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Susan Cahn

Susan Cahn, Professor, History

“Borderlines of Power: Women and Borderline Personality Disorder”

My project is a study of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as a historically and socially constructed mental illness in the modern U.S. Psychiatric professionals characterize and often disparage BPD as a female illness (75%), unresponsive to psychopharmacology or psychotherapy. Although highly contested, BPD has received little historical attention. My study examines all aspects of BPD: its emergence as a medically constructed category of pathology; the meanings invested in the figure of “the borderline” by medical professionals, the mentally ill, and in popular  culture; and the cultural and intellectual “work” BPD has done within psychiatry, within broader cultural and political discourses of gender, and among people affected by BPD. I argue that the  highly volatile “borderline” has helped stabilize psychiatric knowledge–and authority–in the face of psychiatry’s own instabilities. However, I also argue for the importance of listening to women’s articulations of mental suffering and expressed need for a coherent “self,” even in an era of post-structuralist doubt about the existence of a “unified self.” Finally, by making psychiatry central to women’s social and political history, I tease out relationships between gender, feminism, and “mental illness.”

James Currie portrait

James Currie, Associate Professor, Music

“When Said Met Genet: Music In a Troubled Time”

The proposed project is focused in various ways around the figure of music in the later life and work of the Palestinian critic and political activist Edward Said, from 1989 to his death in 2003. In particular, it spirals out from a series of meditations, close-readings, and mico-historical reconstructions centered on a particular moment in Said’s life: the evening in Beirut in 1972 when Said met the great French author, Jean Genet. Said was an accomplished musician, and in the last ten years of his life, when he was struggling against the leukemia that would eventually kill him, he set about founding the now famous West- Eastern Divan Orchestra with the conductor Daniel Barenboim, whom he had randomly met in a hotel lobby in London. The two meetings, with Genet and Barenboim respectively, are seemingly unrelated. Yet by making recourse to the language and practice of ghosts and haunting, I seek to show an uncanny resonance between them. Genet thus becomes one of the secret origins of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra project. And from this realization, its as-of-yet unfulfilled challenge—to activate a fully transformative potential for human being through musical practice—is passed now on to us.


Dana Fields, Assistant Professor, Classics

“Speaking Freely: Frankness, Greek Culture, and the Roman Empire”

During the Roman domination of the Greek-speaking world, developments in the Greek concept of free and frank speech (parrhēsia) reveal the continued political and ethical significance of frankness, which belies the putative de-politicization of later Greek culture. Under the Roman Empire, frank speaking might take place in a number of public and private contexts, including the emperor’s court, a civic assembly, a meeting between friends, and a satirical screed. In each of these venues, frankness is distinct from modern protected speech in that it presupposes a certain danger in speaking, which in turn elevates the speaker’s status. The frequent references to frankness in Greek literature of the Roman Empire show the political, philosophical, social, and cultural importance of the practice of frank speaking, as well as how it is closely connected with Greek identity and freedom at a time when the actions of the Greek cities were constrained by Rome.


Jaume Franquesa, Assistant Professor, Anthropology

“Dignity and Power: Energy, Nature, and Conflict in Contemporary Spain”

My project aims to contribute to the comprehension of energy transitions through a historically informed, socially situated study of the development of renewable energy in Spain. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Southern Catalonia, this project analyzes the institutional arrangements, cultural mediations and relations of production through which the energy from wind is harnessed. While dominant narratives adopt a technology-centered approach presenting renewable energy as involving, in itself, a rupture with the existing patterns of energy use, my research shows that energy transitions are complex, multilayered processes that open possibilities for new social arrangements, while also highlighting the ways that such social arrangements rework inherited relationships of power. Wind energy development has created new ecological imbalances between producing and consuming regions, giving place to local resistance. I analyze the cultural categories through which this resistance is framed, placing special emphasis on the notion of dignity. Deeply rooted in historical peasant struggles, a range of local actors mobilizes the notion of dignity to express criticism against the increasing centralization of the country’s energy model. The insights gained in Southern Catalonia are finally applied to the analysis of the current political and economic context of Spain and Europe.


Ruth Mack, Associate Professor, English

“Habitual Knowledge: Theory and the Everyday in Enlightenment Britain”

Habitual Knowledge: Theory and the Everyday in Enlightenment Britain offers a new prehistory of cultural anthropology through a wide range of eighteenth-century texts: from novels to devotional manuals, to pattern books. I argue that while “habit” is usually understood as the obverse of Enlightenment, the writers of the period were instead focused on rethinking the habitual in relation to modernity. In so doing, they asked probing questions about topics we now associate with the discipline of anthropology: about the relationship between the observer and the observed, for instance, and about the social status of material objects and beliefs. The project focuses on eighteenth-century Britain, but its larger questions are wide ranging and intersect with current debates about the relation between literary studies and the social sciences, and about the relation between academic theory and everyday practice.


Elizabeth Mazzolini, Assistant Professor, English

“Environmentalism Without Guilt”

The book investigates and critiques the centrality of the singularly guilty human as the primary site of environmental responsibility within ecocriticism. After providing a genealogy of guilty subjectivity via the underlying conception of the “anthro” of the Anthropocene Age in the first chapter, the book goes on to investigate other affects associated with guilt, with one chapter each devoted to parsimony, shame and pessimism. In the individual chapters, I link each affect to a particular site of environmental engagement. So, the second chapter (on parsimony) analyzes the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota, the third chapter (on shame) investigates place-based identity practices as they are borne out in discourse about illegal drugs, and the fourth chapter (on pessimism) explores how the relationship disabled people have to environmental activism has been produced and constrained since the mid-twentieth century. Then, the fifth and final chapter is devoted to the positive affects of generosity, pride and optimism, drawing from queer theory and effective queer activism in order to begin to model effective environmental engagements on these past successes within another movement that combined social justice with theoretical rigor. My proposal is for time to produce the central chapter on guilt and the Anthropocene.


Christina Milletti, Associate Professor, English

“Room in Hotel America”

My second novel, Room in Hotel America, fully elaborates a brief anecdote discovered in Carl Sifakis’ Great American Eccentrics: Strange and Peculiar People. The narrative, called “The Guests Who Wouldn’t Check Out,” recounts the story of the Romero de Cainas family—a wealthy Cuban family who immigrated to the USA in 1924, then withdrew into the posh, opportunely named Hotel America, outside Times Square in New York City. The family’s resistance to leaving their rooms becomes a source of inquiry in the novel—a storyline about patriarchal power, wealth, and troubled pasts—even as it becomes a mechanism for discussing more broadly the issue of American insularity (the different kinds of rooms we inhabit) within the realm of global politics. The novel’s historiographic metafictional structure— which weaves together narratives about the Romero’s past and travels, any documentary evidence about their history uncovered during the novel’s production, a narrative from the young daughter’s point of view, current news crises, and even the “author’s” personal immigrant narrative—intends to test the limits of authenticity within the fictional format, while also asking readers to assess their own contribution to systems of power that remain resistant to the unfamiliar, the new, the other.

fernanda negrete

Fernanda Negrete, Assistant Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures

“Symptom and Sensation: Post-Freudian Experiments in Literature and Art”

I seek support through a Faculty Fellowship in Spring 2017 to complete my book manuscript: Symptom and Sensation: Post-Freudian Experiments in Literature and Art. My book investigates an unrecognized global female avant-garde beginning in the 1960s that, revising the Freudian notion of hysteria, upholds the creative power of aesthetic encounters, beyond pleasure, to reshape subjectivity and unsettle the social link. I trace the way in which a set of experimental works across text and other media confront this very problem; I argue that they go so far as to propose their own, unique reading practices, seeking to transmit a sensation rather than convey a meaning. I therefore propose a critical approach attuned to the inventive modes of subjectivity that emerge from these unprecedented reading practices. By reestablishing dialogue between Deleuze’s aesthetics of immanent desire and the psychoanalytic clinic of hysteria, where symptoms bear witness to an order of the body strictly tied to unspeakable enjoyment (jouissance), my book uncovers the clinical implications of sensation and its crucial role beyond pleasure and self-preservation in contemporary aesthetics. Symptom and Sensation will offer a new understanding of the ethical stakes of radical aesthetics through the unique vantage point of this original constellation of artworks.

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