It’s that time of year when we come together with those close to us to celebrate, before the year ends, the things that really matter… like conference proposals (NASSR’s is due January 17th!), chapter drafts, readings from new books, and the other standard fare of the nineteenth-century working group. But concocting the perfect colloquium moves beyond a craft to become an art form, and it is the aim of this post to give you some pointers on preparing that rare colloquium that is truly — well done.
Introduction: I spent the better part of this summer—and the final months of my time as graduate curatorial fellow at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art—conceiving, planning, and executing my first art exhibition, Ecological Looking: Sustainability & the End(s) of the Earth. In this post, to open my blogging for the 2014-15 academic year, I detail how in curating the show I sought to mobilize the skills and expertise with which I’ve been endowed as a romanticist, generally, and aspiring William Blake studies scholar, more specifically. In doing so, I hope less to merely chronicle my own experience than to open up other possibilities of engagement for graduate students training in the field. I mean this especially with an eye toward curatorial work, an aspect of the academic and museum profession I believe a number of graduate students in the caucus might have a great deal to contribute (and which, of course, the NGSC alumnus Kirstyn Leuner already has). Continue reading A Romanticist as Curator
This year, I went vegan. This past week, the ethical and environmental consequences of my veganism became profoundly challenged. In what follows, I use my experience as a scholar invested in animal studies and animal rights to begin exploring the meaning and tensions involved in the cultivation of an orientation where scholarship and the politics of everyday life become intertwined. I do so neither to laud myself, nor to assert the necessary salience of my concerns per se. The ground I’m on is unstable, supported by monocrop farms, and made possible by the production of GMO plant foods. My interest here is in locating a nexus of potentiality and tension. I look to ask and get feedback on how to grapple with a set of social circumstances that constitute a horizon that delimits the desired results of the changes one wishes to contribute.
Increased work in areas of intersection between the history of art and methods of animal studies led me to a new ethical orientation. Artwork to which I’m drawn, by artists from Hogarth to Blake in the eighteenth century, to Matthew Barney in the twenty first, frequently thematize the position nonhuman species occupy as within a realm of moral rights. I realized that if I accepted such a thematic interplay as valid, I was therefore impelled to oppose the commodity status of other animals as machinic apparatuses of culture transmute them into objects of exchange-value (e.g. meat production) and use-value (e.g. dairy milk production). I had been a vegetarian for more than a decade. But the repetition of intellectual engagement with a view towards these issues crystallized my commitments to animal rights at a higher level of intensity. My life trajectory prior to the academic world drove this component of my research commitments; my research commitments came to deepen and transform the political aspects of my life commitments. A circuit was formed, whereby life, scholarship, and politics might form a mutually illuminating constellation of shared concerns and pursuits. I ultimately came to a conclusion. I could not continue to pursue scholarship that seeks to place human beings in an equitable relation to other animals, while at the same time continuing to occupy a privileged position in consuming animal products.
Yet, this space quickly appeared to me to be much more complex than I had anticipated, the way forward more convoluted. This was brought to an apex point for me during a recent meeting of the Chicago Animal Studies Workshop. There, Alice Kuzniar of the University of Waterloo led a wonderful meeting on writing she is doing on the Austrian director Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s 2005 film Our Daily Bread (Fig. 1).
The work completely cut across the very sense of self-accomplishment I experienced upon going vegan. What is deeply devastating about Geyrhalter’s film is that it so profoundly juxtaposes the means of techno-agriculture production relative to animal and plant life alike. Geyrhalter’s film alternates between settings that show animal and plant life being turned into commodities by like means of production. One scene shows dairy cows being forced onto a carousel that automatically moves them into position to be mechanically milked. The sounds of automation disturbingly define the sonic space. In another, the camera reveals a greenhouse where a nondescript crop is being grown under artificial light, with a machine moving under the lighting mechanism to water the plants. They won’t see actual sunlight until they depart to be sold. Similar sounds of robotics comprise the aural background of both scenes of the film. One is stunned into the realization that advanced industrial agriculture forms a horizon within which one is situated, irrespective of whether one consumes animal products like milk, or not.
And in this regard, I was astonished by the extent to which the filmmaker’s work stages what the romanticist Forest Pyle has recently identified as a radical aestheticism operative across romantic and post-romantic art. In this mode, the very ethical valences of the artwork become undone by its operations. Introducing the idea in Art’s Undoing, Pyle first observes that in “the broadest sense an aestheticism can be attributed to a text when the performance of its aesthetic reflection (which is necessarily a self-reflection) effectively severs the relationships (whether analogous, homologus, preparatory, supplementary, or complimentary) between art and knowledge by subsuming the latter into the former.” He goes on to assert that a text might “be understood as succumbing to a radical aestheticism the moment it finds itself and its representations of the aesthetic at its vacating radical.” The corresponding implication is that a “radical aestheticism offers no positive claims for art (either those based on ethical or political grounds or on aesthetic grounds)” and becomes “a kind of black hole from which no illumination is possible” (4). The logic of aesthetics Pyle describes, indeed, deconstructs the very possibilities of ethical movement or imperatives to be derived from a work of art, like that of Geyrhalter. The work of art’s aesthetic performance of itself radically collapses conditions for positive formulations of knowledge.
Geyrhalter’s film instantiates precisely these conditions of collapse. In Our Daily Bread, the dispersion of productive modes across animal and plant food cultivation leaves the viewer with questions regarding the very efficacy of a dissenting position that would oppose the contemporary food industry. If one’s consumption of plant foods, to the exclusion of animal ones, leads to the increased utilization of artificial environments for the growing of genetically modified crops, is the situation for plants any less perverse and cruel than that of animals raised for slaughter, milk, and clothing? What is the way forward, when one can begin to become clear on some aspects of the system, but is interpellated in such a way that the path forward is seemingly obscured by a horizon of production that appears to have always already enfolded potential directions of opposition and critique?
Pyle, Forest. 2013. Art’s Undoing: In the Wake of a Radical Aestheticism. New York: Fordham University Press.
It’s been an exhilarating and frenetic start to autumn, not least because I’ve been entrusted with managing this extraordinary blog in addition to taking up my first position at Northwestern in the capacity of graduate fellow at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art. There, I’ve been—and will spend the better part of this year—gearing my energies towards the organization of an exhibition of William Blake’s art in relation to his reception into the literary, musical, and visual cultures of the long-1960s. In many ways, it’s a dream year. Yet, the first five weeks of the quarter—serving as both a curator and editor of sorts—have become cause for new meditations on new possibilities. Convening a group of accomplished scholars working on romanticism and re-constructing Blake as an artist whose work becomes an impetus through which further acts of artistic production became catalyzed has led me to consider the role our blogging community plays in the generation of new approaches to both research and teaching. At its core, it seems to me that the blog represents a space in which our experiences are shared, best practices are disseminated, the rush of new insights are felt, and that new directions in scholarship become swiftly circulated so that others might immediately benefit. To my mind, it is when this dialogue takes place at the nexus of differing disciplinary practices that it proves most effective. These commitments inform how I’ve gone about organizing the blog for the coming academic year. As a result, in what follows—my first “editor’s note,” an exercise I hope to repeat quarterly, not as a point of privilege but as a means to synthesize and highlight certain aspects of the blog’s discussion from time to time—I introduce this year’s new authors, discuss my launching of a contemporary artist in “E-Residence” position with the blog, and present an imagining of how these matters might play out. Moreover, I invite comments and suggestions as to how others feel about the goals and objectives of the blog, and specifically about what others might wish to see addressed in the coming months.
At the center of all this is how truly excited and elated I am with respect to the Romantic Studies graduate blogging team joining the community with the advent of the 2013/14 academic year. Perhaps, it is because I am the resident art historian of the NASSR Graduate Student caucus, but what I enjoy most about this collective of emerging scholars is the dazzling array of interdisciplinary work that—to my mind—comprises the very best in scholarship presently being undertaken in our field. In this regard, I am extremely delighted to welcome the graduate students who will begin writing for the blog, all of whose work stands at the interstices of romanticism and a veritable range of disciplinary practices, from economics and gender (Renee Harris), to the medical sciences (Arden Hegele), to the digital humanities (Jennifer Leeds), and all the way to archaeology (Deven Parker). Given the critical mass of perspectives and viewpoints this fall’s new cadre of bloggers represent, the discussions that take place here promise to be important, insightful, and vital ones. Just as well, I am thrilled to welcome the first scholarly collective to be featured on the blog—the highly enterprising Arizona State University 19th Century colloquium. In principle, I believe it’s crucial for us to chart, not only the ideas and practices that we come up with on our own as romanticists (and/or as scholars of the long eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries generally), but also the advances that necessarily come about through the social networks with which we identify. After all, it is my contention that when we do our best work, we often do so when we operate neither in scholarly isolation nor in seclusion, but when we combine minds and efforts taking part in robust scholarly communities.
Further, I am ecstatic that Nicole Geary (Printmaking MFA, 2013) has accepted the caucus’s invitation to join the blog as this year’s Artist in (E-)Residence. Because Nicole’s work as a printmaker and sculptor intensely engages issues of contemporary ecology, geology, and memory—and does so within the artistic key of a research-based practice predicated upon on a scientific methodology—I thought Nicole a particularly well-suited artist to take part in the NGSC. Her art grapples with a set of social/environmental problems and critical and aesthetic possibilities resonant with the scholarship presently being taken up by a number of caucus members. While the idea is an experiment on my part—though not entirely original, in that other communities have sought out insights that might be gleaned from scholarly/artistic collaboration—I am eager to see how an artist’s perspective will illuminate our own work as scholars in new ways. Also, I find myself enticed by the prospect that our community might contribute to the production of art within our own social/cultural horizon. Ultimately, it is my hope that the Artist in (E-)Residence caucus post might prove sufficiently viable so as to alternate in succeeding years between a poet and an artist working in visual or other media (musical, architectural, or otherwise).
In any event, I enthusiastically anticipate a quarter, and year, for this graduate student caucus wrought with brilliant possibilities for intellectual revelry, debate, and jouissance at every level. Indeed, posts have already been proposed taking up a range of topics from thinking through contemporary issues of fracking with Percy Shelley, to issues of gender and sexuality as they pertain to Michael Suk-Young Chew’s recent book, Jane Austen: Game Theorist, to the critical issue of the contingencies, risks, and rewards associated with open-access online scholarly engagement.
The year promises to be lively. The state of graduate studies in romanticism is strong. Therefore, I say, please join in the discussion, either by way of comments or as a guest blogger. We look forward to your participation.
NASSR Graduate Students and Advisors of Romantic Studies Graduate Students:
The NASSR Graduate Student Caucus (NGSC) invites applications for new bloggers for the 2013-2014 academic year. We ask that NGSC bloggers commit to contributing about 1 post per month (or approx. 8-10 total per year) and to serving through September 2014.
To apply, please submit a short statement of interest, along with a current academic CV to: JacobLeveton2017@u.
As always, we welcome posts on a wide range of topics and issues of importance to our authors that represent their range of expertise, scholarly experiences, institutions, research interests, and issues relating to student life.
Importantly: Posts need not be works of honed researched scholarship and sustained argument (though, admittedly, this can be a tough habit to break!). Posts can be as brief as a paragraph or as long as a few pages. Posts can also be a collage of images as well as thought experiments, original poetry, or a recently read poem or literary excerpt, or artistic piece or performance that you would like to share. Collections of links, reports on travel, or summaries of scholarly talks attended related broadly to the field of Romanticism are likewise warmly invited.
We hope this space is one where we can enjoy writing fun, lighthearted reflections or humorous quips as well as serious contemplations about our field. Fostering a supportive and meaningful community of graduate students is at the heart of this successful enterprise; we hope you will choose to take part!
If you have any questions about blogging for the NGSC, please send us an email and we’ll get right back to you.
Kirstyn Leuner (Dept. of English, CU-Boulder), Chair, NASSR Graduate Student Caucus, and Co-Editor of NGSC blog
Jacob Leveton (Dept. of Art History, Northwestern U), Managing Editor, NASSR Graduate Student Caucus Blog
Last week I attended the 19th annual British Women Writer’s Conference in Columbus Ohio, and I’m still on a kind of academic natural high. In the interest of full disclosure I must tell you that I went partly to present a paper and partly because I’m co-chairing the conference in Boulder next year, and thus needed to observe its workings. It was quite a large conference: 250 people, as many as 6 concurrent panels, and fantastic keynote speakers. I was impressed by the smooth operation of it all, but more than that I found myself impressed by the conference’s ethos. It was genuinely inspiring. I’m going to struggle not to gush in this post, but seriously—what a wonderful experience.
One of the most important things I realized over the three days I spent there was just how indebted I am to the scholars who have gone before me, a fact made all the more clear since many of them were in attendance! I had not realized how recently the canon of 18th and 19th century British Literature has opened to include many of the women writers now considered some of its pillars—but only 19 years ago did a group of graduate students recognize the dearth and decide to do something about it by organizing the BWWA. One speaker pointed out the importance of the tenure system, since many of those who have published books on what were obscure women writers, did not venture to do so until after they had tenure; this seemed incredible to me, but in later conversations several people I spoke to confirmed the statement. Somehow I had imagined that the women’s movements of the 1970s had accomplished all this work; realizing that it has happened in my young-adult lifetime, and that many of the scholars who brought it about are still in the midst of their careers, really humbled and inspired me. The very people I was mingling and chatting with were some of those who had made it possible for me to work on the things I’m working on. Even more incredible is that so many of them were graduate students when they began to make a difference!
This brings me to the second reason my respect for the BWWA has increased: they really, truly believe in the power of graduate students and this belief is built into both the structure and spirit of the organization and conference. Though many of the students who began the BWWA are now full professors who serve on the executive board, they entrust the planning and running of each year’s conference to grad students at the host university. Responsibilities include all the logistical things (location, lodging, food), but also the academic things like choosing and inviting keynote speakers, choosing a theme and writing the call for papers, and reading submissions and organizing panels. I was so impressed with the group who ran this year’s conference, and likewise impressed by the many expressions of trust, confidence, and appreciation the BWWA board and many of the higher-ranking conference attendees expressed to them. (And it really was a beautifully-run event; completely well-organized, and in a gorgeous location). The BWWA also strives to sponsor a few travel grants especially for graduate students, and this year they added a grant for “contingent faculty,” to reach out and include those in the tough space between graduating and finding a tenure-track position. In short, the whole feeling of the conference seemed to be one of graciousness, inclusion, and enthusiasm for everyone’s work—a real collegiality that reached across rank and age and letterhead. I chaired a panel that featured two imposing professors (one the editor of an academic journal and the other from Yale), and I was a little nervous…but then I found myself taking notes as much on their manners as on their papers, because they were so impressively gracious! Each time she was asked a question, the Yale professor would share her thoughts and then say, “Thank you so much for bringing that up! What do you think about it?” Great conversations and intellectual exchanges took place in that panel.
I do wonder what some of the male attendees thought of their BWWC experience, because the conference population is overwhelmingly female. I’m not sure whether this happens because women scholars tend to be more interested in women writers, or because the conference itself mirrors its project of creating space for the women of history to speak by creating space for today’s women scholars to speak, but it’s certainly noticeable, and in a really cool way. I find myself often thinking about how I navigate my professional life as a woman—the personae I adopt when I teach, when I write, when I present. A recent study found that when letters of recommendation portrayed a candidate (regardless of that candidate’s gender) as “nurturing” or “warm,” they were less likely to be hired than a candidate recommended as “assertive” or “independent.” The point is, gender stereotypes still materially affect our professional lives, and I know many women scholars feel a bit more conscious of playing the professional part than men do. There were more men at this year’s conference than in some years, I’m told; the BWWA board is not exclusively female, and men make valuable contributions to the organization and conference—but still, one of the really wonderful things about the BWWC was a sort of communal letting down of the hair. It didn’t necessarily feel any less professional, just a little more…down to earth, maybe? It’s difficult to describe. Conversations might as likely turn to the challenges of breastfeeding in a suit or helping a 12-year-old with his homework, as they would to Mary Wollstonecraft or Elizabeth Gaskell (and I can just imagine Wollstonecraft and Gaskell discussing the same types of things!). On a bus trip a big group of us got laughing about what “type” of academics we were—the scarf academic, the chunky-jewelry Chico’s academic, the Birkenstocks academic, the e-bay Anthropologie academic, or (in my case) the Target sale-rack academic (they have great cardigans!). Nobody felt self-conscious about ordering a chocolate martini, or savoring a crème brulée, or complimenting someone on their shoes, or gushing about one of the Regency Reenactment dancers’ crocheted gloves (yes, we enjoyed a performance of Regency dancers). It was sort of like a super-smarty-pants girls’ weekend out. One professor who has attended the conference for years called it her “Old Girls’ Club.” While I generally feel pretty good about the respect shown to women in academia, there is still something to be said for female friendship, and I would say I really did make friends at the BWWC.
In all, I came back from Ohio with newfound respect for what the BWWA does and how they do it, as well as perspective on how the work we do as graduate students can palpably, materially affect the profession for good. Building the Association has clearly been a labor of love for those who have participated in it, and I’m excited for the opportunity to make my own contribution throughout this next year. Our committee here in Boulder will be pouring our hearts into planning the 2012 conference, to make it just as great of an experience for future attendees as I had last weekend—and even when our turn is over, I look forward to participating with the BWWA for many years to come.
My friend and colleague (and fellow blogger) Kelli Towers Jasper and I are in the early stages of planning our first conference: the British Women Writers Conference (BWWC) 2012, which will be held at CU-Boulder next year (click here for the upcoming 2011 BWWC website — if you’re presenting, Kelli and I will see you there!). We were advised that planning a conference is like planning a wedding (luckily, we’ve both done that), complete with anxieties about finances, timing, food, lodging, speeches, number of guests, transportation, and more. Though there will be no vows that I’m aware of, I have been chastened by early planning and organizational efforts and feel blessed to have such a well-organized and motivated co-chair, Kelli, and experienced faculty advisor, Jill Heydt-Stevenson, in this effort. (If you have organized a conference and have advice or experience to impart, pretty please post a comment to this blog and share your wisdom with us!) Continue reading Conference Planning & Dreaming on Such a Winter’s Day
According to the OED, undertow can be traced back to the early nineteenth century. Sporting Magazine (1817) refers to “A current,… at times counteracted by means of a strong opposing ‘undertow,’ as it is called.” If this first phrase touches upon the register of physical operations, the next lies close to that of myth and (ominous?) portent: “The recoil of the sea, and what is called by sailors the undertow, carried him back again.” The first example identifies a general dynamic of fluid directionality, describes strong flows and pulls, and suggests inconsistent, unstable forces. The second describes a geographic, biotic entity (the sea) grown quasi-monstrous, recoiling, carrying sailors “back again,” but how far? To where?
Formulating a transatlantic studies reading group at the University of Colorado at Boulder shared much with my childhood bouts with the Pacific, especially those times when the water won. Calling oneself a romanticist stakes out a somewhat reasonable or at least recognizable critical terrain. But epistemologically stepping into the oceans and seas to orient one’s work around aqueous and landed flows immediately leads one to the potentially hazardous and/or freeing problematics of how far to go and most importantly, to where—to what critical end?
When the undertow takes down even the strongest of swimmers, it’s just as disorienting and humbling as the above sentences from the OED suggest. Being sucked beneath the surface aptly parallels the problems I faced (and cannot conquer) in establishing a forum for exploring the current state of transatlantic, circumatlantic and hemispheric studies. How far back or forward in time should the readings go? What if the group’s reading selections only come from what qualifies as either British sources or literature attributed to the United States, and so the group navigates itself to the much-maligned realm of trans-national literary studies? To be completely honest, the most muddled and pressing point for me personally, is why, and if, I should be engaging in such methodological pursuits as a student committed first and foremost to the study of romantic literatures.
Our First Meeting:
Now having brought the group together for its inaugural meeting last Wednesday, we’ve proved that at least fifteen graduate students at Boulder are deeply or trepidatiously committed to throwing themselves into the fray. We are ready to see what considerations of the Atlantic and other bodies of water as well as other flows of bodies, organisms, ideas and objects will do to us, and perhaps even for us, given some amount of steadfastness and willingness to thrash about methodologically for the year. We read Melville’s Benito Cereno as our initial primary text and an article by Amanda Claybaugh on Dickens’ American book tours, which analyzes intersections between social reform and transatlantic reprinting/plagiarizing prior to the 1891 transatlantic copyright law that forbade such intellectual borrowing and trading.
For two hours we discussed things colonial, national, material, theoretical, and narratological—and speaking as just one of those who agreed to getting more than her feet wet, it was just as difficult and rewarding as getting lost in pull of the undertow while still being able, finally, to come back up for air, and for more. Next month, we’ll be making one of our great moves back in time, shifting away from the space of the slave ship and the triangular trade to discuss Locke’s Two Treatises on Government and an article by the well-known scholar of transatlantic and Native American scholarship, Kate Flint. We will close out the semester with a turn to the spaces of the Caribbean, reading the anonymously published The Woman of Colour, and will consider Elisa Tamarkin’s critical work on “Black Anglophilia.” Perhaps at its best, it would appear that these more geographically-sensitive modes of analyses might help us to engage “currents,… at times counteracted,” but that might otherwise be easy to ignore, and thus most simply reminds us to perform due diligence. Onward, to the next recoil.