Abstracts

Here is where I will be including select abstracts for conference presentations.

“black and fat”: Deviant Gendered Bodies in Patrick Ness’s More Than This

MLA Convention – Jan. 2016

 Dystopian fiction allows the reader to place a lens on the construction of society and its failings, and it additionally allows the reader to focus on the prevailing dichotomy of the binary sex system. Recently in young adult fiction, young women have become empowered to demolish their preordained societal and literary roles and “do as the men do.” However, the dominant female type in this trope continues to be a thin, attractive, white young woman successfully taking on the world.

In this presentation, I focus on the 2013 dystopian novel by Patrick Ness, More Than This, which features a trio of hero(in)es: Seth, Tomasz, and Regine, two young men and a girl. While Regine is admittedly not the main character (Seth gets that role, a character struggling with his latent homosexuality, another prominent feature of “deviance” in contemporary young adult novels), Regine is nevertheless empowered to become a key agent in the triple threat of the three friends, banding together to topple the world regime that enslaves them. More importantly, Regine is overweight and black, and she explores this aspect of her deviant personality even as she expresses revolt against the Foucauldian regime that would keep her body docile. I analyze the modality of the non-normative body in the dystopian novel, asking what function the character who goes against gender type has. How can reading with an eye for ethnicity and “fatness” augment our understanding of the message about gender?

Flesh and Steel: Conceiving a Scientific and Literary Praxis of Pregnancy
MLA Convention – Jan. 2014

My presentation considers the intersections between literature, science, and the pregnant body, analyzing two Anglophone novels: The Birth Machine by Elizabeth Baines (1982), and the more recent Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009). Criticism focusing on the technologization of birth in literary texts predominately argues that Western models of control serve to colonize birthing women, rendering them passive, without subjectivity, and at the mercy of “men and their tools” (see Kaplan 1992, Sterk, et al., 2002, Young 2005). Further, feminist criticism often calls for the need for holistic new models of birth predicated on flux rather than upon a model of the body as broken machine (see Martin 1987, Cosslett 1994). Based on four years of dissertation research, and employing Susan Squier’s foundational argument in Babies in Bottles (1994) that literature is an excellent conduit of bioethical matters, I would like to interrogate how these texts configure a bioethics of birth, precariously placed as it is between the steel of masculine science and the flesh of the feminine body.

In The Birth Machine, Zelda discovers that her pregnancy and birth have been the subject of research by her husband (a famous doctor). She is admitted to a hospital a week early and subjected to a demoralizing induction process that results in a stalled labor and eventual C‑section. Verghese’s Cutting for Stone presents the opposite stance. The female body therein is frequently portrayed as being one with the machinery surrounding it, machinery which assists the birthing body in completing its parturition. Hema, a main character in the novel, is an “expert” at using forceps, visualizing the hidden interiority of the female body and then “articulating the two handles and confidently extracting the baby” (58).

For both writers, the bioethics of a scientific and medicalized pregnancy is clear. For Baines, to deliver a “natural” process into the hands of an unnatural medicalization is tantamount to disaster, while for Verghese, science and medicalization provides a tangible relief from the trauma of the bodily condition. I propose that a bioethical consideration of the permutations of a woman’s body in gestation and parturition encompasses her complete subjectivity. In other words, a nuanced understanding of both the benefits and the shortcomings of science in the birthing chamber, what Wagner (2001) calls “humanized birth,” can lead to a balanced and bioethical birthing process, giving women the critical power to choose.

Engaging Long-Distance Learners:
Personalization, Communication, and Application Integration
MLA Convention – Jan. 2014 

How can educators combat the tendency for online students to “check out” of their courses? Based on my two years of teaching fully online and my pedagogical research therein, I will explain the three primary ways I employ technology to create a sense of “presence” (employing Lehman and Conceição, 2010), and to connect with my students.

First, to personalize an online course (and personalization is essential), it is crucial that students learn about one another. My students post lengthy personal introductions, and I rotate the picture on the home page, using student pictures of pets, family members, or travels. The class then discusses these pictures in a “Chit-Chat” forum designed for informal conversations.

Next, I individually email each student several times a semester, beginning with the first conversation surrounding their Individual Learning Contract (a document communicating both what I expect from my student and what my student expects from me). If our expectations are widely disjunctive, it is essential to rectify this as soon as possible. Embarking on a long-distance learning journey can only be successful if both parties understand their joint responsibilities and expectations. This personalized, one-on-one correspondence begins early and continues throughout the semester, setting up both a pattern of connectivity and an expectation of prompt and familiar communication.

Finally, I integrate Web 2.0 applications like Storify to jointly engage the student’s outside interests and their creative impulses. These multi-modal “stories” are then shared with the class, which leads to vibrant discussion of the intersections between student interests and the literature.

Dangerous Spaces: Modernist Women Writers and Alternative Landscapes
The World We Have Imagined: Literature, Nature and the Environment Conference
Southwestern College, Kansas, April 4-6, 2013

My presentation considers the intersections between modernism, women writers, and the land, analyzing two relatively unknown works: Lolly Willowes: Or the Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1925), and Spleen by Olive Moore (1930). Based on my four years of dissertation research, I explore the methods Townsend Warner and Moore use to incorporate the importance of alternative landscapes rooted in nature, especially in relation to urban spaces, the war effort, and the imperialism machine of the early twentieth century.

I argue that the land for Townsend Warner represents a powerful avenue of change for the embodied subject in English society. Lolly, the protagonist in Lolly Willowes, employs the untamed landscape not only to create a livelihood, but to access a powerful and witchlike aspect of herself. However, this alignment with the land simultaneously encodes her as a troubled and troubling subject, one marked for censure and unreliability by the larger cultural narrative.

In Spleen, the heroine, Ruth, knows the land as her “grassy oracle,” and asks the land for “something new” in her pregnancy, but she instead gives birth to a deformed child. The main question of this text is the root cause of this deformation: is it Ruth and her “sin” in attempting to create “something new,” or is it her alignment with the land rather than with traditional English civilization and the urban?

There is a marked element of danger in the landscapes inhabited by these women. Both Lolly and Ruth use the natural world to escape and to carve out alternative avenues of subjectivity and agency, but they also face considerable public censure, as their alignment with the natural land over the city marks them as wild and somehow bent or wrong. Employing ecofeminist Karen Warren (2000), who claims the unjust subjugation of landscapes mirrors the subjugation of women, I explore the danger of the land for women in the modernist period, and argue that in a time of great social and political upheaval, to choose the imaginative and alternative space of possibility that is the untrammeled landscape is tantamount to political and social treason.

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