Skip to content

August 22, 2014


Program of BABEL Santa Barbara (16-18 October) available!

2014 Program


[full program available below, but please head here for the complete BABEL Meeting website]


[all images from Joni Sternbach, Surfland]

~ On the Beach: Precariousness, Risk, Forms of Life, Affinity, and Play at the Edge of the World  ~

[full description of conference HERE]

16-18 October 2014

University of California, Santa Barbara

Co-Sponsors: BABEL Working Group; College of Creative Studies, UCSB; College of Letters and Science, UCSB; Comparative Literature Program, UCSB; Department of Art, UCSB; Department of English, UCSB; Department of French & Italian, UCSB; Department of History, UCSB; Department of Spanish & Portugese, UCSB; Early Modern Center, UCSB; Film & Media Studies, UCSB; Germanic, Slavic and Semitic Studies, UCSB; Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, UCSB; Literature & Environment Center, UCSB; Literature & Mind Center, UCSB; Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, The George Washington University; Medieval Literatures Center, UCSB; Medieval Studies, UCSB; Mellon Sawyer Seminar, UCSB; punctum booksPalgrave Macmillan; and Transcriptions Center, UCSB.

REGISTER HERE [regular faculty] and HERE [students and non-regular faculty] by SEPTEMBER 15.

Go HERE for post-September 15 LATE registration.

*If you are UCSB faculty or student, there is no charge for attending the conference; if you want to pre-register and have a name-badge and conference program set aside for you, please send an email to Eileen Joy:

Registration + Book/Journal Display + Coffee/Tea

University Center, Main Lobby (next to UCSB Bookstore)

Thursday, 8:30 – 9:30 am & 11:00am – 4:30 pm

Friday, 8:30 – 9:30 am & 11:00am – 4:30 pm

Saturday, 9:00 am – 2:00 pm

*all regular sessions take place in the University Center + the McCune Conference Room in theInterdisciplinary Humanities Center in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building, 6th Floor; all plenary sessions take place in the Loma Pelona Center — all three of these sites are within 5-10 minutes walking distance of each other — see campus maps HERE



Precariousness + Risk + Storm + Wreck


9:30 – 11:00 am

Loma Pelona Center 1108

[title + abstract under construction]

Creating a Land Worth Sailing To

This talk will begin by conjuring two fateful voyages — Medea on the Argos and Pip on the Pequod — to register the particular abjection of adjunct faculty nationally, with an emphasis on the specific catastrophes among faculty at the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University. Indefinitely impoverished, without health insurance, employed for a few months at a time, ever expendable: to what does the adjunct sail? The adjunct is hanging on by a log in a university driven solely by the profit motive and the logic of “what the market will bear.” The “market” becomes the inanimate entity to place blame onto, so the actual atrocity of creating a precarious workforce is nobodies fought.  Therefore, the edifice that invents the adjunct (or any worker) as a disposable worker needs restructuring.  Adjuncts can recognize that they are the faculty majority on most college campuses and together, by taking control over the conditions of their workplaces, they can create a land worth sailing to.  The second part of this talk will focus on how to go beyond the recognition of catastrophic exploitation, interrupt and change the system.  Specific examples from Duquesne University and Point Park University about how to start a union for adjunct faculty will be presented.  For instance, how did we start a union and how did we succeed?  And, why does it make sense to connect with community organizations and align ourselves with other broader worker struggles?  Finally, how can we build a sense of solidarity that will last—a land that will last within an unjust system?

Lacuna (Duckert)

water reaches my thighs, pulls at my legs, I turn to face the wall and stretch my arms wide

Denise Giardina, The Unquiet Earth

This talk delves deeply into the conference location’s shallow waters: lagoons, fresh- or saltwater lakes separated from the sea or a nearby larger lake or river. “Lagoon” derives from the Latin word for “pool,” lacūna, which comes from lakus (“lake”). “Lacuna” — an unfilled space or interval, a gap — comes from lacūna as well, but in the additional sense of “a hole, pit.” Although lagoons are often associated with desire (the 1980 film The Blue Lagoon), recreation (UCSB’s walking tour), and health (Iceland’s famous geothermal spa), they also contain environmental refugees (Carteret Islanders) and indicate communities at risk (Venice). By emphasizing the ecological and etymological interrelationship between “lacuna” and “lagoon,” I suggest that lagoons are precarious hydrological sites that allow us to address, at once, the political-economic lacunae (gaps) of class and the material lacunae (lakes) of place in order to promote more non/human modes of social justice. Since the early twentieth-century, a “lagoon” has described an artificial shallow pool used in the treatment and concentration of sewage and slurry. Coal by-product pools are common in Appalachia, for example, and their breaches have been devastating: the Buffalo Creek Flood of 1972 drowned over a hundred West Virginians in one hundred and thirty million gallons of black water (an event Giardina’s character Dillon, above, narrates). Considering historical and fictional events of lagoonal immersion as examples of what Rob Nixon calls “slow violence” done against poorer “unimagined communities,” I question why these chemical spaces are literally filled yet seldom seen, redressed, or remembered; and I investigate how writer-activists can bring these fraught nonhuman and human submergence zones to the surface.

Bodysurfing (Mentz)

Treating Jane Bennet’s notion of “strategic anthropomorphism” as an enabling provocation transforms the sport of wave-riding into a physical and intellectual engagement with the substance of the ocean. Dispensing with surfboards entirely, this talk and the immersive practicum that precedes it [see below] examines three key moments in a bodysurfer’s ride: swimming into the wave, the instant of “the catch,” and many possible white-water aftermaths. Treating this three-part cycle as symbolic template and physical experience, the talk imagines the knowledge a wave-rider gains through immersion: swimming creates antithetical movements, the catch temporarily unifies those forces, and disorderly aftermaths cast them up on shore. Bodysurfing becomes, in a repeatable instant, a form of physical and intellectual sympathy with a post-equilibrium environment.

*Steve will take 12-18 persons bodysurfing with him at Hendry’s Beach [Arroyo Burro Beach Park] at 8:00am on the morning before this Plenary I session; wetsuits are optional but more than decent swimming expertise is a must. If you are interested in joining Steve for this venture, contact him at:


SESSIONS // 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Session 1. Intertidal Zones

Organizer: Kate Koppelman, Seattle University

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

University Center: State Street Room

This session provides meditations on the place, precariousness, and hardiness of literary studies as it currently exists or might eventually exist in/on the ever-shifting sands of the university. These meditations will take on the metaphor (or reality) of the intertidal zone: the space between the shore and the sea; a space of extremity and a changing marker of the periphery; a space exposed to the baking sun and the sweeping waves; a space open to predators from the land, the air and the sea itself; a space subject to the whim of the predictable yet inconsistent tide (regular in its arrival and departure, yet unpredictable in what it will bring and carry away). Creatures that exist in the intertidal zone are varied and are often considered “simple,” yet they all share an ability to withstand this extreme and severe environment. The intertidal zone supports the barnacle, an hermaphroditic filter feeder capable of completely closing itself off during hot, dry low tides. It supports the periwinkle snail, a creature that clusters together for protection at the edge of the spray zone — capable of staying out of the water entirely for up to 2-3 months at a time. It supports limpets — grazers, like the snail, but with less flashy shells. As one moves closer to the sea (towards the mid-tide and low-tide zones), creatures become predatory (the sea-star) and far more aggressive (the anemone). All of these creatures must be able to survive dessication, to various degrees. Though many are mobile, most must stay if not secured to a single site, at least restricted by the borders of their environment. All must negotiate predation from fellow intertidal creatures, but also from birds and small mammals. All are susceptible to complete destruction at the hands (and feet) of those who come to the intertidal zone to “explore”: humans.

  • David Neel (Seattle University): Novel Erosions: Probability and Representation
  • J. Allan Mitchell (University of Victoria): Betide, or Pooling and Periodic History in Medieval Assemblage
  • Susan Nakley (St. Joseph’s College, NY): Sovereignty on the Rocks: Negotiating the Impossible in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale
  • Quincy J. Lehr (St. Joseph’s College, NY): Academia, Inequality, and the Liberal Arts
  • Jim Kearney (University of California, Santa Barbara): “Upon the beached verge of the salt flood”: Intertidal Timon and the Misanthropocene

Session 2. Teaching at the End of the World

Organizer: Christopher Schaberg, Loyola University New Orleans

Flâneurs: Robin Clarke + Josh Zelesnick

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Humanities & Social Sciences Building: McCune Conference Room (6th Floor)

The literature faculty at Loyola University New Orleans — precariously perched at the edge of the world, where the porousness of our boundaries which on a geological level lack even the obvious liminal/transitional space of a beach, in favor of those oh so oxymoronic “wetlands” that defy clean separation — have recently developed a new sophomore-level literature sequence called “Reading Historically.” This two-course sequence substitutes careful study of a small number of anchor texts for the traditional bits-and-pieces survey. But how can we teach with “anchor” texts in a depthless sea? Or, to put it another way, how can we rely on so-called foundational texts when we know that all foundations are subject to decay and crumbling, especially in a moment when the humanities are on/under fire? And how do we justify the study of historical literature at the edge of the world and at the end of time? Panelists involved in the development and teaching of these courses at Loyola will offer a workshop with discussion on teaching historical literature on the margins and shifting tides of time and place. Individual panelists will present five-minute meditations on their engagement with issues of temporality, ecology/environment, disciplinarity/post-disciplinarity, technology, and activism in the literature survey before engaging conferees in an open discussion about teaching at the end of the world.


  • Sarah Allison
  • Hillary Eklund
  • Christopher Schaberg
  • John Sebastian
  • Tim Welsh

12:30 – 2:00 pm // LUNCH BREAK


SESSIONS // 2:00 – 3:00 pm

Session 3. Sirens: A Cabinet of Curiosities

Organizer: Christine Neufeld, Eastern Michigan University

2:00 – 3:00 pm

University Center: State Street Room

Both fish and fowl, denizens of earth, sea and sky, sirens embody entanglements not only of species, but of environments. The siren lures us to entanglements we might not survive, her hybridity appearing to us as a promise, rather than a warning about the precariousness of the in-between. The sirens’ cultural legacy is rife with paradoxes: the song of knowledge they offer the Classical hero has by the Middle Ages become the seductive power of the voice as antirational; and yet our portrayals of their sensual irresistibility must focus on their visual rather than aural charms; and even then the fascinating beauty that makes the mermaid a mainstay of popular cryptozoology results only in the hideous concoctions of circus sideshows. The siren, it seems, is always somehow out of her element: a marvel collected for our delectation, whose song we prefer to listen to, like Ulysses, without risk. This panel proposes the figure of the siren in art history, literature, and popular culture as a muse to contemplate the kinds of risks she poses for those willing to listen to her song.

  • Kat Lecky (Arkansas State University): Hibernia’s Siren Lure in English Renaissance Maps
  • Susan C. Frye (University of Wyoming): Mermaid in the Marketplace: The Mary Stuart Placard and Emblematic Misogyny
  • Laurie Finke (Kenyon College) + Susan Aronstein (University of Wyoming): Sirens under Glass: Veronica Whall’s Lady in the Lake
  • Beth Currans (Eastern Michigan University): Seduction, Play, and Constraint: Mermaids in Contemporary U.S. Culture

Session 4. Towards a Tidal-Seismic Poetics [MEDIA/ART]

2:00 – 3:00 pm

Humanities & Social Sciences Building: McCune Conference Room (6th Floor)

Jamie “Skye” Bianco (New York University)

#clusterMucks of #trashNtoxicity (a nonhuman ecological water weirding in two acts)

Act 1 // #bottlesNbones: the Intimate and the Alien

This is a project that investigates the New York City inlet known as Dead Horse Bay. Dead Horse Bay was the site of New York City’s horse rendering and bottling factories and the primary waste disposal zone from the 1880s through the 1930s. Some decades later the trash was “capped” underwater in the bay. Years later this cap exploded, throwing 100-year-old garbage, mostly bottles and horse bones, onto the beach. Further, Dead Horse Bay sits directly across from The Rockaways, a fully inhabited barrier island that constitutes the southern boundary of Jamaica Bay. Human infrastructure on The Rockaways was catastrophically damaged by Hurricane Sandy and by the severe nor’easter storm that followed one week later. The debris from The Rockaways landed on the beach of Dead Horse Bay, now making it a contemporary and historical waste disposal site. The beach bears the debris of human consumption practices and bygone industrial forms of labor. This place is a strange and unbeautiful beach where broken glass cracks underfoot and where feet step on the leg bones of horses that were once the primary source of transportation for the City of New York. Now Dead Horse Bay collects in its strange inventory the debris of a recent catastrophe, Hurricane Sandy. Once a historical site of industrial waste production, management, and recycling, Dead Horse Bay now collects remains of contemporary disaster capitalism and the unnatural disasters of global warming. Adding to the uncanny and the effects of global warming, on Christmas Day, 2012, a 40-ton, endangered, and emaciated finback whale mis-navigated and beached on the shore of Breezy Point, directly across from Dead Horse Bay where scores of horses became the corpses of dead transportation. Dead Horse Bay offers alluring and affective object orientations. It is an object fulcrum for the waste and byproducts of industrial and informatic capitalism for the last 130 years.

Act 2 // #saltNsea: just another postnatural clustermuck and paradise

Have a seat. I offer fish, foul, organic produce and the promise of water in this beautiful Sonoran desert and its expansive, once-mountain fed #saltNsea. Ignore the smells caused by decades of annual botulism death: endangered sea birds seeking wetlands, Mozambique tilapia stocked for a long-gone speculative desert riviera, and rotting remains other desert denizens, even the occasional anthropod in the off-El Nino year. Think of this as postnatural composting. I apologize for other smells: salinity, geothermal sulphides surfacing, pesticides and petrochemical food production. We’ve gone green #nowharvesting geothermal and wind energy and farming produce organically. Hopefully the 120-degree temperatures in summer will cook bad molecules away and not just the water. If we diverted just a bit more of the Colorado River (with all those floods, they have extra, right?) to the #saltNsea, then farmers might not siphon without filtration and the airborne alkalis that are blown by the Santa Ana winds towards Los Angeles would stay in the water. They might simply biodegrade. Are petrochemicals, pesticides, sulphides and alkalis biological? . . . Not able to make a trip to this paradisiacal post-natural clustermuck, where climate change, agro-biz, California/US lack-of-water politics, necro-ecological management, speculative failures, endangered sea birds, and strange clusters of hominids come together (in a segregated sort of way) to inhabit the uninhabitable? Don’t worry! I’ll come to you and bring pictures, videos, souvenirs and a few thoughts (mine, others and maybe jostled up by the computer) and show the wonders of this second site in my tour of toxic landscapes that postnaturally resist detox and rehab.

Christina McPhee (Independent Artist-Theorist)

Seismic Aquifer

Seismic Aquifer is a new work in drawing and video. A ‘seismic testing’ of site produces a fluid archive, a seismic aquifer. The context is marine climate change and coastal impacts; the program is directed toward cradling/sheltering of life against the shockwaves of rapid environmental change. I live on the central coast of California, where last year, proposed coastal seismic testing threatened a massive kill of marine life from small krill to whales.This crisis, temporarily averted, recalls the tenuous hold of life in waters where a major fault underlies a nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon. I model structures for sheltering life at the coast during sea rise in architectural drawings, then montage using extensive files of photographic stills from documentary footage shot the marine edge.  At sea in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP spill (2010), I filmed biologists bringing up animals from the deep ocean and counting them, examining them, looking for signs of stress. Taking this documentary data into abstraction, I layered animations from graphics of climate change data from Nature: Climate Changefor my recent collaboration with Pamela Z, “Carbon Song Cycle” (2013). Remote performances in the landscape, acts of documentation, montage/collage of these images of both landscape and the performance map the internal and external ecologies of our minds and spirits within a nature that exceeds the human. Can we hold life, tenderly, in a kind of resource-cache of nuanced intelligence — human and non-human?


SESSIONS // 3:30 – 4:30 pm

Session 5. Marooned

Co-Organizers: Benjamin Ambler + Arthur J. Russell, Arizona State University

Flâneur: Laurie Finke

3:30 – 4:30 pm

University Center: State Street Room

This session is a search and rescue.

What, or who — we ask — has been cast away or lost at sea? As we sail Critique through time, we call fresh theories to deck to plot our courses through cultural waters, and plumb their depths for erudition. In the course of the many critical “turns” we’ve taken over the last few decades, however, itineraries have been left unexplored, and certain individuals abandoned in foreign ports. So, what happened to those alternative routes and those who advocated for them? And what about the captains we mutinied against? Where are they now? And what about us, here, now? Are we all accounted for? The wager of this session is that some of the theories and methods we’ve tossed overboard may still be useful, though perhaps not as they were once intended. Think: humanism, folklore, philology, D.W. Robertsongrands récits, Hegel, antiquarianism, semiotics, narratology, formalism, historicism, et cetera. What else has grown shaggy and unkempt, marooned on isolated shores? Whose critical flares have gone unnoticed and unanswered until now? Might some of these paradigms and figures still be desirable? Might they want rescuing? If we unstop our ears can we hear a call to safe harbor — or a siren’s song? Further, we wonder, are all hands on deck and able-bodied? Of theory-wrights queer, feminist, ecocritical; postmodern, postcolonial, posthuman, post* — has anyone been washed overboard who we thought was still beside us on deck? Have any been marooned on the atolls of the (micro)epochs they were charged to chart? Or are any present but haggard — unable to spot the new memes that develop between generations of Life? This session will feature four performances of acts of rediscovery, rescue, repurposing, and/or reclaiming.

  • Molly Lewis (George Washington University): Race*
  • Jennifer Borland (Oklahoma State University) + Louise Siddons (Oklahoma State University): Formative
  • Arthur Bahr (M.I.T.): Old English, Wrong Answers, and Compulsory Figures
  • Maura Nolan (University of California, Berkeley): Meter and Embodiment

Session 6. Composing With the Shore [MEDIA/PERFORMANCE]

Co-Organizers: Christien Garcia, McMaster University + Jean-Thomas Tremblay, University of Chicago

Flâneur: Jamie “Skye” Bianco

3:30 – 4:30 pm

Humanities & Social Sciences Building: McCune Conference Room, 6th Floor

If “beach reading” has solidified into a genre that articulates its own economy of leisure, pleasure, and abandonment in relation to an elaborate configuration of gender, race, and class, “beach writing” remains underexplored. This session aims to tackle the notion of writing at the beach or, more accurately, of writingwith the beach; as such, it contemplates modes of multimedia and post-disciplinary composition that engage with the affective atmospheres engendered by “the beach,” “the harbor,” “the shore,” and — more broadly — “water.” We are interested in occupying the tensions that the coast and the edge presuppose — the simultaneity of their being as barrier and opening, or as termination and infinity, for instance. Some of the questions we pose include: What potentialities, soothing or anxiety-inducing, are triggered by a horizon that carries the double promise of absolute substance and absolute emptiness? How do the continuities and fissures of the beach penetrate the realms of the visual and the sonic in representational and non-representational ways? Finally, how do the shape, texture, shadows, and smell of the shore attune themselves to form in processes of composition (see Kathleen Stewart, “Atmospheric Attunements”). “Composing with the Shore” is, then, an inquiry into how multimedia composition deals with the beach and the shore but also into how the beach and the shore inhabit multimedia composition to make themselves felt.

Our session is a hybrid object: it comprehends two interrelated pieces (20 minutes each) followed by an open discussion revolving around the theoretical issues raised by the encapsulation, through various media, of the materiality and immateriality of the beach and the shore. While both pieces are conceived as case studies or experiments in “composing with the shore,” the discussion, not a Q&A but a collaborative exchange, is intended as a meta-reflection on the creative and descriptive processes deployed through such modes of composition.

Jean-Thomas Tremblay (University of Chicago)


Jean-Thomas Tremblay’s piece is a critical mapping of the discourses on blue-green algae, orcyanobacteria, in the Hamilton harbor, in Ontario, Canada. Tremblay’s project centers on anxiety and toxicity, two affective configurations which, he argues, enable a nonlinear account of the temporality of everyday life, in addition to inducing a fluid understanding of materiality and immateriality. His theoretical frame implies two gestures: first, the extension of toxicity into the social (which evokes tropes such as “toxic [social] environment” and “toxic relationship”), and second, the extension of anxiety into the realm of biota and inanimate objects. Anxiety, in Tremblay’s frame, designates the inability of matter at large (including assemblages such as ecosystems) to project itself into a blurry future due to the instability of its toxic present (see Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings). While anxiety destabilizes the “projective devices” that sequentially organize past, present, and future, toxicity annihilates the distinction between contaminator and contaminated, polluter and polluted, active and passive (see Mel Y. Chen, Animacies). The core component of Tremblay’s presentation is a video installation that conveys the logic of disrupted projections that characterizes an anxious and toxic ecosystem as well as the posthuman modes of sociality thereby prompted.

Christien Garcia (McMaster University)


In the narrative of the family trip to the sea, it is customary, especially for the child, to take something of the landscape home. A vial of sand, a collection of stones, a pearly shell — little souvenirs that are for keeping but also for losing, so that among the debris of the passing years they might, perhaps suddenly, be found and the beach and that vacation taken many years ago remembered. As this little script suggests, the beach is an important discursive site for the distances negotiated by vacation and home, memory and present, desire and materiality. The beach is as much as anything an experience of being away from the beach. As Adam Phillips says in Intimacies, “we live our lives forward but we desire backwards” and the lore of the beach is indebted to that returning impulse. In “Still,” Christien Garcia frames the beach as having to do not only with the recollection or desired repetition of past experience, but also with the concomitant struggle of having something or nothing to say in the present. A collection of stills from a family home video (once lost, now found and newly digitized) depicting his first trip to the sea as a six-year-old is presented alongside orated excerpts from the scripts of two “old Hollywood” films that use the littoral landscape as the threshold for romances about to begin and about to end (Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, 1955; and The Postman Always Rings Twice1946). These films lend drama to the tedium of a long, plotless home video but more importantly they help absolve it of a predetermined narrative. They help Garcia to think in the present the capacity to disrupt and remake — to think memory as a kind of starting rooted in stillness.


SESSIONS // 5:00 – 6:00 pm

Session 7. Chaucer on the Beach: Cultural Fantasy/Ecological Reality

Organizer: Paul Megna, University of California, Santa Barbara

Flâneur: Aranye Fradenburg

5:00 – 6:00 pm

University Center: Harbor Room

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale, Dorigen sets Aurelius the seemingly impossible task of removing “alle the rokkes, stoon by stoon” from the coast of the British isle. Her motives for doing so are explicitly anthropocentric, motivated by her anxiety that her husband, Arveragus, might sail across the sea only for his ship to hit a rock and sink within sight of home. Of course, Dorigen’s command that Aurelius make “the coost so clene / Of rokkes that ther nys no stoon ysene” presupposes that human concerns (i.e. her love for her husband) trump any ethical commitment to preserve the natural environment. The question of whether or not Chaucer himself espouses such anthropocentric views, however, is quite certainly open for review. In another Canterbury tale, the Man of Law’s Tale, the Sultan of Syria’s wicked mother places Custance on a rudderless ship and casts her out to sea, hoping she will perish there, although she eventually washes up on the shores of Northumbria. Although the Man of Law initially attributes the agency that causes Custance to wash up on the Northumbrian beach to the sea’s waves, shortly thereafter, he tells us that the “[t]he wyl of Crist” moored her on a sand dune until the turn of the tide. If Dorigen advocates the alteration of the landscape for the sake of anthropocentric ends, the Man of Law suggests that the coast shapes itself through anthropocentric means — the will of Christ. Once again, the question of whether Chaucer’s poetry participates in such latent anthropocentricism or satirizes it is open for debate. If Chaucer wasn’t exactly an ecocritic, he was certainly concerned about man’s effect on the environment. Although the poet did not share our concern that increased carbon levels equate to higher sea levels, the Miller’s Tale clearly indicates that Chaucer and his contemporaries at least acknowledged the possibility that human behavior can engulf the entire world in a watery grave. This panel explores the manner in which Chaucer’s various depictions of coastal regions assess the interdependence of cultural fantasy and ecological reality. How do Chaucer’s characters construct the beach? How does the beach act as a liminal space in Chaucer’s poetry? How does Chaucer’s theological worldview effect his conceptualization of the beach? Do Chaucer’s fantasies regarding the beach anticipate our own; or do they demonstrate our departure from the premodern past?

  • Brantley Bryant (Sonoma State University), Ceyx on the Beach: The Vanishing Shore of the Book of the Duchess
  • Emily Houlik-Ritchey (University of California, Santa Barbara), Dorigen’s Rocky Coast: An Eco-critical Reading
  • Kristi Janelle Castleberry (University of Rochester), “And in the sond hir ship stiked so faste”: Littoral Readings of Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale
  • Paul Megna (University of California, Santa Barbara): Response

Session 8. The Nature of the Beast/Beasts of Nature: Monstrous Environments

Co-Organizers: Thea Cervone (University of Southern California) + Asa Mittman (California State University, Chico)

5:00 – 6:00 pm

University Center: State Street Room

As BABEL heads to the beach, a liminal zone where elements and environments alternately crash together violently and gently lap at one another’s edges, we want to see what would happen if we were to collide monster theory with ecocriticsm, letting them wash over one another and grind each other down, just a bit. These talks discuss monstrosity and its relation to the various slippages invoked by “the beach,” and “beaching,” not as slashed binaries but as hyphenated hybrids: nature-culture, monster-human, eco-monster, medieval-modern and us-them.

  • Haylie Swenson (The George Washington University): On the Backs of Whales
  • Alan S. Montroso (The George Washington University): Ocean is the New East: Contemporary Representations of Sea Life and Mandeville’s Monstrous Ecosystems
  • Megan Palmer Browne (University of California, Santa Barbara): Great Fishes and Monstrous Men
  • Erin Vander Wall (The George Washington University): Quickening Sand

UCen_Lagoon View


Thursday, October 16

6:00 – 7:00 pm

Upper Balcony, University Center [facing lagoon]


After-Dinner Gathering

10:00 pm onwards

The James Joyce

513 State Street (downtown Santa Barbara)



Forms of Life + Materials & Matter-ing + Aesthetics


9:30 – 11:00 am

Loma Pelona Center 1108

[title + abstract under construction]

[title + abstract under construction]

Your Shell on Acid: Material Immersion, Anthropocene Dissolves

Who is the “anthro” of the “anthropocene?” Is it possible to inhabit this prefix or think from such a perspective? While the term anthropocene would seem to hail us into a massive, disorienting expanse of epochal species identity, many accounts of the anthropocene reinstall rather familiar versions of “man” and the human, which fail to embody a new species identity that the epoch would seem to require. Feminist theory, long critical of “man,” the disembodied, rational subject, and material feminisms, which stress inter- or intra- actions between humans and the wider physical world, provide alternatives to accounts that reiterate man as a bounded being endowed with unilateral agency. Meanwhile as some formulations of the anthropocene focus on geology, depicting stark histories of man and rock in which other life forms and biological processes are strangely absent, the acidifying seas, the liquid index of the anthropocene, are disregarded, even as billions of tiny shelled creatures will meet their end in a catastrophic dissolve that will reverberate through the food webs of the entire ocean. Thinking with these creatures, thinking of your shell on acid, provokes an “ecodelic,”  scale-shifting, dis/identification, that insists whatever the “anthro” of the anthropocene was, is, or will be, the anthropocene must be thought with the multitude of creatures that will not be reconstituted, will not be safely ensconsed, but will, instead, dissolve.


SESSIONS // 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Session 9. Horizontality

Co-Organizers: Gaelan Gilbert (St. Katherine College) + Patrick Gilbert (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Flâneur: Marcos Novak

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

University Center: Harbor Room

Horizons intersect and connect the edges of worlds. Bisecting the vertical, invocations of the horizontal idealistically distribute egalitarian contingencies. This panel explores the concept and experience of horizontality: As a purely pictoral image, the horizon exists as a juxtaposition of hues. Given context, knowledge, and progress, it has come to not only symbolize but actually be a point beyond which we as humans cannot transfer through. In both forward and upward directions, it shows us that by being on earth, we are actually in the meeting point between the ‘heavens and earth.’ It is only when we view a horizon with clear definitive characteristics that this is allowed into our consciousness. In reality, we are living nearly every moment within this transitory and turbulent meeting point: the point where weather as we know it is created and brought to its climax. It is not a point or a long line, but rather endless spherical segments or loops that make up the image of the globe. Nothing above us is solid besides the passing meteorite or planet. It is daunting and most likely terrifying when truly explored. For our abiding Ptolemaic phenomenology, the moon does rise and the sun does set into the sea. Political horizontality is no less elemental, whether in the uncompromising imaginations of anarchic syndicalism or in Deleuzian rhizomatic networks that demand a subsidiarity of function and form. Art-historically, while with iconography the third dimension had been constituted by the vanishing-point of the viewer, the pictorial centrality of the horizon marks the advent of a post-Giotto perspective that privileges spatial mimesis. It becomes the ambiguous curvature of futural nostalgia — the chronotope of chronotopes — beyond which the adventure-hero must ride. Horizons symbolize the limit and limitlessness of vision, the utmost extent to which theory can aspire to dilate its critical gaze. Horizontality names an unattainable, ever-receding aim and meridian — the space of thought. Some related questions include: What hazards and reductions accompany the bracketing of the vertical & transcendent? On what theoretical meridians can new interdisciplinary projects align? How do natural states (solid, liquid, gas) meet cultural realities (earth, water, sky)? Does horizontality necessarily imply curvilinear purity, or vanishing infinity? Does the ineluctable horizon between past and present suggest that we’re always already on a temporal beach strewn with the flotsam of selective memory and periodizing methodologies? Should we organize a clean-up?

  • Margret Grebowicz (Goucher College): Glacial Time and Collective Horizontality
  • Will Rhodes (University of Virginia): Leveling
  • Emily Smith (Independent Scholar): Meridians and Media
  • Laura Yoder (New York University) + Daniel Remein (New York University): wall / paper / book / house
  • Cathy Ellis (University of California, Santa Barbara): Postcards from the Apocalypse [art installation]
  • Patrick Gilbert (University of California, Santa Barbara): Permagrade [art installation]

Session 10. Sand to Land

Organizer: Jesús Rodríguez-Velasco, Columbia University

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

University Center: State Street Room

This roundtable session will explore how legal thought wants to leave its imprint on the sand by legislating it, by turning sand into land. Legislating, in the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period means, very often, redefining the concept of persona—that is, considering which human beings, animals, objects, can become involved in a juridical procedure (Yan Thomas). During the Middle Ages and the first years of the “invention of America,” there were some passages from Roman Law that were debated time and again. In them, the legislators mentioned that it was rather infrequent that a new island appeared in the middle of the sea, but not so rare that a new island appeared in the middle of a river. Whether the island emerges in the middle of the sea (like the wandering islands on the Catalan Atlas of 1375, by Jewish Majorcan cartographers Jafudà Cresques and Cresques Abraham), or in the middle of the river (think of Bartolo’s De Insulis), the questions raised are equally important: Who is their owner? What is their legal status? What are the legal fictions that govern legal thought about them? How did that erase the traces of men who used to practice the space of those particular beaches, only to be replaced with new ones? How does naming/renaming the island contribute to this erasure and re-inscription? How does legal thought articulate theoretical languages, concepts, ideas of the common, about those emerging lands? What is the place of fertility in this legal questioning?

  • Simone Pinet (Cornell University): Ex(île) and the I
  • Seth Kimmel (Columbia University): Islands of Criticism
  • Bruno Bosteels (Cornell University): Theoretical Islands
  • Jesús Rodríguez-Velasco (Columbia University): Wandering Islands

Session 11. Beachcombing

Organizer: Lara Farina, West Virginia University

Contributing Artist: Erik Benjamins

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Humanities & Social Sciences Building: McCune Conference Room (6th Floor)

When we walk the shore, “combing” the beach, we sift through wreckage lovingly, sensually, caught by the sparkle of broken glass, the smoothness of driftwood, the salty stink of seaweed, the clicking of shells tossed together. The beachcomber’s peculiar combination of distracted wandering and intense focus guides her through a shore/archive of fragments, enabling the collection of an idiosyncratic treasure. As a metaphor, beachcombing captures the work of medievalists: we pick through chance survivals resurfaced in new contexts. This session, however, will attempt to invoke not just the idea of beachcombing but also the beachcomber’s affective and phenomenological experience as it might be practiced in relation to fragments of the medieval past. To do this, we have assembled, with a high degree of randomness, a “shore” collection of textual passages, images of artifacts, and musical excerpts. We are not looking for explanations of the items via their historical contexts, but rather, want to reflect on their own processes of composing and curating the treasure they find in the collection, considering questions such as: How does chance facilitate or erode the charisma of certain fragments? What types of sorting and arranging are most satisfying? Do certain pieces have a toxic effect on the collection? How might we consider the “worth” of idiosyncratic collecting? How can we share the care of/for treasures?


  • Lisa Weston (California State University, Fresno)
  • Jennifer Drouin (University of Alabama)
  • Linda Rui Feng (University of Toronto)
  • Helen Burgess (North Carolina State University)
  • Kathleen Coyne Kelly (Northeastern University)
  • Jessica Frazier (The George Washington University)
  • Brianna Jewell (University of Texas at Austin)
  • Marian Bleeke (Cleveland State University)
  • Wendy Farina (independent artist)

12:30 – 2:00 pm // LUNCH BREAK

*those who want to join The Material Collective on their beach-walk [see Sessions 15-16 below] should meet with the MC @12:15 pm on the lawn facing the lagoon, just off the patio behind the University Center


SESSIONS // 2:00 – 3:00 pm

Session 12. Idiorrhythmy: Mining the Fantasy of How to Live Together

Organizer: Roland Betancourt, University of California, Irvine

2:00 – 3:00 pm

University Center: Harbor Room

From my window, I see a mother pushing an empty stroller, holding her child by the hand. She walks at her own pace, imperturbably; the child, meanwhile, is being pulled, dragged along, is forced to keep running, like an animal, or one of Sade’s victim’s being whipped. She walks at her own pace, unaware of the fact that her son’s rhythm is different. And she’s his mother!

Roland Barthes (December 1, 1976)

The scene that Roland Barthes observed from his window late in 1976 would reemerge in his first lecture course at the Collège de France in 1977. His course, How to Live Together, centers around the notion of isolation and cohabitation, forms and techniques of temporal belonging that construct spaces of human existence. In Barthes’s own words, the goal of the course is to explore a specific fantasy: “not all forms of ‘living together’ (societies, phalansteries, families, couples) but primarily the ‘living together’ of very small groups, where cohabitation does not preclude individual freedom.” Barthes’s fantasy for this course first took form upon a chance reading of Jacques Lacarrière’s L’Été Grec (1976), where he encountered the notion ofidiorrhythmy. This concept describes the processes by which certain monks on Mount Athos in Greece mediate between their idiosyncratic, personal rhythms and the rhythms of their larger monastic communities. This Byzantine concept allowed Barthes the ability “to mine the fantasy,” that is to begin to do research across medieval monastic texts and contemporary literary examples. Considering a variety of novels, such as Robinson Crusoe and The Magic Mountain, Barthes explored (paradoxically) moments of ‘living-alone’ in figures such as the castaway, the hermit, and the monk, which create spaces of their own driven by their particular idiosyncratic rhythms. In the end, the course does not explore the utopic space of living-together, yet explores moments where its tensions emerge. Building on recent investigations on temporality and playing on the themes of institutionality, thriving, dissent, and friendship, this panel asks participants to take Barthes’s lecture notes for How to Live Together and seize them precisely as they were intended — as a cue for speech. The panel incites presenters to generate their own investigations from this material, which for a medievalist is riddled with many homologies and affinities, yet nevertheless beats to a different drum. Structured as a roundtable discussion, panelists are encouraged to approach the subject from both a historical and historiographic perspective through short 5-10 minute position papers that mine the fantasy of rhythm and the creation of communal space, particularly focusing on art, visual culture, architecture, and music. The lecture notes for Barthes’s course will then serve as a template for the discussion as an informal script per se that will be mined.

  • Roland Betancourt (University of California, Irvine): Mining the Fantasy
  • Elizabeth Freeman (University of California, Davis): Rhythm
  • Cheryl Jaworski (University of California, Santa Barbara): Bodily Regulation
  • Brendan Sullivan (New York University): Working Together
  • Samuel Ray Jacobson (Independent Scholar): Utopia*

*There will be a corollary landscape art installation by Jacobson, FLOTSAM, a narrow (10’) linear zone connecting the eastern-most boundary of UC-Santa Barbara at the start of Goleta Beach to Coal Oil Point, 2.3 miles west, to be installed in advance of the conference and visible/traversable throughout the conference. This zone will be rendered in crushed limestone, and its fragments will appear along its course on paved surfaces and packed dirt, within university property. Spanning several discrete territories — main campus, Isla Vista, the Pacific Ocean, and the Coal Oil Point nature reserve — the installation makes present an ostensibly arbitrary but nonetheless historically and politically complex geography, dematerializing UCSB’s complicated relationships with geography and ecology, its student body and cultural locality, and the State of California. California State Route 217 and the boundary of the County park at Goleta Beach, Storke Plaza, the Isla Vista Bank of America site, and Sands Beach Snowy Plover habitat are some of several crucial nodes in the vector which, to the extent that it flattens UCSB’s histories into a traversable space, seeks to operate in a disjunctive temporal interval simultaneously both entirely of its own imagination and sublimated in a viewer’s negotiation of the project a whole. The linear territory that will emerge is a relic of its own design. Direct but broken, and comprehensive but fragmented, the circumstantial result seeks to build on Barthes’ suggestion of utopic space as a methodological, rather than heroic, result. To the extent that experience and imagination are required to imaginatively reconcile the dispersed and fragmentary whole,  the installation also seeks to explore the abstract possibility of “flotsam” as a paradigm of Barthesian non-design, while simultaneously affirming his ideas of making distance and giving space as fundamental precepts to utopian spatial form. These aspects are amplified and challenged by the shifts in land use pattern across the project’s lateral scope, as the landscape and patterns of private ownership cause discrete variations on the phenomenological distance between fragmentary intervals. As a mineralogical byproduct, crushed limestone speaks to the crucial theme of “mining,” as proposed for the panel. Concatenating between this quality, the historical and contextual flattening involved, the spatial ambiguity of the fragmented linear territory created, and Barthes’ dictums of space and distance in elucidating his conception of utopia as a real/imaginary category, “mining the fantasy” delineates precisely the conceptual and pragmatic dictates of the project. “Flotsam” is a real and imagined thing, produced through excavations literal and figural, which while oriented in relation to the integral figuration of its landscape also operates with its own, irrevocable, autonomous rhythm. In this regard, the inherent fragility of the project (made, as it is, of dust) serves as something of a theoretical amplifier.

Session 13. Transatlantic/Transtemporal: A Movement in Two Acts

Co-Organizers: Donna Beth Ellard (University of Denver) + Melissa Gniadek (Rice University)

2:00 – 3:00 pm

University Center: State Street Room

This session explores movements across and between land and sea in relation to movements across and between various temporalities.  Specifically, it engages objects and ideas that board ships and travel across the Atlantic and, in their transoceanic passage, reorient both terrecentric worldviews and period-centric scholarship. As a recent special issue of Atlantic Studies claims, the emerging field of oceanic studies serves as a methodological model for nonlinear or nonplanar thought.  This session enacts this methodology, conceiving of the Atlantic Ocean as a watery, nonlinear, and nonplanar space that joins together distant lands and distant time zones. For example, one presenter discusses the exportation of trade goods from North American peoples to European consumers during the sixteenth century, shipments that yoke the early modern consumption of new worlds to ideas about new world encounters that persist today. Another presenter examines the passage of intellectual ideas to nineteenth-century America in books about the Anglo-Saxons that are imported from Britain. The ideas within such books inflect American narratives about the indigenous histories of North America and the relationship of those histories to the young American Republic. In each of these instances, historicist concerns regarding the movements of a material object or an intellectual idea point towards the influence of the ocean as an active participant rather than a mute surface upon things that travel across it. Consequently, transatlantic histories provide new, unique opportunities for trans-period encounters. As a panel made up of scholars of Anglo-Saxon, Early Modern, and nineteenth-century American studies, we seek to radically disrupt conventional boundaries of periodization, showing how the mobility of an oceanic or aquatic framework facilitates the trans-temporal conversations that, we argue, will allow each of our fields to remain co-relevant. We envision our session not as comprised of discrete papers but as one fluid presentation that moves back and forth between ideas, prompting conversations between our objects and periods of study.

Prelude: “Trans”: Across, Over, Beyond

Act I
Scene 1: Medieval Art Objects
Scene 2: Aztec Feathers

Entr’acte: Ocean Travel / Time Travel

Act II
Scene 1: Aztec Feathers in Europe
Scene 2: Medieval Art in America

Postlude: On Transatlantic and Transtemporal Collaboration


  • Jennifer Borland (Oklahoma State University)
  • Donna Beth Ellard (University of Denver)
  • Melissa Gniadek (Rice University)
  • Nedda Mehdizadeh (University of California, Los Angeles)
  • Edward “Mac” Test (Boise State University)

Session 14. Styles of Memory

Co-Organizers: Hannah Johnson, University of Pittsburgh + Kathy Lavezzo, University of Iowa

Flâneur: Martin Shichtman

2:00 – 3:00 pm

Humanities & Social Sciences Building: McCune Conference Room (6th Floor)

The 1290 Expulsion of England’s Jewish population is unique not only as the first of its kind in medieval history, but also in its relationship to the sea and aquatic currents. While subsequent exiles tended to enforce a migration over land toward Eastern Europe, expulsion in England by and large took the form of compelling Jews to travel from their homes to the coastal borders of Britain and then journey from those shores elsewhere. The most notorious of such watery migrations is that of a ship that traveled from the Thames in London to its opening onto the North Sea at Queenborough. There, taking advantage of the estuary ebb tide, Captain Henry Adrian lied to his passengers that they had been grounded and encouraged them to stretch their legs on the exposed wet sand. As the Jews found themselves overcome by the returning waters of the Thames, Adrian taunted them to seek from God the same parting of the waters enjoyed by Moses. In part, the fate of the Jews, all of whom drowned, on the coastline of Queenborough epitomizes the unstable relationship to place suffered by Jews in diaspora. A rabbinic tall tale might also be said to treat such questions metaphorically: land-hungry passengers disembark from a boat onto what they think is an island but is in fact a moss and dust-covered fish. Making themselves comfortable, the Jews start a fire to cook meals, but when the fish felt the heat of the blaze it turned over, tossing all of the occupants in the sea. In both the tall tale and the historical episode, watery tides, marine flows and oceanic engulfment speak to the startling and lethal uncertainties of diaspora, as well as the failure of identificatory relations between groups. Yet as work on diaspora by Édouard Glissant and other post-colonial theorists of the Caribbean demonstrates, aquatic currents, waves and fluidities can be marshaled as an empowering means of conceiving of a mobile and interconnected network of such identificatory relations. Seizing upon both meanings immanent in aquatic fluidities — e.g., the tragic and the productive — this roundtable brings together a diverse array of critics and poets to consider how different styles of memory enable our understanding of medieval cultures caught in the ebb and flow of fluid contact.

  • Steven Kruger (The Graduate Center, CUNY), “These Waves of Dying Friends”: Paul of Burgos Reflects on the Massacres of 1391 and on His Conversion
  • Eleni Stecopoulos (University of San Francisco): Cellular Memory Theater
  • Asa Mittman (California State University, Chico): “In number they are like the sand on the seashore”:  Fears of an Eschatological Jewish Threat Past, Present and Future
  • Lisa Lampert-Weissig (University of California, San Diego): “With reverted look”:  Expulsion, Memory, and Agency
  • Hannah Johnson (University of Pittsburgh): Traces in the Sand

Session 15-16. Walk on the Beach (a material ecology) + Things from the Sea (a flash exhibition) [DOUBLE-SESSION]

Organizer: The Material Collective

Flâneur: Christina McPhee

2:00 – 4:30 pm

University Center: Flying A Room

This session+ is an exploration of things and our relationships to them, as well as a collaborative meditation on chance, discovery, subjectivity, beauty, and ecology. The session+ is in three parts: a beachwalk and a flash-exhibition (held during the conference), and an online seminar in the summer before. The walk and exhibition will be open to all conference attendees. Walk on the Beach takes place at low tide on Friday October 17, during the conference lunch break: we will walk together on Goleta Beach, take photographs, and collect objects from the beach. Following the walk, the seminar group (see below) will gather for a discussion of what we’ve found, and plan for our exhibition. The exhibition, Things from the Sea, will be held in the Flying A Room (University Center) from 2:00-5:00 pm. This flash-exhibition will display our collective material, and will be collaboratively curated by the seminar participants. Together, we may choose to organize the exhibition around a few key terms or issues; we may choose to manipulate, photograph, or otherwise interpret our beachcombed bounty. We may be inspired by cabinets of curiosities, scientific taxonomies, art galleries, exploded diagrams, ethnographic museums, archives, pilgrimage shrines, ex-votos. During the flash-exhibition, curator/participants will engage each other and visitors in conversations, short monologues, performances, and inquiries through and around the sea-thing collections.

The Summer Seminar is an online discussion in which our group of 10-20 beachwalkers/curators will have shared and explored inspirations, issues, and ideas to inform our collective project. We are inspired and provoked by so many things: oil spills off the California coast; the performance-walks of Richard Long; scuba diving; medieval whalebone objects and maritime trade; childhood vacations. We have gathered collaborators who can also envision this project, or a portion of it, and who will help to shape it in the months before the UCSB meeting. Our discussions (online and on-site) and the resulting exhibition might ponder: How are things from the sea entangled in our land-based ecology? What is a “useful” object? What is a “beautiful” object? Are things from the sea unlimited? If so, how? How do we categorize objects? What makes an object an art-object? a scientific specimen? An anthropological artifact? What is collecting/collection, in both a personal and an institutional context? How might the conference “keywords” such as Drift/Shift, Flotsam/Detritus, Flow/Scape, Submerge/Emerge, and Theft/Reclamation help shape our encounter?

Material Collectivists:

  • Jamie “Skye” Bianco
  • Sakina Bryant
  • Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
  • Maura Coughlin
  • Ellen Donnelly
  • Emily Gephart
  • Elliott Ihm
  • Anna Klosowska
  • Kate Koppelman
  • Steve Mentz
  • Asa Mittman
  • Karen Overbey
  • Emily Russell
  • Alicia Walker
  • Maggie Williams
  • Lora Webb


SESSIONS // 3:30 – 4:30 pm

Session 15-16. Walk on the Beach (a material ecology) + Things from the Sea (a flash exhibition) [DOUBLE-SESSION]

Organizer: The Material Collective

Flâneur: Christina McPhee

2:00 – 4:30 pm

University Center: Flying A Room

[see just above for full description]

Session 17. Coastal Creatures

Organizer: Vin Nardizzi (University of British Columbia)

Flâneurs: Lowell Duckert + Steve Mentz

3:30 – 4:30 pm

University Center: Harbor Room

In contributing to this roundtable, we collectively produce a natural history, in its capacious premodern sense, for seven creatures inhabiting coastal regions: cultural amphibians (translators and/or bicultural people), fenlanders, “petermen” boating on the Thames, beached sea monsters, sails, saints, and sonnets. We aim not only to describe the naturecultures of these creatures (lineaments, customs, lore, and laws), but also to theorize what it means, in terms of embodiment and temporality, to be “coastal,” or a creature of the coast. In an effort to foster a common theoretical vocabulary for the roundtable, we’ll read Julia Reinhard Lupton’s “Creature Caliban” (2000), as well as short excerpts from Brian Ogilvie’s Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe (2006) and Elizabeth Jane Bellamy’s Dire Straits: The Perils of Writing the Early Modern Coastline from Leland to Milton (2013). We’ll frame our remarks with these materials. We do so in the generous spirit of dialogue: to explore, elaborate, reconfigure, and reimagine the parameters of the roundtable’s key words. If you are interested in having any of these readings in advance, contact Vin Nardizzi at:

  • Joshua Calhoun (University of Wisconsin, Madison): Sails
  • Sarah Crover (University of British Columbia): Petermen
  • Stephen Guy-Bray (University of British Columbia): Sonnet
  • Jonathan Hsy (The George Washington University): Cultural Amphibians
  • Louisa McKenzie (University of Washington): Manfish
  • Louise Noble (University of New England, Australia): Fenlanders
  • Cord Whitaker (Wellesley College): Saint

Session 18. Sand in Your Face

Co-Organizers: Ruth Evans, Saint Louis University + Valerie Allen (John Jay College of Justice, CUNY)

3:30 – 4:30 pm

University Center: State Street Room

Before the mystic writing pad, before the page, there was sand. From Foucault’s announcement that “Man will be erased like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea” to Hoffman’s story “The Sandman,” from which Freud takes inspiration in his essay on “The Uncanny,” sand is a material that has entered the cultural imaginary on many levels: at once solid and impermanent, playfully mobile and yet capable of being transformed into brittle glass, it is associated inter alia with the passing of time, infinity, memory, uncertain foundations (the foolish man’s house built on sand), sleep, castration, the end of mankind (On the Beach), first pages (writing in the sand), irritation (sand in uncomfortable places), composition (sandcastles), critical decisions (lines in the sand), the granular, the littoral, and the glassy. This panel will explore the various ways that sand blows through our language.

  • Maggie M. Williams (William Paterson University): Sand/Stone
  • Jonathan Forbes (University of California, Santa Barbara): Enclosed in Dirt and Sand: The Anchoress in Thatcher’s England
  • Bridget Whearty (Stanford University): “I Wrote Her Name Upon the Strand”: Permanence, Transformation, and Medieval Manuscripts in the Digital Sea
  • Valerie Allen (John Jay College of Justice, CUNY): The Sand Reckoner
  • Brian Rotman (Ohio State University): Comments in Absentia
  • Ruth Evans (Saint Louis University): Response

Session 19. Wave. Particle. Duality. [THEORY-PERFORMANCE]

Organizer: Angela Bennett-Segler, New York University

Flâneur: Stacy Alaimo

Humanities & Social Science Building: McCune Conference Room (6th Floor)

A critical performance detailing the results of a collaborative digital and (meta)physical experiment on the nature of matter and meaning across quantum physics and the humanities. This non-traditional panel will take up the central paradox of the physical universe, that of matter’s inherent duality as always simultaneously both particle and wave, and formulate a vocabulary from the group’s collective engagement with the New Materialism of Karen Barad (agential realism) that allows us to discuss the fundamental entanglement of the material and discursive in knowledge production.

  • Ada Smailbegovic (New York University): Wave
  • Karl Steel (Brooklyn College, CUNY): Particle
  • Brandon Jones (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): Duality
  • Sandra Danilovic (University of Toronto): Apparatus of Subjectivity *by video link
  • Ashby Kinch (University of Montana): Scale of the Subject *by video link




Organizer: Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, The George Washington University

Flâneur: Morteza Gharib

5:00 – 6:00 pm

Loma Pelona Center 1108

This session will examine the multiple meanings of the word SCALE, but will focus especially on why the very small and the vast are so difficult to apprehend — as well as why during escalating ecological crisis they must be relentlessly and critically examined. Terms to be contemplated as part of the project might include the epoch, spontaneous generation, the anthropocene, post-sustainability, secularism, elementality, the abioticBig Datathe parasite, musicality, ichthyology, sliding scales, justice, leprosy, close reading, miniaturization, diagramming as a creative art, metrics, intimacy and performance. Questions to be asked include: at what size do things start mattering (in the dual sense of that word, relative to materiality and meaning)? At what size do they stop? Is there a subatomic ethics? A theory of enmeshment that can do justice to the Milky Way, the light year, the Permian extinction, the overwhelming vastness of the microbiological?

  • Karl Steel (Brooklyn College, CUNY): Subatomic
  • Michael O’Rourke (Independent Colleges, Dublin): Justice
  • Mary Kate Hurley (Ohio University): Cosmic
  • Steve Mentz (St. John’s University, New York): Ocean
  • Ben Tilghman (Lawrence University) + Asa Mittman (California State University, Chico): Sand
  • James Tanton (Mathematical Association of America): Square?
  • Anna Klosowska (Miami University, Ohio): Relativity
  • Eileen Joy (BABEL Working Group): Intimate
  • Jonathan Hsy (The George Washington University): Register
  • Lindy Elkins-Tanton (Arizona State University): Flash
  • Stacy Alaimo (University of Texas, Arlington): Abyss
  • Dan Vitkus (University of California, San Diego): Global

santabarbara23Rooftop Party

Friday, October 17

The Rooftop Perch, Canary Hotel

31 West Carillo Street (downtown Santa Barbara)

8:00 – 11:00 pm



Play + Enjoyment + Affinity + Hope


9:30 – 11:00 am

Loma Pelona Center 1108

Before the Flood: Archives of Stone, or, How the Masons Saved Civilization

The 2005 Constitution and Regulations of the Regular Grand Lodge of England opens with a “History of Freemasons,” a universal history that traces the fraternity back nearly to the beginning of the world. Without citation, this charter includes a paraphrase of the so-called “Old Charges,” perhaps best represented by the Cooke MS (BL Additional MS 23,198), a fifteenth-century manuscript that offers — among other things — the apocryphal story of the children of Lamech, who not only invent the arts and sciences and “All the Crafts of the World,” but also manage to preserve their hard work from an angry Deity determined to destroy the larger portion of humanity either by fire or by flood. We open with a reading of this narrative of antediluvian mythology to ponder how and why a modern fraternity would locate its origin in a medieval tale of ingenium, a narrative about a family of artists and inventors who cleverly outwit God by placing all human knowledge on two massive pillars, one designed to withstand flames, the other crafted to resist water. We are interested in how and why this tale has provided a foundation for nearly 500 years of Masons to imagine both their work and their play within a narrative of recovery and salvation. Did the Masons, an organization whose principles adhere firmly to the philosophies of the English Enlightenment, look to the Middle Ages for the esoteric secrets that sheltered wisdom from a watery catastrophe?

Possible Ecologies: Loss and Hope in Pacific Literatures

Literary writers have long envisioned alternative worlds in relation to the malleable imaginative spaces of the sea. The Pacific, or the peaceful sea, was often framed by early, visiting writers as a site of aspirational life ways, deeply wild nature, and isolated islands. The literary history of the sea is dotted with utopias, including the first utopia, Thomas More’s Utopia, as well as Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis. This talk asks how literary and other artists evoke ocean futures more recently, in contexts of severe environmental upheaval including myriad forms of loss. It looks at contemporary poetry, short stories, art, and journalistic writings from settler and Indigenous writers, exploring their imaginative accounts of present life and futures in varied Pacific sites where people live closely with environmental loss, including with rivers that no longer reach the sea and with dwindling animals such as sharks.

A yoga for the Post-Catastrophe, “Dear Climate” generates agitational images, cryptic texts and meditative recordings to be used to meet, befriend, and become climate change. Prescriptions for mindful evolution, treatments for weather anxiety, and mystical modifications of inner climate: all packaged as a DIY kit for the coming Environment-in-Motion.


SESSIONS // 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Session 20. Writing the Unreadable Text

Co-Organizers: David Hadbawnik (University at Buffalo, SUNY) + Chris Piuma (University of Toronto)

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

University Center: Harbor Room

Some texts defy standard models of reading and writing. Brisona, in the romance Frondino e Brisona, sends a letter to her lover “scrit sus neyr papier / ab color de blau fi” (“written on black paper in deep blue ink”), a nearly illegible color combination. The scribe Adam Pinkhurst notes at the bottom of “The Cook’s Tale” in the Hengwrt manuscript (The Canterbury Tales), “Of this Cokes tale maked Chaucer na moore,” one of several lacunae in the manuscript that signal its having been received, according to Ralph Hanna, “in an incomplete form.” There are Iberian altarpieces that depict documents written in a deliberately fake Hebrew; there are poems overrun with neologisms; there are hopelessly corrupted textual traditions; there are lost and destroyed texts. These all represent various kinds of unreadability with which scribes, editors, and early readers had to contend. Critical editions of such texts often aim to make these illegibilities legible. Any modern edition, as Elizabeth Scala notes, represents “that hypostasized historical Real that remains the ultimate ground of ‘history’ and one of our deepest fantasies. For it is, of course, the ‘corrupted’ scribal copy—and not a modern edited version—to which medieval readers had access.” But even medieval scribes might make things legible; Catherine Léglu notes that, although the unique manuscript of Frondino e Brisona replicates the text of Brisona’s letter, it does not reproduce its illegible blue ink on black paper. How do we, we who love to read, read these “unreadable” texts? How can we, we who write within and around disciplinary structures, write with these texts so as to not merely write about them, but to take up the challenges of their “unwriterly” writing practices?  This panel will explore both medieval and modern responses to the “unreadable” and the “unwriterly.”

  • Tom Comitta (Poet):      ⃝
  • Heather Bamford (The George Washington University): De fuera s(o) rayda
  • Thomas Prendergast (College of Wooster): Semiotic Ghosts
  • [various]: An Anthology of Unreadable Texts
  • Michael Johnson (Central Washington University): François Villon’s Brief Language
  • Ruth Evans (Saint Louis University): Queer Translations: Writing the Unreadable Lesbian
  • David Abel (Poet): nuyvypzq

Session 21. Cute Shakespeare

Organizer: Julia Reinhard Lupton, University of California, Irvine

Moderator: Christopher Foley, University of California, Santa Barbara

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

University Center: State Street Room

*this session is the cross-listed with Session 23. The Retro-Futurism of Cuteness

In “Our Aesthetic Categories,” Sianne Ngai cites Hannah Arendt on the “modern enchantment with ‘small things’ . . . the art of being happy between dog and cat and flowerpot.” This modern “enchantment,” we would like to suggest, is bound up with the imperfect disenchantments brought about by secularization. The bejeweled reliquaries, aromatic censers, bittersweet aqua vitae, and velvet vestments of medieval Christianity, as well as the Virgin Mary’s breast milk, the sweet baby Jesus’s foreskin, and the adorable softness of little lambs manifested a cult of cute only partly translated into the modern commodity fetish and the autonomous work of art. Our papers explore the coy and tacky, sumptuous and frivolous remnants of political theology as they toddle, blush, flirt, and purr towards their commodified and demystified futures. To what extent is Shakespearean drama an incubator and curator for the haptic and hand-held aspects of cuteness in relation to secularization and its remainders? What role do sex, age, and housekeeping play in Shakespeare’s distillations and domestications of cute? How does religion, especially Catholicism, come toappear cute (sticky and stinky, infantile and overwrought) in the rational nostalgia of secularism, and what does that post-production affect both capture and belittle in Shakespeare’s fairy toys and baseless fabrics? These questions are the starting point of our panel.

  • Julia Reinhard Lupton (University of California, Irvine): Cute Shakespeare
  • Luke Wilson (Ohio State University): Cute Shylock
  • CJ Gordon (University of California, Irvine): Cute Cleopatra
  • Tommy Anderson (Mississippi State University): Cute Coriolanus

Session 22. Otium to the Grindstone

Co-Organizers: Sharon O’Dair (University of Alabama) + Alexandra Cook (University of Alabama)

Flâneur: Benjamin Bratton

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Humanities & Social Sciences Building: McCune Conference Room (6th Floor)

One sign that the valuation of the contemplative life has declined is that scholars now compete with men of action in a kind of precipitate pleasure, so that they seem to value this kind of pleasure more highly than they do that to which they are really entitled and which is in fact much more pleasurable.  Scholars are ashamed of otium. But there is something noble about leisure and idleness. If idleness really is the beginning of all vice, then it is at any rate in the closest proximity to all virtue; the idle man is always a better man than the active. But when I speak of leisure and idleness, you do not think I am alluding to you, do you, you sluggards?

Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

[T]he fear of idleness in Europe up to the eighteenth century was so strong that otium could only be accepted if strongly qualified as honestum, a leisure which yielded ‘fruits’ in works of literature, poetry, philosophy or history. . . .Leisure as a valid state in itself, something that the citizen had earned, and was free to dispose of as he choose, hardly existed before 1700.

Brian Vickers, “Leisure and Idleness in the Renaissance: The Ambivalence of Otium”

Leisure, idleness — otium — has had a rough go of it. Perhaps especially if Nietzsche and Vickers are at all ball-parky in their datings—can we imagine otium’s apotheosis between 1700 and 1900? Probably not. Perhaps we could divine some rolling movement in norms, a wave that crested, improbably and without notice, and then receded. But unevenly. Unevenly. For scholars, perhaps, the wave broke sometime around 1971, when, if you can imagine yourself riding with Hunter S. Thompson, or landed with him “on a steep hill in Las Vegas,” you could “look west and with the right kind of eyes you [could] almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” We will be in Santa Barbara, not looking west from Vegas, and what do we see? Do we have the right kind of eyes? The right focus? Do we see scholars who, a century and more after Nietszche, relish even more the active man’s “precipitate pleasure” rather than the pleasure of otium, that which edges them toward vice and thereby virtue? Do we see academic millionaires and adjuncts in precarity? Or do we, with straight face, pose otium as corrective to neo-liberal intellectual regimes, to speed-up and the ante-up, to MOOCs and managers? Otium is a vice for the Romans; a sin for the Christians; and not to be countenanced by the capitalists. This panel is not ashamed of otium, and seeks to unlearn the lessons that put the University in ruins. Let’s edge toward vice — squatting, partying, playing, smuggling — or toward virtue — humility, contentment, retreat, peace. Let’s ponder how to achieve what Agamben, in The Open, calls “the supreme and unsavable figure of life” —otium — “a human nature rendered perfectly inoperative,” workless, but not worthless.

  • Trevor Owen Jones (Librarian, San Diego): Calafia’s Sister: Idleness & the Spirit of California
  • Matthew Kozusko (Ursinus College): Spirited Reprobates
  • Givanni Idlefonso (City University of New York): Finding Genius in Otium
  • Julian D. Yates (University of Delaware): Otium for Sheep?
  • Sharon O’Dair (University of Alabama): Love, to Melt
  • Vin Nardizzi (University of British Columbia): Sitting Shepherds

12:30 – 2:00 pm // LUNCH BREAK


SESSIONS // 2:00 – 3:00 pm

Session 23. Temporal Estrangements

Co-Organizers: Elizabeth Allen & Rebecca Davis, University of California, Irvine + Seeta Chaganti, University of California, Davis

2:00 – 3:00 pm

University Center: Harbor Room

This working group deploys non-medieval texts to cast into relief the skewing of time within medieval texts, aiming to read medieval works through the heuristic lens of other literary and cultural moments. Our projects involve the juxtaposition of medieval texts with contemporary art; the identification of virtual space in medieval spectacle; the delineation of psychic topographies in Old English elegy; the articulation of alternative translatios in medieval representations of Arabic heritage; and the temporal reversal of source study models, using an early modern text to read a medieval one. We are particularly interested in textual or artistic settings framed by the sea, a spatial zone that both organizes and disrupts time. Narratives at sea move in and out of different “temporal spaces,” as it were, suggesting different ways of inhabiting space and time even in the midst of continuous action. Through readings in this vein, we hope to ask: how do temporal disjunctions between texts illuminate the uses of temporality within medieval texts?

  • Seeta Chaganti (University of California, Davis): Chaucer’s Spiral Jetty
  • Rebecca Davis (University of California, Irvine): Aeolian Time
  • Ben Garceau (Indiana University): Fleotendra ferhþ: Temporal Disjunction in “The Wanderer”
  • Shirin Khanmohamadi (San Francisco State University): Time and the Saracen
  • Elizabeth Allen (University of California, Irvine): Shakespeare, the Seven Sleepers, and the Shores of Time

Session 24. The Retro-Futurism of Cuteness

Co-Organizers: Jen Boyle, Coastal Carolina University + Wan-Chuan Kao (Washington & Lee University)

Flâneurs: Una Chaudhuri + Marina Zurkow

2:00 – 3:00 pm

University Center: State Street Room

*this session is cross-listed with Session 20. Cute Shakespeare

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 orGeorges Bataille’s point of ecstasy. As we gather at the Pacific Rim, let us, à 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; and a 40-minute dialogue during the conference, preceded by 5-minute “flash talk” show-and-tells where participants re-introduce their curated pieces. Pre-session curated materials will also be part of a media exhibit space associated with the conference (University Center: Flying A Room). 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.

  • Timothy Krause (Hunter College, CUNY): ‘Stick them with the cutesy end’: Game of Thrones Fan Art, the MedRen Twee Sublime, and the Cultural Aesthetics of Contemporary Appropriations of the Romanticized Past
  • Rachel Law (Conceptual Artist + Game Designer): Confectionaries
  • Kelly Lloyd (School of the Art Institute of Chicago): Katie Sokoler — Your Construction Paper Tears Can’t Hide Your Yayoi Kusama Grade Neurotic Underbelly
  • Tripthi Pallai (Coastal Carolina University): ‘Itemizing’ Violence in Marlowe and Bollywood
  • Rebekah Sheldon (Indiana University): Pleading, Hurt, and Incredibly Cute: The Child, Environmental Crisis, and the Regime of Faciality
  • Devin Toohey (University of Southern California): It’s a Cute Old-World After All: the KawaiiRenaissance of Tokyo DisneySea
  • Eileen Joy (BABEL Working Group): Response

Session 25. Sous Les Pavés, La Plage

Organizer: Justin Kolb, American University in Cairo

2:00 – 3:00 pm

Humanities & Social Sciences Building: McCune Conference Room (6th Floor)

When Justin visited Cairo for the first time, in May of 2013, the sidewalks around Tahrir Square had turned into a beach. The paving stones were pulled up and thrown during the 2011 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, and sand had blown in and filled the space between the curbs. The slogan “Sous les pavés,la plage!” – under the pavement, the beach! — emerged from the May 1968 uprising in Paris. Hard, still stone would give way to soft, shifting sand, discovering a better, freer, more playful and less ordered world just beneath the certainties of life as it is. This spirit can be found in many modern protest movements — from the Wisconsin Capitol to Zuccotti Park to the streets of Athens and Tunis—that occupied public spaces during the heady year 2011. That year saw Tahrir transformed from a traffic circle into a vibrant democratic assembly. For 18 days, the pavement gave way to a beach, with all of the possibility and vulnerability that attend life on the edge of the world. On June 30, 2013, huge demonstrations were followed by a coup that removed the elected Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president and installed a military-led government. On 14 August, over 600 people died as police and soldiers attacked protest camps organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. Over 3000 Egyptians have died in political violence since June 30. Tahrir is now a prettied-up space under heavy guard, with new steel gates that can be swung into place to seal the square. The pavement is back in place. This panel will consider the pavement and the beach, the stone and the sand. Is the beach a space of freedom and play, or is it a place of chaos and vulnerability? Can la plageendure? Are such democratic, protean spaces always temporary, or can they be preserved? What is it like to feel the ecstasy of stone giving way to sand, and what are the dangers of that rapture? What commonwealth can be built on these sands? Once the paving stones come up, are we on holiday or cast away?

  • Steve Mentz (St. John’s University, New York): Beachcombing, Numbering, and “Degeneralization”
  • Kristen McCants (University of California, Santa Barbara): Thetis’ Birth-Child: Marina as the Beach in Shakespeare’s Pericles
  • Victor Lenthe (University of Wisconsin, Madison): Shepherds at the Public Beach: Misunderstanding and Spenserian Political Poetics in 1579 and 2014
  • François-Xavier Plasse-Couture (University of Hawaii): Surfing as an Embodied Art of Existence and the Materiality of Pelagic Spaces
  • Jamie Staples (New York University): Seductive Seashores: St. Aethelthryth and the Transformative Promise of Seduction
  • Justin Kolb (American University in Cairo): Amphibians: Neither Fish nor Fowl on (Early) Modern Sea


SESSIONS // 3:30 – 4:30 pm

Session 26. Trans-Medievalisms

Co-Organizers: Candace Barrington, Central Connecticut State University + Jonathan Hsy (The George Washington University)

Flâneur: Teresa Shewry

3:30 – 4:30 pm

University Center: Harbor Room

What happens to the Western Middle Ages when it crosses into diversely concurrent times, languages, culture, and media? How does “medievalism” take shape in multiple spaces across the planet—including cultural habitats where the Western Middle Ages are no longer the “‘zero point’ of orientation” (to reroute a phrase from Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology)? What cultural work do “the Middle Ages” perform as they infuse modern-day modes of global media and cultural production—textual, visual, digital, performative, cinematic? Our session is inspired by our work on the “Global Chaucers” project, a utopian scholarly endeavor that seeks to gather, back-translate, and analyze all non-English translations and adaptations of Chaucer’s work. Our scheming with scholars around the world has so far revealed Chaucerian adaptations in places as far-flung and interconnected as Latin America (Bolivia), East Asia (China, Japan, Korea), Europe (Denmark, Flanders, Spain, Hungary), the Middle East (Israel, Iran), and Africa (Nigeria), as well as works in invented languages (Esperanto). For this session we have gathered together people working on various aspects of medieval appropriation and transformation in “global” contemporary culture (however conceived). How might plurilingual, transoceanic, and intercultural orientations provoke new modes of engaging with the past? How can we create a dynamic, multi-site community of cross-temporal scholars and enthusiasts, a fluid collective that thrives across disciplines and borders?

  • Raúl Ariza-Barile (University of Texas at Austin): Chaucer’s Spanish Accent: Impossible Poetry?
  • Shyama Rajendran (The George Washington University): The Impossibility of Locating The Ramayana
  • Carol Robinson (Kent State University, Trumbull): Expressing Loathly Ladies—Explicitly Noncompliant
  • Elaine Treharne (Stanford University): Text Technological Transformations: the Inexactitude of a Medieval Unreality

Session 27. A Mythopoieic Maritime Meandering [GAME/PERFORMANCE]

Co-Organizers: Jeremy G. Gordon + Jennifer Heusel + Martin Law (Indiana University)

3:30 – 4:30 pm

University Center: State Street Room

And so castles made of sand melt into the sea, eventually.

Jimi Hendrix, Axis Bold As Love

The Odyssey begins with a petition to sing of “the man of twists and turns driven . . . off course,” a sea-faring figure in Calypso’s aquatic embrace, one who is on the verge of winds, whirlpools, Siren songs, and “sea-wolves, raiding at will.” Like heroic odysseys, board games are cultural products that tell tall tales of adversity and difference in waves of competition and domination. The crests of the sensus communis of the board-game-as-heroic-epic — a Herculean contouring surveyed by Giambattista Vico and early Atlantic colonial capitalism deemed divine in the image of Bacon’s demi-god conqueror of the many-headed hydra—foster a scholarship of brutal, Kraken-slaying heroism. “To cite the myth [of Hercules] was not simply to employ a figure of speech,” writes Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, but “to impose a curse and a death sentence . . .” on motley crews of hydratic rogues and commoners, anyone off the map. Setting out on stranger tides, The Society of Rogue Studies leads session attendees in the initial play of a board game that engages the poetic logics of shared precariousness and how mythopoieic crafts and crafting keep us afloat as hydratic communities on waves of contingency. We play to drench Herculean cartographies of board games and scholarship to embrace the possibilities of an oceanic oikos. Our game steers clear of final dockings and spearing victories, asking crews to respond to the unfamiliar, the strange, and the contingent by favoring Steve Mentz’s “magical lens of the sea.” In an enlivened and enchanting mythopoieicseaway, our game floats an embodied odyssey of seafaring saying, singing, sniffing, salting, hearing, holding (breath), tying, and tasting, all toward a bodily collective playing in the waves of Mentz’s “new thalassology,” a swelling of the sea’s cultural presence. Those on (the) board rely on mythic detritus and remnants to lash together a rickety vessel on which we make our board’s thalassology as we sail. Improvisational mythic unmastery of the sea, swirling in mythic currents without a pre-ordained map, unsettle stable shores and inventively imperil land-locked wisdom and Hercules’ footprints. Our collectivemythōkeanos is buoyed to nautical commonplace, but we get salty in our pelagic play. As we give over to communal drifting, swaying to error in interpretation, augury amiss that takes us far from victory, we catch wind of our game’s ethic: to play for as long as possible before dropping anchor. Rather than epics ends, our odyssey sings of twists and turns off course. Such might be the pagan piracy At World’s Endwhere Jack Sparrow follows a compass unhinged from Peters Projection, sea-ing that Sparrow sees fading in the eye of a beached Kraken. Following Sparrow, our motley crew drifts from the presumed absence of the Kraken, summoning monstrous mythoi for a swelling mythōkeanos, all the while belting, as the shanty goes, “give sailors their grog and there’s nothin’ goes wrong, so merry, so merry, so merry are we . . . no matter who’s laughin’ at sailors at sea.”

Rogue Studies Crew Mates:

  • Miles Coleman (University of Washington)
  • Jeremy G. Gordon (Indiana University)
  • Jennifer Heusel (Indiana University)
  • Gwen Law (Indiana University)
  • Martin Law (Indiana University)
  • Juliane Mora (University of Utah)

Session 28. Sea Changes

Co-Organizers: Jody Enders, University of California-Santa Barbara + Ellen Mackay, Indiana University

3:30 – 4:30 pm

Humanities & Social Sciences Building: McCune Conference Room (6th Floor)

In short polemical interventions, panelists ponder what it takes to effect a variety of sea changes in the work of medieval and early modern studies. We seek to understand and facilitate paradigm-shifts in the intellectual and disciplinary work of our fields.

  • Jody Enders (University of California, Santa Barbara): Drowning in Caritas
  • Noah Guynn (University of California, Davis): Women on Top? Try Bossy Bottoms!
  • Ellen Mackay (Indiana University): On Being At Sea: Unthinking Early Modern Spectatorship
  • Steve Mentz (St. John’s University, New York): Salty Language
  • P.A. Skantze (Roehampton University): Lyric Theory
  • Ayanna Thompson (The George Washington University): A Sea Change for Race and Reception



Waves of Mutilation: Wounding and Healing in Surf Studies

Co-Organizers: Michael Ursell, ACLS Public Fellow, Zócalo Public Square + Trey Highton, University of California, Santa Cruz

5:00 – 6:00 pm

Loma Pelona Center 1108

you’ll think I’m dead, but I sail away /

on a wave of mutilation

The Pixies, “Wave of Mutilation”

According to an allegorical tradition with touchstones in the medieval and early modern periods, the surf heals but it is also the place of wounding. In the passage from The Faerie Queene quoted above, the knight Marinell, son of a sea nymph, patrolling a shore, is run through with a spear and then taken to the equivalent of an underwater hospital where the wound is healed. Before Spenser, Dante placed himself on the shores of purgatory where psalm-singing human souls land on a beach and are led by an angel toward spiritual purification. In the 21st century, the surf offers what some might call a deep karmic scrub, but it is also a place where humans and non-humans are wounded. The surf and surfing encourage both healing work and fantasies of cataclysm. In the present day, Wounded Warrior programs introduce surfing to veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (modern-day Marinells) as a way to work through trauma. Similar programs, such as Ride a Wave and Mauli Ola, work with special-needs children to make the waves—and the therapeutic properties of the surf, with roots in 18th-century European ocean bathing traditions—accessible to them. Surfing organizations in Indonesia were among the first responders to the 2004 tsunami. While healing humans at the shore, surf culture also tends to the vulnerable non-human elements found there; the Surfrider Foundation, for example, attempts to heal the human impact on shoreline ecosystems. This roundtable reimagines long-established representations of the surf by placing interpreters of literature, history, history of visual art, and film studies in the same room as surfer-activists. We bring together members of activist organizations and those who practice various forms of surf studies to collaborate with scholars of the “new thalassology” (trans-Atlantic, Pacific Rim, Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean Studies). The surf (and surfing) will transform in the anthropocene, and we look for new allegories of healing and wounding in the surf, in anticipation of always-evolving and ever-rising seas.



Punctum Records House Party

[bands to be announced]


@Chez Kristy McCants*

9:00pm – 2:00am

*address will be listed in printed program

Read more from Uncategorized
1 Comment Post a comment
  1. David Wallace
    Sep 13 2014

    A favorite question: ‘Is it possible to conceive of a Hello Kitty Middle Ages, or a Tickle Me Elmo Renaissance?’

    An observation that lingers: ‘So many modern medievalists are fond of looking at queer theory, monster theory, notions of abjection, and so forth from a distanced, ironic, and intellectual standpoint, while ignoring the queer, the monster, and the abject sitting in the front row taking notes’ [Bryant & Alia, ‘Saturn’s Darkness’, Dark Chaucer, pp. 25-6].


Leave a comment

Note: HTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to comments


Skip to toolbar