“An image like thyself”: The Graphic Epyllionizer

Looking at this web object, you might think that it is surely an epyllion graphicizer rather than an epyllionizer – it juxtaposes fragments of the text of “Venus and Adonis” with a collage of manipulated artwork to create a randomized graphic narrative (or webcomic) version of the epyllion. Yet each time my webpage generates one of the 191 952 possible combinations, it will expose a (sometimes unexpected) facet of Shakespeare’s poem but also stand on its own as a (very) miniature epic webcomic. Informed by the object-oriented philosophy of a universe filled with nothing but objects that are “strangely strange all the way down” it has been created to help us understand the objects of nature in “Venus and Adonis” by creating exponentially more objects – or if not understand, at least avoid reducing them to the sum of their relations (Morton, “Here Comes Everything” 184).

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Reagan’s method acting and the limits of identity

The greatest accomplishment of Brian Massumi’s Parables for the Virtual, to my mind, is a close reading of Ronald Reagan’s autobiography. Massumi recognizes the bizarreness of an episode depicting Reagan’s one accidental foray into method acting as indicative of the struggle to communicate that made him an appealing figure.

“Where’s the rest of me?” is the line he was supposed to say in a scene where he played a new amputee. Massumi recreates the process Reagan went through to overcome this acting challenge:

He recites the phrase to different people from different angles: to himself in mirrors, alone in the car, in front of friends, physicians, psychologists, and amputees. He repeats it so often that it beomes automatic. The event, still a trace, begins to circulate freely through all of the interlocking visual fields compromising Reagan’s empirical world. Finally, Reagan’s realm, that of the ordinary, and the realm of the extraordinary, the realm of the ungraspable event, begin to contaminate one another in a gradual contagion. Reagan’s entire world becomes coloured by amputation. He is stumped, repeatedly referring to himself as a cripple. (54)

Finally, due to this and some last minute practical effects, when Reagan looked down at his lack of legs and said his line he said it as someone who was perceiving what it is like to be a paraplegic in a meaningful way.

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Literary Diversity Statements

I included On Being Included in my spring reading list thinking that it was going to do something much different than it did. I didn’t anticipate the degree to which Ahmed’s empirical (if qualitative) research would be foregrounded. More significantly, although I knew she was focusing on the process of institutional change and institutional use of diversity language, I assumed at some point she would address the individual felt experience of “being included” or not. There is discussion of diversity practitioners as individuals, some of whom certainly would seem to be part of the “diverse” bodies the institution thinks of itself as including, but there never seems to be any discussion of how they themselves experience fitting into these diversity mandates that it is their job to create and apply. If there is to be any object of Ahmed’s study that she depicts being shifted in and out of the institution’s sphere of inclusion, it is the document.

This isn’t a criticism, per se. I want to read about how it feels to be missed by the interpellation of institutional diversity, but Ahmed gives us a still very useful of how texts succeed or fail to act as a force that intervenes with the momentum of institutional habit. It is not clear what it means for diversity workers to successfully subvert the academy, but I think this is to avoid getting mired down by the impossibility of consensus on any particular acts. Ahmed seems to recognize a vacillation between the organization as constituted by documents, and the organization as having a will and a history of its own that makes it capable of blocking, ignoring, or undercutting documents it generates.

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Transformative desire in “Beyond the Mirror’s Gaze”

Explaining that gender identity is not evidence of any particular sexual orientation is a big part of Trans 101 style popular education, but trans theorists (Kate Bornstein and Jacob Hale come to mind) have also done a lot of work to explore how common assumptions about their connection affects the way individuals experience their own gender and the gender of others. I’ve recently read Gayle Salamon’s Assuming A Body, and (among other things) she shows how the work of phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty can illuminate the connection between sexuality and gender identity. Her argument is interesting in that it takes us beyond heteronormativity and the impact of sexual relations on how one’s gender is read:

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The Archive (Of Our Own) has a Fever (and the only cure is more representation)

One of my motivations for reading Archive Fever was the influence this text has had on fan studies through Abigail Derocho’s great essay, “Archontic Literature.” Derocho argues that conceptualizing of popular and canonical texts as an archive allows us to read subsequent fan productions in a less hierarchical manner, and recognize how their addition to the “archive” changes the entire archive. Meaning that, other problematics aside, Kirk/Spock fanfiction has an effect on Star Trek episodes (a reciprocal form of the more obvious Star Trek → K/S relationship). Both are simply entries in the archive titled “Star Trek.”

I think this argument offers a lot of possibilities, but this only touches on one small aspect of what Derrida has to say about the archive and the relationship between the archive and those working in/on/around it.

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Synchronicity and Community Formation in Fandom and Otherwise

Imagined Communities is a classic work of theory, but not necessarily one that is especially widely read among literary studies students (in my experience, at least. This is a bit weird to me, especially considering how focused Benedict Anderson is on language and the role of material texts in providing a mooring point for citizenship as identity.

Anderson writes:

There is a special kind of contemporaneous community which language alone suggests – above all in the form of poetry and songs. Take national anthems, for example, sung on national holidays. No matter how banal the words and mediocre the tunes, there is in this singing an experience of simultaneity. At precisely such moments, people wholly unknown to each other utter the same verses to the same melody. The image: unisonance. (167)

There is a pleasure in singing national anthems. An affective connection that allows us to imagine ourselves as mutually Canadian – something that feels more meaningful than being part of a community that has shared knowledge of a single song. I’ve been thinking about how I might teach Imagined Communities and my (maybe unreasonable) impulse is that most students are going to be more likely to find pop culture examples more accessible/relatable than historical examples. Cultural texts that unite fan communities or generational groups might be based on a connection that has a bit more substance than the national one, and it seems more reasonable to make further assumptions about a person’s identity or experiences based on the former than the later. I don’t want to argue that nationalism and fannishness are completely equivalent, but I think pop culture might also be an illuminating example of how texts can create imagined communities. Read More “Synchronicity and Community Formation in Fandom and Otherwise”

Reading and Seeing Gender in The Yellow Book

[This is part 4 of 4]

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3]

As mentioned in a previous post, women’s poetry (and prose) appears in earlier volumes of The Yellow Book than women’s visual art. So it seems appropriate to look at an example from these early volumes and think about what it looks like when men’s art is set beside women’s writing. Volume 2 contains a number of these juxtapositions. Katharine de Mattos’ dangerously sapphic elision of the male gaze in the poem“In a Gallery Portrait of a Lady” almost has the effect of being illustrated by P. Wilson Steer’s preceding series. The averted eyes of “A Lady” and the direct gaze (and background of frames) featured in “A Gentleman” suggest the male artistic subject and female artistic object, while “Portrait of Himself” presents, alternatively, the jarring suggestion that the foregrounded dress-wearer is “himself” in drag, or the mediation of the relationship between the masculine “himself” in the background and the presumably masculine viewer by the fairly sexualized feminine intermediary. A more problematic juxtaposition, if less direct, is between Dolly Radford’s “A Song,” Alfred Thornton’s “A Landscape,” and Charlotte Mew’s “Passed.” This is how they appeared as I turned through The Yellow Book:

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Print versus digital editions, and periodical meganarration

[This is part 3 of 4]

[part 1] [part 2] [part 4]

When I first encountered Denisoff and Kooistra’s The Yellow Nineties, I have to admit I was a bit hesitant. I’m generally very comfortable in digital environments, but as someone who works on comics I worry a lot about the role of scholarly editions in distancing readers from meaningful visual elements or word/image connections that would have been more apparent in earlier versions. The Yellow Nineties makes it possible to view shorter works on a page of their own (and this is the manner in which I first encountered it); this seems like it could take away from understanding The Yellow Book as a larger text, especially as the pages for these individual short works don’t have any links to navigate to the Volume’s table of contents or to the works preceding or following. However, as I spent more time exploring the website it has become apparent the lengths to which they’ve gone to make all possible information accessible by including multiple versions of each Volume in html, xlm, pdf, and flipbook form. The flipbooks most obviously recreate the process of encountering the physical text, down to imaging the onion paper as a separate page.

However, Jim Mussell argues that there are more productive ways to conceptualize of digitizations: “[d]igital resources should not replace the material in the archive but instead complement it, providing another way to approach whatever is being studied” (204). To say nothing of all the possibilities opened up by digital editions, my work on this project would not have been possible without searchable text, and a serendipitous viewing of the xml encoding for Margaret Sumner’s “Plein Air” lead me to realize queer undertones in this drawing and the poem preceding it. The relationship between digital literary studies and illustration is a bit queer in general. How does one distant read visual art? While, with projects like The Yellow Nineties, it would be possible to use a tool like Voyant to analyse the xml notes on a large group of illustrations, this would seem to tell us more about the perspective of those doing the digitizing than about the work itself. With my project, except for a few attempts to do closer readings of particular illustrations, I really am not able to demonstrate anything about the images except through those words that are attached to them – the names and pronouns they are attached to, and other words each volume uses to label the artwork and itself.

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