DEADLINE EXTENDED! The Optics of Excess: How the Body Knows

deadline for submissions: 
February 10, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Visual Culture @ Wayne State University
contact email: 

The Optics of Excess: How the Body Knows

Scholars across the humanities have embraced affect theory as a productive avenue for examining aesthetic expressions of feeling, especially those that unfold outside of or beyond representation. In doing so, many have worked to distinguish “affect” from “emotion”: Brian Massumi privileges the former as uniquely able to account for that which escapes “performed action and ascribed meaning.” This conference, however, seeks to investigate affect’s alternate and often neglected theoretical counterparts: feeling and emotion.

The Ninth Annual Visual Culture Symposium turns to emotion as a critical paradigm, specifically in its capacity to recognize embodied experience as, precisely, political. We invite presenters to explore how “emotion” might provide a framework for “how the body knows,” specifically, or establish parameters in visualizing that which has traditionally been considered personal, indulgent, “extra,” or excessive.

The symposium is an effort to reclaim the political urgency avowed by the intellectual antecedents of current modes of affect theory, and, as such, we especially seek to foreground feminist scholarship and critical examinations of race as crucial emotional/political pathways for opening up politically enabling ways of feeling in the present moment.

One reason for foregrounding feeling rather than affect is that bodies are always socially embedded. While the media continue to regularize our understanding of embodiment—that is, how the straight, male, white body “knows” acceptable ways of emoting—we seek to defamiliarize this dominant visual paradigm. How do we optically imagine socially specific, yet ideologically “inappropriate” expressions of shame, anger, or joy? How does visual culture represent certain feelings as excessive, especially to register critical responses to a patriarchal, white supremacist, heteronormative system? If excess can at once refer to the violence of white supremacy (e.g., Donald Trump’s characterization of his impeachment as a “lynching,” or photographs of torch-carrying white nationalists in Charlottesville) and the pleasures of any body, in its specificity and idiosyncrasy, how have artists and critics grappled with the historically fraught dialectic between the body politic and individual embodiment?

We invite participants to consider how, as our keynote speaker Amber Jamilla Musser suggests, “thinking with race and fleshiness . . . forces us to attend to power asymmetries.” We challenge presenters to reflect on the political value of this claim, especially in the context of current imag(in)ings of race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability.

We welcome critical investigations/interventions in any medium, form, discipline, or period. Topics may include but are by no means limited to:

• Images of so-called “non-normative” bodies; how do bodies “know” themselves and/or how they know the world differently

• Visual renderings of trauma of specifically gendered, racialized, or queered bodies

• Representations of bloody or emotional excess, especially as a departure from realism (e.g., Afro-futurist visual culture)

• Examinations/anticipations of audience reception; how artworks imagine their impact on the viewer as felt or embodied

• Distinct histories of the “affective turn” (e.g., through the lens of black and/or feminist scholarship)

Abstracts (250-300 words) for scholarly papers, artist talks, or film/visual media presentations must be submitted by Monday, February 10 to The symposium will take place at Wayne State University in Detroit on Friday, March 6, 2020.