a space in which we could use the language and approaches we were learning to challenge those concepts in dialogue and in writing. It was a relief, in a way, to finally have a language for things that I had noticed in high school and first-year classes in literature that had been bothering me but that I hadn’t quite been able to articulate clearly.

Granted, I would later be challenged to critique the notions of articulation, language, and privilege in the academy, but this was early on and I was simply grateful to have the tools when I did. By the end of my second year, I felt equipped to ask questions about and explore the concepts of class, gender, race, language, colonialism, sexuality, and aesthetics, and I also felt as if I had been given the permission to ask if I bought what a particular school of thought or thinker was “selling,” and why or why not this would be the case. It seems so simplistic now, but anyone who has taken a course like this or had an epiphany in a classroom where a whole new portion of your mind seems to open up and breathe knows what I’m talking about.

In terms of my dissertation, this course catalyzed a number of practical and theoretical convictions that still inform my work at present. My introductions to critical race theory and thinkers who focused on anti-oppression, Marxism, and feminist theory made me determined that whatever work I did should have a “boots-on-the-ground” component in which theoretical ideas could (and should) be enacted in practice. The way in which I was introduced to these topics also made me aware of the need to reflect on one’s own practices to see what might be ignored, overlooked, or silenced in the process of discussion and writing, what I would later understand as something resembling intersectionality and checking privilege. Again, my understanding of these immensely complex topics was simple at the time, and even after many years of listening and reading I often feel as if getting better at this type of reflection can only be measured in millimeters rather than leaps and bounds.

I also fell in love—and I don’t mind calling it that, because I don’t think it’s shameful to say that you fall in love with or love a writer or school of thought provided you don’t let that love blind you to problems—with poststructuralism, and with Derrida in particular. I adored his playfulness, his writing style, his willingness to experiment, and what felt like the novelty of it all, and the obtuseness that frustrated and turned off my classmates (and still does!) somehow felt sensible to me. I’m a bit less cheerleader-y about it now, and much more practical in my approach to reading and rereading his work, but I still find his writing innovative and pragmatic in its own way after all of these years.

Now, fast forward to the last year of my undergraduate degree: I wanted to work on Southeast Asian and Caribbean literature, with a focus on gender. I was completing an honours thesis on Karukku, a translated narrative autobiography by a Tamil Dalit author writing under the pen name of Bama, and had submitted applications to Masters programs with the intent to do a thesis on Sam Selvon’s “Moses” trilogy. I would go on to successfully complete both of these projects, and applied to doctoral programs with a dissertation proposal that would focus on translated autobiographies written by Dalit women and see me do a year of exchange at the University of Pune in Maharashtra. I was accepted to UWO’s PhD program with this proposal.

So… here I am. I took my secondary qualifying exam in theory and criticism, and my primary qualifying exam in Twentieth-Century British and Irish Literature, I’m working on thanatology, and I never did make it to Pune. Huh. Best laid plans and whatnot, right?

First of all, if you’re at the beginning of your career as a researcher and you feel like it’s too late to change the trajectory of your research because your interests have shifted, STOP THINKING THAT. I’m sure there are times when it is definitely too late—three months before you’re scheduled to defend, for example—but in your Masters program or at the beginning of your PhD program is not too late. I won’t lie. It is a lot of work to catch up and re-establish yourself in a new field when some of your colleagues have been interested in the same field since they entered their undergraduate program. It can be tricky to navigate the changing of supervisors and committees, and to write grant proposals from scratch when you decide to commit. However, if the topic that you’re switching to is truly what you want to be working on, if it’s what will keep you energized and motivated to finish a dissertation that you can be happy with, and if you’re willing to put in that work, for the love of God, do it.

That’s what I was preoccupied with in my first and second years of my PhD. I had realized around the time that I finished my Masters project on Selvon that while I loved the literature, I was ill-equipped to navigate the identity politics of my project and the scholarly community that I had to be a part of in order to see that project come to fruition, and the topics I was addressing didn’t keep me up at night. That’s not to say that they must, of course, but nowadays after a good day of researching or writing, I’m often so excited about what I accomplished and what I’ll be doing tomorrow that I have a hard time turning that part of my mind off and falling asleep. For me, having a few days like that every now and again is a non-negotiable component of my work as a researcher, and not a bonus.

Fresh Starts

As my motivation for my original dissertation proposal waned, my interest in corpses as material objects, death and dying, memorialization, and thanatology snowballed as did my interests in new materialism, ecocriticism, abjection, and Derrida. In almost every single course in the first year of my PhD, I found a way to explore these topics in presentations and final papers. I wrote about hunger strikes and starving bodies, about abjection and nuclear fission, decomposition and the encryption of bodies, giving bodies as gifts, fetishism and photographic archives, and the notion of the “post-mortem.” Despite it being a very tough year in terms of my personal life and ability to manage work-related stress, each of these papers was a joy to write. I felt like one does after taking a corset off after a night of performing burlesque when one’s ribs are finally able to expand in all directions and one’s skin can breathe. It was liberating, it was motivating, and it was writing the way that I hoped writing would someday be for me: frustrating, infatuating, and immensely pleasurable at the end of the day.

One paper stood out, however, and that was my final paper for a class called “Melancholy and the Archive.” I had decided to use this paper as a “test run” for the idea I had for my new dissertation proposal, which had been percolating in my head since October or so. The paper concerned the absence of bodies and the presence of archival materials, read through the notion of “skin,” in José Saramago’s All the Names, and was founded upon a close reading of Derrida’s Archive Fever. I figured that the worst-case scenario was that I would get great feedback on the paper and be able to go back to the drawing board, but the best case scenario… well, perhaps this is a bit too personal and maybe was a bit unprofessional at the time, but when I handed the paper in to the instructor, Jonathan Boulter, I wrote something foolhardy to the effect of “Depending on how you like the trajectory of this paper, and if you think it’s worth expanding to something resembling a dissertation, I’d like to talk to you about becoming my supervisor for that dissertation.” When he wrote back to say that he’d like to talk more about the paper, my hope that my new interests could be channeled into a dissertation that I would want to write and that people would want to read felt affirmed. I wasn’t a dolt! These ideas could have a home!

Of course, one of the disadvantages of being a late bloomer in terms of one’s dissertation topic is that you have a lot of catching up to do. My secondary qualifying exam, which was focused on literary theory and criticism, was a great refresher and definitely helped me reread a number of texts with my new topic in mind. Baudrillard, Freud, Lacan, Bataille, Baudrillard, Benjamin, Butler, Blanchot, Kristeva, Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, Jameson, Kristeva, Lyotard, Nancy—all of these thinkers mattered in a completely different way than they did before, and the summer I spent studying for the secondary exam was great preparation for rewriting both the following year’s grant proposal and the field study. My primary exam, however, was a struggle. I’d never taken a single course in British and Irish literature, and there were huge gaps in my knowledge that my peers taking the same exam didn’t seem to have. For my optional texts, I tried as much as possible to pick texts with death, dying, bodies, and performance so that I could at the very least have something to latch on to and find some new (to me!) and relevant texts about which I could write for future projects. This was not the healthiest time in my student life, I must admit, and the pressure that I put on myself and the way that I approached studying for this exam really took a mental and physical toll on me. To top it all off, I had to shuffle my schedule around deferring the exam because my stepfather ended up in the hospital the week I was supposed to do the written portion. I made it through, but I was pretty raggedy when I got to the other side of the exam.

However, it was conference season! And not just any conference season—this was a big one for me. I had applied and been accepted to three major conferences and was over the moon about it. My papers for each conference were either directly related to or very closely related to my dissertation, and I was eager to receive feedback on them and mingle with other like-minded individuals. I was most excited about being accepted to the Derrida Today conference, where I hoped to work through and become acquainted with other major texts and trends in Derrida scholarship. The conferences were spectacular. However, most of my summer and part of my fall semester was seriously derailed in terms of my mental health and safety due to an incident that you can read more about here. After a lot of therapy and help from my support network, I finally completed my field study and my prospectus was accepted by my department. I was ABD (All But Dissertation) and free to finally write my masterpiece! So, what the hell happened?

The Rut

Oh, “the rut.” There are many names for this hellish time that almost everyone seems to face over the course of writing a dissertation, but I think of mine as a rut because it reminds me of when you are driving out in the boonies or in winter with godawful snow patterns, and you end up with your tires spinning in the mud or on the ice. You gently try to move your car by physically or mechanically creating a rocking motion that is intended to give you a boost, but there you are. You’re in the rut. You can be as gentle or as forceful as you like, but until something gives, in the rut you shall stay. The rut is your home. EVERYTHING IS RUT.

My rut was, as it turns out, a problem of methodology. I had a lot of ideas, a lot of possibilities, and a wealth of ways to tackle these ideas, but absolutely no clue how to tackle the methodological problem of a highly interdisciplinary project that tackled sociocultural, legal, ethical, material, narrative, political, and aesthetic components of death, dying, and bodies. Every time I thought I had “solved” the methodological problem, it turned out to be another false start. I had mountains of notes, and many outlines that tested out various ways to talk about my approach to my dissertation and what it was about, but very little actual writing and nothing that was, to my mind, suitable to be handed in to my supervisor or second reader.

And so I avoided writing. I made more notes, I made more outlines, I read more books, I found more resources, but I was still in that rut. I wasn’t even rocking back and forth anymore. I think writing, in this metaphor, would have represented that kind of effort. Even ineffective writing would have meant some sort of motion, but I was afraid. I was afraid that if I wrote something that it would be crap. What I SHOULD have done, and what I do now on a regular basis, is embrace the fact that the first bit of writing is always crap. What else could it be? It would be like me talking in a whisper for six months and expecting that I’d be able to slay Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” at Sunday night karaoke, or staying in bed for a week and expecting that I could nail an advanced version of a yoga pose without permanently damaging my groin and my dignity. Why we get it into our minds that writing is any different is beyond me, but fear is a powerful thing, and I didn’t feel strong enough to face the crap that would flow from my fingertips so that I could move past it and get to the good stuff.

The VSDM to the Rescue!

Perhaps I’m exaggerating when I say that this course rescued me, but it’s certainly not a hyperbole by much. Here’s why and how the course got me out of my rut and kick-started my dissertation writing process again.

  1. Reading about the death midwifery movement is incredibly motivating.

If you’ve ever been on the Facebook page that is a hub for death midwifery in Canada, you’ll know what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t been, you really should. The group boasts over 2,400 members and is growing every day. Some of these members are observers, some are occasional posters, and many share daily postings and resources. It’s a veritable treasure trove of links to all kinds of valuable materials, and the comments often reveal some great conversations about key topics and awesome recommendations for additional reading. Not only have I managed to connect with a number of like-minded academics through the page but I have also garnered an enormous collection of scholarly and other writings that have sustained my interest, expanded my knowledge, and will even make it into the dissertation proper. My connections to my classmates are also nurtured by this group and the smaller groups dedicated to the “death nerds” who have taken the course. Updates on what my classmates have done, such as seeking out new jobs related to deathcare, organizing events, starting their own death midwifery practices, and writing have served to encourage me to foster my own interests and projects, such as this blog.

  1. The structure of the course made me talk to real live human beings about my dissertation.

I am a prodigious talker, and an enthusiastic writer, but you’d be surprised at how often I’m afraid to talk about my work and the dissertation in particular. I can talk about death and dying till the cows come home. Ask me to describe my project, to talk about where I’m at and my successes and failures, and you are likely to witness me dance around it or get flustered when I can’t articulate what I’d like to articulate. The VSDM’s forum posts, buddy chats, and teleconferences asked that I rise to the challenge of introducing myself and my work to others over and over again, and it got to the point that I started feeling a little more adept at discussing my work and justifying its value and place in the death midwifery movement and the academic landscape. After qualifying exams were done, I drifted away from my cohort of peers when it came to actively collaborating and chatting about my work on a regular basis. I didn’t really talk to anyone about it, to be honest, because I was worried there wasn’t much to be said and was afraid of bungling my end of the conversation. But it wasn’t that I didn’t have anything valuable to say. I was out of practice, quite literally, with talking to other human beings. It was also gratifying to hear others say that they were interested in what I had to say or to declare that it sounded like there truly was a place for my work in the movement when I was experiencing doubt.

  1. Treat writing like a dialogue rather than a lecture and you won’t feel so shitty when you sit down to do it.

I could go on and on about which strategies do and do not work for me when it comes to writing. However, the biggest struggle is beginning something new and getting the first few words out of the way. The first few words are always awkward and weird and shitty, or at least this is the case when I sit down to write. It’s a matter of flushing the rust from the pipes. My supervisor calls it “throat-clearing,” an expression I quite like. The journaling component of the VDSM course was strange for me as I’d not been in the habit of journaling before, but to make the style of reflecting writing easier I began my journaling in a style that seemed wacky at the time but ultimately made me a better academic writer—I started talking and writing to myself. I don’t mean this obliquely. I explicitly and deliberately wrote as if I were having a dialogue with another version of myself, one that would be receptive to my own ideas and see value in them. A more forgiving and open-minded version of myself, someone less inclined to judgment and more interested in what I had to say became my own “Ideal Reader,” that person that you write for and whose approval you want. The journaling format and this much more benevolent Ideal-Reader-Diana started to influence my academic writing insofar as I no longer felt that my drafts were for my supervisor, or for anyone else. They belonged to me and me alone, and that meant that I could take some of the pressure off of myself. After all, if I’m the only one who is going to see this version, who cares what it looks or sounds like? What matters is getting the words out. I can always turn shit into gold at a later date, after all.

  1. I felt like I had something to offer. Don’t forget that your dissertation should make you feel like that, too.

When you’re surrounded by other academics and accomplished scholars and researchers, it’s easy to forget that the little slice of knowledge that belongs to you is actually interesting. My work had become so familiar to me that I began to see it as repetitive, stale, and boring as hell because I had become accustomed to my own ideas as some sort of normative, average base material that needed expansion to be worth anything at all. My discussions with others were a form of defamiliarization through which I could see and imagine my work with the eyes and ears of other people, and appreciate it as original and valuable even in its most rudimentary form. We can become used to our own ideas and immune to their charms, as it were, and although I didn’t leave conversations feeling like a genius, I was certainly reminded that what I was working on was new, fresh, and interesting in its own right, and that meant that I didn’t have to keep justifying my existence as a scholar and researcher to the darker parts of my own mind every time I sat down to write.

  1. We are in an academic bubble where the goal is perfection. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be written.

As hokey as it is, I often tell students for whom I am a teaching assistant that when they are working on an essay they should always remind themselves of the French verb essayer: “to try.” I think it was an Acadian colleague who first told me this, and it stuck.

I want to finish this post by deferring to the words of a wonderful human and brilliant colleague, Eileen Wennekers, whose excellent advice on writing and on life has always been sound and has gotten me out of more than one psychological jam. I recommend reading her piece, “How To Be A Writer,” in its entirety on the Weird Canada website. However, the following words are my favourites and I return to them again and again until they have become like old friends to me. I hope you find them as worthwhile to keep around as I have.

When you are writing you are not a radio. You are doing work, in the deepest dialectical sense: You are engaging with your material in a way that imprints it with a subjective mark, changing it, and in doing so, creating a manifestation in the objective world of what is inside you. You are working out a particular problem that only you could set yourself.

What this means is that if you have an idea about writing something, you are already inspired. You do not have to wait for inspiration to realize your idea. It is merely a matter of choosing to either relieve yourself or get off the can.

If you ever perfectly articulated everything exactly as you wished, a drain-hole would open up in the interstices between the world of signification and that world it refers to, and all that is would implode into this drain-hole in an impeccable inversion of the Big Bang. Thankfully, this has not yet happened.

This means that your piece is done not when it is perfect, but when it is done. Does it make sense? Does it say something? Are you deeply sick of the sight of it? Done. Everyone regards that which she excretes with an undeniable interest, but if you’re trying to shove it back into yourself in the hope of a more transcendent outcome, it’s just going to end up a mess. Just. Let. Go.

Please feel free to comment on this post with any resources on writing, academic or otherwise, that you think are worth sharing. In my next blog post, I’ll be talking about community-building, professionalization, and the complexities of the language of the death midwifery movement and in death and dying more broadly.

“Pop/Corn,” Word Hoard’s Latest Issue

Posted in Film, Literature, Publications, Theory with tags on January 8, 2015 by Diana S-V

Cover by artist Hinson Calabrese

One of the greatest opportunities I’ve had as a graduate student at Western was becoming the managing editor of Word Hoard, an interdisciplinary journal of the arts and humanities based out of the Department of English. As of yesterday, our third issue, “Pop/Corn,” is now being served up (as it were) and is available to download from Word Hoard‘s main page, where you can also find our previous two issues on the topics of “The Unrecyclable” and “Community and Dissent.”

Featuring articles and interviews about contemporary and classic horror, melancholy, the state of the university, nostalgia, bachelor pads, Camp, kitsch, Kundera, Kant, and Kanye West—as well as a beautiful cover—”Pop/Corn” has something for everyone and, more importantly, is yet another provocative, diverse collection of thoughtful and engaging writing from scholars across North America. I’m proud to be a small part of the incredible team that makes such a collection possible, and encourage you to pay a visit to Word Hoard.


Posted in Potent Quoteables, Theory on July 16, 2014 by Diana S-V

Today is Derrida’s birthday.

Bon anniversaire, J.D.

In quitting us, you leave us facing the obscurity into which you vanish. And so: salut, obscurity! Salut to this erasure of figures and schemas! And salut to the blind whom we become. The blind were a theme that you favored: salut to the vision that did not cling to forms or ideas but that let itself be touched by forces.

You practiced being blind all the better to greet the clarity that only obscurity possesses, which is out of sight and envelops the secret—a secret not concealed but evident, the manifest secret of being, of life/death. And so, salut! to the secret that you safeguard.

— Jean-Luc Nancy

from “Salut to you, salut to the blind we become”

ACLA Recap + Congress Update

Posted in Literature, Presentations, Professional, Theory on April 2, 2014 by Diana S-V

A visit to New York City is a visit from which it takes time to recover. What struck me about my time there was that it was one of the only places that can be experienced as advertised. Indeed, as I was reminded a few days ago by a friend, New York City is an advertisement for New York City. I’m not complaining, though. I ate some incredible food—of historical relevance and of contemporary interest— and had the opportunity to connect with some dearly missed friends. Manhattan is a relatively idiot-proof island on which to get around if you’ve got a map, a pass for the subway, and the iron will of a tourist, and so I got to see quite a bit of the city just by walking about. I was accompanied by colleagues and friends on this trip, but for the next one at the end of May for Derrida Today, I’ll be flying solo and will have a chance to get some serious time in at the Morbid Anatomy Library & Museum, the major art museums, the opera, and perhaps a cabaret show.

ACLA’s annual meeting was a fantastic experience overall, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I both love and loathe the conference structure: the former because it permits a larger group of scholars with related interests to connect than one might find at other conferences, and the latter because the concurrent panel structure entails missing out on many panels of equal interest and relevance to one’s work. This may have been exacerbated on both sides of the coin by the fact that the Death Sentence seminars were expanded to feature two streams of consecutive presentations that ran each morning until around 1:00pm.

I enjoyed each and every presentation that was a part of my stream, but highlights for me included the following: Diane Rubenstein (Cornell University) on U.S. Constitutional law and deconstructing death; Ruby Tapia (U of Michigan) on “photo-phenomenology” and Taryn Simon’s photography series The Innocents; and Christoforos Diakoulakis (independent) on Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, metafictive renderings of trials, and fatal accidents. Both Ruby (author of American Pietas: Visions of Race, Death, and the Maternal) and Christoforos (author of Jacques Derrida and the Necessity of Chance) have written monographs that I can’t wait to check out. In the second stream, two papers in particular have stuck with me: David Hollingshead (Brown U) on Jack London’s The Star Rover and The Sea-Wolf and the anatomy of punishment; and my colleague, Leif Schenstead-Harris, on John Banville’s Frames trilogy and literature as a near-death experience.

One of the things I was most looking forward to was Judith Butler’s plenary talk, entitled “Capital/Punishment.” As I had hoped, it addressed some of the ideas in Derrida’s The Death Penalty: Volume IIf I had to describe the talk in a sentence, I’d say that it was an effort to trace the enmeshed economies of capitalism, death, and sovereignty without merely thinking of these systems in terms of a causal relationship to one another. A challenge, to be sure, and Butler expressed puzzlement (or feigned puzzlement) at the beginning of the plenary that she would be asked to speak on the topic of capital punishment. Given that much of her recent work has concerned ethics, incarceration, non-violence, and sovereignty, why she would be genuinely puzzled is a mystery to me.

Butler began by doing some linguistic detective work, reminding us that “capital” comes from the Latin word for “head,” and that the origins of capital lie in the idea of moveable stock, of heads of cattle. A functional synecdoche is at work in the roots of capital: heads become separable from bodies to facilitate a conversion to a unit of value. This numerical figure—this collection of severed heads—can be counted as wealth, and creates an equivalence between head and monetary unit. The head becomes abstracted, to some degree, especially when it is mobilized for exchange. Pars capitalis, the act of lending, the origin of usury, of interest, debt, of the conditions of labour and of subsistence itself: those who are in debt occupy a zone of decapitation, Butler suggested, and have no real heads of their own.

Butler went on to note that the head of the sovereign works in tandem with the head of debtor, and that the fundamental link between “capitalism” and “capital punishment” (again, not a causal link) is the incurring of debt and the settlement of this debt. Derrida’s meditation upon Rousseau’s legitimizing of the death penalty comes up again here in Butler’s discussion. The sovereign subject enters into a social contract wherein the subject’s right to protection from harm is predicated on his acquiescence to having his head taken away should he cause harm to another subject. This is a form of accountability, of being able to literally count on something: a head for a head, as it were, what would appear to be the most basic of exchanges. Man is a responsible animal, Butler reminds us, “a promising animal.” Going back to Derrida, this time as he takes up Nietzsche, we consider that any injury is a form of debt, that all punishment is payment, and that underpinning this penitentiary logic is the psychic currency of guilt.

There was a great deal more to the talk that I did not write down in such a way that I can transmit it here with any accuracy, but Butler continued along a Freudian trajectory to discuss the links between drive theory, aggression, the pleasure principal (especially the pleasure that the creditor derives from receiving the payment of the debtor, and how this might be taken up in the context of death sentences), and racism. However, from the latter half of her talk, the following points were of greatest import to me, and I look forward to taking them up as I work towards transforming my paper from this conference into an article-length publication:

  1. Sentencing is a means of extending and enforcing the time of debt. Sentencing is a promise of time and an establishment of tenure. Tenure is also spatial.
  2. There are similar conditions at work that enable us to accept a) social contracts and b) commercial contracts.
  3. There is no murder that is not also a suicide (derived from the work of Melanie Klein).
  4. The state’s death penalty blurs the distinction between illegal and legal violence through the idea of vengeance.
  5. There is an increased connection to capitalism (and the metrics/quantitative reasoning that inform it) through the outsourcing of prisons.
  6. Considering the intersections of racism and capital punishment, the death sentence has become a regulation of citizenship.
  7. Resistance to capital punishment must, perhaps, entail a resistance to all other conditions of precarity.

As for what’s next, the conference program for Derrida Today has not yet been posted, but presenters have received a draft program for ACCUTE at Congress 2014. I’ll be presenting at a joint session with the International Gothic Association on the topic of “Gothic Temporalities.” I’ll be joined by two colleagues from Western, Leif Schenstead-Harris and Thomas Stuart, as well as another presenter with whom I’m familiar through Word Hoard. The panel will take place in East Academic 108 from 10:30am-12:00pm on Tuesday, May 27th, at Brock University.

Claire Colebrook: ‘Exceptional Disaster’

Posted in Theory on March 25, 2014 by Diana S-V

Catch me if you can | Upcoming Conferences

Posted in Literature, Presentations, Professional, The corpse, Theory on January 9, 2014 by Diana S-V

ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association) Annual Meeting | March 20-23, 2014 | New York University

“‘Okay, Warden, let’s do it’: Executed Offenders’ Last Statements and the TDCJ Digital Archive”

Panel: Death Sentence
Date and time: March 22 | 8:30am-10:20am
Location: West 4th C-19

ACCUTE (Associations of Canadian College and University Teachers of English)/International Gothic Association Joint Session, Congress 2014 | May 24-30, 2014 | Brock University

“The Abject Rhythm of De-composition: En(crypt)ion of the Body as Gift in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda

Panel: Gothic Temporalities
Date and time: May 27 | 10:30am-12:00pm
Location: East Academic 108

Derrida Today 4th Annual Conference | May 28-31, 2014 | Fordham University

“Spectre, Substrate, Cipher, Skin: The Absent Body in Derrida’s Archive”

Panel: Technicity and the Body
Date and time: May 29th | 3:30pm-5:30pm
Location: Room LL506

Theory Session | Embodiment and the Archive: Perspectives, Traces, and Peripheral Thinking

Posted in Literature, Presentations, The corpse, Theory on November 13, 2013 by Diana S-V

Poster credit to Dr. Peter Schwenger

On October 26th, I took part in a speaker’s series organized by the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism (CSTC) at Western University. The series is called “The Theory Sessions,” and it is a student initiative that promotes interdisciplinary research in theory at the CSTC and in other departments across campus. I’ve always been a great admirer of these sessions, not just because they provides an avenue for graduate students and faculty alike to present an in-depth public talk about their research interests but also because the sessions feature two confirmed respondents for each presenter. The respondents have access to the talk beforehand and are able to make exciting and informed contributions to the presentation, not to mention setting the stage for what is always a lively and thought-provoking question and answer period to close the session.

I was asked to present on fairly short notice because the original presenter was busy organizing the Apps and Affect conference, and wished to reschedule their talk for the winter term. Fortunately, I already had the foundations for the talk prepared (my peripheral thinking, as it were) in the form of an article-length paper written for one of my last courses. That paper represented my first real thinking about the shape my dissertation was going to take and so was an excellent opportunity to get feedback on my broader research from an interdisciplinary audience at a very early stage in the game. After all, I’ve not even written my field study or thesis prospectus yet.

That aspect was a bit terrifying, I’ll admit. It’s the same kind of terror I get when asked what I do at conferences and other social occasions in academia. Granted, I’ve become much more adept at articulating what it is I want to do, how I envision the project in this early stage, and what kind of questions I’d like to ask, but I always feel slightly guilty that I can’t fully flesh out what the project actually is. This was an excellent first step in trying to sketch the outline of what I was doing, a litmus test with a room full of people with very different perspectives about what bodies do and archives do, and how writing stages these “doings” and reconfigures their relationships to one another.

I ended up getting some incredible feedback from both my respondents and from the (fairly large) group that came to the session. A few folks actually wrote messages with several observations, more fully descriptive questions, and tips and/or resources to help me with some of the aspects of my work about which I’m only just beginning to think. I’m very grateful that I was able to have such a productive and positive experience with my first foray into the “big-picture” aspect of my research, and the feedback I did get from the session has already helped me to work out a few kinks in other aspects of my work.

An abstract and the full text of the talk can be found here on my academic webpage.