Hi Dear Reader,
Been a while since I sat down and wrote to you, so I thought I would take a few moments on this lovely Friday morning to update you on what’s happening in my class (ENGL 165 CI), my dissertation, and my (academic) life.
We spent the last week and a half of my class thinking about the Steven Soderbergh film, Contagion (2011). We prepared for it by looking at the slideshow and conclusions for Operation Dark Winter (you can see it for yourself http://www.upmc-biosecurity.org/website/events/2001_darkwinter/). The students seemed really horrified by the power of Smallpox to kill and disfigure and it seemed to be a strangely stirring force in their imaginations (and my own). I think pairing that with Contagion worked really well, because both account for global transmission (of infection and of information), and Operation Dark Winter really anticipates major scenes and trajectories in the film, so it lends to thinking about how we narrativize outbreaks.
My students really seemed to be moved by Contagion and a couple of them explained that it brought everything we’d been thinking and talking about this quarter into a more personal perspective, made it realizable, urgent. That comment surprised me, but it also excited me. The fact that a group of college students can connect the deep political problems of representations of infection/immunity//terror/security to their own lives means the class is a success; I’ve helped them develop a register for speaking and thinking about the politics of these issues in the world. I know that they’re already using these skills, because many of them have sent me links to relevant films, described relevant novels, and analyzed relevant advertising campaigns.
Now, beginning with our discussion on Contagion, we’re also going to try to think through the ethics of that issue — something that we haven’t done as much of this quarter. We’ll be reading some hefty chunks of World War Z and the first collected volume of The Walking Dead this week to help us with that. The bonus to finishing the course with these contemporary zombie narratives will be to apply everything we’ve worked on throughout the quarter to these extremely ubiquitous texts.
I couldn’t be prouder of my students and I thought I’d gush about them for a bit. That said, they’re starting to tire out. The last few weeks, readings have been done a bit more slowly, and discussion has been a little harder to spur. Still, they’ve really kept up with the rather heavy reading load.
In other news, I’m nearing completion of my first chapter draft. It’s going to be tough, but I plan on finishing it in the next week. Then I’ll have a week or two to do some heavy revisions before shipping it off to my committee over the break.
In reading — somewhat frenziedly — to wrap this up, I’ve realized a few things about the chapter and my project. Firstly, my project will offer interventions on three levels — if it succeeds. If you are familiar with this blog, dear reader, you’ve probably already heard me babble in one way or another about my theoretical intervention, the development of the infection/immunity//terror/security paradigm (which points out the twin logic of each sides, serving almost as a molecular/molar view of immunitary biopolitics). The project also intervenes to show how science fiction and modernism were actually interested in many of the same biopolitical issues, even though they represented them in somewhat different ways. Finally, the project demonstrates that, viewed through an immunitary biopolitical perspective, historical British and American modernism — and their heirs and analogs — are absolutely relevant today in thinking through contemporary ethics and politics.
I’ve also realized that the work of Wyndham Lewis is integral to my analysis, and his value to thinking through the history of biopolitics is immense. In skimming and reading the critical books about him, it seems that most scholars tend to miss some very interesting connections in his work, that seem very valuable. When I finish this chapter I’ll give you, my dear reader, a summary of it.
In other news, it looks like my first publication is forthcoming, I didn’t want to mention it here just in case it fell through — and I am still superstitiously knocking on wood as I type this. I’ll give you some more detail as things come into focus a bit more, but it looks like my essay on biopolitics, security, and the sanction of violence in The Walking Dead and Night of the Living Dead will be published in a super interesting collection that MacFarland is going to put out. My working title is “Burying the Living with the Dead: Security, Survival, and the Sanction of Violence in The Walking Dead.”
I’ll plug the book itself, Better Angels, considerably more when the process is a bit further along, but keep an eye out for it in a year or two.
I’m really interested in editing my own collection on biopolitics and zombies, and I’m still thinking about the logistics of that. It’s something I’d really like to do.
I guess that’s where I’ll end this update, Happy Holidays, Dear Reader.