Identity and Materialism: Reading the Space between Persons and Things (April 10-11, 2015) Deadline: February 1, 2015

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The University of Alabama in Huntsville
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Identity and Materialism: Reading the Space between Persons and Things

University of Alabama in Huntsville Graduate Student Conference

April 10-11, 2015

Keynote speaker: Dr. Priscilla Wald (Professor of English and Women's Studies at Duke University, editor of American Literature)

Cutting across a variety of humanistic disciplines, the critical interventions of thing theory, network-actor theory, material-culture studies, and object-oriented ontology have performed a kind of "Copernican revolution" in reverse, unseating the human subject as the prime mover of the universe. In contrast to the drearily anonymous, alienated, affectless subjects of late capitalism, critics have endowed things with "social" (Appadurai, Valenze) and even "erotic" (Hyde) lives worthy of "biographies" (Kopytoff). Yesterday's Marxist fetish is today's "vibrant matter" (Bennett). At the same time, the "affective turn" in literary studies (Massumai, Ngai), the return to universalism in continental philosophy (Badiou, Zizek), and investigations of the discursive mechanisms of identity-formation (central to counter-hegemonic fields such as performance, feminist, critical-race, queer, and postcolonial studies) have made it clear that the subject's disappearance is far from a fait accompli. Try as one may, one still can't say "post-human" without s(t)aying "human."

Our conference invites proposals for papers that engage with the porous, uncanny space that tries, and often fails, to separate personhood from thinghood and that map the shrinking distance between perceiving subject and perceived object. It also invites those that explore how the theoretical reorientation of identity into a performative rather than an ontological category mobilizes rather than negates the concept of the person. How, we will ask, does thinking about the subject clarify how we think about the object, and vice versa? How does material culture aid the construction of human identity, and how does human culture animate the world of things? We invite any and all graduate students working in literature, film, cultural studies, visual arts, and other humanistic disciplines to propose conference papers that take up these themes. A possible, though hardly exhaustive, list of topics might include:

Cultural representations of the human/thing relationship, whether "normative" (consumer, producer, collector, etc.) or "pathological" (hoarder, kleptomaniac, shopoholic, etc.)

The capitalist subject's negotiation of commodity culture, as well as his/her modeling of alternative material worlds (economies of gifts, art objects, affects, etc.)

Uncanny bodies: animals, robots, artificial intelligence, CGI, Pixar characters, etc.

Depictions of slavery in which persons are both turned into things and resistant to such reification, whether found in classic slave narratives (ex., Equiano, Douglass, Jacobs) or contemporary neoslave narratives (ex., Morrison, Butler, Reed, Django Unchained)

Using Material Culture to understand literary, filmic, televisual, or dramatic text(s)

The agency of things

The tension between objects and/or subjects in relation to space(s) or to the absence of space

Exploring the interface (normative and/or queer) between desiring objects and/or erotic subjects

Explorations of gender (or the breakdown of traditionals binaries) within the context of things

Performance and/or performativity in relation to things

Comparing/contrasting medieval, early modern, enlightenment,
industrial, modern, post-modern, and/or contemporary tensions between persons, places, and things

Graduate Students are invited to submit proposals (250-300 words) to Dr. Joe Conway (jpc0018@uah.edu) by February 1, 2015. Accepted presenters will be notified by February 15.