The Retro-Futurism of Cuteness (BABEL Working Group Oct 16-18)
3rd Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group
16-18 October 2014
University of California, Santa Barbara
The Retro-Futurism of Cuteness
Co-Organizers: Jen Boyle (Coastal Carolina University) + Wan-Chuan Kao (Washington and Lee University)
Email proposals (no more than 300 words) to email@example.com by April 1, 2014.
Cute cues: infancy, youth, helplessness, vulnerability, harmlessness, play, enjoyment, awkwardness, needs, intimacy, homeliness, and simplicity. At other times, cuteness is cheapness, manipulation, delay, repetition, hierarchy, immaturity, frivolity, refusal, tantrum, and dependence. Cuteness is a threshold: "too cute" is a backhanded compliment. Or, cuteness is a beach where forces congregate. A dolphin breaching in the ocean may be cute, but not a beached one. And more than the pop cultural kawaii (literally, "acceptable love"), "cute"—the aphetic form of "acute"—also carries the sense of "clever, keen-witted, sharp." The Latin acutus embraces the sharpened, the pointed, the nimble, the discriminating, and the piercing. To be cute is to be in pain. Cuteness is therefore a figure of Roland Barthes's punctum or Georges Bataille's point of ecstasy. As we gather at the Pacific Rim, let us, a la Takashi Murakami, recast the premodern in cuteness. The OED cites the first reference to "cute" in the sense of "attractive, pretty, charming" as 1834. Sianne Ngai, in 2005, offered a critical study of the cuteness of the twentieth-century avant-garde. But was there ever a medieval or early modern history or historiography of cuteness? Is it possible to conceive of a Hello Kitty Middle Ages, or a Tickle Me Elmo Renaissance? Has the humanities, or the university, ever been cute? Cuteness is the cheap bastard child of beauty: what's beautiful may not be cute, but what's ugly and monstrous may be.
This panel will feature curated materials (images, videos, texts, essays, sound bytes, trinkets, texts, objects and artifacts from the premodern and present) as a pre-session, submitted 2 to 3 months in advance of the conference and made available online (space provided by conference organizers); and a conference 40-minute dialogue, preceded by 5-minute "flash talk" show-and-tells where participants re-introduce their curated pieces. Pres-session curated materials will also be part of a media exhibit space associated with the conference. We welcome a diverse range of approaches (including but not limited to): aesthetics, material culture, affect, gender, queerness, childhood, youth, disability, camp, Sado-Cute, and Superflat.