Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows
in the Humanities,
Ph.D., Harvard University; Comparative Literature
Cut Aesthetics: The Transcultural Prehistories
of Virtual Corporeality
Cut Aesthetics understands itself as a pre/history of virtuality by investigating how the aesthetic and theoretical imaginaries of inscription, from the end of the 19th century to today, reproduce materiality as virtual. Inscription—the scene in which a material “body” is marked into signification—draws distinctions (between materiality and signification, between cultures, between temporalities) by availing itself of an archive of premodern and/or culturally different writing techniques (tattooing, scarification, stone and bone inscriptions). As such it subscribes to a translational (i.e. transcultural as well as transmedial) logic of the virtual: In the act of “translating” a material body into signification, the figure of inscription bars access to anything before its mark. By the same token, the supposedly primal scene of first inscription is unceasingly traduced into a series of copies.
This book traces a genealogy of inscription and its afterlife in theoretical discourses, such as media studies, theories of cultural difference, performance studies and queer theory, as well as poststructuralist ethics. It reads aesthetic expressions across different cultures as supplements and counterpoints to theory: from Latin American post-dictatorship art to the literature of the Malaysian-Chinese diaspora, from the figure of circumcision to reflections on the virtual in American popular film, from the global imaginary of homosexuality to thoughts of corporeality and mediality in contemporary German culture. Ultimately, by rereading the intersection of mediality and corporeality through the figure of inscription, it attempts to formulate an ethics of virtuality, a responsible way of scripting and decrypting materiality, mediality, and difference.
Ph.D., University of Oxford; History
This project explores state/society relations in Mexico as a case study in virtual authoritarianism: the combination of authoritarian projections of power with multiple indicators of state weakness. Contemporary and scholarly appreciations of post-revolutionary Mexico stressed the stability, power and success of a long-lasting, low-violence civilian regime. Recent research questions these assumptions. Elections could be fiercely competitive. Gossip, black humour, crowd demonstrations, bloody riots and forgotten rebellions vetoed personnel choices at every level. Key presidential policies could be successfully flouted by massive civil disobedience. Police forces were overwhelmed, the secret police tiny. Moreover, Mexico’s “perfect dictatorship” failed many basic criteria of statehood. There was no legitimate monopoly of violence. At 7% of GDP the budget was half the minimum economists set for state functioning. As late as 1985 the government could not formulate a rural property census. Yet the state endured, under the rule of the same party, for seventy years. In a further twist, sociologists’ surveys indicated that while specific politicians were despised – discourse frequently deemed them vampires – the system as a whole generated an appreciable level of positive affect. The Mexican state, in short, was less leviathan than puffer fish, desperately inflating itself to look bigger and meaner and more giving than it ever really was. My project uses newly-available sources from participants, intelligence and military agencies to examine this virtual domination. It may be of interest in a world where many states fail to meet scholarly criteria of statehood, and where major powers aspire to similar success.
Ph.D., University of Chicago; Art History
Vicarious Conquest: the New World in Late
Although the Italian city-states did not assume a direct role in the political and religious conquest of the Americas and Italians were not even allowed to travel there without permission from Spain or Portugal, Italians actively explored the Americas vicariously or virtually. "Vicarious Conquest: The New World in Late Renaissance Florence" examines the Medici engagement with the New World and its effects on collecting and art production in Florence during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century. The Medici Grand Dukes of Florence were vigorously involved in illustrating the land and people of the Americas and in collecting New World objects, such as featherwork, codices, turquoise masks, and live plants and animals. Through a close examination of archival sources, such as inventories and Medici letters to and from their ambassadors, agents, and friends, this study uncovers the provenance, history, and meaning of goods from the Americas in Medici collections. It also shows how a system of gift giving and exchange facilitated collecting and the acquisition of knowledge about the New World and how America’s novelties were incorporated into the art and culture of the court. Finally, the study demonstrates a paradoxical transformation in the late sixteenth century: as more knowledge of the New World was gained, representations of the Americas became less ethnographically plausible and were based instead on imagination.
Ph.D., Rutgers University; Literature
The Financial Imaginary: Abstract Capitalism and the Limits of Realism
As the world has been reshaped since the 1970s by economic globalization, neoliberalism, and finance, the problem of economic mystification has been given, among writers, a new sense of political urgency. The anxieties over who controls capitalism have thus been translated into demands upon the novel to develop strategies of representation that can account for capitalism’s power. In my book-in-progress, I read novels from the 1990s and 2000s by Don DeLillo, Richard Powers, Ruth Ozeki, Jane Smiley, and Jonathan Franzen, among others, to examine the challenges to realist fiction posed by the apparent unrealities of modern capitalism. Just as writers such as Howells, Norris, James, Sinclair, and Dreiser responded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to a perception of capitalism as becoming more virtual, less tethered to reality, and systematically able to exceed social control, I argue that contemporary novelists have responded to the latest virtualizations of the market by revisiting the realist strategies and preoccupations of the earlier American “economic novel.” The fictions of late capitalism can be seen to stage experiments with traditional realist categories—of class, agency, and economic virtue—even as they expose the failures and insufficiencies of such forms to demystify the economic, to penetrate its abstractions, or to adequately represent a postmodern and global context.