An Academic Year in Abstracts

Hello There, Dear Reader,

What follows is a sort of presentation timeline. In this post I am giving you the abstracts to all of the conferences I have given papers at in the past academic year, along with a  brief blurb or review of the conference. 

I have not revised these abstracts, think of them as snapshots of an incomplete progression of thought, research, and analysis, not as concrete, final products.

In terms of the blurbs and reviews, I will simply try to highlight some of what I found most interesting at the conferences. I will not claim to give you an impartial overview of the occurrences and I will not pretend to pass any sort of judgment on the work of others. On the flip-side, if you, my dear reader, were at any of these conferences, please don’t be slighted or annoyed if I don’t mention your project. Instead, I encourage you to respond with a comment about your abstract for any other readers to see! I’ve seen more interesting, exciting, cutting-edge work in the last year than I could have dreamed of seeing a few years ago, so hopefully some of you join the discussion and highlight your own work.

Before we move on to my abstracts, allow me to explain my rationale for this post — and for not just backdating these as separate posts as my brilliant and tech savvy partner has not-so-subtly suggested I should do. Firstly, I wanted to post all of this so you can see what I’ve been up to this past year. I also wanted to give you an idea of the kind of texts I work with and the kind of work I am actually doing right now. In addition to that, I’d like to highlight these events in their own right, while also giving you something of a linear view of my academic exploits. I don’t want to backdate these because I want it all in one document that can be easily scanned.

One final note, I am not including conferences or presentations that I did not present at, because this post is going to be massive enough. I would like to take a moment to mention some professors whom I’ve had the immense pleasure of seeing this year, and whose talks helped shape my dissertation prospectus.

Colin Milburn from UC Davis gave a stunning paper at a Speculative Futures event, and also indulged me in some great talk about sci-fi, zombies, and biopolitics. Thanks to him for that and for answering my annoying, rambling emails.

Andrew Lakoff from USC also gave a stunning paper at a different Speculative Futures event. His examination of the politics of global health was really influential in helping reorient my perspective to be a bit more interdisciplinary.

A special nod also has to go to Priscilla Wald and Aaron Jaffe, but they will both be mentioned below.

One last time, these abstracts remain as they were submitted, so take them with a grain of salt. The details likely changed a little in each case, but the spirit and major texts stayed the same.


Conference Title: PAMLA (Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association) Nov 5 through November 6, 2011 at Scripps College

Original Title and Abstract Submitted:

Permeable Selves: Porosity, Cavernousness, and the Interpenetration of Selves and Time in Benjamin and Woolf

This paper explores Benjamin’s “porosity” and the “cavernous” in Virginia Woolf to show how these conceptions rethink the relationship of the individual to the collective. This, in turn, leads to a rethinking of the limits of the self, as typified in Clarissa Dalloway’s “transcendental theory” in Mrs. Dalloway. Thus, contributing greatly to issues that critical theory is still trying to address.

Susan Buck-Morss and Victor Burgin have, to some extent, examined the concept of porosity in the work of Walter Benjamin, taking the term from his introduction to “One Way Street”. In their analyses, they have focused primarily on the topics of temporal and spatial interpenetration, neglecting the interpenetration or interconnection of selves. On the other hand, J. Hillis Miller has looked somewhat extensively at repetition and the interconnection of selves in the “cavernous” representation of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. He demonstrated how narrative repetition demonstrated an interconnectivity of characters’ and the narrator’s thoughts, which perpetually resurrects the dead. This paper attempts to illustrate that the use of these similar terms (porous and cavernous) is no accident, as these attempts to represent selfhood demonstrate a larger issue at stake in modernism: negotiating the relationship of the individual to the collective. These conceptions maintain a strong sense of individuality, but base the definition of that individual selfhood on a constellation of other selves, spaces, and times. The porous and the cavernous are permeable, allowing flux and flow in and out. Furthermore, this is particularly relevant because modernist conceptions of interconnected selfhood, such as these, fed and were fed by simultaneous historical and cultural phenomena to lay the groundwork for the problems that theory only began to explore in the latter decades of the Twentieth Century, and is still grappling with.

To proceed, I will first trace the definitions of these conceptions in theworks of Benjamin and Woolf. I will proceed to illustrate their similarity and explain how both conceptions promote permeability of self. Then, I will offer an explanation of how this rethinks the relationship of the individual and the collective, and very briefly show how this is relevant to other modernist texts. Finally, I will, again briefly, attempt to tenuously trace a link from these interconnected selves and their problematic union of individual and collective to more recent interventions in theory such as the cyborg, the posthuman, and the multitude.

Thoughts on PAMLA 2011:

This conference had a lot going on, at times it felt like a bit too much to handle — to give you an idea day 2 featured between 15 and 18 panels going on simultaneously for each session, that’s a lot of choices! I thought Ursual Heise’s plenary address was the highlight of the day. It was titled “Plasmatic Nature: Environmentalist Thought and Animated Film” and really did a great job of introducing the audience to ecocriticism and examining it at work in various animated films. She was engaging, lucid, and informative, and it was a very positive experience. After that I parted ways with my friend and colleague, Lindsay Thomas (check her own word press out here:, her research is super cool), and we headed off to our respective panels. In Virginia Woolf II: Creating Selves, I had the unexpected pleasure to see another colleague of mine —  Judith Paltin — give an unbelievably erudite reading of Orlando… as a last minute fill-in. It was awesome. All in all, not a bad experience, I also enjoyed the Literature and Science I panel that I attended.

Santa Barbara Global Studies Conference: Crisis: February 24 through February 25, 2012 at UCSB

Original Title and Abstract Submitted: 

Dreams of Immunity, Anxieties of Infection: The Politics and Structure of Infection in Contemporary Zombie Narratives

Recently, the zombie has come back from the dead and shuffled its way into the cultural limelight. For something notoriously sluggish, zombies have largely outstripped theoretical interventions. This paper is one of a number of contemporary attempts to cover this distance and bring the advances in theory and criticism to bear on the narrativization and representation of the zombie. This paper takes a Posthumanist, Biopolitical perspective in reading zombie narratives and representations. The paper addresses the cultural significance of zombies and their problematic relationship to biosecurity, risk, limits of life, and limits of the human.

This paper begins by considering the zombie in relation to the larger genre of “outbreak narratives,” but goes on to complicate this generic categorization. It argues that outbreak narratives are predicated on the maintenance of a false binary, distinguishing the individual from the collection, and immunity from infection (and by extension, community). The paper then interrogates the complementary anxieties of infection and dreams of immunity that underlie these narratives. In zombie narratives and representations, these anxieties and wishes are hyperbolized and made apparent, darkly reflecting contemporary concerns in and with a rapidly human-decentering world. Zombie narratives and representations, more than any other, interrogate the same issues that theory has been increasingly interested in since the 1980s, and it puts the fears and dreams associated with these in play with generic conventions to keep shuffling after our imaginations.

This paper will focus primarily on 28 Days Later (2002), Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comics and the AMC series of the same title. It will also, more briefly, address the cultural salience of zombies and the pleasure and danger of the zombie narrative at play – as seen in Shaun of the Dead (2004) and numerous video games, both decades old and contemporary.

Thoughts on SBGSC:

Firstly, let me say that this paper changed a bit and I looked a bit at flu experimentation (the H5N1 variants that made a lot of buzz last year). I felt that the paper turned out very well, and I spent more time examining how flu experiments and outbreaks are portrayed in the media than the abstract shows. Enough about me, though, let me tell you about some of the highlights. From the panel I was on, superstar Malcolm Potts gave an explosive paper on “The Crisis in the Sahel,” a dire prophecy about the effects of global warming on social stability in the Sahel region of Africa. It was an eye opening paper.

I was also blown away by a panel loaded with my colleagues and acquaintances from the English and Comparative Literature Departments here at UCSB. “Crisis and Media” was a great hit.

I’ve included a link to the conference website in case any of you want to poke around and see what was presented.

Main Website:


Conference Title: Zombies V. Professors – Zombie Symposium at University of Louisville April 13 through April 15, 2012

Original Title and Abstract Submitted: 

The Living Dead, Limits of Living, and the Sanction of Violence

The zombie has gently shuffled – or hungrily dashed, depending on who you ask – out of the dark corners of cultural production and into the limelight. What has caused the resuscitation of these semi-living cultural corpses? And though zombie theory has been largely outstripped by its subject, theory and the academy have begun to hunt down these revivified zombies; hence the symposium. Recent theory has begun to revise readings of the zombie by considering the Posthuman, Biopolitical, and Ecological complications of the genre. This paper offers one such complication of zombie theory, positing a Biopolitical, Posthumanist reading of the zombie in popular culture.

In this paper, I will argue that the zombie is – and has always been – an embodiment of the “homo sacer,” as elucidated by Agamben. This paper will begin by laying a theoretical foundation, drawing from the work of Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, and Michel Foucault, to set up a Biopolitical reading of zombies. Then, the paper will go on to trace the terms laid out in the theoretical section through several very different narratives related to zombies, offering very brief looks at White Zombie (enter year), Night of the Living Dead  (or DotD), and AMC’s The Walking Dead (2010, 2011). This second section of the paper will focus on portrayals of the zombie, parallel representations of the living, and the sanction of violence within these narratives. The third section of the paper will move draw some tentative conclusions about the relation of these narratives where the dead walk – or shuffle, crawl, or run across – the earth to contemporary social, economic, and political issues.

The third and final section of the paper will mark a shift, and move to draw some tentative conclusions about the relation of the previous two sections to the current climate of global risk. The paper explain how the maintenance of culturally sanctioned violence to the body promoted by and performed in zombie narratives is complicated by contemporary questions of biosecurity, the limits of life, and the limits of the human. As we will see, the zombie’s recent cultural prominence lies in its naturally questioning the very problems that Posthumanism, Biopolitics, and Ecocriticism set out to interrogate. In a world that is repeatedly said to be teetering on social, political, biological, and ecological catastrophe, the zombie narrative gives us comfort. We see our lives reflected in the survivors’, seldom realizing how similar they are, and often relishing the violence they commit, which we always deny ourselves. Or, As Simon Pegg writes in the Afterword to The Walking Dead Volume 2:Miles Behind Us, “It is perhaps this combination of hope in the face of terror, that makes the zombie so attractive to us. The idea that we could ourselves, beat death. Beat it until its brains come out of its ears.”

Thoughts on Zombies V. Professors:

This conference was huge for me. Since this was the first special topics conference I attended, I was pleasantly stunned by how relevant ALL of the papers were. Sadly, I missed the first day due to scheduling and flight issues, but the second day was thrilling. It would even be hard to choose a few highlights because I saw so many great papers, covering everything from American Zombies, to Voodoo Zombies, to Contemporary Haitian Zombies, to Biopolitics, to Cocktails. It was that cool. In lieu of trying to pick out what I thought was most influential or interesting, I will just give a nod to the conference organizers — Aaron Jaffe of the University of Louisville and Ed Comentale of Indiana University. In addition to putting on a stellar conference, they also each gave brilliant papers! So, cheers and thanks to them. I’ve included the schedule to this conference here:

Speculative Futures Conference – Contagion/Control, May 10 to May 11, 2012 at UCSB

Original Title and Abstract Submitted:

Early Twentieth Century Crowds: Contagion and Control

This paper examines the early public health discoveries and interventions alongside late nineteenth and early twentieth century representations of crowds. The paper begins with early public health movements and the birth of modern epidemiology, and goes on to consider the skeptical consideration of the crowd in cultural texts. I argue that the cultural texts register the correlation of illness with poverty, proximity, and overpopulation in rapidly growing cities, propagated by public health and sociology. The paper traces the increasing use of statistical modeling and population-based studies in France and England through the rise of early sociology and its proliferation of narratives on crowds and crowd control – such as Gustave Le Bon’s The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, Sir Martin Conway’s The Crowd in Peace and War.

After setting up this historical and theoretical context, I aim to show how artistic and literary cultural productions ambivalently dwelling on the danger of the crowd, such as T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Poems and The Waste Land and the prose of Wyndham Lewis offer a parallel narrative, interrogating the concerns of individual and national health and security. This paper will show how cultural productions question whether contagion or control is more dangerous to individual and collective life and health.

Thoughts on Contagion/Control:

This was the last conference of the year for me and it may have very well been the most exciting. The clear highlight, though, was Priscilla Wald’s keynote. Many of you will know her as the author of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative, and her presentation at this conference expanded and extended the type of work done in that — frankly stunning — analysis. With a greater focus on pop culture narratives, Professor Wald gave a brilliant paper on Outbreak Narratives in relation to biopolitical and ecocritical issues. All the more impressive given the fact that the second half of it was ad-libbed to accommodate a shift in audience demographic.

The rest of the conference was absolutely marvelous, the panels shockingly cohesive. All in all, a great end to a great year.

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