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In previous years

Aug 15 2017

Since Fall Quarter 2014, materia has hold twelve workshops and a conference to date. The former averaged twenty-five participants; the latter had over seventy. During the first year, the group discussed--and coined-- the notion of “post-anthropocentric” as an umbrella term that sets in conversation a host of otherwise divisive trends. This is in itself a major contribution of the group; as the cultural or linguistic turns before it, the post-anthropocentric has the potential of generating entire bodies of research. Regarding the theme of animality and ecocriticism, ILAC Lecturer Ximena Briceño and graduate coordinator Monica VanBladel guided a discussion on reading selections by Jacques Derrida and Donna Haraway, who gave a keynote at last year’s conference. We also had Professor Gabriel Giorgi from New York University presenting his most recent book and sharing his views on literary depictions of animals as expression of biopolitical entanglements, as opposed to political allegories. Finally, we read Pope Francis latest encyclical in the light of Philip Drake’s theory of politics within Animal Studies, followed by a lecture by Professor Dierdra Reber, from Emory, who presented her work on Animal Commune-ism and empathy. Part of our discussions have agreed that a focus on animality need not be at odds with an object-centric orientation, as our conversations have revolved around the organic/in-organic divide and its literary emplotment.

On the subject of value and political economy in the anthropocene, Professor Eric Santner, from the University of Chicago, proposed a new interpretation of Marx's theory of value as one concerned with the afterlife of political theology in secular modernity. During her lecture, DLCL alumna Ericka Beckman, then an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, currently at UPenn, compared depictions of land (tierra) in the work of Chilean writer José Donoso and in that of the Mexican Juan Rulfo. Beckman focused on land as property bound by space and time (unlike financial assets) and showed how writers imagine a “rural hell” of peasant dispossession. Both discussions questioned the role of economy, value, and property in a space without the human as a center.

Regarding the idea of post-humanities, Anna Castillo, PhD Candidate in ILAC, presented on her dissertation. Castillo examined the potential effects of new technologies’ ever-intensifying intrusion into everyday sexual intimacy and its presence in Latin American contemporary literature. Previously, Professor Andrew Brown, from Washington University in St. Louis, had surveyed renderings of the posthuman in Latin American fiction as an instrument for navigating complex political and social realities. Per his account, the trope of “Latin American cyborg subjectivity” processes the experience of dictatorship and problematizes neoliberalism. In a similar vein, Distinguished Professor Francine Masiello, from UC Berkeley, examined how. under authoritarian regimes of the 1970s and 80s, a focus on the "bare life" conditions of the detained and disappeared triggered a wide conversation in the arts regarding ways to represent the body in relation to sensory perception. She mainly focused on how the visual and essayistic works of Chilean Guillermo Núñez and Brazilian Nuno Ramos register a crisis of experience.

Finally, we held other events regarding interdisciplinary approaches to material culture, including connections with art and philosophy. Professor Craig Epplin, from Portland State U., shared his work on dérive in the installations of the Belgian artist Francis Alÿs in Mexico and Panama. In such works, movement across space, Epplin showed, is not only about human perambulation, but about revealing the embeddedness of life-forms in a space that is both naturally and socially constituted. Further on, the lecture of NYU Professor Jacques Lezra claimed that philosophy's unsatisfiable "need" for "individuals" is a useful definition of its "materialism"—a materialism that variously-oriented contemporary philosophies disavow rather than joyously assume. Diverse interdisciplinary paths have nourished the group to produce multiple approaches to post-anthropocentrism, as well as to stimulate varied research interests in participants.

Post-Anthropocentrism at Stanford: A State of the Question was the title of our Spring 2016 conference. In addition to Donna Haraway, the conference featured Professors Mads Rosendhal Thomsen (Aarhus University) and Rachel Price (Princeton University). Thomsen surveyed the post-human in fiction, while Price discussed oil and sugar as actants in art. DLCL graduate students Monica VanBladel and Patricia Valderrama, as well as David Stentiford and Vicky Googasian from MTL and English, shared their research on animality and non-heroic resistance, cadaveric materiality, the possibility of post-anthropocentric characters, and post-anthropogenic makings, respectively. Professors Ewa Domanska (Adam Mickiewics University at Poznan and Anthropology, Stanford) and Zephyr Frank (History, Stanford) served as discussants and participated in the rich discussions of these panels, which lead the way to the keynote. Haraway’s presentation was an exposé on her latest monograph, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016), which came out two months after our conference. In the spirit of vigorous intellectual exchange that characterizes our group, all participants, including Professor Rodolfo Dirzo (Biology, Stanford), engaged in a closing roundtable.