Spring 2017 Course Offerings

SHUM 4605 Bio-Politics and Poetics of Nakedness

(also COML 4947, FGSS 4947)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students. 
N. Diabate
R: 10:10 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.

This course explores multiple genres and disciplines to track and reflect on the use of nakedness as an ever-proliferating form of oppositional politics in our biopolitical era. Through close reading of literary texts, we will uncover the most innovative literary forms used to represent the most universal and yet the most culturally specific mode of contestation. Newspaper reports and videos of various social movements such as Lactivism, anti-globalization, anti-AIDS, and Environmentalism (‘Striptease for Tree,’ World Naked Bike Riders) will provide the materials to analyze the cultural, social, and political factors behind the proliferation of nakedness in contentious politics. Attention to geographical and historical contexts, including but not limited to Ancient Greece, Africa, Europe, the Americas, and Asia will establish the longstanding nature of nakedness in protest. To enrich our exploration, the course will also take into account variables of race, gender, and bodily abilities and how they complicate accounts of specific exposed skins. Primary texts include Devi’s “Draupadi,” Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, Tennyson’s “Godiva,” Auden’s “Cave of Nakedness,” Ngugi’s Wizard of the Crow, Echewa’s I Saw the Sky Catch Fire, videos of Femen, gay parades, and Occupy Wall Street. These visual and literary texts will be analyzed in conjunction with theoretical reflections on shame/injury, biopolitics, exposure, and humanity by Freud, Foucault, Derrida, Levinas, Nancy, and Berger. Assignments will clarify and build upon the readings and films and include reflection papers, analytical, and argumentative essays. Finally, this course is an opportunity to think through how special kinds of skin do very specific kinds of social and political work. 

Naminata Diabate is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. A scholar of sexuality, race, biopolitics, and postcoloniality, Naminata’s research primarily explores African, African American, Caribbean, and Afro-Hispanic literatures, cultures, and film. Her recent writing has appeared in journals and collections of essays such as The Journal of the African Literature AssociationDevelopment, Modernism and Modernity in AfricaOral and Written Expressions of African Cultures, and The Ethnic and Third World Literatures Review of Books. Her forthcoming essays include: “Genealogies of Desire, Extravagance, and Radical Queerness in Frieda Ekotto’s Chuchote Pas Trop” (Research in African Literatures) and “Women’s Naked Protest in Africa: Fieldwork in Comparative Literature” (Fieldwork in the Humanities). Currently, she is working on two book manuscripts: “Naked Agency: Genital Cursing, Biopolitics, and Africa,” and “Same-Sex Sexuality and Mediality in Africa and Its Diaspora.”


SHUM 4606 The Powers of Skin in Africa

(also ASRC 4066, ANTHR 4106)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students. 
S. Langwick
M: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m.

What powers and capacities does skin have? This class begins and ends with thinking about the recent violence against people with albinism in East Africa. Through the semester we will examine a range of theoretical approaches to the body, opening up ways of accounting for the energies and vitalities of the body and body parts. Scientific understandings of bodily life will be put in conversation with other notions of bodily life. Students will read theoretical works together with classic historical and ethnographic texts about practices involving, and attending to, the skin in Africa. In our efforts to examine the power and capacity of skin in Africa over time, we will consider topics from beatification, scarification, witchcraft, magic, and traditional medicine to the hygiene campaigns of colonialism, the development of dermatology as a defined specialty, the rise of global health and medical humanitarianism. Descriptive ethnographic and historical texts will be read as primary evidence along side of theoretical approaches to the lived body with the intention of provoking innovative readings of these primary texts and a greater understanding of the theoretical arguments. Some of the theoretical texts that will be taken up in this class are Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception and The Visible and the Invisible, Lyotard's The Inhuman, Deleuze's The Fold, Serre’s The Five Senses, and Barad’s On Touch and Touching. We end by imagining the implications of, and possibilities for, interventions into violence against people with albinism.

Stacey Langwick, MPH, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University. She is author of Bodies, Politics and African Healing: The Matter of Maladies in Tanzania(2011) and co-editor of Medicine, Mobility and Power in Global Africa(2012). Her articles and essays have appeared in American EthnologistCurrent AnthropologyScience, Technology and Human ValuesMedical Anthropology, and a number of edited volumes. In recent years her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren, Fulbright, the Mellon Foundation, the Cornell Society for the Humanities, the Institute for Social Sciences at Cornell and the Einaudi Center for International Studies. She is currently working on two projects. The first -- The Politics of Habitability: Plants, Sovereignties and Healing in a Toxic World -- examines the emerging herbals industry in Tanzania. She examines that ways that this new herbalism (mis)translates and (re)configures notions of medicine, property, chronicity and crisis that are fundamental to global health. The second -- (Un)ethical Substances: The Power of Skin in East Africa – strives to account for the vitality and power of the body in Africa and the ways that mediating this vitality and power come to be at the heart of ethical life. At Cornell, she serves in the graduate fields for Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies, and the Africana Studies and Research Center and is also an active member of the Global Health program.


SHUM 4608 Victorian Masculinities

(also ENGL 4908, FGSS 4608)
4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
P. Gilbert
R: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m

This course will focus on Victorian genders with a special emphasis on masculinities. Additionally, we will spend time reading and thinking about secondary works which interrogate and historicize our principal terms. By the end of the course, you will have read a substantial amount of important secondary work regarding mid-century masculinities, as well as a good selection of both canonical and less-known Victorian works. The course will focus on novels (probably seven or eight) and secondary readings about gender and especially masculinity. Most of these readings will be critical and historical, rather than theoretical in the strict sense, and so you should either be familiar with basic concepts in gender theory or be prepared to do a little extra reading on your own. However, the class discussion will be tailored to (and by) the class members, so you if need to know more about something, please ask. I would also like to emphasize that, although the course will focus on the construction of masculinity in the period, that topic cannot be discussed without reference to female identity, class, and sexuality, among other issues. The use of the plural in the course title is not simply a convention; it reflects the imbrication of gender with other identity categories, despite the increasing sense of a widely shared masculine “essence” which marks the period and which it left as a legacy. In short, I expect seminar conversation to be rather wide-ranging.

Pamela K. Gilbert is Albert Brick Professor in the Department of English at the University of Florida. She has published widely in the areas of Victorian literature, cultural studies, and the history of medicine. Her books include Disease, Desire and the Body in Victorian Women’s Popular Novels, (Cambridge University Press, 1997), Mapping the Victorian Social Body (SUNY Press, 2004), The Citizen’s Body (Ohio State University Press, 2007), and Cholera and Nation (SUNY Press, 2008). She has edited a collection entitled Imagined Londons (SUNY Press, 2002) and co-edited Beyond Sensation: Mary Elizabeth Braddon in Context (SUNY Press, 1999, with Marlene Tromp and Aeron Haynie). She is the editor of the Companion to Sensation Fiction (Blackwell, 2011), co-associate editor of the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature (2015), and has edited a teaching and scholarly edition of Rhoda Broughton’s novel Cometh Up as a Flower (Broadview Press, 2010). Currently, she is series editor of SUNY’s book series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. Professor Gilbert’s research interests include gender, the Victorian novel, the body, Victorian cultural and medical history, and medical humanities. She chaired the Department of English at UF 2007–2011.


SHUM 4609 Deep Skin In Digital Architecture

(also ARCH 6308, STS 4601, VISST 4609)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.   
A. Imperiale. 
T: 12:20 – 2:15 p.m.

Metaphorical references to skin abound in contemporary architectural discourse. The building envelope is the skin that separates and provides a controlled atmosphere for the interior space of a building, one that is set off from the surrounding environment. This simple definition is challenged when architecture is understood as an organism, and the skin and structure of architecture as a system. The conflation of structure into the skin is used here as a way of thinking of the architectural enclosure as a deep skin, and the individual parts of which an architectural skin is constructed, as a study of the tissue of structure. Much of this work borrowed ideas from the biological sciences viewing the skin not as a monolithic entity but rather as an organic and dynamic system of individual and differentated cells which then combine to constitute the largest organ of the human body. The biological metaphor when transferred to architecture introduces the use of the term organic in relation to the built environment. Just as buildings and cities were referred to as growing organically, contemporary architects use biologically-inspired terms to describe the processes by which computational design may mimic natural processes of growth, a parallel to biology in computational systems. This overlap between the computational and living organism existed at the development of the computer in the mid-twentieth century. Just as an inorganic system is understood in relation to the the environment, so too is the living cell. There is a permeability in a biological system: the boundary of the cell membrane is the delimitation of interior functions of the cell and the pressure of the exterior environment. Seen in a different context, these terms resonate with the question of the architectural skin. Our goal will be to understand the ways in which these theories of systems, biofeedback, and cybernetics are used metaphorically in biological and computational paradigms and are essential to critically engage these metaphors and their use in architecture.

This seminar will develop the historical and theoretical base to engage these ideas across a wide range of interest and in different disciplines. Some of the major themes that we will explore include: the specular/reflecting skin, mediatic skins, skinning the space frame, metabolism and megastructures, the digital skin, supersymmetry and the new grotesque, Big Data and networked skins, and Object Oriented Ontology and opaque skin. A secretive and unrevealing surface lies at the polar opposite of the specular surface, raising questions about the skin of architecture as the site of intersection of theory, materiality, affect, signification, and comfort.

Alicia Imperiale is Assistant Professor of architectural design and history and theory at Tyler School of Art, Temple University. She is an architect and artist and received her Ph.D. in the history and theory of architecture from Princeton University in 2014. Her visual and scholarly work focuses on the impact of technology on art, architecture, representation, and fabrication. She is author of New Flatness: Surface Tension in Digital Architecture (Birkhauser, 2000). Other essays include "Digital skins: architecture of surface" in SKIN: Surface, Substance and Design (Princeton Architectural Press, 2002), “Territories of Protest,” in Log 13, “Seminal Space: Getting under the Digital Skin,” in RE: SKIN, ed. Mary Flanagan, (MIT Press, 2006), “Dynamic Symmetries” in Anne Tyng: Inhabiting Geometry (ICA, 2011) and “Stupid Little Automata” in Architecture & Culture (2014). She is author of the forthcoming book Alternate Organics: The aesthetics of experimentation in art, technology & architecture in postwar Italy. Her research has been supported by a Center for the Humanities at Temple University Faculty Fellowship, a Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts Research Grant among others.


SHUM 4610 Media and Elemental Things

(also STS 4610, VISST 4610)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.   
G. Kim. 
R: 12:20 – 2:15 p.m.

What can an understanding of media technologies in relationship to physical matter, like dust, tell us about the experience of time in the 21st century? How might we reflect on the massive physical – indeed geological – impacts of media that might otherwise remain hidden behind the insubstantial language of “the cloud”? Our planet today is so enmeshed with media technologies that the lives of forests, oceans, viruses, and honeybees, for example, depend on computing systems as much as they do natural ones. Conversely, media relies on being able to draw on elemental metaphors and materials of the elemental world; the language of webs defines our understanding of the Internet, phones depend on mineral extraction, for example. The term “media” thus sits in a muddy zone between technics, nature, and human. How does media studies account for this range of media objects that are neither technological nor natural?

In this seminar, we develop a set of theoretical frameworks and methodologies for thinking about the ontologies, ecologies, and materialities of media with a particular focus on the relationship between media and the elemental world. How would a materialist approach to media recast our definitions of what media is and what it does? How is an understanding of media in relation to elemental materiality transforming the ontological, ecological, and political contours of the field? 

This seminar engages such questions by drawing the fields of media studies and new materialism into conversation with perspectives from areas such as anthropology, science and technology studies, art history, environmental studies, archaeology, and philosophy. This is a reading, discussion and research-based seminar. It opens with a set of key readings in media studies and material culture. In subsequent units we explore media in relationship to their articulation via clouds (eg. media metaphors of precipitation and participation), sediment (eg. media as geology, as dust, and media archaeology), bodies (eg. media in animals, insects, humans), atmospheres (eg. media in/as air and environments), ecologies (eg. media in/as environmental systems), and water (eg. leaks, underwater internet cables). This seminar has four main goals: 1) To develop material literacies around media and communication; 2) to explore theories, methods and vocabularies through which to develop thinking around material media; 3) to build an awareness of the thingly politics of media in relationship to the politics of space, time, labor, waste, biosphere, governance, etc.; 4) to develop a set of interdisciplinary research methodologies that uncover the rich network of actors, processes, affects, materials, relationships, and practices that thread through and accrue around material media. Readings will be drawn from sources such as A Prehistory of Clouds (An Hu Hui), Geology of Media (Jussi Parikka); The Undersea Network (Nicole Starosielski), Thing Theory (Bill Brown), Vibrant Matter (Jane Bennet), and Insect Media (Parikka). In addition to providing conceptual frameworks by which students can develop their own research projects, the seminar provides opportunities for students to develop their research using experimental research and thinking practices, such as a sensory ethnography, and experimental making. 

Readings will be drawn from sources such as A Prehistory of Clouds (An Hu Hui), Geology of Media (Jussi Parikka); The Undersea Network(Nicole Starosielski), Thing Theory (Bill Brown), Vibrant Matter (Jane Bennet), and Insect Media (Parikka). In addition to providing conceptual frameworks by which students can develop their own research projects, the seminar provides opportunities for students to develop their research using experimental research and thinking practices, such as a sensory ethnography, and experimental making. 

Gloria Chan-Sook Kim was 2015-2016 Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for 21st Century Studies (C21) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In 2014-2015, she was named the Provost Postdoctoral Fellow at C21. Kim received her PhD from the Graduate Program for Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester, NY in 2012. Her dissertation, Transmissions: Public Health Information and Ambient Media in the Era of Emerging Infections Under US Health Security was awarded an Andrew W. Mellon/ American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Fellowship. From 2012- 2014 she was Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Program for Media and Society at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Kim researches and teaches media studies, visual culture, and science and technology studies. Her research and teaching areas include new materialism, posthumanism, affect, biospheric risk and governance, and the cultures of computation. She has published in the Journal for Consumption, Markets, and Culture, and in various art exhibition catalogues. Her article “Pathogenic Nation-Making: Media Ecologies and American Nationhood Under the Futures of Viral Emergence” is forthcoming in Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology. Kim has worked in the cultural sector, with artists such as Critical Arts Ensemble, exploring issues around biotechnology and bacterial life.Her research has been supported by fellowships and awards from the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender Studies.


SHUM 4611 Screening Blackness

(also ASRC 4611, PMA 4961)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
S. Sheppard
M: 10:10 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.

The seminar “Screening Blackness” provides a theoretical, cultural, and historical focus on “blackness” in film, media, and visual culture. Here, we will explore how Black skin, as Michelle Ann Stephens describes in Skin Acts, functions “as a master signifier for the specificity, the particularity, of race. It is the object produced by what Frantz Fanon and Paul Gilroy call ‘epidermalization.’ It is the sign for race understood purely as a scopic sight and the skin as the object of a specularizing gaze.” Turning our attention to Black images on screen, we will pay particular attention to blackness as a scopic site but also an embodied performance with meaning and histories that can be attached to it. Considering questions of performance, censorship, embodiment, pleasure, and representational politics, we will evaluate how race, particularly Black skin, has been used as a signifier and complex code for various things on screen. Additionally, we will investigate how blackness is contingent on the specifics of its historical, social, and cultural production and, yet, open to multiple and competing claims. Therefore, blackness here is less a stable racial category than theoretical motor, operated by moving and contested discourses, histories, images, meanings, and performances by Black subjects. Focusing on Black skin representation and discourses of blackness as a cultural signifier, students will watch and discuss important representations and misrepresentations of blackness on screen. As well, students will engage with the interdisciplinary work on race, representation, performance, and Black skinned experiences, including readings from James Snead, Michelle Ann Stephens, Harvey Young, E. Patrick Johnson, Jane Gaines, Mary Ann Doane, Michael Rogin, Kara Keeling, Alessandra Raengo, Nicole Fleetwood, and Amber J. Musser.

Samantha N. Sheppard is an Assistant Professor of Cinema and Media Studies in the Department of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University. She earned her PhD in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of California Los Angeles. Her research projects stem from a fundamental curiosity in the relationship between cinema and Black cultural production/production cultures, particularly popular Black cultural expression and African American media and representation. She is currently working on a book manuscript, Muscle Memory: Black Embodiment in Sports Films, which explores the central role race plays in sports films’ generic representations. Her other research interests include media feminisms, women filmmakers, sports media, cultural studies, affect studies, and American television history. Sheppard is the co-editor of From Madea to Media Mogul: Theorizing Tyler Perry (University Press of Mississippi, 2016), which includes her essay “Tyler Perry Presents…The Cultural Projects, Partnerships, and Politics of Perry’s Media Platforms.” She published “Persistently Displaced: Situated Knowledges and Interrelated Histories in The Spook Who Sat by the Door” in Cinema Journal (Winter 2013). Her essay “Bruising Moments: Affect and the L.A. Rebellion” is included inThe L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema (University of California Press, 2015).


SHUM 4612 The Body's Edge in Performance

(also CLASS 4602, COML 4785, PMA 495)
Spring.  4 credits.  
Limited to 15 students.  
N. Worman
T: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m.

This course examines how skin and bodily margins in drama, performance art, and film shape the way we understand the human and its markers of identity, from the strange carapace that Oedipus presents in the ancient Theater of Dionysus to the "skin suspensions" of the post-body performance artist Stelarc. How does dramatic embodiment represent boundaries and edges and thus skin, coverings, masking, and dress-up in relation to gender and sexuality as well as race / ethnicity and class? How do these edges contribute to viewing bodies as normatively human versus monstrous, distorted, repulsive, wrong? The skin's tragedy most often is its vulnerabilities — its othering and debasement, its tendency to be denigrated or willfully cast off. 

This course will focus on these bodily edges, surfaces, and coverings, as well as touching and proximity in ancient and modern drama, film, and performance art. The seminar takes cues from plays by Sophocles and Euripides as unifying threads, since among the ancient dramatists their representations of tragic bodies are most influential. The course will also include plays from the medieval, early modern, and modern periods; films by directors Peter Greenaway, Jenny Livingston, and Jim Jarmusch; and performances and writings by Karen Finley and Marina Abramovic. We will explore the provocations, theatricality, and shock aesthetics of such concepts as Julia Kristeva’s abjection, Antonin Artaud’s "theater of cruelty," and Georges Bataille's "visions of excess," as different ways of approaching what lies at and beyond the edges of the human.

Nancy Worman is Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at Barnard College and Columbia University. She is the author of articles and books on style, the body, and literary theory in Greek literature and culture, including Abusive Mouths in Classical Athens (Cambridge, 2008) and Landscape and the Spaces of Metaphor in Ancient Literary Theory and Criticism (Cambridge, 2015). She is currently working on a book entitled Virginia Woolf and Gendering Greek Aesthetics(Bloomsbury, forthcoming), as well as a series of teaching and research projects centered around "tragic bodies," which explore the aesthetics and politics of embodiment in Greek tragedy and beyond.