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End of Semester Recap and Review

having experience becomes common out-of-the-ordinary-thoughts having given to one's peer group real or imagined, in list form to be read as words by others, however uninvited as like conversations are all the time overheard real or imagined, between actual persons or otherwise in the manner of practice or to memorize as if to necessitate practice to speak order of operations for conversation with actual person imaginary by distance, and bearing weight at this time as if to say, implicates when first spoken rendered unwieldy by chance inflections as like a turn of air or spatial turn away from the practice of rehearsal having experienced having spoken in a manner at length to speak in the manner of address

from Sara Wintz’ Walking Across A Field We Are Focused On At This Time Now (Ugly Duckling Press, 2012)

This year’s Watershed posts explored a spectrum of topics—and through different lenses of critical theory—including nostalgia, gay male pornography, the internet, violence, adolescence, and the survival of “weeds”. Watershed contributors responded to a variety of texts to reveal critical conversations and insight—television, film, tech theory, eco-criticism, literature, as well as visiting lecturers.

The 2014 Humanities on the Edge series, now in its fifth year, focused around “the

state of exception”, Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s theory on a permanent state of emergency in contemporary bio-politics, where exception becomes the rule of order. Gregg Lambert, Professor of Humanities at Syracuse University and co-founder of the Perpetual Peace Project, gave a visiting lecture negotiating Giorgio Agamben’s “sovereign exception” in a post-9/11 world called “To Have Done with the State of Exception” (read Chandler Warren and I’s review of Lambert’s lecture here). In preparation for Gregg Lambert's visit, Dan Froid reviewed “Enemy (der Feind)," which can be read here. In October, one of the leading scholars of environmental humanities, Ursula Heise, visited the University of Nebraska to her lecture “Biocities: Urban Futures and the Reinvention of Nature”, sharing her ideas about the survival of bio-diversity in a perpetual state of shifting environmental emergency (read Aubrey Streit Krug and Robert Lipscomb on Heise’s lecture here).

While our visiting lecturers urged audiences to approach controversial topics in new critical ways, so did Watershed bloggers. Here’s a recap of some of this year’s writing:

Dainel Clausen searches for meaning within the violent context of HBO series Game of Thrones in his post “Violence in Westeros”:

“Everyone watching knew they wanted Oberyon to win. Everyone was sure he wouldn’t. When it seemed to me that he might do just that, fear wouldn’t let me relax. So when The Mountain knocked him down, bashed him senseless, and then used his bare hands (upon which the camera focused relentlessly) to first gouge out his eyes and finally crush his skull in a bloody pulp while he screamed, I thought I was going to be sick. I felt that way for the next three days. Because, unlike the Greek tragedians, the showmakers didn’t let the imagination take over, but unrelentingly showed every detail of the brutality.”

-“There is also something about Game of Thrones that sets it apart from gore-fests like slasher films or Quentin Tarantino’s and Frank Miller’s hyberbolic send ups. The violence of Game of Thrones is more sudden, more permanent. It is more like what we expect violence to be in this world where our screens are full of images of real beheadings, of passenger airplanes shot from the sky, of unarmed black men shot dead in the street by police.”

Aubrey Streit Krug asks whether critical theory can accommodate a more equal valuing of life between human and plant life in her review of Michael Marder’s “For a Phytocentrism to Come”:

-“In classical thought, it was the fact that plants grow that made them part of life and linked them to humans and other animals. Marder adds to this an emphasis on growth as shared—in plants as singular and in nature as a whole—which he calls “growing in common.”

-“Rather than the Greek words of bios and zōe to describe life, Marder turns to phuton, the Greek word for plant. Citing Aristotle, he then links phuta to “nature” (phusis) and “growing things” (ta phuomena). If phytocentrism is to decenter the human by centering plants, plants cannot stand just for a category or part of life. Therefore, plants serve as a synecdoche for growing creatures and life as growth: “Phytocentrism is, inherently, a phuo-centrism and a physio-centrism—an orientation, through plants, toward growth and toward nature as a whole, conceived as the throng of creaturely growth.”

In “The Trouble with Triggers”, Robert Lipscomb wrestles with the implication of trigger warnings in the humanities pulling from Jean Baudrillard’s theories on Simulacra:

-“The problem is that all of this, all the meetings, all this debate, all of these good intentions are just distractions. Trigger warnings are a simulacrum of any material effort to stem the problem of sexual assault in today’s university setting. Due to the internal hierarchal nature of university systems, no structural changes can be made to these inherently heteronormative institutions. To support this statement, I could say a lot about the Greek system, about the gendered makeup of university police departments, and mostly about the administrative complexities that keep all victims of sexual trauma at the bottom of the pecking order. But I think it is enough to consider that trigger warnings in no way account for, correct, or mitigate these realities that persist in all university settings. It is one thing to be helpful, to aid in addressing a problem. However, simulacra do the opposite. Simulacra deter, mask, and distract from the actual problem.”

James Lowell Brunton wraps up his semester-long look at nostalgia by staking the personal in the past, revisiting Sigmund Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia”:

-“Melancholia is a condition in which the subject identifies with the loved object that is now missing, precisely as a way to keep that object alive. “The narcissistic identification with the object,” says Freud, “…becomes a substitute for the erotic cathexis, the result of which is that in spite of the conflict with the loved person the love relationship need not be given up” (249). This pont makes Freud’s theory of melancholia particularly important for theorizing nostalgia (as opposed to anti-nostalgia) because it shows 1) that one’s psychic relationship to the past can, and sometimes does, involve the keeping alive of an object that is, empirically, gone, and 2) that the lost object is kept alive precisely through incorporation by an individual ego—it is as though the lost past becomes re-embodied through a living person.”

Chandler Warren examines the relationship between humanity and technology, looking to “the fappening” and the Wiki-leaks case alongside theories of focal points in his write-up “The Boundary and the Leak”:

-“Both leaks highlight a new engagement with our world that hinges on directionality and distancing with regard to the subject and object. In both cases, the leak can be seen operating within a boundary system dependent on information (as opposed to class, race, etc.). In doing so, the leak makes apparent the gap between relational engagement and experiential engagement in relation to the viewed material that exists because of this boundary.”

We at Watershed want to thank you for your readership, and we look forward to bringing new and evolving ideas to the critical theory conversation. We hope you’ll check back after the New Year to read new Watershed posts—and to engage in critical conversations along with us. You can follow us on Facebook to receive updates on new postings and blog topics. So on that note, I’d like to bring 2014’s inaugural Watershed blog to an appropriate closure by playing a game of What-Would-I-Say?

I took the aforementioned highlights of this year’s Watershed posts, posted them as status updates as Facebook user “Michael Shed”, and asked the app to “generate me.” Here are 10 statuses that provoke some questioning… Happy New Year. See you in 2015.

-Therefore, plants serve as growth as simple sexual arousal, it may confront a sense of ordinariness.

-Delany’s erotics establish scat play as a whole—which he calls “growing in common.”

-The ecstasy of eating shit almost singularly work to reconfigure my perception of biodiversity as a condition in today’s university police departments—and distracts from the street.

-It is as though the loved object is now missing, a post 9/11 world that hinges on growth.

-Gregg Lambert, Professor of Humanities on the Edge series, now missing, precisely as a whole, conceived as the brutality.

-It is more sudden, more sudden, more permanent. It is more permanent. It as though the past can, and sometimes does, involve the keeping alive precisely through plants, plants serve as a perpetual Peace.

-Gregg Lambert, Professor of the Greek word for plant.

-These good intentions are just distractions.

-Delany’s erotics of eating shit almost singularly work to reconfigure my perception of university systems, no structural changes can be in a lot about the gendered makeup of the Perpetual state of Exception.

-Citing Aristotle, he then links phuta to be sick. I felt that way for a plant once.

-Zach Mueller


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