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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of English and American Studies

W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures - Summer Semester 2019

 

Simon Strick

Freie Universität Berlin

The Alternative Right and American Studies

Tuesday, May 7

 

Katharina Wiedlack

Alexander von Humboldt Post-Doc Fellow at the Department of English and American Studies, Humboldt University Berlin

The Ballerina with PTSD: Russia imaginations in contemporary US popular culture

Tuesday, May 28


Contemporary popular culture is full of Russian figures, especially beautiful Russian women. From the Marvel comic Black Widow, the film Red Sparrow, and the Amazon mini-series The Romanoffs, to the Braodway musical Anastasia, fictional female Russian characters capture our attention and take us deep into stories full of espionage, crime, and love. Their stories vary greatly, as do their cultural forms. What they all have in common, however, is that they all suffer from some trauma connected to their motherland. In some cases, their trauma is connected to the brutal murder of the Russian czar family after the October Revolution. In others, they are traumatized by the effects of post-Soviet shock capitalism such as organized crime, alcoholism, sex trafficking and sexual abuse, or the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Quite often, the trauma is connected to the Stalin terror, Soviet and post-Soviet authoritarian rule. In my presentation I analyze ideas about Russian trauma and the embodiment of trauma in female Russian figures in American popular culture through a disability and queer studies lens. I am interested in how Russianness becomes signified through embodiments of post-traumatic stress disorders. Reading my examples of Russian figures against what disability scholars Robert McRuer and Merri Johnson identify as THE crisis of the 21st century – the crisis of ability and disability – I ask what the othering of Russian women as figures of mental crisis tells us about American identity constructions.

 

Mabel Wilson

Professor of Architecture and African American & African Diasporic Studies, Columbia University

Building Race and Nation: Slavery and Dispossession in Thomas Jefferson’s America

Tuesday, June 11


In post-Revolutionary United States, physical attributes of race linked to one’s capacity for reason influenced social perceptions and legal definitions that determined who was entitled to the rights and privileges of freedom and who was destined to toil enslaved in perpetuity. Paradoxically, enslaved Africans, defined solely as ‘property’ lacking the proper subjectivity to be self-conscious and self-possessed, built a significant number of the U.S.’s civic buildings—Virginian State Capitol, U.S. Capitol and White House—designed by the nation’s first architects: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Henry Latrobe and others. If as “property,” personhood and land underwrite the American national project, then racism, in part, defines their exclusionary nature. The history of how race/racial/racism informed the discourses on slavery, dispossession, nationalism, aesthetics, and architecture during this formative period comprises the core thesis of Mabel Wilson’s lecture “Building Race and Nation: Slavery and Dispossession in Thomas Jefferson’s America.”

 

Eliza Steinbock

Leiden University

Cherishing and Perishing in Transgender Portraiture

Tuesday, June 25

 

The presentation uses the interdisciplinary category of portraiture to bridge different objects of study: artistic portraits, media representations, and ethnographic studies of artists. These working artists include J. Jackie Baier and Yishay Garbasz in Berlin; Elisha Lim, Syrus Marcus Ware, and Kiley May in Toronto; Muholi Muholi and Collen Mfwaze in Johannesburg; and Robert Hamblin and Gabrielle LeRoux in Cape Town. My objective is to investigate how and to what effect these forms of portraiture yield archives of transgender experience. Cherishing and Perishing in Trans Portraiture studies trans* experiences of biopolitics and necropower vis-à-vis artistic creations of trans lives surviving even within death-worlds. I investigate how in their structures of feeling—their tone, restraints, impulses—artworks can capture and express the human and nonhuman sensations circulating within diffuse networks of control.

Eliza Steinbock is Assistant Professor of Cultural Analysis at Leiden University’s Centre for the Arts in Society, where they are involved in critical diversity issues. Eliza trained in cultural analysis (PhD 2011) and investigates visual culture mediums like film, digital media, and photography, with a special focus on dimensions of race, gender and sexuality. Their current book project is the culmination of a NWO Veni grant on contemporary transgender (self) portraiture in the wider field of visual activism, which includes interviews with trans-identified cultural producers based in Toronto, Berlin, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Their first book is Shimmering Images: Trans Cinema, Embodiment and the Aesthetics of Change (Duke University Press, March 2019). www.elizasteinbock.com

 

Katharina Vester

American University, D.C.

Cleaning up the American Mess with KonMari and Goop: Curation, Self-Care and Belonging(s)

Tuesday, July 2

 

ABSTRACT - Cleaning up the American Mess with KonMari and Goop: Curation, Self-Care and Belonging(s)

Eight episodes of the much-awaited new home make-over series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, started to stream on Netflix in January 2019. Kondo’s KonMari Method has been a success story since the release of her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in 2014. The method that promises “a spark of joy” from one’s (well-organized) possessions and therewith greater happiness and sense of purpose in life, is a further twist in a neoliberal economy: As the quantity of possessions obviously fails to produce happiness, new advice claims that the right choice does. “Curating” one’s possessions to optimize one’s self and wellbeing has emerged as a new disciplinary practice to perform class privilege through discriminating taste.While Marie Kondo teaches Americans how to curate their belongings for the sake of creating purpose and happiness, websites have emerged recently that sell already curated “collections,” thus lifting the burden of buying the “right” things from consumers, usually for a princely sum. Goop.com is one of the earliest and most successful examples. Launched in 2008, the website flies under the banner “Make every choice count.” It suggests that the allegedly hand-picked products (from food to cosmetics, fashion and home decor) sold here reflect creator Gwyneth Paltrow’s taste. The curated items therefore promise to bring some of the movie star’s glamour, success and happiness into the life of everyone (who can afford the stellar prices). The advice to curate one’s belongings or the offer to buy curated ones not only leaves the presumption that property brings happiness unchallenged, but reinforces it. If belongings have failed so far to provide richness and texture to a person’s life, then it is the person’s fault as they lacked the knowledge, skill, and commitment to choose the right possessions. With these two examples, the talk investigates the implications of curating and what the phenomenon reveals about power relations under American neoliberal conditions.

 

BIO

Katharina Vester is Associate Professor of History at American University in Washington, D.C. Her book, A Taste of Power: Food and American Identities, published in November 2015 by the University of California Press, is an investigation of the crucial role played by food discourses and culinary practices in the formation of cultural identity and power relations in American history. Food writing, she argues, has helped to make normative claims about citizenship, gender behavior, class privilege, race, ethnicity, and sexual deviancy, while promising an increase in cultural capital and social mobility to those who comply with the prescribed norms.

Her work on her next monograph, Bodies to Die for: Health and Beauty in Pop Culture leads her to investigate the cultural architecture of bodies, and how health advice and beauty ideals serve to justify privileges coming with class, race and gender.

Vester’s article "Regime Change: Gender, Class, and the Invention of Dieting in Post-Bellum America" in the Journal of Social History won the Belasco Prize for Scholarly Excellence. Vester is the editor, with Kornelia Freitag, of Another Language: Poetic Experiments in Britain and North America.