Materia 2020-2021 Testimonials

Materia 2020-2021 Testimonials

“So far, materia events have been some of the most interesting and engaging conversations I’ve experienced at Stanford. I really appreciated the discussion from earlier this month with Arndt Niebisch & Gisela Heffes and specifically the discussion of ‘viruses.’ I wrote a research proposal for the FEMGEN class I took this quarter that focused on Joni Mitchell, the Canadian singer-songwriter, and how her childhood bout with the poliovirus played a major role in the way she makes music—the disease left her hands too weak to press down on the strings in the traditional shapes, so she had to change the tuning of her guitar for nearly every song in order to be able to play it, something that has become one of the signature characteristics of her songwriting—and furthermore, how the interactions between Mitchell, the poliovirus, and her acoustic guitar led to the development of a uniquely anthropocenic subjectivity. It’s a far cry from what Niebisch and Heffes discussed, but I found their talk extremely useful for thinking about viruses as a means of crossing boundaries.

I am still shuffling through my own thoughts about one of the Materia talks from autumn quarter with Colin Drumm and Harleen Bagga (ironically enough, Harleen and I ended up taking a class together this quarter). Drumm’s discussion of Modern Monetary Theory led me to become very interested in primitive accumulation and the enclosure of the commons that I hope will develop into something that I can incorporate into my dissertation. It was also nice to speak with Harleen in class and get a broader sense of her research interests and perspective.

It’s my first year at Stanford, so I’m a little bit shy and just trying to get through my coursework, but I hope I’ll be able to become a more involved participant with Materia over the next few years.”

Matthew Gilbert, Department of Music.

“Engaging with materia forces me to rethink and expand the set of questions that I address in my own research. This quarter, ‘Light, Matter, Meat & Flesh’ and ‘Uncontained Toxicity’ reminded me that some imperative questions about modernity and violence can only be answered by studying geopolitical particularities. Valeria Meiller talk, for instance, centers the Argentinian matadero as an architectural space that pushes us to think about a particular industry’s role in the project of national development. More broadly, it forces us to think about biopolitics beyond the human. Meiller’s discussion of Francisco Salamone’s architecture immediately recalled the concept of ‘negative aesthetics’ and the many ways in which we construct spaces that house ‘ugly’ processes. While analyzing the architecture of institutions like concentration camps, prisons, mental hospitals, retirement homes, and orphanages is certainly important for understanding biopolitics, centering the slaughterhouse allows Meiller to think about these questions while moving away from anthropocentrism: the matadero is a space that organizes human bodies which subsequently organize the death of non-human animals. Furthermore, the Argentinian matadero conceals the ‘ugly’ process of slaughtering animals while glorifying meat as a consumer good which would catalyze Argentina’s process of modernization. (Debates continue about whether Argentina or Brazil has better beef.) I was also intrigued by Salamone’s inclusion of the word matadero in the façade of his buildings, which, as Meiller points out, communicates in a literal way what is happening inside of the building. The talk made me think seriously about the transition from the agricultural—which consists of the organization of life—to the slaughterhouse, which organizes death.

New materialist thinking serves as an important reminder—in my own work and that of others—that it is important to rethink research questions from a non-anthropocentric perspective. Gisela Heffes’ talk, for instance, made me think about the ways in which we as humans construct boundaries between the ‘natural’ and the ‘artificial.’ What does it actually mean to interact with something called ‘nature’? Why do we think about the ‘rural’ as a virgin space when we are constantly shaping the course and limits of its development? What do literary representations—and particularly those in Latin American texts—tell us about these important questions? In my own research, it will be important to broaden my interest in literary representations of precarity to include forms of precarity which are not anthropocentric. Pollution, for instance, affects the daily lives of people, but it can also create precarious ecosystems where sudden changes in human behavior can have drastic consequences. An increase in hurricanes might make life in certain places precarious, but how can we rethink this from the perspective of the non-human? How can we think about economic precarity, which deals extensively with money, in a way that is not anthropocentric?”

Alan Burnett Valverde, Department of English.

“As an ABD student, materia has served me as a space for continuous academic discussions regarding themes and methodologies relevant to literature and cultural studies this year. Also, it has provided students with interaction with top scholars working on beyond-human-oriented research, especially within Latin American cultural studies, such as Giselle Heffes and María del Rosario Acosta. Personally, the focal unit has offered me contact—through Zoom—with other Ph.D. candidates working on similar matters as myself, both within Stanford and in other universities. The group has served as an excellent place for fostering collaboration and collective brainstorming on current post-anthropocentric topics.”

Daniel Hernández, Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages.

“I have been a regular attendee to materia for the last three or four years, since the Research (now Focal) Unit relaunched its activity in 2017. As a student not previously engaged in (new)materialist approaches, materia has provided me with a unique space for in depth exploration of related lines of investigation and for bringing anthropocentric thinking to my own research. The group has not only contributed to my learning and awareness of current academic debates on these topics, through vibrant discussion and always engaging invited speakers’ talks, but it has also posited an invaluable opportunity to get to know graduate colleagues’ work and benefit from mutual feedback and support. In particular, these academic year’s events have been especially relevant for my own thinking of space and materiality. Harleen Kaur Bagga’s presentation provoked me to consider anthropocentric perspectives in topographic and visual representations, an area close to my investigative inquiries; Fabián Mosquera’s and Valeria Meiller’s talks contributed to enrich my approaches to spaces of ruin and destruction from a material point of view. In addition, Prof. Rosario Acosta’s provocation to decolonize the act of listening made me reconsider current ways of relating to the past and pursue historical and memory reconstruction, while Prof. Giselle Heffes’s insights into toxic semiotics casted to me a new critical light on thinking on spectral spaces and phantasmagoria. I look forward to materia’s future endeavors and events and I am confident it will continue to provide a safe and fruitful setting for collaborative research.”

Laura Menéndez, Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages.

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