Sunday, September 4, 2011

Modern Female Automatisms

I'm not teaching this semester, but my book list for next semester is due exceedingly soon. I think it'll have to be one of those late-nite activities, since looking up ISBNs doesn't take a lot of brain. ("Night," when preceded by "late-," is properly spelled "nite." True facts.)

I've done a poor job of articulating the course's interest and importance of late, mostly because I haven't been in the teaching zone, but it's about gender and the discourses of automatism circa 1900, and is in some degree related to the talk I'll be giving at MSA next month on Stein and repetition. Repetition structures normality and (as a "compulsion") pathology, habit and obsession; it's evidence of mechanicity and, in its ability to provoke laughter, also a site of evidence of the human. Butler brilliantly makes repetition the scene of gender.

We'll read/watch some of the classic Lady Robots texts of the Gilded Age and early C20—L'Ève future, Metropolis, "In the Cage," "Melanctha." We'll also look at some contemporary nonfiction theories of mechanicity and gender, like Otto Weininger's theory of variability, the biometrics of Lombroso and Berthillon, and of course Freud, contextualizing them in more recent work by Haraway, Oreskes, Kittler, Hayles, and Fleissner. I had sort of a lovely (that is, entertaining) Twitter conversation with Chris Forster, Jentery Sayers, and Stephen Ross (probably among others) a week or two ago about modernist humor and the role of gender in Michael North's Machine-Age Comedy, which is one of the problems I intend for the class to investigate.

Roughly, the course will use the rubric of "automatism" to look at female labor; the gendering of humor; affect and the human; objectivity and knowledge; psychopathology c. 1900; and biological determinisms.

Needless to say, I'm still in that grandiose, overly ambitious phase of syllabus-planning. I haven't done all the necessary cutting down, which will have to happen soon. I'm also contemplating some sort of introspective exercise (observing one's repetitions, or the like) that I haven't quite worked out yet. Suggestions welcome.


Chris Forster said...

It is a policy that I will comment on any blog which mentions me by name. It is part of how I manage my carefully controlled "Chris Forster" brand.

This course sounds really great and ambitious in just the right ways. I think Rita Felski's The Gender of Modernity might be helpful text for thinking about the ways in which gender is imagained in relation to modernity; her introduction nicely lays this stuff out and one of the other chapters may be useful too (though which eludes me at the moment).

Natalia said...

Oh, excellent, Chris; I'll be mentioning you by name from now on. Definitely tip me off if you find some way to cash in on said brand.

Felski's on the list, but I haven't yet decided which bits to assign; I know I've got that book somewhere in the horrible unsorted pile in my office. I guess sorting the pile is another late-nite task.