Select abstracts for conference presentations.
Fits and Misfits: Unruly Modernism, Gestational Forms
Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 – Feb. 2018
The cold, iron hand of technology began to close upon the gestating female form in 18th century England, but it is in the 20th century when this grip is solidified, clearly dividing bodies into docile versus unruly, fits versus misfits. My presentation seeks to chart the fusion of technology and the pregnant body through the lens of Rosemary Garland-Thomas: “A fit occurs when a harmonious, proper interaction occurs between a particularly shaped and functioning body and an environment that sustains that body. A misfit occurs when the environment does not sustain the shape and function of the body that enters it” (“Misfits” 593-4). How does gestational modernism interact with the codification of bodies into “fits and misfits” in light of the intrusive gaze of medicine and technology? What forms, shapes, and patterns arise (employing Levine’s Forms, 2015) in the tapestry of interwoven narratives of history, literature, and medicine?
In this presentation, I will focus on one genre’s interaction with the techo-medicinal gaze: that of science fiction. In Charlotte Haldane’s Man’s World (1926), the female body is portrayed as a eugenically-groomed and upgraded entity, either specially marked for breeding or beyond breeding altogether; while in Susan Ertz’s Woman Alive (1936), the female body is predominately “natural” and untouched by science, yet experiencing the repercussions of science in the larger world. I claim that these two relatively unknown modernist novels provide a glimpse into the rhetoric surrounding the gestating female form in contemporary Anglophone society, laden as this form is with anxieties and “hysterias.” How are birthing bodies both then and now marked as fits versus unfits, and how do they comply or prove unruly in light of technological demands like hospital births and epidurals? At the heart of these two texts, and at the heart of this presentation, is not only the question of the power of the individual in the face of crushing regimes and global machinations, but also the question of woman and of her many forms.
Women and the “Stuff” of Life
Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 – Feb. 2018
Feminist (inter)Modernist Association (FiMA) Guaranteed Panel
Panel Chair and Co-Creator: Erin M. Kingsley
Each presenter is asked to explore the prominence of “stuff” or things in women’s modernist writing. The terms of “modernism” are held loosely in light of recent critical arguments that call for “global modernisms” (see Friedman 2017). The presentations on this panel will explore what tangible objects most prominently appear in modernist women’s writing of any genre. How are these objects valued, consumed, produced, exchanged? How does this “stuff” of life inform the development of the narrative arc and/or the characterization of the hero(ine)? Do women writers appropriate “things” differently than male writers do? To what ends are “things” employed in different forms and genres of writing?
Our panel offers a refreshing mix of theoretical standpoints and representative texts.
Beyond the Essay: App-Smashing in the Humanities Classroom
Conference for High-Impact Instructional Practices – January 8, 2018
Many online and face-to-face teachers are stuck in the rut of asking students to read then write about what they have read. In this hands-on session, we will explore the art of app-smashing: simply, combining two or more different programs to create an enriching and captivating learning experience for both the student and the teacher. We will explore programs like Voyant, Storify, Screencast-o-Matic, Tellagami, Jing, ShowMe, and more, and we will go over specific assignments like Digital Close-Reading, Personal Creative Projects, and Web 2.0 Oral Presentations. At the end of the session, participants will brainstorm how to implement these digital practices in their own face-to-face or online classrooms.
“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.