34th European Association for American Studies Conference
The 34th EAAS Conference starts today (6-8 April), organized by the UNED. It is a hybrid event, with some presenters attending the conference on-site and some participating virtually.
The title of the conference, meant to be a homage to the centenary of the publication of T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land, is particularly adequate for the times that we live in, and as the organizers explain in their letter to participants, it “reflect[s] on issues that are central to U.S. Studies and the world at large: the urgency of climate change, economic problems, wars, migration, or pandemics and illness.”
Five of our team members will be participating in this very exciting conference:
Thursday, April 6, 11.30-13:00 (GTM+1)
Dr. Sonia Baelo Allué: “The Dangers of the Posthuman: Datafication and Biowaste in Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box””
The time of the posthuman has seen the definition of the human evolve. The human as autonomous and self-willed, dominating other life forms and defined by his exceptionality, rational thinking and uniqueness has given way to a human subjectivity which is relational, interdependent and co-evolving with other nonhuman animals, material forms and machines. This paper will focus on the new relationship between the organic body and the machine and the ways in which this porous border has been theorised by both transhumanism and critical posthumanism. Transhumanists believe in the need to embrace the machine to create radically enhanced humans (Bostrom 2005) and be free from biological/corporeal limitations. However, the transformation of humans into informational patterns so that we are more compatible with computerised systems or artificial intelligences, turns us into “datafied” humans (Miccoli 2010), imperfect machines dependent on advanced technological systems and trapped in biological bodies, useless and inadequate biowaste in the face of the fourth industrial revolution. Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” originally published in 2012 as a series of tweets and later as a short story in The New Yorker, illustrates both the transhumanist enhancement and datafication of the body and its subsequent transformation into biowaste. The story takes place in the near future when a female spy uses her technologically enhanced body and her sexuality to gather information that will prevent a terrorist attack. Her body literally becomes a “Black Box” that records the information and that needs to be delivered to her superiors dead or alive. Once the information is subtracted the biological body becomes expendable bio-matter that reminds of the need to construct a form of posthumanism embodied and embedded in the material world (Braidotti 2013), ready to embrace the other (be it the animal, the material or the machine) without losing ourselves in the process.
Wednesday, April 6, 17.30-18:30 (GTM+1)
Dr. Francisco Collado Rodríguez and Dr. Miriam Fernández Santiago: ROUNDTABLE “Human Waste: Embodied Vulnerabilities in the 4th Industrial Revolution”
In the context of the socioeconomic and political order of the 3rd millennium, the 4th Industrial Revolution (IR) renders the allegedly utopian vision of a technologically enhanced human and environmental future. However, such vision is grounded on discriminatory ideologies against specific social collectives that are ontologized as human waste on account of the diverse forms of vulnerability that they might embody. The diversity of human forms of vulnerability in the 4th IR underscores the actuality of the growing numbers and pervasiveness of the human waste it generates in the social ecology of the USA as a human wasteland. Nevertheless, human vulnerability has been put forward as a condition for human resilience and social cohesion that can lead to new strategies of political and economic organization that find in posthumanism an ideological frame for the 4th IR.
Thursday, April 7, 15:30-17:00 (GTM+1)
Dr. María Ferrández-Sanmiguel: “Intertextuality, Social Criticism and Myth in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy”
What do an American expatriate poet living in England in the 1920s and a Nebula-, Locus- and Hugo award-winning contemporary African American writer have in common? What can T.S. Eliot’s 434-line modernist poem and N.K. Jemisin’s speculative fiction trilogy possibly share? It might seem that very little. Yet, their very titles indicate a common preoccupation with the condition of the land that has been broken, that has gone to waste. This paper will explore the intertextual connections between Eliot’s The Waste Land and Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The focus will be on their thematic concerns and their use of myth. In both texts, civilization is at the end of a cycle and needs to be regenerated, as it has been brought to exhaustion by human malpractice—the First World War, the empty values of the aristocracy, the corruption of the Church, etc. in the case of The Waste Land and technoscientific experimentation, ecological devastation and racism in the case the Broken Earth trilogy. As will be contended, the two works express with remarkable power the disillusionment and disgust that the writers feel over the corruption of their societies and map a mythic search for redemption and renewal in a sterile and spiritually empty world. In so doing, the texts enter into an intertextual dialogue while specifically engaging with the ills of the society in which they were produced. Thus, they point to the ethical and political role of art in general, and literature in particular, to inspire change while confirming Eliot’s belief, expressed in essays such as “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in a collective unconscious of art.
Friday, April 8, 9:00-10:30 (GTM+1)
Lucía Bennett-Ortega: “Representations of Mental Illness and Vulnerability in the New Amsterdam (2018-) TV Series”
New Amsterdam is a 2018 American medical series that follows the medical director of the oldest public hospital in the U.S. as he aims to reform the facility by dismantling its status quo and providing patients with better care. The stories of patients in the series fulfil the purpose of exploring wider social themes of vulnerability and waste. In my paper I argue that the emphasis on mental health works against using disability as a narrative prosthesis (Mitchell and Snyder) and instead aims to give mental illness visibility by resisting stock characterization and stigmatization. For my analysis, I have chosen an episode in which a psychiatrist deals with a patient whose brain tumour originates from systemic racism [season 2 episode 14], and a second episode in which a patient develops PTSD due to an active shooter drill that takes place in her school [season 2 episode 16]. I aim to ascertain how mental illness is portrayed through a close analysis of the language and point of view used. Secondly, I examine the extent to which these cases of mental health are used as aesthetic speculative images (Garland-Thompson). The final focus on my paper is the identification of the ethical demands that are brought to the fore against the backdrop of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Schwab), a society of both vast technological advances, and great waste of resources, paying special attention to its relationship with the patients’ situation of vulnerability and precarity (Butler). In essence, whilst the show breaks the patterns of traditional narratives of disability and mental health, it nevertheless constructs the hospital as an idealised place which surmounts the social collapse and waste that occurs outside its walls.