Work-in-Progress Conference 2019 – Abstracts

Here at the Embodiment Cluster, we’re very excited to hear the 10 brilliant papers on the schedule at our first Work-in-Progress Conference this coming Friday, 18 January.

The conference was arranged to give members of the cluster the opportunity to present new thoughts and ideas to researchers in similar fields in a friendly and discursive environment. As well as discussing each other’s papers and offering feedback when desired, we’ll also have a session thinking about the very definition of embodiment. It’s a term with so many meanings and iterations, so we can’t wait to work together on this.

Abstracts for the conference are posted below, with thanks to all of the researchers who submitted. We look forward to seeing everyone on Friday, and don’t forget to follow @EmbodimentDTP on Twitter to follow our discussions and our work!

Helena Drysdale – State of Emergency

‘The struggles of Modern Greece must command the sympathy of all thoughtful minds.’ So wrote George Bowen, author of the 1854 Murray Handbook to Greece, troubled by Greece’s struggles to cast off Ottoman imperialism and take shape as the first new independent state in post-Napoleonic Europe. The author was my great great grandfather. Bowen confronted the chaotic aftermath of the birth of Greece; retracing his travels I witnessed an economic meltdown and migrant crisis that again thrust Greece onto the world stage.

The story is told in State of Emergency, a hybrid work of life writing. My title implies states of emergency for Greece and Europe two centuries apart, but it also has personal connotations. Cancer was part of my journey. Life writing is a perturbing genre that generates anxiety about the limits between ‘life’ and ‘writing’. I ask how to narrate the self while describing somewhere making global headlines? My isolation for radioactive treatment allows me to attribute poetic and symbolic meaning to other stories of sequestration and surveillance. I describe my cancer treatment not to evoke sympathy, but to find ways of crossing temporal, physical and cultural borders.

Alex Morden Osborne – “The Proper Path of Dominican Male-Itude”: Anxiety and Masculinity in Junot Díaz’

Junot Díaz’s work is rife with hypermasculine performances that force his characters into a state of racialized double-consciousness, and, indeed, ambivalence. The body proves central to these performances, which rely on displays of strength, virility, and stereotypical machismo. Those who do not comply with these performances, are, in Judith Butler’s terms, subject to “punitive consequences.” This paper will consider the anxiety that prompts and fuels masculine performance, and how such anxiety is built into Latino male identity formations.

In order to address these issues, this paper will incorporate queer theory as well as developments in masculinity studies which posit that masculinity is constituted as and through crisis, as well as itself being in crisis. These theories will be applied to Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2009) and This Is How You Lose Her (2012) to provide a broader picture of anxious masculinity and how it interacts with contemporary gender movements such as #MeToo.

Robert Button – “When you come to church”: embodying entrance in the Russian Orthodox Old Rite

This short ‘work in progress’ paper will explore the ritual embodiment of entering the sacred space of an Eastern Orthodox Church, focussing on the practices of the Russian Orthodox ‘Old Rite’ or ‘Old Belief’.  Through the particular example of the liturgical ritual of the ‘entrance bows’ – a series of prayers, bows and prostrations made when entering and departing a church –  it will explore how in Old Rite practice entering the ‘holy place’ is embodied in ritual actions and words which do not so much signify as in fact realise and actualise, crossing and entrance as a physical-spiritual act of reorientation. Drawing on the renewed emphasis found in the study of ‘material religion’ and ‘lived religion’ on embodiment, form and materiality, this paper will consider the entrance bows as a performative ritual which effects the reality of what it symbolises, encouraging a bodily experience of entrance as a theological symbol which literally ‘takes place’, and which is pre-eminently ‘real’. This paper will contribute to current scholarship on the performative quality of religious practice, with its emphasis on ritual and embodiment, and to the further understanding of Old Believer liturgical life as an embodied ritual theology.

Henry Bartholomew – Weirding Hauntology: M. R. James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

“Quis est iste qui venit?” (who is this who is coming?). This eerie, ambiguous inscription – found on the reverse of an ancient bronze whistle by the unfortunate Professor Parkins in James’s “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” – is the essential dictum of the Jamesian ghost story; the promise of a blood-curdling invasion from something otherwise than human, something outside the natural order. For the postructuralist, this inscription also captures the sense in which the ghost flickers between the “always-already” and the “to come” (l’avenir); appearing as both an uncanny return and an unstable futurity. In Jacques Derrida’s influential study, Specters of Marx (1993), the ghostly and the spectral signify a disarticulation of the metaphysics of presence. However, as numerous readers of James’s fiction have noted, from H.P. Lovecraft to China Miéville, James’s ghosts are terrifying precisely because they are all too present – groping, stalking, touching and clawing their victims. They are, almost without exception, weirdly corporeal and embodied. Taking its cue from the points of contact between spectrality and object-oriented ontology, this paper examines how the “ghosts” James summons in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904) presage a weird hauntology; one that can help to reassess how we think about (and with) the ghost and the ghostly.

Tim Kjeldsen – The Size of Things: An Argument for Essential Embodiment

The driving force behind my PhD project is a conviction that, for all its explicit rejection of Descartes’ ontological dualism of matter and spirit, contemporary analytical philosophy of mind and action remains fundamentally Cartesian in its orientation. Although, contrary to Descartes, ‘mental’ phenomena are regarded as necessarily instantiated in material brain structures, they are still treated as forming a sui generis class, individuated in terms of their intentional content and radically distinct from the bodily phenomena that are said to cause them (in the case of perception) or be caused by them (in the case of action). It treats persons as essentially ‘en-brained’ but not essentially embodied.

This paper outlines and critically assesses a recent argument for full essential embodiment by the philosopher Truls Wyller. The core argument is that a disembodied being, even an omniscient one, would lack the capacity to know the actual size of things or duration of a passage of time. It could know only relative sizes and durations. This is because to know actual sizes or durations, one has to take oneself qua body as a standard of reference.

Andrew Jones – Nations as immunological systems and the use of metaphors within immunology

An ambiguity resides in the applicability of immunological language to nations. On the one side, it might be argued that the relation is merely metaphorical. On the other side, it might be argued that there is an ontological identity between the two. For both nations and entities possessing immune systems, self-identity is integral.

Derrida describes the terrorist attacks on September 11th in immunological terms. He explains that these attacks can be seen as a form of autoimmunity. He states “[t]hose called “terrorists” are not […] “others”, absolute others whom we, as “Westerners”, can no longer understand” (Derrida, 2003, p.115). The use of immunological language enabled Derrida to explain how it would be misguided to conceive of terrorists as “other” than the western world. Not only were many of the terrorists trained in western countries, we also must not forget that the western world “invented the word, the techniques, and the “politics” of “terrorism”” (ibid.). I am interested in the conditions that make it possible to explain nations as immunological systems.

Lucienne Spencer Understanding Psychiatric Illness through a Phenomenology of Speech Expression

My thesis has developed from my research in the phenomenology of illness. The literature explores various phenomenological features of embodiment that have been compromised in illness: the freedom to act, intersubjectivity, temporal processing to name a few. I was struck by the fact that the current literature passes over the form of bodily expression that I believe to be central to embodied experience: speech expression.

Merleau-Ponty proposes a unique approach to language: ‘‘the word has a certain place in my linguistic world, and is part of my equipment’ (Merleau-Ponty, 2014:186). Merleau-Ponty makes two claims: first, through speech expression we give the word a meaningful place in the world and second, speech is a manner in which the subject can employ her body. Merleau-Ponty identifies speech as a bodily activity that shapes and structures a meaningful world around the subject. Speech expression implicitly ties the embodied subject with the world, and acts as the foundation for a coherent sense of reality.

I found the omission of speech expression in the phenomenology of illness surprising as so much of the literature discusses the difficulty of communication in illness, particularly in psychiatric illness. For this reason I will draw on Merleau-Ponty in order to investigate ‘the breakdown of speech expression’ in psychiatric illness. My thesis will conclude that a disruption of speech expression exacerbates the psychiatric patient’s phenomenological experience of being cut off from reality.

Joan Passey – Vomiting Victorian Vacationers: Motion Sickness and the Embodied Traveller in the Nineteenth-Century Imagination

This paper will provide a survey of case studies of Victorian motion sickness, with a focus on seasickness, in fictionalisations of the period, including Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes and Wilkie Collins’s The Frozen Deep, within a context of contemporary theories of, and solutions to, motion sickness. I propose that attitudes towards motion sickness in this period are imbued with and shaped by anxieties surrounding the cultural and social ramifications of developing transportation technologies. I will focus specifically on the notion of the immersed and embodied traveller becoming overwhelmed by an excess of feeling induced by the travelling experience which must be subsequently purged from the body. This paper will ask how representations of motion sickness and sea sickness can inform our understanding of perceptions of the body of the traveller in the period, as well as more general perceptions of travelling and transportation in the nineteenth century.

Alex Jones – Is Truth All in the Mind?

In the 20th Century philosophy of truth has been dominated by two traditional opposing approaches: correspondence and coherence. A correspondence theory of truth says that a sentence is true if and only if it corresponds to some form of external fact. A coherence theory of truth, on the other hand, claims that a sentence is true if and only if it coheres with an already established collection of truths. A correspondence account tells us that truth is something immutable and external to ourselves, whereas a coherence account allows that all truths are dependent on our pre-existing beliefs, which could possibly be flawed constructs of the mind. In my talk I will argue for a plural approach to truth: that both these approaches are correct, but only within certain areas of inquiry. Is truth all in the mind? I answer: ‘‘sometimes.”

Chiara Amoretti – Pathologizing the Male Artist/God: Insel by Mina Loy

Mina Loy’s only published novel Insel (composed 1933-1936) has received relatively little critical attention, both due to its obscure prose and to its recent, posthumous publication (1991). The novel is a roman à clef based on Loy’s friendship and artistic mentorship of the Surrealist painter Richard Oelze. I read the novel as a deconstruction of the myth of the male artist/God through the character of Insel, Oelze’s fictional counterpart, and his corporeality. His body is described as inhabiting a strange limbo between life and death, and constituted by strange, and oddly unsettling, electric currents. By using Surrealist and Decadent language, as well as biblical references, Loy pathologizes the very concept of male art and proposes narrator Mrs Jones (a fictionalized Loy) as the bearer of a fully embodied vision of female creation.