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08:30-08:45 Session 1: Welcoming Opening Remarks by SLSA21 Team: Eastern Daylight Time - Detroit / Toronto, GMT-4

Zoom Link:

Anyone joining an SLSA2021 University of Michigan Zoom Meeting or Webinar using the Zoom desktop app or mobile app will need to use this version of the app or higher: 5.7.0.

Conference Registration and SLSA Membership link:

Speaker and Chair Guide:

SLSA 2021 Virtual Poster Exhibition:

Publication Partner The Scholar’s Choice. PDF with book selection for SLSA2021 is available here:

Publication Partner The University of Minnesota Press virtual booth with a special 40% discount

09:00-10:30 Session 2A
Shamim Hunt (The University of Texas at Dallas, United States)
Shamim Hunt (The University of Texas at Dallas, United States)
Human Beings as Energy in The Matrix

ABSTRACT. According to philosopher Kant, human beings are kingdom of ends and should not be used by other beings because they are ends in themselves. The concept of human beings used as energy for the machines in their system is explored in the film The Matrix. The Matrix analogy can be applied to our system, that is, our Western Society. Just as in The Matrix, in our capitalist consumer society people are used for the benefit of the system while they have an illusion of freedom. In this system, everyone provides the energy: the rich, the poor, the sick, the criminals, the police, even the government. In this system, individuals do not think for themselves and blindly follow what the society, yet every individual think of themselves as free. Their thoughts are not their own, and their feelings are not their own. Individuals talk about “I feel” and “I think” without actually feeling that feeling or having thoughts that originate from them rather than coming from the external, the society. If humans realize themselves, and “wake up” their energy will not be used by system but help build a caring society that help others rather than using others for their energy. In this paper, I will relate twentieth century philosopher Erich Fromm’s works about our Western society to the film The Matrix. I will argue how Fromm’s works are still relevant to our twenty-first century individuals whose energies are controlled by machines and systems.

Garth Sabo (Michigan State University Center of Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities, United States)
Between Living and Not Living: Art, Automata, and the Energies of Waste

ABSTRACT. To define “energy” as “in or at work, working” immediately brings to mind theories of waste, energies spent not at work. My research focuses on literary and artistic representations of the human microbiome; by directing our attention to the symbiosis of the guts and their inhabitants, we recognize embodied identities as a symbiotic exchange between the macroscopic and microscopic exchanges of energy that produce bodily wastes. Waste, in this sense, operates as both the sign of life and the threat of its opposite. For this project, I trace a lineage of two historical apparatuses that prod at this boundary by exploring the animating power of lively waste. I begin with Jacques Vaucanson’s early automaton the Digesting Duck, an early attempt to mimic life through the animal processes of digestion and excretion. Though Vaucanson’s Duck could only shit by subterfuge, seeming to defecate animated the automaton to such a degree that it has remained an object of literary curiosity throughout the century since its destruction. I compare this early experiment with digestive animation to its spiritual successor, Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca installation, which uses chemical processes to digest food and excrete feces. The artfulness of Delvoye’s machine resides in its playful blurring of the boundary between the lifeless apparatus and the materials that nonetheless emerge from its bowels (or facsimile thereof). Reading Vaucanson alongside Delvoye, I argue, suggests an understanding of life as emerging out of the energies of waste, rather than in spite of them.

Henry Ivry (University of Toronto, Canada)
Dubbed Ecologies: Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Black Energy

ABSTRACT. My paper offers a rereading of contemporary ecological theory by looking at how certain strands of Black Studies have anticipated, critiqued, and responded to modes of thinking coalescing under the sign of the Anthropocene. From Christina Sharpe’s theorization of antiblackness as “climatic” to Tiffany Lethabo King’s “shoal” as the site where Black and Indigenous Studies intersect, thinking about questions of race through environmental metrics have provided ways to conceive of antiblackness alongside environmental degradation and crisis. There is often, however, an erasure of questions of race in ecological theory. This, in turn, replays the extractive logic that black bodies, time and time again, are subjected to. My paper inverts this extraction by turning to the black energy of ecological critique. I provide an alternate history of the Anthropocene through the work of poet-theorist, Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Gumbs’s work moves across ecological and racial scales, thinking about contemporary blackness forwards and backwards in time, across oceans and galaxies. In her writing, the scalar distortion of both the Anthropocene and antiblackness is an intimate condition, felt and critiqued as an energy circulating through the psyche and body. As Gumbs writes, “this thing about one body. it was the black feminist metaphysicians who first said it wouldn’t be enough. never had been enough. was not the actual scale of breathing.” This paper seeks to produce a new type of black energy through Gumb’s poetics that helps imagine a future “scale of breathing” in an ongoing moment of planetary and racial crisis.

Maria Dikcis (University of Chicago, United States)
Border Crossers at the End of the World: Micha Cárdenas’ Redshift & Portalmetal and the Slow Scale of Climate Exhaustion

ABSTRACT. This paper examines Micha Cárdenas’ Redshift & Portalmetal—an interactive game, film, performance, and poem published online in 2014. Cárdenas is an artist and theorist who explores trans of color movement in digital media, and is also a member of the activist collective Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0. To build Redshift & Portalmetal, Cárdenas repurposed the platform Scalar, which is commonly used for Digital Humanities scholarship and blogging. Users navigate the work by following the journey of a main character named Roja and by making discursive choices among various hypertextual links and video fragments. The environment of Roja’s planet is dying, and in order to survive she must embark on intergalactic travel to other worlds—an uncertain journey that involves distressing confrontations with border control agents and bodily containment. In her editorial statement, Cárdenas notes that this work is “in honor of the struggles of the native people of the Anishnabe, Mississauga, New Credit and Grassy Narrows territories, where environmental destruction is a huge ongoing threat.” This paper argues that Redshift & Portalmetal foregrounds climate displacement as not just a spatial or geographic dilemma, but an atypically temporal one as well. Specifically, I propose that Cárdenas’ work modulates poetic rhythm and camera-eye work to achieve a slow perspectival scale that disrupts the temporality of national and social boundary-making. By triangulating a series of threats against the environment, the migrant, and the trans woman of color, Cárdenas illustrates that climate exhaustion and the “energy” of gender self-determination are intimately linked through these temporal scales. This paper suggests that Redshift & Portalmetal formally dilates our usual sensory perceptions to demonstrate that an ethics of bodily care calls for a rewriting of habitual forms of seeing and feeling. Attending to Cárdenas’ repurposing of the DH tool Scalar, the paper also reads Redshift & Portalmetal as a critique of the normative “scales” of data modeling and visualization, proposing that aesthetic interventions are vital to the emergent field of critical digital studies.

Desiree Foerster (University of Chicago, United States)
Attuning to processes of transmutation in immersive media-environments.

ABSTRACT. In this paper I explore a shift in aesthetics that accounts for the bio-chemical dimension of subjective experience – e.g. how our bodies adapt to low oxygen levels in the air. I argue that this shift allows to become more sensitive to how we experience, instead of focusing on just what we feel. To achieve this, I focus on media environments that manipulate temperature, air flow, or oxygen levels in the air, in order to affect human subjects in a bodily as well as emotionally-affective manner. Metabolic processes regulate how much energy our bodies have to engage with their environments. What and how we perceive and pay attention to. Media environments that intensify climatic and therefore also metabolic processes so that they can be sensed, potentially impact this process of meaning-making. Metabolic and atmospheric processes are not only ephemeral in spatial concerns, they also happen on time scales very different from our everyday experience. Art works that explore these interrelations contribute to ways of thinking our being in the world beyond the nature-culture divide. Immersive media-environments that employ digital as well as elemental media like air, light, water, can intensifying certain processes between bodies and their surroundings. Our attention can shift away from objects in their being-so towards the forces behind the constitution of objects, as well as feelings, and thoughts. My talk will focus on art woks I co-developed myself as well as design projects developed as future imaginaries for eco-conscious living.

09:00-10:30 Session 2B
Jacob Hagelberg (University of California, Davis, United States)
Catherine Sarah Young (UNSW Sydney, Australia)
An Olfactory Wheel for the Critical Zone

ABSTRACT. A theory of how we smell proposes that olfactory molecules vibrate in a unique way, giving tantalising prospects for artists working in energy humanities. As an artist and designer, I propose a redesign of the olfactory wheel, a tool used in modern perfumery to categorise scents, to one that classifies scents in the environment but also how these scents are modified because of environmental change. In my piece, Olfactory Wheel for the Critical Zone, I have redesigned the wheel to incorporate the following: the Earth Systems that make up the Critical Zone, natural scents, the materials or molecules that cause the scent, the environmental forces that lead to a change in the scent, and the resulting smell from these forces. The intention of this reimagined, more complex wheel is to account for how scents in the natural world can change and lead to new ones. How might the scents change with these additional factors? How might these scents change from one Earth System to the next, and from one environmental change to another? How might expanding our vocabulary and comprehension on scent deepen our connection with the planet, especially in the context of climate change?

Jacob Hagelberg (University of California, Davis, United States)
Dalia Barghouty (University of California, Davis, United States)
To the Moon? No, To the Stars! Bitcoin, Stonks, & Astrology, a Historically Materialist Match

ABSTRACT. Speculative energy abounds. Motivated by the fantasy of moving production off earth, tech tycoons see speculating in space exploration as the only logical way to spend their “winnings.” While among the un- or underemployed cognitariat of the global north, we find “Reddit Bros” meme-ing stocks and cryptocurrencies “to the moon” and e-girls seeking explanatory comfort in astrological signs. Taking seriously the provocation of energy’s etymological meaning of being “in or at work,” we claim these recent stellar discourses index a generalized state of simultaneous epistemological and financial anxiety. This speculative turn toward the stars marks both a return and departure from earlier forms of financial astrology, arriving amidst secular stagnation and the displacement of waged work with capitalists chasing the fantasy of value in the cosmos and proletarianised knowledge workers left to speculate their meager assets on celestial and computational energies. Following the early 2021 GameStop episode, the Twittersphere was quick to point out the gendered dimensions at play with remarks like, “the stock market is just astrology for men.” Against these backdrops, this paper proposes a critical reading of Maren Altman, an influencer who collapses this dichotomy by using astrology to predict fluctuations in the price of bitcoin. Ultimately, Altman’s popular online content predicting the trajectory of cryptocurrency trends as well as her own aspirational business ventures serve as a singular case study into contemporary trends of participatory speculation, attention economics, and psychic and financial investment in the stars.

Laboni Bhattacharya (University of Southern California, United States)
Energetic Movement: The Affective Vitality of Yoga Nationalism

ABSTRACT. Studies of nationalism are often ideological or historical, focused on the populist aspects of nationalist politics and the appeal of a strongman leader. Media studies approaches can illustrate the mediatised rituals through which “banal”, everyday nationalism (Billig) moves people in physical and virtual spaces, threading the material and immaterial together through collective action. Action here is understood literally as kinetic energy; in order to move objects and people, energy must be affective and mobile while successfully circulating through mediatised political environments. Specifically, this paper studies the annual Yoga Day event in India from 2015 to present, analysing its characterisation as national holiday, private practice, and media event. Mass participation on Yoga Day is led by Indian PM Narendra Modi at the head of a physical and virtual crowd that is connected by televisual and social media liveness, synchronised movement, and ritual observance via institutional protocols. My paper engages with scholarship on media, affect, and performance to discuss how the physical energy of the yogic body maps onto the nation; it is normatively able-bodied, upper-caste Hindu, and patriotic. This paper argues that Yoga Day is paradigmatic of a form of political affect specific to the right-wing Indian state that I term “energetic” nationalism. Tied closely to the hypermasculine leader’s cult of personality, energetic nationalism literally mobilises a dispersed and often disaffected populace in the search for national health and renewal. I argue that the affective vitality of energetic nationalism lies in how it combines everyday media practices with the spectacularized media event.

Jiemin Tina Wei (Harvard University, United States)
The Committee on Industrial Fatigue: The U.S. Government’s Attempted Partnership to Investigate Worker Fatigue during WWI

ABSTRACT. The U.S.’s entry into WWI required increasing supplies for soldiers in combat, and the U.S. government needed to figure out how manufacturers on the home front would keep up with production demands. Seeing the strains on production in allies such as Britain, who had entered the war earlier, U.S. government officials saw that solving the domestic labor shortage would be a key part of wartime success. One piece of the puzzle involved engineering production to obtain greater industrial output from existing workers, while avoiding the dreaded condition of industrial fatigue. The Committee on Industrial Fatigue, created under the auspices of the Counsel of National Defense, charged its brightest scientists to investigate: how could the U.S. increase its maximum output without harmfully sapping its labor supply? Composed primarily of researchers—from academia, industry, government, and reform organizations—in fields related to physiology, the committee investigated workers’ physiological fatigue in war-related industries from May 1917 to the end of the war in 1918. Through muscle tests, skin tests, urine tests, output productivity curves, accident curves, rhythm studies, and other means, the Committee debated the proper metrics for making the condition of fatigue objective and measurable. As I argue in this presentation, although this committee’s work ultimately generated some scientific data, publicity, and change in industrial practices, its work was plagued at every turn by obstacles. Crippling deficiencies in funding, deep-rooted ambivalences about science’s rightful disposition towards the conflicting interests of corporations and reformers, and irresolvable debates about the nature of fatigue emerged. Faced with obstacles from within and without, the Committee failed ultimately to cohere around a united vision of how research about worker fatigue should be conducted, interpreted, communicated, and applied to the work environment. Instead, each member of the Committee used the Committee as an opportunity to achieve goals they had long sought independently. As government interest in and support for industrial fatigue research puttered out at the conclusion of the war, so too did the call for a field of “industrial physiology” that would strike a sympathetic balance between corporate and reform interests. This project contributes to histories of WWI by showing how the war mobilized collaborative, volunteer-based research efforts among scientists, reformers, and corporate affiliates to support wartime production. Adding to existing histories of labor, this project uses scientific documents to illuminate the dire bodily and environmental conditions of turn-of-the-century industrial work. As a federally sponsored project, the Committee’s priorities, challenges, and impact revealed what the governmental context privileged and sidelined in worker fatigue research. Moreover, the work of this physiologist- and doctor-dominated Committee demonstrated what scientific knowledge could be produced from a body-centric conception of fatigue, as well as what it excluded, when taken to its extreme.

09:00-10:30 Session 2C: Pre-Organized Panel: Enervated: Sleep at the Edge of the Social
Alanna Thain (McGill University, Canada)
Elizaveta Solomonova (McGill University, Canada)
Aleksandra Kaminska (Université de Montréal, Canada)
Dayna McLeod (McGill University, Canada)
Alanna Thain (McGill University, Canada)
Pre-Organized Panel: Enervated: Sleep at the Edge of the Social

ABSTRACT. Sleep ailments are a chronic condition of the current moment, unevenly distributed across populations and a site of social risk. And yet responsibility for good sleep is reframed as an individual responsibility to manage, and dealing with chronic sleep problems becomes an isolating burden, lived as a private and invisible experience. This is how we have come to commonly think of sleep. But sleep is, insistently, much more social than it might seem. In sleep, we become radically vulnerable in a way that requires social forms of care. Sleep exists at a critical threshold—between public and private, individual and collective, body and environment—that allows us to reimagine novel social relations of collective care. This panel explores a sleeper subjectivity-- the quotidian ways we navigate time, space, ourselves, and others—in relation to the contemporary crisis of enervated rest. Across sites of sleep—performance, media, design and tech-- we search for the edges of sleep’s sociability as a means to undoing exhaustion and to rework affects of distress, terror, discomfort into more sustainable forms.

09:00-10:30 Session 2D: Pre-Organized Panel: Resonating Subjects: Time, Attention, Duration
Martha Henzy (University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, United States)
Martha Henzy (University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, United States)
Elana Maloul (University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, United States)
Caleb Tardio (University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, United States)
Pre-Organized Panel: Resonating Subjects: Time, Attention, Duration

ABSTRACT. We are interested in duration as a way of thinking about energy in time - that is to say, running out of energy, the precarity of energy, the energy that animates circuits and feedback. By framing our discussion of energy under the heading of resonance, we are able to address energy in its physical, historical, and experienced forms and trace its movement between mediums, discourses, and disciplines. How do cultural objects dissipate, renew, or structure energy over time? To what ends? This panel interprets culture with these questions in mind.

09:00-10:30 Session 2E: Pre-Organized Panel: Energy, Materiality, and Space in Postwar and Contemporary Art
Roja Najafi (CGCC / Chandler-Gilbert Community College, United States)
Stephanie Chadwick (Assistant Professor, Art History, Lamar University, United States)
Roja Najafi (CGCC / Chandler-Gilbert Community College, United States)
Taylor Bradley (The University of Texas at Austin, United States)
Sara Madandar (Loyola University of New Orleans, United States)
Pre-Organized Panel: Energy, Materiality, and Space in Postwar and Contemporary Art

ABSTRACT. The emergence of conceptual art in the United States and post-war Europe marked the most radical change of paradigm since Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made. Advocating the "dematerialization" of the art object and a redefinition of art as a (self-) questioning language, conceptualism challenged received ideas about the production and circulation of artworks. Yet, this enthusiasm for the purely conceptual dimensions of art overlooked artists' experiments with processes, new energy, materiality, and spatial experiences in the postwar era. This panel explores energy, materiality, and space in postwar and contemporary art and investigates issues related to the physical characteristics of different types of materials, energy, and new technologies as it affects viewer’s perceptual experiences and engagement with space. This panel investigates the relationships between artistic practices in postwar and contemporary art and the innovative processes connecting the arts, sciences, and new technologies by looking closely into the practices of Jean Dubuffet, Frosty Myers, Maria Antelman, and Sara Madandar.

09:00-10:30 Session 2F: Pre-Organized Panel: Sister Labs: FEMeeting syNERGIES
Dalila Honorato (Ionian University, Greece)
Dalila Honorato (Ionian University, Greece)
Marta de Menezes (Ectopia Lab, Portugal)
Kathy High (NATURE Lab, United States)
Branda Miller (The Sanctuary for Independent Media, United States)
Jennifer Willet (INCUBATOR Art Lab Studio, Canada)
Pre-Organized Panel: Sister Labs: FEMeeting syNERGIES

ABSTRACT. Launched in 2017, the network “FEMeeting: Women in Art, Science and Technology” was driven by the desire to develop and promote more direct collaboration between individuals who identify themselves as Women, independently of their sex. FEMeeting’s main purpose is to disseminate projects that are being carried out by women in order to contribute (a) to the development of research methodologies in art and science and (b) to the development of collaboration strategies that can increase knowledge sharing and bring communities together. In 2021, FEMeeting introduced Sister Labs an hybrid model of interaction between local and global, between digital and physical: where FEMeeting members address to the community of women in art, science and technology an invitation to their lab spaces. This panel includes the first triplets: Ectopia Lab in Portugal, Nature Lab in the US, and Incubator Art Lab Studio in Canada.

09:00-10:30 Session 2G: Pre-Organized Panel: Modernism and Other Exhaustions
Torin McLachlan (University of British Columbia, Canada)
Torin McLachlan (University of British Columbia, Canada)
Amy Tang (University of the Fraser Valley, Canada)
Shalini Sengupta (University of Sussex, UK)
Matthew Johnston (Columbia University, United States)
Pre-Organized Panel: Modernism and Other Exhaustions

ABSTRACT. “Exhaustion” is once again in vogue in the humanities. As a feeling-that-is-more-than-a-feeling, “exhaustion” maps scholarly responses to affective, material, and ecological depletion under global late capital, resurgent nationalisms, and technological “progress.” Reflecting contemporary trends in ecocriticism, posthumanism, and new materialisms, this turn to the aesthetics and experiences of “exhaustion” has only become more urgent in the context of the ongoing pandemic.

To scholars of modernism, however, the thinking and writing of exhaustion are not new. One need only consult Deleuze’s influential essay on Samuel Beckett, “The Exhausted,” or consider the correspondences between “figures of thought,” such as the rhizome, with earlier (e.g. Franz Kafka’s “The Burrow”) and later (e.g. Édouard Glissant’s “Poetics of Relation”) writing on the labyrinthine figuration of alienation/relation, to trace the long trajectory of exhaustion as a modernist inheritance of contemporary humanities scholarship.

Accordingly, this seminar proposes a cross-disciplinary conversation between scholars of modernism, postmodernism, ecocriticism, and new materialisms. What, for example, does the modernist preoccupation with subjectivity suggest for contemporary thinking that seeks to elaborate the exhaustion of "the human" in the Anthropocene? Panelists address the significance of exhaustion's "return" in contemporary thought and experience in a variety of ways, considering “exhaustion” as affect, social process, literary style, and more. How do totalizing forms of ecological depletion, decline, and extinction in the Anthropocene continue to influence literary style and modernist “difficulty”? How does “failed” literature—a unifying thread between modernist and postmodernist writings—offer paradoxical sites of renewal for historical consciousness and radical struggle? In an age of violent passions—like those of resurgent racial nationalisms—what affordances does “exhaustion” offer for sober, critical thought and analysis?

09:00-10:30 Session 2H: Pre-Organized Panel: Violent Flows
Sasha Shestakova (currently obtaining Phd at Mediastudies dep. at Ruhr University Bochum, Russia)
Nastya Dmitrievskaya (Currently obtaining MA Gender Studies at Central European University, Vienna, Russia)
Daria Getmanova (currently obtaining MA Gender Studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine)
Sasha Shestakova (currently obtaining Phd at Mediastudies dep. at Ruhr University Bochum, Russia)
Mark Cinkevich (Independent Researcher, Poland)
Pre-Organized Panel: Violent Flows

ABSTRACT. In our panel, we would like to address the material dimensions of energy delivery and movement. Through four case studies, we will interrogate the infrastructure and logistics of the means of energy production. Our analyses of these infrastructures and logistics allow us to discuss (colonial) violence not as an event but rather to see it structurally within longer temporal frameworks. Papers by Mark Cinkevich, Daria Getmanova, and Sasha Shestakova will address Russia’s colonial violence towards Belarus, Ukraine, and indigenous people living within Russia’s borders. The case studies will illuminate how the maintenance of the infrastructures intersects with the military invasion, allowing us to discuss Russia’s colonialism as settler that is combining military invasion and the control of the land and people. The case study by Nastya Dmitrievskaya will address the long-term violence of the infrastructures of Norilsk, questioning the concept of “green energy” and revealing its extractive roots. We hope that our panel will provide a non-eurocentric decolonial perspective on energy consumption and distribution.

11:00-12:30 Session 3A
Pooja Shah (University of Michigan-Flint, United States)
Pooja Shah (University of Michigan-Flint, United States)
Dissected narratives: Understanding colonial oppression through Rolling Blackouts

ABSTRACT. Rolling Blackouts is a term coined to describe the distribution and conservation of energy. Its intended purpose to manage this commodity, however, seems to disregard the collateral damage it causes in the name of principle. In the graphic memoir Rolling Blackouts, Sarah Glidden introduces the term “Rolling Blackouts” to describe the impacts of American involvement on displaced refugees in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. Glidden uses “Rolling Blackouts” as a metaphor to explain the prescriptive mentality of colonial powers that allow them to create a selective awareness. This selective awareness is then used as a tool by the colonizer to avoid taking responsibility for the exploitation of colonized people, which is similar to the management of energy during a Rolling Blackout. A Rolling Blackouts strategy mimics the colonial approach of offering idealistic solutions to a problem, which capitalizes on the power hierarchy in society designed to keep people in their place. The abuse of this power hierarchy allows those in power to frame their own narrative by seeing individual stories of oppression as an exception rather than as evidence of dysfunctional colonial policies. The memoir demonstrates the personification of power as energy and how Rolling Blackouts represents the commodification of people and what morality looks like in terms of these transactions. This paper uses graphic novel theory and colonial theory to analyze individual narratives in Glidden’s memoir and challenges the concept of framing people as commodities under the pretext of humanitarian efforts.

Alba Tomasula Y Garcia (University of California Berkeley, United States)
“Not a Gallon You Burn, But At Least One Drop of Man’s Blood Was Spilled for It”: Whale Blubber, Fossil Fuels, And the Living Costs of Energy’s Creation

ABSTRACT. From the slaughter of cetaceans in the 18th century to the mass deaths of marine creatures due to oil spills in the 21st, there can be no doubt that production of the energy used to support the modern world has long been framed as requiring the killing—even the wholesale destruction—of nonhuman life. Ongoing waves of Eco-catastrophe due to the creation and use of this energy has convinced many of the hard limits of Earth’s resources. The ever-soaring demand for such energy, however, indicates that for all increasingly vocal concerns, the guiding assumption is still not only that humans will weather any consequences relatively unscathed, but that those life forms that may perish as a result of manufacturing and burning fuel are essentially objects, existing outside the realm of moral consideration. Yet as is made clear from such phenomena as the categorization of heavily polluted neighborhoods as “sacrifice zones” in the service of energy production, this thing-ification of life has also come to define vast swaths of humanity as the “tools,” indeed the “sacrifices,” required for the sake of cheap, plentiful, and morally sterile energy. Drawing from fictions that depict correlations between the exploitation of humans and nonhumans for the sake of energy production such as Moby Dick—as well as theoretical works on thing theory and biopolitics such as Nicole Shukin’s Animal Capital—this paper aims to analyze how the production of energy has been widely framed, and widely accepted, as an essential service directly dependent upon the mass killing of living creatures from humans to whales, all of which, for all their species specificity, are brought under the definition of “resource.”

Tegan Smith (artist, Canada)
Standardization, power, and resistance

ABSTRACT. Over the past fifteen years my mixed-media work has ranged over systems of standardization and their complicated relationship with spectra of neurodiversity. The quantifying nature of standard measurements has been my polestar around questions of how plastic energies and ecosystems are calibrated against abstract, numerical, undead equations as opposed to the finite, material dynamics of earthly living. In particular, standards of measurement have evolved from their origins in the body and Earth, to calculations using the speed of light and electrical capacity, to the deep abstraction made possible by electronic and digital innovation.

Autistic-dyslexic sensibilities, bush navigation memories and previous installations about a hydro-electric dam propel The Coordinates of Home: Earth Measuring and Navigating Normal (working title). In this multimedia project, ideas were developed through helter-skelter dyslexic production and the autistic excess of reconfiguring numerous interrelated, collapsible sculptures, and bookworks/folders containing unbound drawings and traced map fragments. Web works-in-progress began with sorting masses of collected images and texts about standard measuring systems, geodesic travels, and deviation. New investigations, which include more directed research on digital measurement, electrical energy sources, and neurodiversity, continue online.

In this artist talk, I will discuss resistance to the combined pressures of energy efficiency, neural conformity, and Land in late-stage capitalism through the adaptive skills and interdependency necessities of neurodivergent people. My research explores the history of measurement standardization—which originated with kings, taxation, Land exploitation and inequality—to reconsider energy conservation and resource redistribution.

Steven Nathaniel (Indiana University-Bloomington, United States)
“Havana Syndrome and the Poetics of Auditory Hallucination”

ABSTRACT. When two dozen personnel of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba became ill between 2016 and 2018 with mysterious neurological symptoms, including disorientation and auditory hallucinations, hypotheses abounded. Some posited that the afflicted had been irradiated during electromagnetic surveillance, while others suspected weaponized “directional” energy, but inconclusive neuroimaging analyses stymied hopes of clinical diagnoses. In light of the pending and thwarted science, this paper reframes the prevailing theories of the “Havana Syndrome” through a literary tradition explicitly oriented around the ideation of sound and the existential quandary of the surveilled: the lyric. When John Stuart Mill described lyric as “overheard,” he evoked the reader’s covert apprehension of the poem’s speaker, but he also (unknowingly) empowered contemporary poetics to interpret the whelming sophistication of technological surveillance. This paper builds on recent compelling work on the interface of technology and poetics, such as Seth Perlow’s The Poem Electric, to make important critical inroads into poetry gathered most notably in Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics (2014). Reading the work of Rae Armantrout and others, I argue that old paradigms in which readers were presumed to eavesdrop through textual mediation have been both problematized and revivified by these contemporary scenarios in which human bodies mediate the energetic reading practices of technology.

11:00-12:30 Session 3B
Kari Weil (Wesleyan University, United States)
Timothy Miller (Florida Atlantic University, United States)
Fantastical Plants and Fantastical Energies: Rewilding the Imagination in Richard Powers’s The Overstory

ABSTRACT. Richard Powers’s 2018 novel The Overstory positions plant life as the answer to the unbidden motion of the solar energy that bombards our planet’s surface: “Sunlight and water are questions endlessly worth answering.” This paper will examine how Powers explores the circulation of energy both through plants and through human industrial civilization, with an emphasis on the novel’s complex relationship with the fantastical. The novel features several ruptures with realism: plants that speak and direct the course of human lives; a number of resurrections; and scenes of first contact with alien consciousnesses. I argue that Powers deploys various ambiguously fantastic elements in the novel -- and otherwise engages with speculative fiction -- as a strategy for radically recentering plants in a fatally anthropocentric realist literary tradition. Further, Powers’s perspective on the role that storytelling might play in stabilizing our teetering biosphere demonstrates a surprising degree of agreement with Tolkien’s supremely influential theory of fantasy fiction, as articulated in his lecture-turned-essay “On Fairy-Stories.” Unlike Tolkien’s fantasy fiction, however, The Overstory’s epic sweep relies not on secondary world-building, but a strategy of re-enchantment we might call a re-worlding, a rewilding of the imagination. Powers’s ultimate goal is in fact nothing less than reconfiguring what the concept of “the real world” should mean to us in the Anthropocene, and, above all, The Overstory flirts with the fantastic in order to evoke a sense of wonder about the unseen reality of life on Earth, playing with the supernatural in order to bring the miracle of the natural into better view. To reconfigure our understanding in this way explodes certain “fantasies” about energy and its circulation in the present.

Kari Weil (Wesleyan University, United States)
Animal Affects: The Energy of Animal Magnetism

ABSTRACT. The German physicist and doctor, Anton Mesmer, achieved fame in late 18th century Paris, having built a reputation as a miracle worker who could cure illness with a mere “pass” of the hand. His fame, of course, quickly turned to infamy under the anti-materialist sentiments of the early nineteenth century, and Mesmer would be depicted with the head of a donkey who seduced women with his “magic finger.” Indeed, magic was how Hegel described magnetism which he nevertheless agreed could heal the psychic life of humans and animals alike especially through the power and energy of touch. Over the course of the century and in a range of literary texts, we find references to the healing power of magnetism in relation to touch and to the skin as a porous and unformed organ, but also and more importantly to the felt energy of sympathetic influence or what philosophers and doctors described as the circulation of affects that are vital to the health of the so-called “animal economy” of life. In this paper I want to explore more deeply the nature of this energetic influence and its relevance to affect theory today. Such affective influence, Isabelle Stengers has argued, must be understood as a function of our own animality and our status as subjects—which is to say our subjection to forces outside ourselves, both environmental and human-animal.

Mirja Lobnik (Agnes Scott College, United States)
From Soundless Lumber to a Forest’s Subsonic Hum: Vibratory Energy in David George Haskell’s The Songs of Trees

ABSTRACT. Just as birders can identify birds by their calls, David George Haskell can distinguish trees by their sounds. Haskell, a biologist and natural history writer, describes his experiences of opening his ears to the arboreal acoustic environment in The Songs of Trees. According to him, “sounds reveal things that are hidden from our eyes because the vibratory energy of the world comes around barriers and through the ground.” This paper examines the limits and possibilities of listening by envisioning a language—from wind hissing through leaves to ice rending wood—beyond the conventional categories through which we view and understand the world. Theorizing a vegetal poetics through the interlinked optics of botany and sound studies, it explores a notion of “sounding”—as investigating, fathoming, listening—that casts the vegetal world as a material medium of relational contact and that shows how life and sound are phenomena at once empirical and abstract, material and formal, scientific and social. It brings together literature, philosophy, and science to argue for a rethinking of the human and the vegetal along the lines of interdependence and transformative possibility rather than mastery and self-preservation. By offering a communal ethics based on a sonic sensibility and oriented towards the growth and transformation of life and its sharing among sentient, living beings, it calls attention to the relation between matter and energy and to how the literary has the potential to expand, challenge, and complement the capacity of the sciences to describe nonhuman intelligence and complexity.

Nathaniel Otjen (University of Oregon, United States)
Running Out of Energy: Avian Rehabilitation, Disability, and Care

ABSTRACT. This presentation considers how discourses of energy shape wild bird rehabilitation communities and practices in ways that problematically construct ableism across species boundaries. A convenient metaphor for approximating health, energy is commonly evoked by rehabilitation centers to describe the conditions of injured birds and staff. Lacking access to adequate resources such as financial support, supplemental labor, and adequate space, staff often remark that their stressful jobs have caused them to “run out of energy.” In a similar lens, wild birds are treated as individuals who have, through their injuries and traumas, become depleted of energy and need to rest, eat, socialize, and heal in order to regain their strength and successfully leave temporary captivity. Energy is often imagined in rehabilitation communities as a kind of vitalism that rehabbers pass on to birds through care work.

Such care work, however, frequently produces ableist discourses that position non-normative avian bodies as perpetually energy deficient and therefore unfit for release. Avian rehab centers in the United States rarely release birds with bodily disabilities because rehabbers believe that disabilities among wildlife lead to rapid death. Birds with limited mobility or altered vision, for example, are seen as lacking the appropriate bodies needed to obtain energy and survive. Working at the intersections of disability studies, animal studies, and ornithology, I examine avian rehabilitation in Suzie Gilbert’s memoir Flyaway along with caretaking practices at the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, Oregon, to argue that “avian crips,” to adapt Sunaura Taylor’s language, can thrive outside of captivity.

11:00-12:30 Session 3C
Ranjodh Singh Dhaliwal (University of Notre Dame, United States)
Sean Matharoo (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States)
In the Ruins of Crisis: Translating Energy Aesthetics into a New Structuralism

ABSTRACT. In this paper, which is informed by French and francophone studies of modernism, I first reiterate a part of the introduction of my doctoral thesis The Damned of the Anthropocene: Performatively Modeling Energy Aesthetics for a New Structuralism, and define energy as 1) a material multiple, 2) radically contingent, 3) on the side of the object, and 4) a reclamation of nature’s separation from society. I then update this definition by affirming the law of noncontradiction (Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz) and turning to aesthetics (Roland Barthes) and mathematics (Mary Tiles) through the dialectic (Fredric Jameson). My goal is to translate (Naoki Sakai) what I have previously understood as energy aesthetics into what I now, following Eleanor Kaufman, understand as new structuralism. Put differently, this paper is an attempt at defining a new structuralism conditioned by poetry and reason. Adopting an enumerative writing method (René Descartes), I emphasize the significance of new structuralism to political theory (Niccolò Machiavelli), radical psychiatry (Camille Robcis), cognitive literary studies (N. Katherine Hayles), and anthropology (Eduardo Viveiros de Castro). In the wake of the global pandemic and in the ongoing practice of antiracist, anticolonial, and climate struggle, I contend it is time to rehabilitate structuralism to collectively make new norms that foreground egalitarianism and universal justice. By way of conclusion, I examine C. F. Volney’s The Ruins of Empires (1791) to provide an example of what a new structuralist reading strategy might be like and anticipate its relevance to the burgeoning studies about artificial intelligence and literature.

Bart Welling (University of North Florida, United States)
From the Environmental and Energy Humanities to the Emergency Humanities

ABSTRACT. Over the past several years, the environmental and energy humanities have yielded an impressive range of scholarly explorations of human-nonhuman relationships, petrocultures and renewable energy cultures, and many other fascinating topics. Had we but world enough and time, it would be wonderful to continue spending our days primarily *studying* these things, publishing our findings for an advanced audience of (at best) a few thousand colleagues. But we do not have world enough and time. The habitable areas of Earth are shrinking for human and nonhuman beings everywhere; time is running out not just for countless species and endangered cultures but for democracy and, indeed, for the humanities themselves. I believe the time has come to place the humanities on emergency footing. The *emergency humanities* should be built on an environmental and energy humanities foundation, because pathological narratives and values, more than technologies and policies, are at the heart of our current predicaments. However, the liberal arts’ focus must shift from prioritizing scholarly individualism to devising powerful new modes of collective action. Over the crucial next few years, we can work together to reinhabit our diseased petrocultures, making every effort to transform them from within. One of the most important tasks for the emergency humanities, in my view, is that of reinhabiting and redefining energy, challenging obvious petrocultural misdefinitions but also erroneous views of alternative energy systems as ecologically and socially “clean.” In this presentation, I outline some effective emergency humanities strategies for reinhabiting and redefining energy in our writing, teaching, and activism.

Sayan Bhattacharyya (Singapore University of Technology & Design, Singapore)
Deep versus human time as energy flow/exchange in ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers

ABSTRACT. Time is a proxy for energy, both as entropy’s thermodynamic arrow and in local exchange. My paper explores, through a reading of the ‘The Overstory’, the 2018 novel by Richard Powers, how both serious and popular-culture interest in the USA concerning India and its philosophical and cultural tradition relate to the discourses around ecological time as a “dark” hyperobject vis-a-vis time as phenomenological experience. This novel, in which trees and forests play a central role, has recently brought contemporary developments in plant biology/ecology in the context of the Anthropocene into popular literary discourse with its award of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2019. A character in the novel is modeled, apparently, after a real-life biologist whose discoveries of how plants exchange nutrients and information shaped many of these scientific advances. What has received less attention is that several characters in the novel are first- and second-generation immigrants from India to the USA, and that the ecological vision narrated in the novel seems to be informed, at least partly, by certain elements from Indian philosophical traditions refracted through U.S. popular culture and its parsing of those traditions. In particular, the technological imaginary centered around computation plays a role in the novel in ways both posthumanist and postcolonial via how an element of the novel’s plot revolves around a fictional digital game based on ecological simulations of flow and exchange, developed by an Indian-American programmer who is a protagonist of the novel.

Catherine Belling (Northwestern University, United States)
Sublimation, Sublation, and the Matter of Horror

ABSTRACT. This presentation takes up Carolyn Korsmeyer’s suggestion that disgust is to sublation as fear is to sublimation. Burke’s theory of the sublime is her model: terror aestheticized becomes exaltation. In chemical (and physical) terms, fear as solid mass absorbs the energy of regarding the world as art, and is elevated. An aversive reaction to a real-world stimulus changes to a different, attractive, state. Korsmeyer suggests that disgust is similarly transformed by the aesthetic to something that “surpasses revulsion.” I show that this something is the affect horror, often considered a synthesis of fear and disgust. Extending both the chemical and the philosophical implications of Korsmeyer’s theory, I suggest a Hegelian sublation of the anticipatory abstract (fear) and the immediate negative (disgust) into a concrete synthesis: horror both forecloses fear (as the presence of what, no longer fearfully anticipated, is here, now) and expands disgust (the disgusting object matters not for its visceral repulsiveness but for its existential significance). I show the chemical analogy can accrete further meanings, for sublation is not in fact the equivalent-opposite to sublimation. “Deposition” describes the gas to solid state change (when water vapor in contact with cold glass deposits as frost, bypassing the liquid state). Sublation is, I will show, an altogether weirder process.

This presentation, part of an examination of horror in medicine, uses the chemical-physical framework and its dialectical applications to contribute to thought about horror as an ambi-valent affective state and the implications of understanding this state for its aesthetic—and biomedical—effects.

Colin Morgan (n/a, United States)
Ontologies of Environmental Collapse

ABSTRACT. Analysis of library cataloging metadata systems, the complex of MARC and WorldCat, as a back and forth of water power infrastructure and lived experience. I am writing from Washington State, a white settler working for a public library on the land of Skagit, Swinomish, Suquamish, Snohomish, Suiattle, Duwamish, Samish and Stillaguamish tribes, and trying to situate my work in relation to land rights and sovereignty. The material question arises, of what ceding power of energy resources would look like, and what it means that the data the library collects and manages sits on land acknowledged as having agency by its original inhabitants. I believe that the users of the library’s platforms become oppressors also, in taking up space, as implicated in a colonial framework. My presentation will look at a complex interrelation of ecology, colonialism, and information science, bringing to the forefront the physicality of information and the violence in abstracting away this physical infrastructure into concepts of data. I believe the current uses of hydroelectric power, often presented as an environmentally friendly, renewable power, evidence a massive conflict in the concept of the environment. I will argue how the semantic structures of information sciences reify colonial power, upholding this conflicted concept of environment. To elaborate, I will draw a correlation between collecting MAchine Readable Cataloging and underlying exploitation of natures, so as to consider cataloging’s futures. MARC is only one of many possible approaches to categorization. Differences in classification and cataloging practices follow ideological predilections that render knowledge organization schemes for information retrieval. The Han dynasty imperial library scheme, for example, is neither more nor less ideological than the approach of a cataloger in MARC purporting to identify a text or other entity through observation and analysis. MARC is an accidental ontology, accidental, because what was intended only to automate card cataloging had become a standard for formatting data, an environment for knowledge representation. But, this data environment is not really comprised of ‘standards’, formalizations of ‘agreed upon’ rules for describing. I will draw on the concept of data ecologies from Jasmine McNealy, as well as the critique of data/information science put forward by Ramon Amaro. Through comparisons of their work, I will elaborate a critique of networking and networked databases, keywords interlinking references. I will elaborate this so as to make room for conceiving opportunities to enact change in the work of information retrieval. I want information workers to know their responsibilities in regards to energy use, in both senses of environment and affect. The focus is the abstraction of information from physical data servers, and how information workers might think more about the physicality of their labor.

11:00-12:30 Session 3D
Maury Bruhn (Vanderbilt University, United States)
Noah Toyonaga (Harvard University, United States)
Geometric Terror: Trypophobia, Entropy, and Paranoia of Space

ABSTRACT. This work seeks to connect the affective and aesthetic dimensions of trypophobia—the fear of patterns of holes—to geometric and temporal applications of entropy.

Order and symmetry are posited as aesthetic principles within art and scientific research: these fields thus take instances of disorder to be either local fluctuations (thermal variation, auditory and visual noise, transcription errors) or constitutive elements of meaning (data, foreground/center, plot).

I take trypophobia as a particular and compelling case in which the boundaries of order and disorder are blurred, or rather, in which this blurriness is viscerally apprehended. Typical trypophobia-inducing objects (e.g. the lotus leaf) are nearly but not quite symmetric. Working from this observation, I argue that trypophobia, in its affective attunement to the onset of geometric disorder, is a particular form of and metonymic reference to spatialized paranoia. I thus work from Pynchon’s definition of paranoia as a “reflex of seeking other orders behind the visible”: trypophobia refers to the horror of finding order and disorder slipping into one another.

Scientists have suggested that trypophobia is related to an innate sensitivity to the visual cues of disease. It is interesting then to consider the temporal implications of entropy as a physical principle: the geometric consequence of the second law of thermodynamics is precisely that visual order will inevitably decay.

I thus follow and extend Arnheim, Shannon, and Boltzmann to take entropy as an analytical link which translates between the three domains of trypophobia: order, disorder, decay.

This work will consist of a paper and collage (in space and time) of original computational simulations which explore the statistical, geometric, and aesthetic features of spatial decay processes. A prototype:

Anastasia Klimchynskaya (University of Chicago, United States)
Energy and Entropy in the Form of Science Fiction

ABSTRACT. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution(s) in the nineteenth century, humanity acquired access to unprecedented amounts of energy, and with it, power to shape the natural and social worlds: motive power, economic power, state power. Borrowing Francis Bacon’s term for his vision of technoscientific mastery over the world, Rosalind Williams has argued that this period represents the “triumph of human empire”: a recalibration of humanity’s understanding of its power over the world through technoscientific means.

And yet, by the end of the century collective consciousness was marked by a dawning awareness of humanity’s powerlessness. The articulation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics in 1854 suggested that usable energy declines over time; coupled with the discoveries of geology and evolution that rendered humanity seemingly insignificant among vast temporal scales, it led to a malaise, a loss of vitality that defined the fin-de-siècle. The human race, it seemed, had run out of energy.

These two contradictory yet coexisting tendencies were reflected powerfully in the emerging genre of science fiction: casting men as gods pushing beyond the edge of the known and the previously possible, it encapsulated a sense of the extension of humanity’s scope of power in the world. Yet science fiction is also a literature of change, premised on the idea that everything is contingent - including humanity itself. Examining the works of two authors that bookended the century, Mary Shelley (The Last Man, Frankenstein) and H.G. Wells (The Time Machine), this paper investigates how science fiction developed as an aesthetic response to these contradictory tendencies, representing, grappling with, and attempting to reconcile them and to portray simultaneously human power and insignificance, energy and entropy, potentiality and finality.

Dong Yang (University of Georgia, United States)
Hand-made Energy: Émile Cohl and the Transmission of Haptic Affects

ABSTRACT. During a roundtable conversation with editors of Cahiers du cinéma in 1982, Godard made a curious yet almost counterintuitive point:

If I had been condemned by a caliph with the words, “All right, you may continue making films, but you must decide between blindness or having your hands cut off. What is your choice?” I think I would choose blindness; it would interfere with me less [...]. I would be more obstructed by not being able to use my hands when making a film than by not being able to use my eyes.

What seems striking in Godard’s reasoning is his prioritizing of the mobility of the hand over the perception of the eye, a line of thought that contradicts the general understanding of cinema as an art primarily centers on visuality. Touch, for Godard, serves better to connect the filmmaker with the artwork as it conveys a sense of certainty—what Wittgenstein thinks of as the source of facts—more reliable than the sensory data coming indirectly from the eye. Godard’s comparison would also help solve the frequently appearing shots in Émile Cohl’s work, especially between 1908-1910 when he extensively adopts a hybrid style of animation whereby montages and co-presences of stop-motion animation and live-action shot interact on the screen and generate a highly sophisticated synaesthetic and sense of simultaneity. Film historians generally tend to treat the use of this technique as a consequence of the demanding job Cohl had at Gaumont; as Richard Neupert explains, “As most animators would discover, success, or a steady contract, usually led to producers demanding a production schedule stipulating an unrealistically high output”. Doubtless, work obligation has forced Cohl to explore different means to maintain high productivity, as the numerous animation works during these two years have demonstrated; yet aesthetic analyses that move beyond such a real-life restriction and attend to the innate quality are needed to fully unpack the Cohl’s artistic talent as well as the ontology behind the hybrid form of animation. Thus this essay seeks to examine a particularly curious aspect in Cohl’s masterpieces during 1908-1910, where he frequently inserts live-action close-ups of hands—belonging to either himself or the characters—to designate the affective connections between the actions of the artists and the vitality of the animated objects. Through detailed interpretations of the said shots in Cohl’s such early Gaumont pieces as Fantasmagorie (1908), Rien n’est Impossible à l’Homme (1910), Les Quatres Petits Tailleurs (1910), etc., I argue that the mechanism of the hand-animation sequence demonstrates Cohl’s aim to show the inalienable connection between the hand and the artifacts, precisely because of the self-organizing energy of the animated objects comes from the affective actions of the artists as an extension of their own vitality; in other words, Cohl seeks to show that movement of animation, though sometimes may seem autonomous, essentially depends on the individual relation it bears with the initial work of the animator.

Maury Bruhn (Vanderbilt University, United States)
Images of Energy and the Energy of the Image in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars

ABSTRACT. This paper analyzes how Kim Stanley Robinson’s seminal sci fi novel Red Mars utilizes characters’ embodied responses to help readers imagine Mars not as a scaled-up, dried out, or re-colored version of Earth, but as a wholly new landscape. Rather than presenting the new Martian world as a series of still tableaux, Robinson appeals to what G. Gabrielle Starr calls “the mind’s body,” supplementing his visual description with physical cues that ask the reader to imaginatively reorient themselves in a new world. Robinson’s technique pairs bodily sensations such as dizziness and shock to surprising sights caused by Mars’ color, scale, and/or gravity, inducing a vertigo of the imagination that helps the reader to visualize a world we have never seen and to avoid “living in a huge analogy,” as one character describes her tendency to compare Mars to Siberia.

My argument examines moments of embodied reading experience to create a triple analysis of how energy functions in Robinson’s text. First, these moments represent the literal use of energy on Mars in the characters’ physical creation of the new world. Secondly, these are moments when characters’ often-depleted physical and emotional energy is recharged or engaged by unanticipated events, sparking the creative insight needed to successfully build on Mars. Finally, by invoking physics in a way calculated to extend it, these moments create imaginative energy for the reader, immersing them in Robinson’s invented landscape.

11:00-12:30 Session 3E: Stream of Pre-Organized Panels "Energy and Individuation" 1: Scaling Environmental Information
Derek Woods (University of British Columbia, Canada)
Thomas Lamarre (University of Chicago, United States)
Derek Woods (University of British Columbia, Canada)
Mark B.N. Hansen (Duke University, United States)
Weihong Bao (University of California, Berkeley, United States)
Stream of Pre-Organized Panels "Energy and Individuation" 1: Scaling Environmental Information

ABSTRACT. This stream of panels began with a pandemic reading group about Gilbert Simondon’s 'Individuation in Light of Notions of Form and Information,' published in English translation by Taylor B. Adkins in 2020. For SLSA, we expand to the broader topic of Energy and Individuation while remaining an overall focus on Simondon’s philosophy of science and technology. 'Individuation' begins with a refusal of hylomorphism (form imposed on matter from the outside) and atomism, opting instead to rethink how individuals emerge from unstable environments of matter, energy, and information. From this beginning, Simondon studies the differences and similarities of individuation across physical, biological, and psycho-social phenomena. Central to his theoretical project is the role of energy in this process, which for him entails a critique of thermodynamics—especially the concept of entropy and its dependence on the assumption of a closed system. As we hope to show, Simondon’s work on energy and individuation is relevant to a wide range of projects in the humanities, arts, and design. The implications of his writing have already been explored by thinkers from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari to Bernard Stiegler, Yuk Hui, and many others, but we hope that the English translation of Individuation will lead to renewed interest in Simondon’s work in Anglophone theory and research.

The three panels of our stream feature the complementary variation at work in current approaches to energy and individuation. In “Scaling Environmental Information,” Thomas Lamarre, Mark Hansen, and Derek Woods discuss the role of concepts of environment, milieu, scale, magnitude, potentiality, and virtuality in Simondon’s ontology, raising examples like radioactive pollution and crystallization, but staying close to the Simondon’s two major texts, 'Individuation' and 'The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects.' In "Media, Magic, and Aesthetics," Kendra Lee Sanders, Adam Nocek, and Jordan Szol look at algorithmic design, animation, and magic through the lens of Simondonian energetics. Finally, in “Ecological Economics,” Zach Yost, Burç Kostem, and Thomas Patrick Pringle study the implications of Simondon’s energetics for political ecology, thinking with examples such as the work of Turkish artist Serkan Taycan and YouTube’s recent foray into the sale of ecosystem services.

Energy and Individuation 1: Scaling Environmental Information

Chair: Weihong Bao

Thomas Lamarre, Toxic Energy: Individuation and Radioactivity

Although the term radioactivity highlights activity, procedures for dealing with the effects of radioactivity suppose a high degree of inertness.  In dealing with radioactive waste, for instance, the primary impulses are to contain it or to dilute it, as if its agency were so weak that it might be neutralized.  This pragmatic impasse in dealing with ionizing radiation is related to a metaphysical impasse. Despite all evidence to the contrary, radionuclides are construed as if directed toward human beings and toward the biosphere as it exists for human beings, as toxicity. Some accounts of the Anthropocene refer to the first denotation of nuclear bombs to mark its start — a mode of supplementation Derrida characterized as autobiography, a writing of the human.

Gilbert Simondon only discussed nuclear energy in passing, but his remarks follow from his philosophy of individuation.  It considers radionuclides par le milieu, in terms of their individuation in relation to an associated milieu.  Simondon invites us to think the activity of radioactivity differently as something other than human writing upon the earth: how do radionuclides write themselves, as it were; what is their individuation?  Radionuclides are not simply waste produced by the production of nuclear energy but a continuation of that energy-form.  Reading Simondon alongside Derrida allows a better understanding of the challenges presented by our expanding nuclear ecologies, in light of a question urgently posed by Isabelle Stengers — what protection might such ecologies afford? 

Derek Woods, The Scale Theory of Gilbert Simondon

Recent years have seen interest in what scale and magnitude mean for the humanities, with the first monographs devoted to scale theory appearing in 2021. In the meantime, the 2020 publication of Taylor Adkins’s translation of Gilbert Simondon’s posthumous Individuation in Light of the Notions of Form and Information (2005) has given Anglophone readers new access to the scalar aspect of his work: a metaphysics of individuation as the mediation of radically disparate orders of magnitude. If individuation is many things in this book, it always involves the temporary stabilization of a metastable reality in which two magnitudes are initially separate, a process that uses energy an actualizes potentiality. But what are orders of magnitude in Simondon? What separates them? How does individuation unify disparate scalar realities? These questions take me into questions about the production of what ecologists call scale domains in which processes have certain properties, or create particular constraints, that are not found isomorphically across scales. My paper is concerned with the notion of scale domain in Simondon and the complex (an)isomorphy of his account, which sometimes treats crystallization as a paradigm applicable across orders of magnitude and sometimes suggests that physical, biological, and social individuation happen in very different ways. Beginning with the assumption that scale cannot be reduced to mathematical measurement, this paper looks at the role of energy and information in the production of difference and unity across scales, reading Simondon as a theorist essential to contemporary debates about scaling and complex systems.

Mark B.N. Hansen, Information as Real Environmental Potentiality

In Individuation in the light of the notions of form and information, Simondon develops a conception of individuation as information that seeks to carry out the program he suggested at the end of the Introduction to this volume: “it is through the individuation of knowledge and not through knowledge alone that the individuation of non-subject beings is grasped. Beings can be known through the knowledge of the subject, but the individuation of beings can only be grasped through the individuation of the subject’s knowledge.” Central to this program is the notion that individuation – which produces the becoming of being – also generates (or simply is) information about that becoming, and that somehow these two are equivalent, or even non-different. In my talk I shall seek to link this conceptual nexus of individuation-information to Simondon’s understanding, central to his critique of information theory in On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, that information is midway between form (Wiener’s “negentropy” or order) and pure chance or unpredictability (what Shannon called ‘informational entropy”). It is in virtue of this positioning that Simondon can link information to potential, and that his concept of information as the process of individuation postulates the efficacy of the environment as potential within the actual. I will show how this positioning anchors Simondon’s conception of information in energetics and what this anchoring says about the nature and status of Simondon’s theorization of process as information, including how it demarcates the concept of potentiality from that virtuality.


11:00-12:30 Session 3F: Roundtable: Disciplinary Synergies: Science in Society and the Contemporary Science Novel
Sina Farzin (Dept of Social Sciences & Public Affairs, UniBw Muenchen, Germany)
Sina Farzin (Dept of Social Sciences & Public Affairs, UniBw Muenchen, Germany)
Carol Colatrella (School of Literature, Media & Communication / Georgia Tech, United States)
Natalie Roxburgh (Institute of English and American Studies / University of Hamburg, Germany)
Uwe Schimank (Research Centre on Inequality & Social Policy / Univ. of Bremen, Germany)
Anna Auguscik (Institute for English & American Studies, Univ. of Oldenburg, Germany)
Luz Maria Hernández Nieto (Facultad del Hábitat, Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí, Mexico)
Susan M Gaines (Fiction Meets Science, Germany)
Roundtable: Disciplinary Synergies: Science in Society and the Contemporary Science Novel
PRESENTER: Sina Farzin

ABSTRACT. NOTE: This is the first roundtable in the thematic stream "Science in Society Under the Literary Microscope." The second  is "Narrative Energy: Novelists on Why, When, and How they Write about Science," Saturday, Session 18D, 13:00-14:30 EDT.

In the past few decades, novels about science have become more and more prevalent. These works often feature in-depth, realistic portrayals of scientist characters and their work worlds, and tell stories about the socially contingent powers and limitations of science—whether to illuminate nature, generate social change, or propagate and mitigate social risk. In order to explore and contribute to the public discourse taking place in and around this creative space, the Fiction Meets Science program brings together a medley of literary and cultural studies scholars, sociologists, novelists, and novel-reading scientists from various disciplines.

Working together, building on each other’s knowledge, and writing together has been both a challenging and a rewarding experience—one that was highlighted in the creation of the recent volume of linked essays, Under the Literary Microscope: Science and Society in the Contemporary Novel. In this roundtable, volume authors and editors discuss those challenges and rewards.

We’ll discuss the (messy!) process of conceiving the volume—when a discussion of sociological risk society theories provoked a resurgence of a long-dead two culture disputes—and provide an overview of the corpus of contemporary science novels that inspired it. Then we'll examine the difficulties and insights gained when, for example, an expert on the economization of science started reading science novels… or when literary scholars and sociologists got together to examine the social resonance of Kingsolver’s "Flight Behavior," or the significance of scientific plausibility in the critical response to Atwood’s "Oryx and Crake"….

Authors and editors alike found themselves outside of their disciplinary comfort zones, struggling to find a common perspective and entangled in processes of translation between fields of knowledge. As we reflect on the benefits and liabilities of our transdisciplinary approach to researching and writing this volume, we’ll invite audience members to join us with questions and comments on their own experiences.

Participants: Moderator: Sina Farzin (Sociology) Natalie Roxburgh (Literature) Anna Auguscik (Literature) Uwe Schimank (Sociology) Carol Colatrella (Literature) Luz Maria Hernández Nieto (Sociology)

11:00-12:30 Session 3G: Stream of Pre-Organized Panels "Another Worldly Energies" 1: More-than-human magics
Phillip Thurtle (University of Washington, United States)
Rebecca Cummins (University of Washington, United States)
Stephanie Rothenberg (University at Buffalo SUNY, United States)
Nat Mengist (University of Washington, United States)
Ioan Butiu (Independant, United States)
Stream of Pre-Organized Panels "Another Worldly Energies" 1: More-than-human magics

ABSTRACT. More-than-human magics

More-than-human magics is the first of five events in the "Another Worldly Energies" Stream, featuring independent contributions from friends and colleagues.

How do we account for the metamorphic magic of nature? We come together to explore our mutual entanglements with other species through artistic co-creation. Behold, the love affair of animals, plants, fungi, and technologies: reproductive organs meet and give birth to futures of more-than-human fecundity!


Rebecca Cummins

Artworks such as Spore Drift, Backyard Frequencies and others related to explorations into energetic forces within fungi, the sun and moon, mitosis, and bio-luminescence will be presented.


Stephanie Rothenberg

Aphrodisiac in the Machine is a multiplatform art project and an environmental sci-fi about a new breed of bioengineered oysters that transform polluted water into a fluid — a drinkable potion — that induces a state of Aquadisia (Sentience 2.0) in humans. It focuses on the energy and agential power of sensuality as a new narrative for rethinking the ecological crisis that values diverse knowledges vs quantified bodies.


Nat Mengist & Ioan Butiu

DIY Homunculi wonders how reproductive relations with plants could play a (re)generative role in the future of humanity. Continuing its perseverations on the concept of "womb envy" in history, philosophy, animation, and design, this iteration is expressed through a collaborative worldbuilding practice combining illustrated storytelling and a 3D printed speculative object called the 'matrixial vase'. DIY Homunculi reaches into distant dreams to prophecy another world, in another time.

11:00-12:30 Session 3H: Arts Lounge: The Being and Doing
Alissa Walls (University of Tennessee-Knoxville, United States)
Alissa Walls (University of Tennessee-Knoxville, United States)
Jonathan Vandyke (Independent Artist, United States)
Natalie Conway (Independent Artist, United States)
Arts Lounge: The Being and Doing

ABSTRACT. The “Being and Doing” Arts Lounge asks the question: “How could doing less give us more?” Posed by the journalist James Nestor, who has written on breath as a form of internal knowledge and power lost in the contemporary era, the question can be extended to a range of areas of creative inquiry and production.

What associations do we make with being present versus staying busy? A consideration of being and doing stands, in part, as a question of the preservation and exertion of energy. This also gives rise to questions of energy and entropy, of energy’s beginnings, ends, or no-beginnings. There are also practical matters to consider: Human and non-human beings find the degree and manner in which their energies may be extended circumscribed by external and internal forces often out of their control.

This arts lounge will provide a space to discuss the relationship between being and doing, whether active or passive, and the various implications—social, cultural, economic, political, scientific—of extending energies in one direction or another based on choice and/or its limits.

What external and internal pressures do people face each day? What pressures can be actively fought against or deliberately deactivated? How does access affect our relationship to energy and its power structures, and how does that relationship inform what we experience, both internally and externally?

Each of the lounge organizers has engaged with questions of being and doing, of what kind of energy one employs and extends or not, in various ways and to differing ends:

Natalie Conway investigates mental life through observational drawing, expressive abstraction, phenomenological materiality, and synthesis of symbols. Each of these facets of her practice comprises a distinct means of perception, mindfulness, and being within sustained exploration of topics including structures of femininity, mental illness, and moral reckonings with family history.

Through performance, video, painting, and drawing, Jonathan VanDyke has engaged the long, slow gaze as a strategy of interruption and engagement. His work reframes such acts as pausing, gathering one’s thoughts, and doing less, with weakness. As Sara Ahmed argues, “Risking departure from the straight and narrow makes new futures possible, which might involve going astray, getting lost, or even becoming queer.” Pleasure arises in the energy of embodied stillness.

Alissa Walls makes process-oriented work that relies on repetition and accumulation. A dense research program underlies formally reductive surfaces. Cosmology, global political economy, and critical theory, among other subjects, filter through personal memories, hopes, and fears. She brings whatever noises lie beneath these surfaces—the messy personal and public histories—into equilibrium through a visual language of bare bones. All of this work flows out of a series of routine contemplative practices, from walking, writing, and running to yoga, meditation, and breathwork.

As individuals and communities contend with increased demands for active presence and efficiency, and accumulation and materiality remain central to “success,” there seems to be no end to doing. This discussion steps back from the dominant paradigm, calling into question the linear ascent into maximal productivity.

13:00-14:30 Session 4A
Nat Mengist (University of Washington, United States)
Nat Mengist (University of Washington, United States)
Man’s wish for a womb: Alchemical reproductive politics in western visions of artificial life

ABSTRACT. What can be learned from the Western attraction to narratives of reproductive technology gone astray? This primordial desire to create life in a laboratory, and the accompanying angst it provokes, has become synonymous with the name “Frankenstein.” Contemporary discourses exploring the potentials and perils of artificial life have returned to the writings of its original patrons, the alchemists, in order to expose how deeply rooted their “millenary dream” really is in the Western imagination.i After first exploring these questions at a symposium on “Posthuman Politics” in the winter of 2018, and some invigorating critique from mentors the following summer, that unfinished essay was revived as the collaborative worldbuilding project known as “DIY Homunculi” — performed in front of a scholarly audience that autumn and published in a grassroots fiction zine the year after. With abortion rights under assault in the United States of Texas in 2021, this project feels more important than ever to pursue with an impassioned commitment to ending “reproductive oppression,” which has been defined as “the control and exploitation of women, girls, and individuals through [their] bodies, sexuality, labor, and reproduction.”ii 

In this updated essay, I show that whether through feminist critique or historical biography, scholars continue to expose the persisitent tensions at the core of Victor Frankenstein’s narcissistic obsession with transcending the limits of a man’s ability to give birth without a woman. However, these “autogenetic and ectogenetic desires” were cultivated long before the colonial academies of 19th century Europe, and originated well beyond its shores.iii I then present a survey of studies that reencounter alchemy as a confluence of natural, philosophical, and technical know-how — an exemplar of syncretic practices distilled from the myriad cultures that traded along the Silk Road. Alchemy’s historiographical resurgence sheds light on the Frankensteinian precursors of current debates concerning artificial life, specifically in the literature describing how to make one’s very own homunculus: a transhuman intelligence generated exclusively from male seed. This masculinist tendency to forsake the feminine power of birth — womb envy — was documented in psychological journals as early as the mid-1920’s. Since then, many scholars and critics have concurred that man’s wish for a womb was first refined by alchemists, is eloquently expressed in the “Modern Prometheus,” and persists in everyday interactions. From there, I offer a series of axiological interventions taken by artists and activists to “enact alternate visions” of maternity in all its profound complexity, from empathetic pregnancy to reproductive justice.


i. Mircea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible: The Origins and Structure of Alchemy (University of Chicago Press, 1978).

ii. Loretta J. Ross, “Reproductive Justice as Intersectional Feminist Activism,” Souls 19, no. 3 (July 3, 2017): 286–314,

iii.  Irina Aristarkhova, “Ectogenesis and Mother as Machine,” Body & Society 11, no. 3 (September 1, 2005): 43–59,

Paulina Lanz (USC Annenberg School of Communication, United States)
The sensorial haunting: the re-materialization of memory through intangible objects

ABSTRACT. Where displacement, removal, detention, shelter, and asylum are defined as liminal spaces that, circumscribe the objects that come to matter, and the places in between, this project centers around understanding how things come to matter, both as a container and an object in a dialectic flow “within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition” (Brown, 2004:4). It is this dichotomous fluidity that enhances the archival process of becoming, when things migrate from leftovers to retrieval and assimilation as archival material that, in its turn, will communicate through affective registers, regardless of their owners no longer being there to tell their story. I explore the ghost mining qualities of three memory-evoking projects, those that sensorially re-materialize memory through the intangible. I work through the Las Rastreadoras del Fuerte’s collective project Recetario para la memoria, alongside the sensorial recollection of memory through sound by closely reading –or listening to– sound and visual artist Luz María Sánchez’s 2487 (2006), and composer, performer, and artist Guillermo Galindo’s sonic installation in Border Cantos (2014). By focusing on the experiential reality of haunting as a “transformative recognition,” violent disappearances find other modes to bring forward their story. Narratives are mediated through different media/mediums that tackle senses like taste and the sonic as a structure of feeling, in an attempt to demonstrate how memory is rematerialized when the residue is intangible.

Joel Ong (York University, Canada)
Proximal Spaces and emerging Bio-digital Literacies/Vocabularies

ABSTRACT. In the era of the pandemic and social distancing, the 6ft radius has somewhat erroneously demarcated as the official distance that we should stay at to minimize contagion. The notion of bubbles, territories, personal and geographical space has had, of course, a longer history, some of which have been exposed as arbitrary and oppressive through discourses of boundary-crossings in human migration, interspecies intermingling/communication and the nascent critiques of the atmosphere as the ‘commons’ (and more recently, the ‘un-commons’). From a biological standpoint, habitats and ecosystems are known to always be in flux, and the sharing of materials, even as embedded as genetic information, happens beyond species boundaries, and often at time scales that perceptible to us humans. One early development of the concept of boundaries and bubbles can be attributed to the sociologist Edward Hall, who in 1961 proposed a visualization of concentric circles of borders extending outward from the body that defined ‘personal’, ‘social’ and ‘public’ spaces. Each of these circles were well-defined zones that engendered unique communicative interactions when traversed. Proxemics bears a striking resemblance to the zones of contagion that extend from the body in visual representations of the pandemic – especially in the assumption that this 6ft radius is a sort of safe or ‘dead’ zone where the self and its health can is contained. In reality, the situation is vastly different ensured by the brownian motion of microbial life across these zones and the way spaces retain traces of microbial life. Recent critiques of the 6 ft safe zone (namely that they are outdated) and experimental setups of airborne microbial flux affirm that boundary transgressions are inevitable, and thus the paper suggests that emerging paradigms of inter-species relations and rising bio-literacies could provide better models for everyday living. The paper takes as its case study the work ‘Proximal Spaces’, a multi-modal exhibition that invited a group of bioartists to sample and visualize cultures of microbial colonies in their environments at multiple zones of proximity from the body. The paper will document and discuss the thematic(s) of boundary crossings that have arisen in such collective activities, and include further modes of knowledge dissemination in the development of an AR application, site-specific installation as well as ekphratic responses to the work by a group of renown poets in Toronto.

Stacey Moran (Arizona State University, United States)
Bodies by Design: Re-energizing Material Feminisms

ABSTRACT. Critical Design has recently embraced Karen Barad’s theory of agential realism for rethinking design as a discipline, an artifact, and a profession. This presentation offers an explorative meditation on an inverse question: what if we consider Karen Barad to be in some way “doing design”? I show how Barad engages in a project to “design away” both the enduring problem of individualism and its classical body. Rendering individualism “unthinkable” (Haraway) and designing new quantum bodies requires more than a scientific explication of “how the quantum world works,” and a claim that “we are already quantum.” To bring quantum bodies to life demands an engagement with SF: “string figures, science fact, science fiction, speculative feminism, speculative fabulation” (Haraway, 2016). The talk explores how these SF elements are already implicit in Barad’s work, but then makes them explicit by highlighting fictional, speculative and dramatic elements. Reading Barad as more than a physicist, I argue, could inject a new energy (both material and metaphorical) into both material feminisms and critical and speculative design and catalyze more ethical quantum futures.

Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016.

13:00-14:30 Session 4B: Workshop: Habitability and the Telematic Embrace
Boris Oicherman (Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, United States)
Dawna Schuld (Texas A&M University, United States)
Dawna Schuld (Texas A&M University, United States)
Boris Oicherman (Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, United States)
Peng Wu (Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, United States)
Workshop: Habitability and the Telematic Embrace

ABSTRACT. This workshop is modeled after two art-driven experiments in social engagement first developed in the 1960s: the First National Symposium in Habitability, led by American artist Robert Irwin at his Venice, CA studio in 1969 and the Groundcourse, developed by British artist Roy Ascott at Ealing Art School in 1961.

Each project had close ties to Cold War technological developments: “habitability” was and continues to be a pressing concern for NASA-affiliated space exploration researchers, while the Groundcourse was adapted from analog computer technologies first developed for military applications. Both artists embraced the creative potential of systems thinking but prioritized human experience over technological efficiency. In so doing, each artist instigated a creative recalibration of structural models for collaboration and communication that too often institutionalize exclusion and isolation. While Ascott challenged a false doctrine of individualism, Irwin exposed the—sometimes literal—porosity of institutions and disciplinary silos.

After an enervating year of pandemic-driven disruptions in research, teaching, and art production and extensive reliance on computer networks and technologies, similar reassessment and recalibration of our current circumstances is warranted: What makes a digital space habitable or, alternatively, inhospitable? How might artistic intervention repair the frayed connective tissue of a digitally distanced arts community? How might we account for the embodied experience of virtual space in a way that’s sustainable and sustaining? Alternatively, in what ways do we foster shared physical presentness in the digital age? Who is excluded and included? Who or what is the presumptive “we” in this dynamic?

Drawing from the examples of Ascott and Irwin, we propose a workshop in two parts: 1. Breakout groups using guidelines derived from the Groundcourse will take inventory of how a telematic culture both isolates and connects us as social organisms, using a set of restrictions designed to prompt awareness of the tangible supports—our bodies, our homes, our communities—that are so often relegated to “background” status when we connect online. 2. We will reconvene to a “conversation as habitat” where the actual spaces in which we work and dwell are acknowledged and foregrounded.

This workshop is part of a larger project regarding Habitability that began at the Weisman Art Museum in 2019. For additional information, please go to

Workshop Coordinators

A scientist turned artist turned museum curator, Boris Oicherman is interested in context-specific and collaborative art. As the Cindy and Jay Ihlenfeld Curator for Creative Collaboration at the Weisman Art Museum of the University of Minnesota, he establishes a new program of creative engagement with research across disciplines and cultures, exploring the potential of artists to become drivers of radically diverse knowledge in academia.

Dawna Schuld is Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History at Texas A&M University. Her research concentrates on intersections between art, technology, and biology, with emphasis on how the perceptual phenomena of human experience are implemented in art. She is the author of Minimal Conditions: Light, Space, and Subjectivity (2018), and co-editor of Perception and Agency in Shared Spaces of Contemporary Art (Routledge, 2018).

Born and raised in China, Peng Wu is a social practice artist and graphic designer dedicated to creating socially engaged projects in public spaces. His work combines the power of design thinking with contemporary art strategies to addess various urgent social issues including immigration, public health, and rights.

13:00-14:30 Session 4C
Rebecca Kain (The University of Waterloo, Canada)
Melanie Swan (UCL, United States)
The Quantum Aesthetic Imaginary

ABSTRACT. Scientific research findings in foundational physics inform our broader understanding of reality. Aesthetic theory resources are being applied to the comprehension of time, space, and energy as physics enlivens the public imaginary of who we are and where we are going as individuals and societies. Quantum computing is underway as a potential next revolution in computing, offering scalable energy-efficient computation that more naturally corresponds to the three-dimensional structure of atomic reality, but also risks granting greater reach to technology. Energy is central to the quantum domain. The Schrödinger wave equation calculates the energy of a particle propagating along a wavefunction. The quintessential equation E=mc2 states that matter contains energy equal to its mass times the speed of light squared, and has unleashed atomic energy for good and evil. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle specifies the trade-off relationships between speed-position and time-energy, that only a particle’s speed or location, and time or energy (wave strength), can be known at any moment. This paper explores how quantum concepts and metaphors are inspiring thinking paradigms. Aesthetic theory provides guidance regarding the contemplation of time, space, and energy, including by understanding time as both discrete snapshots and continuous flows, in paintings and poems, sculpture and concertos. These different modes of experiencing reality motivate our theories of knowing and scopic regimes of seeing. The quantum aesthetic imaginary emerges as a new kind of theory resource for making sense of our world at a moment of re-energizing efforts in pandemic recovery, social equity, and environmental sustainability.

Justin Keever (University of California Irvine, United States)
The Rise of the Transparent Box: The Inward Shift of Opacity in Digital Machines

ABSTRACT. This paper will argue that the metaphorical (and often literal) image of the black box, an image which is paradigmatic of cybernetic subjectivity and used to characterize computational devices whose processes are obscured from their users, needs to be revised in the wake of shifts in consumerist ideologies which have arisen in the past decade. This essay will theorize the emergence of the “transparent box” in contradistinction to the “black box,” arguing that the black box is no longer an adequate metaphor for thinking through the way in which the conditions of production/distribution and mechanisms of consumer devices are obscured from the people who purchase them. The ‘transparent’ box has emerged as an aesthetic paradigm in computer cases: cases designed for “custom” build personal computers frequently have one clear glass panel which is designed to showcase the components which the computer’s owner has purchased and assembled, transforming these assemblages into image-objects of Debordian spectacle; the unseen movement of electricity through circuits happening along the device is represented as an assemblage of logos, multicolored light shows, and whirring fans. The rise of the transparent box as an aesthetic trope has, in the wake of Covid-19, been paired with supply-chain interruptions, a semiconductor shortage, as well as a proliferation of cryptocurrency mining operations. However, the critical consciousness that these ruptures may cause is precisely what the ideology of the transparent box works to foreclose by extending the logic of the commodity inward, further obscuring the labor and energy expenditure of computational devices.

William Lockett (MIT, United States)
“Here Would Be the Great Educational System on What the Chemistry Exchanges Really Are”: Bucky Fuller on Video Systems Before Personal Computing

ABSTRACT. Sometime during the 1970s, shortly after Earth Day, R. Buckminster Fuller traveled to the Circle Campus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. There, presumably after giving his Earth Day plenary, he visited the studio of local video artists Daniel Sandin and Philip Morton. The video tape made of the luminary by the two budding countercultural technologists begins with Fuller complaining about the awkwardness of his interactions with the video recording system set up for him by the artists. He says he often became confused when unable to look people in the eye while speaking, being distracted instead by images of eyes on screens. Morton and Sandin had him watching not only his own image but also its form as processed by a real-time analog video synthesizer. Fuller unravels a critique of the concept of pollution by way of an analysis of the history of technology. Pollution, as a concept, is an artifact of human ignorance concerning the capacity of molecules to be recombined in “regenerative patterns.” The best possible lesson in what sort of “chemistry exchanges” are needed to sustain human life would be provided by experiments in sustaining life in space. While Fuller is well-known for suggesting that humans build a World Game (to be displayed on building-sized globes made of TV sets) this little-known archival tape from the Philip Morton Memorial Archive records Fuller’s idea that space stations be used as educational TV studios for broadcasting studies of sustainable extra-planetary life support specifically for the sake of generating prototypes for designing “preferred ways” of energy management on Earth. I argue that Fuller’s comments on this tape (and the form and production context of the tape) archive the aesthetic and ethical preoccupations of early personal computer tinkerers, circa 1975, who were then engaged in the politicization of their “extensible” higher-order programming language designs and analog video processors. Sandin and Morton were members of a video art/gaming scene in Chicago. And I show that such proposals for hybrids of analog video system, programmable graphics terminals, and ambient environmental recording systems were common among denizens of what I call the folkways of graphical primitivism. While Fuller asks that we critique our concept of waste, Sandin and Morton’s interactions with the pinball and automotive industries in Chicago provide crucial archival evidence for how a patchwork of programmable geometric primitives and signal transmission pathways became winnowed into the inscription circulation apparatus later known as networked personal computation.

Rebecca Kain (The University of Waterloo, Canada)
The Physics of Death and The Transformative Nature of Grief: A Critical Design

ABSTRACT. This paper summarizes a Critical Design that takes the form of a website: Getting To There is a non-existent organization, operating in the funeral industry, that offers 3D-printed, biodegradable Burial Tokens. The token is composed of a biopolymer filament that had been bonded with the ashes of who was lost. An individual can then privately bury the token and hold a personalized ceremony—an alternative form of burial from the more traditional casket service or urn that a crematory or funeral home may offer. Getting To There explores the rhetoric transformation of mental energy across the grieving process, and the physics of death in combining several existing technologies to produce a non-existent potential future (burial token) of what a burial might look like; exposing the environmental, ethical, and mental health impacts of the funeral industry through narrative.

In addition, this paper explores the purpose of the design and how Getting To There functions relative to five principles of Critical Design, and presents a participation in the discourse of and the industry of grief and the coinciding, near-distant potential future. By using Critical Design methods, Getting To There repositions the role of technology within the grieving process and exposes what is typically taboo, as it begs those who interact and explore the website to question what both the physical (the burial of a body) and mental (a personalized approach to grief) aspects of burial services or funerals could look like from a Western perspective.

13:00-14:30 Session 4D
Paula Leverage (Purdue University, United States)
Paula Leverage (Purdue University, United States)
Water Entropy and Environmentalism in the Films of Jean Painlevé

ABSTRACT. This paper considers French film director Jean Painlevé’s oceanic films from the perspective of entropy theory and environmentalism. It presents the argument that the entropy Painlevé’s films record is offset by his camera, which documents and classifies, bringing order and meaning. Painlevé introduces into the taxonomies of nineteenth-century natural science a perspective from which humans can begin to fashion a new relationship with the environment.

Entropy relates to the conference theme “Energy” through the laws of thermodynamics, specifically the second, which recognizes that with transformation of energy, there is waste, and that the natural course of any system tends to disorder. The term “entropy” which designates this concept was chosen for its similarity to the word “energy” (Clausius, 1865).

In the early twentieth century Painlevé produced several films focusing on ocean life: The Octopus (1928); Sea Urchins (1929); Crabs (1930); The Hermit Crab (1930); The Sea Horse (1934). He films the entropic processes of the ocean, such as the life and death of the octopus which culminates in a shot of a severed tentacle squirming in a petri dish. James Cahill (2019) suggests that Painlevé’s innovative modes of perception, influenced by his studies in comparative anatomy, contributed to surrealism. This interpretation highlights the iconoclastic elements of the films, and the anarchic tendencies of the surrealist aesthetic to disrupt the status quo.

I argue that Painlevé’s camera seeks less to shock and shatter than to propose a new awareness. By seeing the films as countering the natural course of degeneration through new classifications in which the human creature inheres, it is clear that Painlevé’s vision has important implications for ocean conservation.

Yijun Sun (University of Massachusetts Amherst, United States)
Entropy/Negentropy: Machine Metaphors in Early 20th Century Architecture Knowledge Production

ABSTRACT. This paper discusses the 20th-century prevalence of machine aesthetics in architectural designs and its relation to the concept of energy. As Le Corbusier’s famous claim “a house is a machine for living in” suggested, the metaphor of a machine imagined the house as a functioning system that focused on calculating “energy,” which became a universal concern following the invention of the steam engine. The second law of thermodynamics discovered the measurable concept of “entropy” to express the disorder of a system. The machine metaphor in architectural designs responded to this thermodynamic machine system, optimizing the irreversible dissipation of energy in the discovered arrow of time. Through a historical investigation of Deutscher Werkbund and Futurist, Peter Behrens, Walter Gropius, Antonio Sant’Elia, as well as Le Corbusier, this paper discusses the architecture knowledge produced under this metaphor. When architectures were conceived as house-tools that can be mass-produced, the use of standard artificial material was believed to be superior to natural ones in the sense of accuracy and uniformity. The repetition of standard parts normalized architectures, transforming them into organized industries and their construction into manufacturing processes. Architecture knowledge was at the risk of becoming the outcome of system calculation instead of the countable part of the reasoning process that operates bifurcations. Making use of Schrödinger’s conceptual tool of negative entropy, this paper argues for a negentropic knowledge that recognizes architectures in their co-evolution with humans and supports a future of care instead of use against the unbridled capitalism.

Grace Franklin (University of Southern California, United States)
Infrastructural Energetics in Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight (1938) and Beyond

ABSTRACT. Recently, gaslighting has become a potent concept to think with in mass cultural and academic contexts. Diverging from psychiatric use of the term to describe intimate psychological abuse, scholars in various fields have begun to posit gaslighting as a sociological phenomenon that reinforces structural power imbalances. When contemporary accounts of gaslighting reference the play Gaslight (1938)—which initiated the term—they mention the titular lights in passing but focus almost exclusively on the protagonists’ fraught marriage. Recognizing gas infrastructure as integral to the plot (not to mention the stage it illuminated), I read Hamilton’s play as dramatizing the literal and political power dynamics of Britain’s gaslight network, articulating a form of systemic power relations in a way that continues to help us name and thereby navigate them.

Gaslight, I argue, built on nineteenth-century literary synthesis of this first fossil fuel utility as it emerged and introduced such novel experiences as a distant fuel source, networked power, even energy distribution, gas leakage, and energy policing. Readings of gaslight in literature have tended to consider resonances precipitated by its distinct visual quality. Attending to engagement with gas infrastructure broadens our understanding of gaslight in the cultural imagination and complicates our conception of coal capitalism, which has generally been associated with industry and transit. Coal gas piped into domestic fixtures as early as the 1830s and into the 1960s tempers an over-determined emphasis on oil as the fossil fuel that reached into the intimacies of private life.

Njelle Hamilton (University of Virginia, United States)
‘Work, Work, Time-Occupying Work’: Plantation Thermodynamics in Erna Brodber’s The Rainmaker’s Mistake

ABSTRACT. This paper unpacks the physics and politics of time in Erna Brodber’s 2007 novel _The Rainmaker’s Mistake_, which traces how a fictional community discovers that their biological “clocks” have been running much slower than that of towns outside—an Afro-Jamaican version of Einstein’s special theory of relativity—resulting in speculative time travel and twin paradoxes. In contrast to mainstream science fiction, time dilation in _Rainmaker_ results from a deliberate manipulation of peoples and systems to disconnect the community of laborers from the “Norm” (where one’s body experiences the outsize pace of modernity but without technologies to ease labor); and even from Past (the site of the abandoned plantation), Future and Pluperfect. But even as modernity increases the speed of natural processes, _Rainmaker_ amplifies the disconnect between the enslaved body and the tempos of the plantation: the lobotomized Cabaritans are kept artificially slow, locked into biotemporal logics that reign centuries after emancipation, and that keep them distinct from the other normative timelines and trajectories. _Rainmaker_ contrasts two models of entropy that I call Maxwell’s daemon vs Wynter’s demon: not only does the plantation daemon steal the thermodynamic output of black labor and reroutes it into the box of European wealth and leisure, it also controls the door so that those deemed ‘other’—those living on what Sylvia Wynter calls ‘demonic ground’—cannot cross, cannot access the linear trajectory to modernity and ‘progress.’ The novel therefore offers nothing less than a brilliant imaginative thesis on postplantation Caribbean temporality and ontology.

Katrina Maggiulli (University of Oregon, United States)
Speculative Species Labor: Imagining the Workhorses for a Bioremediated Future in Shawn Sheehy’s Beyond the Sixth Extinction (2018)

ABSTRACT. “Bioremediation” and “ecosystem services” have become household concepts in environmental parlance, but how the terms frame the labor of nonhuman organisms has so far been inadequately examined. My paper analyzes a speculative evolutionary pop-up book, Shawn Sheehy’s Beyond the Sixth Extinction: A Post-Apocalyptic Pop-Up (2018, illustrated by Jordi Solano) to illustrate how the addition of bioremediative abilities renders formerly unwanted “pest” species into valued laborers for a cleaner environmental future. I argue that the intersection between “pest” and “weed” species discourse with that of bioremediation as depicted in Sheehy’s pop-up helps reveal the extractive logic that undergirds the prominent concept of “ecosystem services.” The focus on bioremediation specifically as a species service in Sheehy’s speculative text further frames these organisms as laborers for a future that they will not share—as a remediated and restored space will no longer have use for their skills. While economists regularly seek market valuation of species, the use value of a nonhuman organism’s labor is most commonly taken for granted. However, my paper does not seek to capture nonhuman use value in market values, but rather to reframe concepts like bioremediation as a form of nonhuman labor that must therefore be considered in the context of animal autonomy and relationality in order to avoid extractive use of nonhuman life. With this analysis I seek to question the usefulness of frameworks like “ecosystem services,” particularly in the context of speculative future imaginaries, as the project of rethinking human relations with other species the Anthropocene calls for is rendered suspect if even “beyond the sixth extinction” our interest in other species is in their services rather than their lives.

13:00-14:30 Session 4E: Stream of Pre-Organized Panels "AWEsome Stream" 2: Mathematical, Mystical, and Metaphysical Mediations: Attuning to Other's Worlds and the Other Worldly
Xin Wei Sha (Arizona State University, United States)
Sean Yeager (The Ohio State University, United States)
Sam Stoeltje (Rice University, United States)
Muindi Fanuel Muindi (University of Washington, United States)
Xin Wei Sha (Arizona State University, United States)
Stream of Pre-Organized Panels "AWEsome Stream" 2: Mathematical, Mystical, and Metaphysical Mediations: Attuning to Other's Worlds and the Other Worldly

ABSTRACT. In our attempts to commune with others — human, non-human, and beyond-human — how and why do we expend energy on processes of attunement? Is energy necessarily dissipated in differentiating signal from noise, significance from insignificance, and sense from nonsense? The papers on this panel all attempt to address these questions. Sean’s paper, “Tuning Curves: A neuroqueer exponential heuristic for un-understanding interpersonal hermeneutics," models the process of interpersonal tuning via an exponential curve, arguing that its asymptotic aspect reflects our inability to truly know another person's interiority. Sam’s paper, “Languages of the Birds / Language is for the birds," traces the genealogies of "the language of the birds" in Western and Indigenous narratives in order to deconstruct the signal/noise distinction. Muindi’s paper, "On Spectra or Spectres: Energetics In and Through Magics and Metaphysics,” studies the mutually-informing feedback between physical circuits of electricity and the hermeneutic loops of metaphysics. All of these papers factor in the relationship between physical constructs, Derridean deconstruction, and energy expenditures; this positions Xin Wei Sha as the ideal respondent.

This workshop is facilitated in partnership with the AWEsome group. For more information, visit:

13:00-14:30 Session 4F
Christian Whitworth (Stanford University, United States)
Susan Watkins (Leeds Beckett, UK, UK)
Ruth Robbins (Leeds Beckett,UK, UK)
‘The Performativity of Matter: the Pregnancy Scan in Contemporary Women’s Reproductive Dystopias’

ABSTRACT. This paper examines the representation of pregnancy scans in contemporary reproductive dystopias, applying Karen Barad’s discussion of foetal imaging in Meeting the Universe Halfway (2007). Medical intervention in pregnancy has long been a staple of women’s fiction – though for much of nineteenth-century history, the pregnant body was relegated to medical textbooks, being too shocking to mention in literary texts. Early representations (Egerton’s short story ‘A Cross Line’ [1893]) were coy and allusive, and even veiled mentions were disapproved. As Cosslett notes, birth itself was understood as monstrous and repellent. More recently however, questions about agency and the relationship between discursivity and materiality have changed in nature. For Barad, ultrasound technology in foetal imaging is a ‘particularly poignant contemporary apparatus of observation’ which ‘helps produce and is part of the body it images’ (202). Barad draws on Niels Bohr’s understanding that experiments are not independent of their contexts. Matter is not merely discursively constructed but the matter of the foetus in utero only comes ‘to matter’ in intra-action with the phenomenon of the device which observes it and the full range of social, economic and technological energies of which that device is part. The implications of this insight are examined via the treatment of the pregnancy scan in contemporary reproductive dystopias, including Jane Rogers’s The Testament of Jessie Lamb (2011), Lousie Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God (2017) and Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks (2018).

Joshua Dittrich (University of Toronto, Canada)
Sleep Tracks: Sound, Listening and the Sonic (Re)mediation of Sleep

ABSTRACT. Much classic and recent work in sound studies has attended to the non-conscious dimensions of listening, theorizing how we are affected by sound even—and precisely—when we do not consciously perceive it. There is an opportunity to translate insights from sound studies toward the study of sleep, to approach sleeping as a kind of listening: a non-conscious mode of experience which reveals the body’s affectivity in relation to the material, vibratory and rhythmic forces that make up the environment.

My current research is developing a concept of so(m)niferous media, which refers to sonic media (including music) specifically designed, composed or curated to regulate mood, mask external noises, and/or induce specific physical responses that bring sleep along with sound. Examples include: noise machines; earplugs and headphones for sleeping; streaming services promoting ASMR videos, sleep playlists, binaural beats etc. With so(m)niferous media, noise and music are equally consumed not as content, but as customizable atmosphere and sensory cues to induce and maintain sleep, facilitating a non-conscious, yet decidedly auditory experience.

In this paper, I draw on a series of interviews with undergraduate students in my courses on sound, media and culture, asking how sleepers/listeners experience their own agency as they remediate their sleep environments sonically. Do listeners experience sleep as a mode of creativity and escape? Or do so(m)niferous media demonstrate how sleep has become colonized by biopolitical imperatives of self-care and optimization, not to mention 24/7 consumption (cf. Crary)? Ethnograhy can provide nuanced and textured answers to these broad questions, showing how subjects (sleepers) and an object (sleep) are co-constituted or transduced in and through sound and listening.

Brian House (Lewis & Clark College, United States)
Macrophones: Listening to the Climate Crisis via Infrasound

ABSTRACT. If a microphone is a device used to amplify small sounds, what I call a “macrophone” brings very large sounds—aka infrasound—into our perceptual range. Normally too low-frequency to hear, infrasound travels vast distances through the atmosphere, even across the globe. It comes from brewing storms, heavy industry, calving icebergs, crumbling infrastructure, avalanches, HVAC systems at massive data centers, and even weaponry. Big phenomena like these are entangled with the climate crisis, which can be difficult to directly perceive by virtue of its scale. And yet it makes sound that flows around our bodies all the time, if only we were able to listen.

“Infrasound arrays” have been used by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization since WWII to detect warhead tests, and they are used by geologists to monitor volcanos and other geophysical phenomena. But the focus has been on generating data for specialized purposes rather than on making the infrasonic soundscape listenable. I am appropriating infrasound array technology in order to do just that. My macrophone prototype is a low-cost, portable, and aesthetically improved adaptation of the scientific and military equipment. By processing the data as pitch-shifted audio, I have already heard distant and fascinating sounds, many of which are not represented in scientific literature.

This artistic research raises several questions. First, how do the affordances of listening to infrasound differ from those of remote vision, such as via technologies like Google Earth, that are so prevalent in the discourse of global crises? Or, for that matter, can the epistemological effects of the digital networks we rely on to relate at a distance be troubled by long-distance listening? Secondly, can forensic acoustics be applied to infrasound in order to locate and identify previously unknown sources? If these sources correlate with environmental disturbances, such as industrial activity, can such a method be deployed in the service of environmental justice movements?

In this paper, I will address these questions as well as provide a background on infrasound, outline my design of the macrophone devices, and present audio examples for discussion. Connections to the SLSA 2021 theme of energy include its turn to acoustic and atmospheric forces as a critique of the massive electrical power behind network and database-driven knowledge systems; the climate crisis itself is of course also a result of resource misuse in the name of energy.

Mickey Vallee (Athabasca University, Canada)
Energy Worlding: Using Soundscape Compositions as Post-Qualitative Research Prompts

ABSTRACT. This research project responds to a current issue that young professionals currently face in their new, at-home workplaces: noise intrusion. Based on ongoing research of respondents’ experiences working from home during COVID-19, this research uses a soundscape composition as a prompt for qualitative interviews about the value of sound, time, and space. The composition, Homing Inside Out, is by an arts collective collaboration between Soundtrackcity, The Mystifiers, and STEIM, and instructs its performers to engage in a variety of active and embodied listening practices. The composition prescribes that listening resists boredom through the activation of the energies of place, for listening attends, through embodied sense, to a multiplicity of place's temporal dynamics.

The composition was distributed to a random sample (N=62) of 25-40-year-old urban Canadian respondents whose current working conditions they report are disrupted regularly by noise. These respondents were asked to perform the composition on their own time, and to take and submit notes to the researcher about their experiences. They were, or will soon be, subsequently interviewed using in-depth techniques to elucidate attitudes towards noise, sound, and time in correspondence with concerns around personal and social well-being.

Preliminary results reveal how modes of listening activate time in non-standard ways. By recalling their listening experiences, respondents have articulated precise philosophical positions regarding the perception of sound and a manifold, creative relationship with time. Such relationships become idiosyncratic escapes from quarantine, adventures into the rhythmic dynamics of time and space: the mental, physical, internal, external, distant, proximate, passive and active speeds that resist the noisy mundanities of working from home energized through active, embodied engagement.

Christian Whitworth (Stanford University, United States)
Screening Somniloquy: Gil Wolman’s L’Anticoncept and the Exhaustion of Cinema’s Sleep Speech

ABSTRACT. Theatrical film exhibition provides the quintessential conditions for inducing sleep: the “artificial darkness” of the theater and the isolated luminosity of the screen situate the spectator in a slumber somewhere between sleepy immersion and waking distraction, an interstitial space which serves as a key site for parsing the aesthetic and political potential of communal bodies subject to bouts of fatigue, weariness, and tiredness. Yet rather than read the cinematic stasis of sleep as an individual’s passive capitulation to the effects of a dominant ideological apparatus, I join recent scholars in its reconceptualization as a communal precondition for survival against the dispossessions of labor in our late-capitalist economy.

Gil Wolman’s 1952 film installation, L’Anticoncept, provides a prescient case study for documenting cinema’s production of corporeal duress. A series of black and white frames projected onto a spherical weather balloon joins a sound poem which begins with a telling proclamation: “The time of poets is finished / today I sleep.” The film’s exhausted body allies with the spectator’s, whose downward breaths and heaving sighs harmonize with Wolman’s ensuing soundtrack, a series of nonsensical, breath-based mutterings I interpret at the unconscious whispers of sleep talking, or somniloquy. This “somniloquial spectatorship” thus prompts the production of an unruly audience less boisterous in tone than soft and slack. Implicit in this seeping scarcity of energetic substance, however, is an appeal for relationality. Somniloquial spectators seek support in the collective and communicative disposition of the cinema—in short, in one another’s vocal vulnerabilities. Cinema’s cultivation of a non-semantic polyphony, what Adriana Cavarero calls “the voice of plurality,” produces the auditory emotion of a democracy experienced in its nascency. Wolman’s idle and inarticulate political theater thus anticipates today’s activist aspirations not in the cacophony of the streets but on the margins of cinematic sleep.

13:00-14:30 Session 4G: Pre-Organized Panel: Cells, Cities, Turbines: On Metabolism
Liliane Campos (University Sorbonne Nouvelle / Institut Universitaire de France, France)
Pierre-Louis Patoine (University Sorbonne Nouvelle, France)
Derek Woods (University of British Columbia, Canada)
Liliane Campos (University Sorbonne Nouvelle / Institut Universitaire de France, France)
Jonathan Hope (Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada)
Pierre-Louis Patoine (University Sorbonne Nouvelle, France)
Pre-Organized Panel: Cells, Cities, Turbines: On Metabolism

ABSTRACT. Through metabolism, life forms maintain themselves within their environment. Absorbing and transforming, they produce energy and stabilize their complex organization. Today, this 19th-century biological concept lies at the root of a far-reaching metabolic imaginary, which connects organic life with social organization. While city planners explore the sustainability of urban metabolisms, Marxist ecologists investigate the metabolic rifts that occur when energy exchanges take the form of depletion and exhaustion. Metabolism has thus expanded beyond the organic, via techniques that exteriorize aspects of the human metabolism, and metaphors that view energy flows organically. This panel will engage with metabolism as a biological, political and economic concept and metaphor. The papers will examine the wheels and cogs of metabolism across the scales of biological and technical life, from the rotary motion crucial to ATP synthase – which has been called a molecular machine – to the turbines of hydropower plants producing electricity for entire cities and nations. How do metabolic processes connect different scales of existence? Do they weaken distinctions between organic and technological energy production? Can the concept of metabolism, and its two main biochemical reactions, anabolism and catabolism, help us rethink the relation between sustainable energy and unlimited growth? And how does literature, whose own growth is closely connected with the acceleration of energy production and consumption during the Modern era, relate to the various scales of these metabolic relations?

Paper 1: "Scales of Rotation: ATP Synthase with Gilbert Simondon" (Derek Woods)

"Scales of Rotation: ATP Synthase with Gilbert Simondon"In Medieval Technology and Social Change (1962), Lynn White Jr. writes an aside about rotary motion. Rotary motion is in abundance at the scales of planets and electrons, but it seems absent from life. Despite evolution's many optimizations, it was never able to generate wheels. Towards the end of the twentieth century, however, it became clear that White was at least partially wrong about the “inhuman adventure” of machinic rotation. The widespread tendency to see wheels as the archetypal ingenious human invention was transformed by the discovery of ATP Synthase, a protein that generates chemical energy in all living cells. The protein is held in a phospholipid membrane by weak chemical bonds that allow a protein gradient to make it rotate. But this biotic rotary motion only seems possible at the molecular scale. ATP synthase has since been defined as a “literal” motor, which raises the question of how precisely this scale-shifting interplay of technical and organic ontologies and analogies should be understood. My paper will approach these questions with the help of Gilbert Simondon’s theory of physical and biological individuation, which understands the process of becoming-individual as a mediation between initially separate orders of magnitude. Simondon can help us see that the technological use of rotary motion has been a “reinvention of the wheel”—to see it as the reappearance, in the metabolism between nature and society, of the essential motor of biological metabolism, less invention than the expression of a prehuman technics.

Paper 2: "Monstrous digestion and urban metabolism in Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne" (Liliane Campos)

"Monstrous digestion and urban metabolism in Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne"At the intersection of urban ecology, economics and politics, urban metabolism has become a key concept in 21st-century urban planning and architecture. Measuring the flows of energy and resources within a city, and between the city and its environment, is a vital aspect of contemporary research into urban sustainability and efficiency. As a trope, urban metabolism carries scalar ambiguity, since it refers both to the organism and to the ecosystem, connecting different scales in an image that carries organicist, holist, and biomedical overtones. My paper will take a closer look at the conceptual and perceptual tensions at work in this metaphor, through an analysis of its resonance in Jeff Vandermeer’s novel Borne (2017). I will examine how collapsed capitalism may be figured as a fractured metabolism, linking this imaginary to Marx’s concept of the metabolic rift that divides modern, urbanized humanity from the earth. In Vandermeer’s novel, this metaphor is ironically reconfigured, and politically revived, in the form of internal rifts within the Russian dolls of an infinite cityscape. These poetics of fracture provide the setting for an allegorical battle between two monstrous, devouring bodies – the all-absorbing Borne and the all-destroying Mord. I approach allegory as an epistemic and political tool, which invites careful consideration of the extent to which our urban imaginary relies on scalability.

Paper 3: "Homo energivorous: metabolic loops of literature and energy infrastructures" (joint presentation: Jonathan Hope and Pierre-Louis Patoine)

"Homo energivorous: metabolic loops of literature and energy infrastructures" (Pierre-Louis Patoine and Jonathan Hope)Literature is enmeshed in the human metabolism of writers and readers, itself a part of planetary ecology. Building on this idea, we will reflect on the relation between a society's artistic output and its energy infrastructures. Can we understand this relation in terms of social metabolism? We will investigate this question by focusing on the recent history of hydroelectricity and literature in Quebec. After 1950, both will see a steep rise in production and consumption, a rise caused, for the energy sector, by Hydro-Quebec and, for cultural activity, by the “Quiet revolution.” Today, artists and writers, such as Christine Beaulieu in her documentary theatre piece J'aime hydro (2017), explore how our lives are lived with and through energy infrastructure. Through this work, we will interrogate how the dual development of literary and energetic activities in Quebec after 1950s participates in what has been called “the Great Acceleration,” and how the relation between electrification and semiosic acceleration is rooted in the cult of growth typical of industrial modernity – a cult that stands in stark contrast to the 21st century’s mounting sense of urgency and responsibility towards degrowth. Can literature (and the arts, institutionalized or marginal) participate in the slowing down of energy production and consumption, and more generally of social metabolism? Can they regulate semiosis, interfacing between growth in the economy and national pride, and the transformation of the natural world from where the energy is harnessed?

13:00-14:30 Session 4H: Pre-Organized Panel: Ghosts, Cyborgs, Robots: Posthuman Subjectivities in Latin American Literature
Oscar A. Pérez (Skidmore College, United States)
Oscar A. Pérez (Skidmore College, United States)
Ana Ugarte (College of the Holy Cross, United States)
Silvina Yi (Union College, United States)
Pre-Organized Panel: Ghosts, Cyborgs, Robots: Posthuman Subjectivities in Latin American Literature

ABSTRACT. How can posthuman agency be imagined from the Global South? And how can it be imagined from Latin America in particular? As Uruguayan thinker Mabel Moraña points out, humanism is a universalizing, Western discourse that constructs and reproduces structures of domination over Latin America. Therefore, thinkers and artists doing critical work in the region may feel productively inclined to explore a posthumanist decentering of fantasies of a self-reliant, bounded Subject that is built upon a sharp divide from the non-human and is meant to exert an unquestioned dominion over it. In this panel, we want to explore how Latin American literature questions universalizing humanist ways to inhabit, perceive, and think the world and subsequently assert the right of mastery over it. By focusing on posthumanist creatures (the ghost, the cyborg, and the robot) and the ways in which they operate in these fictions, we will explore the ways in which the human is, as Cary Wolfe puts it, “a prosthetic creature that has coevolved with various forms of technicity and materiality.” We will see how Latin American authors imagine creatures that have in-between existences in which ableist constructions of the ¨natural¨ human body are questioned, and humanist perception and knowing (and the temporality they construct and depend upon) are radically destabilized. We will also study beings that are defined by their porousness with a post-anthropocentric environment and seem to be constructed out of assemblages of humans, nonhuman animals, and machines. As a result, we will show not only how these creatures allow us to imagine a wide range of posthumanist ways to live, but also how they make it possible to envision new national (but also global) political communities. In the end, the goal of our panel is to contribute to thinking about how posthuman agency can be articulated from Latin America and, by extension, the Global South.

Paper 1. Ghostly Hauntings, Technology, and the Destabilization of Time in César Aira’s Los fantasmas. Silvina Yi (Union College)

This paper examines the physical manifestation of the past and the posthuman form inCésar Aira’s Los fantasmas (The Ghosts) as a way to unravel discussions about technology, posthuman agency, and the destabilization of a linear and forward-moving temporality. Published in 1990, Aira’s novel takes place on a single day (December 31st) and depicts ghosts that haunt the construction site of a luxury apartment complex in the city of Buenos Aires, as well as the family of a night watchman who live precariously in an incomplete apartment on its rooftop. The cunning and generally playful entities are invisible to everyone except the family of the night watchman. Their opaque bodies—naked and covered in lime—float around the unfinished building alongside construction workers and future homeowners. Seemingly harmless, they ultimately convince fifteen-year-old Patri to commit suicide in order to join them. Just as they travel through walls and people, they also transcend static notions of subject, space, nation, history, and temporality. By dwelling in the liminal, the in-betweenness of these entities calls into question technology, sight, the human, and the (im)material. In this paper, I argue that this posthuman form problematizes sight, seeing, and looking as methods of accessing knowledge in addition to destabilizing a teleological forward-moving temporality. Moreover, I propose that their in-betweenness parallels what is visible and invisible in a text, interrupting an otherwise straightforward reading in favor of a rereading, which is necessary to reconsider the past, present, and future.

Paper 2. Posthuman Cuba: Reading Corporeal Difference in Maielis González Fernández’s Fictions. Ana Ugarte (The College of the Holy Cross )

This paper explores the opposition between nature and artificiality, which is characteristic of science fiction and key to posthumanism, through the lens of another dichotomy, that is, the abled subject—the epitome of the normative and the normal—versus the disabled subject. It focuses on the work of Cuban writer Maielis González Fernández, who foregrounds in her collection of short stories, Sobre los nerds y otras criaturas mitológicas (Of Nerds and Other Mythological Creatures) (2016), various cyborg technologies that attempt to improve, perfect, or cure faulty human bodies. The recurring theme of prosthetics in González Fernández’s text develops on two levels. On the first level, the prosthesis motif affects the plot; that is, how characters use or act as prostheses (human prostheses when the stories include cyborgs or avatars), and in which ways the discourse of anomaly frames their posthuman exceptionalities. On the second level, prosthetics concerns the act of representation—science fiction itself acts as a prosthetic device that supplements a lacking (Cuban) reality (my use of the adjective “prosthetic” here gestures towards the word’s etymology, from the Greek “prosthesis” meaning “addition”). This paper thereby examines how the material and tropological experiences of the prosthetic in González Fernández’s collection affect her text and, subsequently, inflect the interrelated tenets of (post)human normality, genre normality, and what could be broadly identified as Cuban normality, referring to the set of cultural narratives around exceptionalism that have constructed and projected hegemonic images of the island around the world.

Paper 3. Technoanimalism in the Era of Technological Globalization: Samanta Schweblin’s Little Eyes. Óscar Pérez Hernández (Skidmore College)

In her second novel, Little Eyes (originally published in Spanish as Kentukis in 2018), Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin examines the convergence of human, nonhuman animal, and machines in an era dominated by technology and global communication through social networks. Little Eyes is a novel at the confluence of multiple literary traditions and contemporary debates. On the one hand, it can be read as part of the tradition of science fiction, the fantastic, and the uncanny in Latin American literature. On the other, it is a text that participates in an open conversation about worldwide contemporary dilemmas, as well as the artistic expressions that examine them. The central figures of the novel, the “kentukis,” are artifacts that have recognizable animal forms, remote-controlled personal robots that serve as mediators in the relationship established between those who physically “have” a kentuki and those who “are” a kentuki, or, in other words, that control the machine from a remote location. I will propose a reading of the novel from the perspective of posthumanism, focusing on the relationships between humans, nonhuman animals, and machines; the notion of technoanimalism, as described by Rick Dolphijn and Tove Kjellmark, will be particularly useful in this sense. More precisely, I will describe how the author uses the liminal space between “having” and “being” a technoanimal, in the context of globalized consumerism, to destabilize notions of the human and nonhuman in our contemporary world.


15:00-16:30 Session 5A: Pre-Organized Panel: Conducting Speculative Energy in a Short Story, an 18th Century Utopian Novel, and a Ghost Town in Northern Ontario
Thomas Provost (The University of Memphis, United States)
Thomas Provost (The University of Memphis, United States)
Tess Given (Indiana University, United States)
Milo Hicks (Indiana University, United States)
Pre-Organized Panel: Conducting Speculative Energy in a Short Story, an 18th Century Utopian Novel, and a Ghost Town in Northern Ontario

ABSTRACT. If energy is never created or destroyed, then the forms which channel it can speak to its flows in time and space. Energy is constrained by structural openings and closings, which regulate its movement: this is true of material as well as immaterial structures. In this panel we consider how narratives of space channel the flows of speculation. Narrative speculation is always on the lookout for structures and materials that imagine new uses for energy. As three attendants of form—a literary formalist, a new materialist, and an architect—we speculate about how narrative puts energy to work by rehabilitating traditional forms. The purpose of this panel is twofold: first, we inspect three rehabilitated structures and their affective, Utopian, and spectral energies. We insist that attention to the affordances of form has the potential to recirculate energy through these well-trodden paths in order to revise and revive them. Second, we recognize the panel itself as a space of potential energy: we conduct our own speculations in tandem, experimenting with novel admixtures of disciplines, interests, and questions. This panel is an experiment in mutual inquiry, conversation, and speculation that seeks to bring three seemingly disparate fields of study—contemporary American minimalist fiction, eighteenth-century speculative fiction, and architecture—into dialogue. In doing so, we make our speculations a spectacle: the process of inquiry becomes a kind of sympoesis, making together by putting our energy to work.

15:00-16:30 Session 5B: Pre-Organized Panel: Theorizing Care and the Digital
Pelle Tracey (University of Michigan, United States)
Pelle Tracey (University of Michigan, United States)
Alexandria Rayburn (University of Michigan, United States)
Chloe Perry (University of Michigan, United States)
Linda Huber (University of Michigan, United States)
Pre-Organized Panel: Theorizing Care and the Digital

ABSTRACT. These papers explore various labors which lie under the mantle of Care, with a particular focus on “care online.” The projects collected here trace the relations of care and energy—care as burned out, used up, rejuvenating, hopeful, and deeply contradictory. Utilizing rubrics of social reproduction, biocapital, emotional labor, and necropolitics, the research presented here explores various ways care is facilitated, filtered, debriefed, and debased in and through the digital; phenomena only intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic. Spanning levels of formality from telehealth therapy provision and embedded social service infrastructures to ad hoc online communities, presenters will explore the social and political implications of these mutable sites of care, with special attention to how such formations prefigure new forms of sociality and domination. These papers will contribute to the growing body of work theorizing care and the digital, and the panel will provide an interdisciplinary space for mutual scholarship with panelists representing American Culture, Information Studies, and Media Studies.

15:00-16:30 Session 5C: Pre-Organized Panel: Transformative Landscapes: Entangling Different Scales of Energy in Art
Susannneh Bieber (Texas A&M University, United States)
James W. McManus (California State University Chico, United States)
Susannneh Bieber (Texas A&M University, United States)
Anne Collins Goodyear (Bowdoin College Museum of Art, United States)
Dennis Summers (Strategic Technologies for Art, Globe and Environment, United States)
Pre-Organized Panel: Transformative Landscapes: Entangling Different Scales of Energy in Art
PRESENTER: James W. McManus

ABSTRACT. Transformative Landscapes: Entangling Different Scales of Energy in Art

This session explores works of art that entangle different scales of energy from the atomic, to the human, and the cosmological. Artists have reframed notions of energy by creatively subverting and questioning master narratives of Western progress. In their work they transform materials, produce images and objects, represent, juxtapose, and re-envision existing forms and structures. Within a Western capitalist system of production, energy is generally understood in economic, technological, and scientific terms. Natural resources, be it ore, water, or sunlight, are transformed and refined into various forms of energy producing light and heat and powering machines. This session considers how art and aesthetics intersect with the dominant narrative of energy production. What kind of energies are valued and to what purpose? The paper topics range from Marcel Duchamp’s subversive interest in wasted energy, to Robert Smithson’s reclamation proposal for the Bingham Copper Mine, Athena Tacha’s cosmocentric landscape design for the Charles River, and Patricio Guzmán’s evocative film collage that telescopes between the different scales of the Chilean high desert. By entangling the minute with the enormous, the sub-atomic with the geological and cosmological, and the individual and personal with the political and social realm, the discussed artists produce transformative landscapes that provide alternative conceptions of energy.


Duchamp’s Transformer – Off the Grid

James W. McManus, California State University Chico

“Humor and laughter—not necessarily derogatory derision—are my pet tools. This may come from my general philosophy of never taking the world too seriously—for fear of dying of boredom.” – Marcel Duchamp

Among the forty-six entries in his 1940 Anthologie de L’Humour Noir (Anthology of Black Humor), André Breton included Marcel Duchamp’s proposition for a fantasy machine; the absurd “Transformer.” Existing in his mind, the machine functioned “to use up wasted bits of energy” initiated by routine human behavior and activity, including the exhalation of cigarette smoke, laughter and tears, the fall of urine and excrement, the growing of body hair and nails, ejaculating, or arms dropping to one’s side. Gavin Parkinson offers that Duchamp’s machine offers parodies of the Western restricted economy of equivalence and exchange, producing linguistic puzzles conforming to the artist’s “irony of affirmation.” Here, Transformer seems at home with Alfred Jarry’s ‘pataphysics, as well as Jean-Pierre Brisset’s word play, putting us at the doorstep of Duchamp’s playful linguistic experiments proposed in his various notes where “ironic causality” leaves us dangling between double entendre—purposefully useless. 

Drawing on these resources we arrive at the assessment that Duchamp’s Transformer makes apparent the excesses of energy that are produced cannot be utilized. This paper considers Duchamp’s Transformer Off the Grid, its playful exchanges between humor and energy in four works: Paysage Fautif, 3 Standard Stoppages, Dust Breading, and Rrose Selavy.


Energy Input and Output: Robert Smithson’s Proposal for the Bingham Copper Mine

Susanneh Bieber, Texas A&M University

In 1973, artist Robert Smithson proposed a reclamation project for the Bingham Copper Mine. Located sixteen miles southwest of Salt Lake City, the mine is the oldest open-pit copper mine and the largest man-made hole in the world. Copper mining in Bingham Canyon began during the early twentieth century. By the mid-1960s, the mine recorded a daily output of 300,000 tons of rock and ore yielding 600 tons of copper. A ductile metal and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, copper is used especially for electrical wiring. In 1966, the federal government deemed the Bingham Copper Mine to have exceptional value within the industrial history of the United States, and eligible for the Register of National Historic Landmarks. The Kennecott Copper Corporation, who owned the mine, accepted the landmark designation not until 1972 when issues of toxic pollution and land erosion caused by mining operations became major public concerns. In his unsolicited proposal, which Smithson sent to Kennecott, that artist suggested turning the actively working mine into a public work of art. He proposed building a rotating platform with jetties at the bottom of the pit, which would be open to visitors. In this paper, I explore the larger socioeconomic and aesthetic frameworks that underpin Smithson’s reclamation project. How does his project reframe conventional notions of productivity? What types of energy inputs and outputs are part of the equation?


The Energetic Sculpture of Athena Tacha

Anne Collins Goodyear, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Perhaps best known today for her public art, Athena Tacha is among the pioneers of site-specific art. This paper focuses on her Charles River Step Sculpture (Homage to Heraclitus), 1974/1988, a work the artist considered a breakthrough. Conceptualized while Tacha was in residence at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT in January 1974, the work was later executed in aluminum. Although not carried out along the banks of the Charles River, the piece nevertheless allowed the artist to synthesize new streams of thought that would prove formative. Growing out of her interest in the interrelationship between sub-atomic, extra-galactic, and human scale, the work benefit     ed from Tacha’s exposure to a course on cosmology and lectures on sub-atomic physics offered by Richard Feynman while the artist was at MIT. For Tacha, the Charles River project provided a means to relate the part to the whole, creating a metaphoric strategy for juxtaposing the rhythms—or energies—of organic life with those of the cosmos. This paper will thus explore the emergence of what Tacha has described as “cosmocentric art,” situating her interest in scientific discourse and geometric sculptural forms within the context of the art, technology, and science movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s as well as in relationship to minimalism. In so doing, this presentation will unpack the richly nuanced philosophical and scientific discourse embedded within Tacha’s work and its powerful contributions to an environmental art interlinking micro- and macrocosms.


Nostalgia for the Light: Bending It Through the Lens of Collage

Dennis Summers, Strategic Technologies for Art, Globe and Environment

In 2010, Chilean director Patricio Guzmán released the poetic, beautiful, and painful documentary Nostalgia for the Light. In it he juxtaposes two widely disparate stories: the astronomical study of the cosmos via telescopes located in the Chilean high desert, and personal stories of loss from the devastating years of Pinochet’s murderous dictatorship. Guzmán contrasts the large scales of space-time with the brevity and fragility of human life – and, in doing so, he raises existential questions regarding the construction of meaning. In addition, the movie is also an act of resistance to illegitimate political power. The philosophy of Michel Foucault is useful in exposing the issues of time, control, and resistance raised within the film. Furthermore, its construction demands a reading based on collage theory. I will identify how the gaps, seams, and contested space-times of collage (and film montage) resonate with the content and construction of the film.

15:00-16:30 Session 5D
Gabi Schaffzin (York University, Canada)
Gabi Schaffzin (York University, Canada)
The Perceived Freedom of the Visual Analogue Scale

ABSTRACT. This talk will connect the ways that the medico-scientific community adopted new thinking about pain and the research of the anesthesiologist Henry Beecher, who argued that pain studies need to be large in scale rather than the small-n studies that were generally accepted until his work in the 1950s. These changes are interlaced with the emergence of synthetic analgesics after WWII and the pharmaceutical corporations selling them who were now willing to fund large scale studies. Finding tools that could quickly and accurately facilitate the measurement of pain amongst as many subjects as possible is at this point, then, a high priority.

Thus, by the time the Visual Analog Scale is first used in a pain study in 1967, the field is ready to adopt it in a widespread manner. The VAS is a 10cm blank line, labeled at each end: No Pain and Pain as bad as it could possibly be. The subject marks the line accordingly and the distance from the further point on the left to the mark is measured—that value, usually in cm or mm, is recorded as the quantitative pain value. However, while the tool was not used in pain medicine until the 1960s, it has roots going back to the 1920s as the Graphic Rating Scale.

The GRS, a tool developed for the rapid and reliable evaluation of students and workers, offered a perceived “freedom” to the evaluator by providing them with a nearly blank line upon which to rate an individual on any given metric. As the line was further stripped of its ornaments and graduations during its transformation into the Visual Analog (as opposed to “digital”) Scale, the tool offered more possibilities to its users—no dots, notches, labels, or numerals offered any sort of guidance along the scale.

Through Vivian Sobchack and Wassily Kandinsky, the line gains momentum and begins to shape the subject. Decisions are made, but the ramifications of them are unknown as only the examiner (or judge) can measure where the patient placed their mark, ultimately converting its location to numerical data. The VAS then empowers the pained patient by suggesting there are no set delineations of pain, only to apply those delineations on top of (and in defiance of) the patient’s answer as soon as it is given.

Andrea Gogova (FMC TBU Zlin, multimedia and design, Czech rep., Phd candidate, Slovakia)
Transient pattern a model of digital text layout

ABSTRACT. Unlike a rectangular grid arrangement, electronic writing has a character of a cross-linked and developing writing technique. Philippe Bootz (1997, 2010) reflected those changes in the description of a procedural model of communication and the introduction of performative signs and Katherine Hayles (1999) describes flickering signifiers as a part of the aesthetic approach. The information which flows from the source to the target could be embodied in the digital text and represented, manifested, or articulated by the digital text layout, which will be shaped on/in various interfaces, instead of the plane and rectangular of "screens". In this paper, I brought new definition of digital layout and a hypothetical solution - the model Transient Pattern. The model offers a space in which the creation of a digital layout could take place in different solutions - free of a grid pattern organization. The new experimental approach subsequently leads to a change in the aesthetic paradigm: from creating a digital text layout as a finally programmed form of an object to variable variations of running the program in the process of becoming which is connected to the flow of energy. It includes a dialectical complex pattern (presenting a systematic rational formal approach) and randomness (of actual reading and variability of interfaces) that open access to hybrid unstable forms co-created by human, computer, and the other nonhuman intelligent actors. At the same time, it changes our understanding from redesigned forms of grid or template principles to variable designing by processes.

Grant Palmer (University of California-Riverside, United States)
Doom, Free Software, and the Carnivalesque of Digital Recursive Publics

ABSTRACT. id Software's 1993 first person-shooter Doom introduced an immersive digital PC gaming experience unprecedented at the time, while also contributing to the early development and success of what Chris Kelty identifies as the recursive public of the 1990's internet. The open-source code of the game, distributed as free Shareware, adds an important dimension to Doom that situates the game within a specific modality of media-cultural production that I refer to as the digital carnivalesque, an update to Mikhail Bakhtin's theorization of the transformative, yet ambivalent power of Rabelais' grotesque literary marketplaces, to that of the 21st century. Christopher Kelty and E. Gabriella Coleman argue that free software plays an important role in reorganizing power in society, undermining copyright law and common publishing practices to prioritize access, distribution, and circulation. Bakhtin's carnivalesque clarifies the specific ambivalence of this reorganization of power made possible through digitally networked media and marketplaces. Bakhtin also speaks to the power of collective, transformative artistic expression emerging despite, and often through, the mediums of hyperindustrial society, while simultaneously transforming this very society through a process of recursive transduction. In this paper I argue that Doom, through its Freeware distribution and open-source code, reorganizes and subverts control patterns of hyperindustrial late-capitalism through the medium specific affordances of the digital network. Doom challenges and disrupts hegemonic organizations of power, including historical notions of authorship, economies of control regarding distribution and publication, and questions of textual ownership and copyright law, through a mode of the digital carnivalesque.

James Malazita (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, United States)
Seeing like a Soldier: The Co-production of the Unreal Engine, Game Design, and America's Army

ABSTRACT. This talk argues that the Unreal Engine, a popular game development software, contributed to and derived from broader movements in the games industry aimed at increasing games’ alignment with the US military. Timothy Lenoir has described these pushes as the construction of a 21st century military-entertainment complex, echoing the construction of the military-industrial complex of in the 20th century. Particular attention will first be paid to Epic’s partnership with the US Army in the development of America’s Army, a game-qua-recruitment tool that focused on training players of the first-person shooter genre in basic military tactics and in military culture. America’s Army had a double effect on the Unreal Engine; programmed functionality for developing America’s Army became hardwired into the standard design toolbox of the Unreal Engine, while game developers and game modders (modifiers or hackers) also had to download America’s Army in order to access the Unreal Engine’s level editor. Many game developers in the late 90s to early 2000s got their start by using Unreal Engine’s level editor to modify games such as America’s Army, which led to the rise of message boards and wikis in the early 2000s that linked game design “best practices” with military logistics and sensibilities. These message boards also included input from active and retired military personnel about how to "see" levels as combat zones. At the professional level, researchers and developers of America’s Army, such as computer scientist Michael Capps, would go on to occupy important management positions at Epic Games, which Capps himself serving as Epic’s President from 2002-2012. As such, the combination of Unreal and America’s Army co-produced ways of seeing, inhabiting, and playing with the world for a generation of game designers and software developers. Players learned at once how to see like a game developer and see like a soldier.

15:00-16:30 Session 5E
Chandler McWilliams (UCLA Design Media Arts, United States)
Chandler McWilliams (UCLA Design Media Arts, United States)
Artwashing the Apocalypse: NFTs and the Haecceity of Digital Artifacts

ABSTRACT. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have become an inescapable topic among artists and the popular media. Built on blockchain, NFTs promise to solve problems of provenance, avoid centralized authority and “middle men,” and facilitate more just payment structures for artists. The environmental costs of blockchain, however, cannot be ignored. Every transaction, every sale, every “minting” generates tremendous amounts of carbon, further accelerating the climate catastrophe. Despite this being common knowledge, many find the promises are too alluring, especially artists eager to avoid the hierarchies and politics of the gallery and fair driven art market.

This paper addresses the damage done to the climate by proof-of-stake based blockchains, and looks at how justifications for art-focused NFTs buttress and obfuscate a neoliberal, individualistic, and market-driven understanding of art. Further unpacking these arguments, which often conflate authenticity, uniqueness, and ownership, opens a larger discussion about the possibility and utility of ascribing a "thisness" to digital artifacts and what it means to create artificial scarcity for objects who are, by their nature, perfectly reproducible.

Kristen Tapson (Duke University, United States)
A Poetics of Minecraft: What's Mine is Mined

ABSTRACT. Working across critical and literary texts, I trace a series of surprising associations between postwar experimental poetics and contemporary gaming culture while constructing an alternative etymology for the term "Minecraft." I present this alternative etymology through the lens of my practice-based work in the Minecraft: Education Edition with the Speculative Sensation (S-1) lab at Duke, which has involved using the game-based learning platform as a lab space as well as a groundwork for establishing interinstitutional connections during the pandemic. Drawing on the critical writing of Kathryn Yusoff and McKenzie Wark and situating a range of examples across experimental poetry, prose, and science fiction--including Samuel Delany's "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones," Clark Coolidge's MINE: the one that enters the stories, and Harryette Mullen's Sleeping with the Dictionary--I propose a framework for a "recursive energetics of mining" in which a writer situates the exhausting combinatorial labor involved in practicing one's craft within the labor of expressing oneself with the fraught, unequally shared materials that result, in part, from that very practice. While mining remains a paradigmatically extractive practice in this framework, it is literalized as the iterative transformation of what one claims or (mis)identifies as "mine" in the pronominal sense. This practice, I conclude, offers rich, if circumscribed, critical-collaborative possibilities for reframing the game of Minecraft as a pedagogical and artistic tool with which one might initiate strange but meaningful exchanges.

Samuel Pizelo (University of California Davis, United States)
Game Form and the Prehistory of Cybercultures

ABSTRACT. The growing interchange between game studies and media studies in recent years has led to a rich retelling of the emergence of twentieth century cybercultures and network societies (Jagoda 2020; Milburn 2018; Mitchell 2018; Boluk and LeMieux 2017). This work has argued persuasively that the study of videogames is crucial for understanding agency, experimentation, and control in contemporary systems. This paper seeks to deepen these associations by inscribing game studies into the origins of these social forms themselves. In particular, I will be surveying metaphorical and analogical references to games in the “formalist revolution” at the turn of the twentieth century and pointing to the emergence of a specific concept of games from out of Euro-American chess competition in the decades immediately prior.

The key conjunction between symbolic logic, “formalist” mathematics, and computation in the first decades of the twentieth century was characterized by a new conception of mathematics as a series of closed, internally-consistent symbolic systems. But one cannot avoid noticing the ubiquitous description of these symbolic systems as games of chess by nearly every figure associated with formalism. This paper argues that chess was not always understood as a symbolic game, but rather became one in the mid-nineteenth century. I will compare salient features of chess relied upon by the formalists with innovations in the chess world, from rule changes and telegraph matches to new strategy and theory. Through so doing, I hope to demonstrate the early influence of cultures of play upon key features of contemporary systems.

Albertine Thunier (Université de Montréal, Canada)
Memetic flows : toward a playful understanding of circulating memes

ABSTRACT. In this presentation I will suggest that memetic flows can be studied as games that connect us. The power of memes, likewise the power of games, is largely dependent on its capacity to generate value on its own terms, according to its own set of rules. This perspective is important because it allows for a more complicated understanding of the materiality, temporality and politics of circulating memes. Memes are often associated with digital folklore (De seta, 2021) or vernacular expressions of online communities (Milner, 2016). I would like to develop the idea that memetic exchanges can also be understood outside of the digital world. Moreover, one way of connecting and studying digital and pre-digital memes can be found by looking toward the playful participation governing their flows.

Games, when taken in a broader sense, can be defined as “an abstract object which is designed to have no instrumental value; the realization or pursuit of which is intended to be of absorbing interest to participants and spectators'' (Rowe, 1992: 478). Likewise a classical definition of memes set them as units of cultural information that work like “copy-me” instructions (Blackmore, 2000). It thus can be inferred that the compulsory imitation that characterize the production of memes is all together sequential, goal oriented and absorbing to participant and spectators (Seiffert-Brockmann, Diehl, & Dobusch, 2018). Whether this logic occurs online or offline, the participatory design of memes involves makers and consumers in a playful activity of sharing and creating content.

Building on my current research, I’ll show how this logic is at work by demonstrating that both internet memetic jokes and a medieval playing card game are iterative units of information that move contagiously by imitations (Farley, 2009). The never achieved nor stable form of this card game, currently known as the Tarot, can be observed through the repetitiveness of archetypal figures sampled from popular culture. The objective is to think of memes as transmediatic and transhistorical artefacts, through which ongoing political discourses and cultural norms are perpetually generated. This flow of memetic forms and content can also be understood as a cultural energy that allows one to connect with others through space and time thanks to the exoteric logic of copies.

Gavin Smith (Australian National University, Australia)
Mark Andrejevic (Monash University, Australia)
Chris O'Neill (Monash University, Australia)
Neil Selwyn (Monash University, Australia)
Xin Gu (Monash University, Australia)
When your Face is your ID: The ambiguous energetics of facial recognition technologies

ABSTRACT. As progressively more interactions and transactions occur remotely through the agentive mediums of digital technologies and data, so distanciated actors require to be individuated and made accountable by the software infrastructures responsible for hosting the activity. This is especially the case when the platform being accessed is a government or financial service, and where the management of fraud risks and artifice have come to be key concerns. As a governmental response to what has been framed as the problems of anonymity, insecurity and duplicity in the mobile and risk-infused world of the contemporary period, biometric technologies have been introduced which have the capability to anchor the identity of individuals to the fleshy materiality and morphology of the body. These ‘recognition’ technologies focus on measuring different parts of the body – the retina, the fingerprint, the voice, the face – and rendering each into a machine-readable code so that they can be scanned and their accuracy matched with virtual referents contained within databases. Of these biometric authentication tools, the use of facial recognition is one application that is growing in scale and prevalence, as a means of both verifying identity claims for access control (e.g. Apple Face ID) but also identifying individuals in real time or retrospectively as they transit through public space (e.g. smart CCTV cameras). Drawing on discourse analysis and interviews with key stakeholders in the Australian face recognition industry, this paper offers a conceptualisation of how the biometricised face is becoming akin to a unifying, machinic interface. Faces, we argue, double up as bodily borders of the self and as biopolitical borders of the institution: sites on which a set of governmental and economic regimes are being projected, leveraged and realised. Beyond concerns with privacy, liberty and discrimination, we point to some of the major social and embodied implications of having the face exhaustively tracked and inferentially profiled as it engages both actively and passively with different surveillance mechanisms. Crucially, we ask what forms of surveillance work these technologies perform and what types of micropolitical face work, to borrow Ervin Goffman’s term, materialise when faces betray, occlude, fail, transform or become incompatible.

15:00-16:30 Session 5F: Arts Lounge: Storytellers on Energy
Brandi Reissenweber (Illinois Wesleyan University, United States)
Brandi Reissenweber (Illinois Wesleyan University, United States)
Karen Leona Anderson (St. Mary's College of Maryland, United States)
Marjorie Luesebrink (n/a, United States)
Noah Travis Phillips (University of Denver., United States)
Stephanie Rothenberg (University at Buffalo, United States)
Mandy-Suzanne Wong (n/a, United States)
Arts Lounge: Storytellers on Energy

ABSTRACT. In this arts lounge, six storytellers will share their creative work and discuss their artistic intentions surrounding the conference theme of “Energy.” Creative genres include fiction, poetry, multimedia narrative, video, and ekphrastic text. In these works, we will consider narratives of energy and exhaustion associated with women’s invisible and uncompensated labor; the connection between energy and movement through time and space; the image as a form of energy; the energy of memory, purpose, and the wild; the ethics of nonhuman life for human survival; and the energy of objects.

Karen Leona Anderson, St. Mary's College of Maryland Vermin is a manuscript of poems that investigates how domestic economies are dependent on women’s management of life, both human and nonhuman, within the home. These poems, which take up how marginal plants and animals reflect the logic of sexism and misogyny, think through the narratives of energy and exhaustion associated with women’s invisible and uncompensated labor.

Marjorie Luesebrink/M.D. Coverley The video Prairie Chants is a hybrid fiction/non-fiction piece that combines themes including solar energy, prairie restoration, and the forced migration of First Nations Tribes from the northern lakes onto the prairie. It explores the nexus between energy and the movement through time and space. Energy is linked to the possibility of re-creation

Noah Travis Phillips, University of Denver “Energy” is the guiding theme in this posthuman ekphrastic text based on an image constellation created from my private archive of made, found, and modified media. This image acts as a battery, or seed, a form of energy itself, generating the text. The text traces interconnections, highlights, recounts, articulates, and remediates, enacting “situated knowledge” (via Donna Haraway) through the use of my archive.

Brandi Reissenweber, Illinois Wesleyan University The fiction Drift Ice explores the energy of memory, purpose, and engagement with wilderness. Spanning remote areas from Antarctica to dense forests on the eastern coast of Canada, it focuses on the ways in which the human experience with the wild intersects with memories to become an engine of understanding and an awakening of what has been dormant.

Stephanie Rothenberg, University at Buffalo Aphrodisiac in the Machine is a multiplatform art project and an environmental sci-fi about a new breed of bioengineered oysters that transform polluted water into a fluid that induces a state of Aquadisia (Sentience 2.0) in humans. It focuses on the energy and agential power of sensuality as a new narrative for rethinking the ecological crisis that values diverse knowledges vs quantified bodies.

Mandy-Suzanne Wong In the novel The Box (Graywolf Press, forthcoming 2023), inanimate things prove themselves far from lifeless: snowflakes, furniture, and little paper boxes defying boundaries to humanity’s peril. The simplest chair bombards the senses with what it will and won’t do, can and can’t suffer, has and hasn’t been, appears and doesn’t appear to be. Objects’ energies blizzard us on almost secret wavelengths that we ignore unless we need them.

17:00-18:30 Session 6: Opening Keynote: Lisa Nakamura, chaired by Osman Khan. "The Minor Energy of Anti-Asian Digital Racism: Women of color and the digital labor of repair"

Zoom Webinar Link:

Title: "The Minor Energy of Anti-Asian Digital Racism: Women of color and the digital labor of repair"

 Abstract: Women of color on social media and gaming platforms contribute unpaid labor to call out misogyny, violations of user agreements, and hateful behavior.  This presentation focuses on their immaterial and knowledge work that contributes directly to the Internet’s usability.  Working with Cathy Hong Park’s formation of “minor feelings” as unique to anti-Asian racism, this presentation will analyze one of our post-COVID moment’s most vibey platforms, TikTok, to discuss how young women of color use the platform to mobilize and elevate minor feelings to viral campaigns.  

Biodata: Lisa Nakamura is the founding Director of the Digital Studies Institute and the Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan.  She is the author of several books on race, gender, and the Internet, most recently Racist Zoombombing (Routledge, 2021, co-authored with Hanah Stiverson and Kyle Lindsey) and Technoprecarious (Goldsmiths/MIT, 2020, as Precarity Lab).   She is the Lead P.I. for the Mellon Foundation funded DISCO (Digital Inquiry, Speculation, Collaboration, and Optimism) Network#DISCOnetwork. is a large 3 year Mellon-funded dollar collaborative higher education grant.

Osman Khan (University of Michigan, United States)