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New Faculty Interviews, 2010-11


Beth Rose Middleton, Native American Studies

Beth Rose Middleton joined the HArCS division at UC Davis this fall as an assistant professor in the Department of Native American Studies. In 2008 she received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management. From 2008 to 2010, she was a UC Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Davis, working with Ben Orlove (Professor Emeritus, Environmental Science and Policy) and Steven Crum (Professor of Native American Studies). Her research centers on Native environmental policy and Native activism for site protection using conservation tools. She is engaged in participatory research on Maidu land rights history and contemporary land claims in northeastern California. She has received research support from the National Science Foundation, the UC Berkeley Center for Race and Gender, the UC Office of the President, and the Community Forestry and Environmental Research Partnerships program. Middleton has published on Native economic development in Economic Development Quarterly, on political ecology and healing in the Journal of Political Ecology, on Native California resource issues in News from Native California, and on mapping allotment lands in Ethnohistory. Her book on Native land trusts, Trust in the Land: New Directions in Tribal Conservation was just released by University of Arizona Press. Middleton sat down with Tristan Josephson at the DHI on Jan. 20, 2011 to talk about Native conservation policy, the land trust movement, and doing research that is accountable to Native communities. The following is not a precise transcription of our conversation; instead we worked together to summarize the highlights of our discussion.


How would you describe your intellectual trajectory that brought you to enroll in a Ph.D. program and to pursue a career in the field of Native American Studies?

I was an undergraduate here at UC Davis in Nature and Culture, which I liked because it was interdisciplinary and because it left a lot of room for self-expression. I really enjoy writing but I don’t enjoy having to fit into a very specific framework, so that was nice, having some room for creativity and being able to think across disciplines. During my time as an undergraduate here, I was a McNair scholar, which is a really great program targeted towards youth who are underrepresented in graduate school and university professorships. I got the chance to have an undergraduate research mentor, Dr. Kat Anderson, an ethno-ecologist who looks at cultural uses of plants, and who works a lot with tribes around the state and around the country on knowledge of resource management and stewardship.

My interest in working in Indian country and on natural resource issues and stewardship really started long before that. I grew up near Pioneer, in Amador County, which is a rural area in the Sierra foothills. Where I grew up was fairly isolated, with not many other people around, and I was definitely the only African American and often the only minority. I felt some relationship with some of the Native people that my family knew, because they were also dealing with marginalization, but in a totally different way, within their homeland. I was raised with an appreciation for the environment and for Native culture and my own family history and culture, both of which grew and became more complex over time as I began to understand more about the politics, and that we were actually living in someone’s homeland. I began trying to understand why we were there and why that history had been so covered up, and relating to that history of silencing, and thinking about where my family had come from and why. I feel that, having an appreciation for my own heritage in the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Africa, and elsewhere, and being aware of my ancestors’ struggles for survival, it is incumbent upon me to find out what’s happening with indigenous people here and to try to work in solidarity, if asked. So that’s some of my personal commitment to my work.

As an undergraduate intern with Dr. Anderson and then with the non-profits Sierra Institute for Community and Environment (SI) and the Maidu Cultural and Development Group (MCDG), I learned a lot about economic development, community development, and natural resources in Plumas County. I started developing a rural environmental justice database, and then I started working with MCDG on the history of Maidu lands and the history of specific parcels that had been taken out of Maidu ownership by the hydro-electric companies, which then started a whole area of research that I’m continuing today. I worked for SI and MCDG for a year, and then I went back to graduate school at Berkeley, and I knew I wanted to continue work in Maidu country. I kept going back and working in Maidu country in the summers, and then I went back and lived up there for two years while I did community work and my dissertation research on Maidu activism around natural resource issues over time. Some of my research is about what happened with Allotment Act in 1887, after which people received certain parcels of land that were then canceled and transferred to Great Western Power, the predecessor to PG&E. I continue to work with the Maidu Summit, a group of Maidu groups that includes the MCDG, on these land rights issues and on getting those specific land parcels back from PG&E.

After I finished my dissertation, I received the UC Presidential Postdoc, which is a fantastic postdoc program. So I came back here and worked with Dr. Ben Orlove, who has since gone to Columbia. He was in Environmental Science and Policy (ESP) and he was really the sole qualitative anthropological person in the department of ESP. I was also co-mentored by Dr. Steven Crum here in Native American Studies. I wanted to finish the Maidu allotment research during my postdoc, but the majority of my time was dedicated to completing a book about Native land trusts. I was so happy to get the postdoc and to be able to stay here in Davis because it is the closest UC to both my family and to Maidu country, and I could easily continue collaborating with the Maidu Summit Consortium on the struggle to get lands back from PG&E. Then this job opened up in Native American Studies with a California focus, so I applied and interviewed and then I was offered the position in May 2009. I deferred it for a year so that I could have the second year of my postdoc. So I just really started in July and started teaching in September.

Can you tell me about your newly released book on land trusts?

The concept for the land trust book started back in 2002 I think, when I was talking with Maidu friends whose family ranch had been saved from development by the Feather River Land Trust, yet still remained out of their ownership. I started thinking about relationships between Native people – whether tribes, nonprofits, families, or grassroots organizations – and land trusts, since collaborating with land trusts or starting land trusts are one of many ways that Native people can regain ownership of parts of their homeland that have been taken or purchased by outsiders. A couple of years later, I started working with my friend and colleague Reina Rogers, who is the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) tribal liaison for California. NRCS supports private landowners, tribes, and Native land owners and provides some support for restoration projects on private and tribal lands. There is also government money available from other sources for conservation purchases, which Native people can tap into to buy back lands. I became an NRCS volunteer, which enabled me to travel to some of the sites featured in the book and conduct interviews.

I worked on this project for years – some of my interviews are from 2005! I had this vision that it would become a film and a book. We produced a short outreach document for NRCS as a community product. But then I thought that it would great to get this published, with editorial help, and really get it out there. It ended up being 14-15 cases about Native land trusts and about collaborations between land trusts and tribes, Native non-profits, and Native families. I shopped the concept around at the Ethnohistory conference in 2008 and then connected with the University of Arizona Press editor. Some university presses are not really interested in books that are a little bit more practical – this is applied policy – but I think University of Arizona liked it because it will appeal to a range of audiences, from practitioner to academic. I worked on the theoretical piece and the environmental justice piece to frame the project as both an example of and a plea for increased diversity in the land trust movement. And we also made a film, working with Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development. The film is still not complete. I’d like to raise some more money to refine the second and third parts of it, but the first part is being used by the Native American Land Conservancy to showcase their work. I donated all the royalties from the book to two Native land trusts in California.

Although that all sounds very policy-focused, which is what I do – I love policy! – on the other hand, it is all based in my relationships with people and this whole other area of inquiry about intergenerational trauma and healing, about addressing history and making it really clear so that reconciliation and return of lands can occur. I think that’s really where the heart of the work is, in relationships with people and in recognizing the importance of those relationships, not only between people, but also between people and land, and how they change over time. At the same time, I work in the policy realm because of my personal commitment and our larger commitment in Native Studies to provide something useful to the Native communities we are responsible to. So this land trust book hopefully will help to push the land trust movement and enable new conservation tools and support their use by tribes. Some tribes are already using easements and developing Native land trusts, but some amendments to the tax code, clarifications in the fee-to-trust process, and additions to funding could make the use of these conservation tools even more widespread in Indian Country.

What are you working on now?

I’m trying to get back to the Maidu allotment work. That project started as purely community work, and I would like to fulfill my commitments to the community by completing the allotment map for them. I’d also like to work on a related book project about the expansion of hydro development in the northern Sierra and the interface with allotments and Indian land. So, in consultation with community members, there will be some examples of the allotments in the book, highlighting a Maidu history of land ownership and the impact of hydro development, up to the present with PG&E’s current land divestiture. That’s the vision I have for the book. I have a table of contents outlined and my goal is to publish the book with UC Press.

I wrote an article last year for News from Native California, which is not necessarily appreciated as an academic publication, about the Maidu people’s work to regain land from PG&E. I promised the people I interviewed—tribal members and staff, and Stewardship Council staff—that I would expand it into an academic piece about dealing with the process of reclaiming lands, dealing with conservation mandates, neocolonialism, and interrogating the concept of “public benefit.”

I am also interested in economic and community development, and in 2010 I started working with the Center for Regional Change (CRC) and USDA-Rural Development on a project about local economic development throughout California. Part of my role with the “Local Living Economies” project with the CRC and USDA is to work with Native communities, tribal governments, Native entrepreneurs, and separate from that, diverse entrepreneurs – Latino, African American, etc. – around certain economic sectors in California. Additionally, I would also like to develop a project on California’s green economy, assisting tribes with cultural resource protection as renewable energy (solar, wind) projects are fast-tracked. Solar development is a booming industry in the southern California deserts particularly, and that’s tribal land that people have a deep connection to. I want to partner with tribal members to work on those issues, as needed. There are also no studies specifically on Native entrepreneurship in relation to the green economy, which is really a big gap since Native-owned businesses are a huge part of the economy, particularly in rural areas, where tribal governments are sometimes the only infrastructure.

How do you balance your commitments to the communities with whom you work and the demands of academic publishing?

I hope this land trusts book is a good example because I think it will be something that different groups of people will be able to use. It tells a lot of people’s stories, so I think it will be engaging to people because it’s very real. But at the same time, it’s an academic press, so it’s going to help fulfill some of my university requirements. I’m hoping that the same will happen with the other work I do. With my other publications, I really strive to do something that people in communities will use and appreciate. Sometimes I need to do two projects—one just for the community and one that is solely academic. With this book, luckily, I found an academic press that believes in this kind of boundary-crossing work. However, there are some very theoretical parts of the book about environmental justice that are not necessarily going to be of interest to community members, who are going to go to the parts about their communities, or the parts about models in other places to see how they could work in their communities. And that’s fine – the more academic people are going to ignore the community stories and focus on the more theoretical pieces. So it’s tough to try to serve those multiple audiences. I spent an enormous amount of time working on that project, and still I can see things that could be a lot better.

What is the relationship between the questions you ask and the methods you use to do your research?

I think that research questions come out of conversation with people about what’s needed or what’s important or what’s of concern. I strive to have my methods fall under what’s culturally appropriate, on the one hand – that’s a guiding principle – and then, on the other hand, what’s going to have the outcome that’s needed, and that I have to skills to implement. Obviously I’m not a statistics person, so I’m not going to use predominantly quantitative methods. However, I am good at doing archival work, historical work, analysis, and providing documents and an assessment of what’s happened over time. The allotment work, for example, came out of conversations with people in the Maidu community being concerned with what had happened and was happening to their lands, and not having enough information. For that project, I thought there was something I could bring to the table that people could use, since I love doing archival work and because I think that GIS shouldn’t be all about quantitative analysis. I enjoy visual thinking so I wanted to show history on maps. The typical methods I use in my work include interviews, oral history, and ethnography, combined with some type of visual and spatial work – even if it’s just diagrams! – as well as historic photos for historical ecology. My choice of methods is guided by the goal of using my skills to develop something that is useful to people.

Why do the humanities matter?

The humanities are essential, and I find it frustrating that there is such a dearth of resources for humanities research and scholarship. I think that a large part of the humanities is deeply listening to what people have to say, and understanding the reasons people act and how they see themselves in relation to the world around them. This is something that scientific predictive models cannot do. The humanities help us to understand people’s relationship to place. This is important because decisions about land, for example, shouldn’t be made just on the basis of how many people live there but what it means to them, and how it helps them know where they came from.

How does your research connect to your teaching?

Last quarter I taught Intro to Federal Indian Law (NAS 191), and this quarter I’m teaching Intro to Native Studies (NAS 1). I built NAS 1 around three biographies – three personal narratives – which function as jumping-off points for looking at legal and governmental policies, the relationship of Native communities to academics, and international issues of migration and borders. In my teaching, I try to bring in other people’s voices and let them tell their own stories without mediation. I like to provide the larger context, but I think it’s important to give space for people’s stories. I incorporate film and video into my classes, and in the future I want to incorporate popular theatre, because I think using lots of different styles of teaching makes the issues more accessible to more students.

What are you reading at the moment?

For the class I’m teaching, we’re reading Bernie Whitebear: An Urban Indian’s Quest for Justice, written by Whitebear’s brother Lawney Reyes. For my own work, I’m reading We Are Not Savages by Joel Hyer, since I’m interested in the history of missions in Southern California, and in how Native communities continue to protect their lifeways and relationships to place in the context of ongoing massive urbanization. I’m also reading Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Joy Degruy Leary, which is about the post-traumatic stress in African American communities stemming from a history of slavery. This reading relates to another one of my areas of interest, on the history of the slavery of California Indians, which occurred before and after the abolition of slavery in the U.S. south. I’d like to research the laws that enabled unpaid labor of California Indians and see how or if they relate to Jim Crow laws in the South that enabled effective slavery after formal slavery was abolished.


Story credit: Tristan Josephson
Photo credit: Elliott Pollard



David Gundry, East Asian Languages and Cultures


David Gundry joined the HArCS division at UC Davis this fall as an assistant professor in the Japanese program of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. Prior to coming to UC Davis, he taught at Harvard University as a College Fellow in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. In 2009 he received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. His research focuses on Ihara Saikaku, a 17th-century Japanese writer. He has received a Japan Foundation Doctoral Fellowship and a Foreign Language and Area Studies Dissertation Fellowship, both for work conducted at Waseda University, Tokyo, as well as Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies Dissertation Grants in Japanese Studies. Gundry sat down with Jennifer Langdon and Tristan Josephson at the DHI on Nov. 16, 2010 to talk about learning languages, the challenges of translation, and classical Japanese literature. The following is not a precise transcription of our conversation; instead, we worked together to summarize the highlights of our discussion.


How would you describe the intellectual trajectory that brought you to enroll in a Ph.D. program and to pursue a career in Japanese studies?

It was not a particularly linear trajectory, in a way. From an early age I was very interested in studying languages, just for their own sake. I studied German in junior high and through high school and college. I started studying Spanish in high school. In college I also studied French and a bit of Italian. I worked quite hard at them and was kind of a grammar nerd – I was fascinated by the subjunctive! I thought it would be an interesting cognitive experience learning a non-Indo-European language, especially one written in Chinese characters. For a number of reasons I ended up getting a job in Japan – I taught English through the JET program in Japanese junior high schools. I was there for three years, teaching English, living in the city of Otsu just outside of Kyoto, which was culturally interesting because that area is the best place to become acquainted with all things that are old-Japan. I studied Japanese pretty intensively during those three years. I’ve always been someone who’s loved reading novels, poetry, and plays, and I wanted to combine my interest in language with my interest in literature. I really wanted to learn Chinese and classical Japanese as well. When I went to do a Master’s in Japanese studies at UCSB, they required that we take Chinese. Having knowledge of Chinese characters from learning Japanese was a real boost, because I could focus on other aspects of the language. I’ve always been more attracted to older literature, in terms of what I like to write about. I prefer researching literature from which I somehow feel distanced, time-wise, because I feel like I’m getting access to a world that’s a little bit harder to get through to. For this reason, and because of the additional distance represented by reading texts in a more difficult form of Japanese, writings in classical Japanese attracted me, so that’s what I focused on while I was at Stanford University doing my Ph.D.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of your dissertation project and what kinds of texts you work with?
Despite some warnings not to do a single-author study, my dissertation has been on the works of one author from the late 1600s, Ihara Saikaku, who wrote a very wide variety of fiction. He actually started out as a writer of what’s best described as unorthodox poetry, which is described as parodic even though sometimes it’s actually not funny. Unorthodox poetry is poetry that intentionally violates the conventions of Japanese court poetry in terms of diction and acceptable topic, such as mentioning crows, for example. But at the age of forty Saikaku switched from unorthodox poetry to fiction, writing a novel usually referred to in English as The Life of an Amorous Man. No complete English translation of this historically important book has yet been published.

Do you have an interest in translating that text?
I absolutely do have an interest in doing so, but as you probably know there’s been a transformation in the field such that translations are now usually not accepted as publish-or-perish books. And that’s why books like Amorous Man are not getting translated, which is a pity, as there are still a number of major Japanese texts that are untranslated and that therefore cannot be taught to students who can’t read the originals, which in the case of untranslated Japanese works written before the late 19th century means that just about the only American students who can read them are graduate students in Japanese studies (or, in many cases, those who can read French).

The text of which I’ve translated the largest proportion is a book of warrior vendetta tales. They’re interesting because they generally involve weird vendettas and sometimes they really seem to be making fun of the samurai. At this time in Japan, there is a system in which most of society is divided into four castes, and the samurai have a monopoly on political power. It’s risky for a commoner writer like Saikaku to poke fun at the samurai, so he does so rather cautiously but in some cases unmistakably. In English I refer to that book as Exemplary Tales of the Way of the Warrior; it’s got a rather hard-to-translate title. I have translated several stories from it, focusing on the ones that seem most critical of the samurai. That’s the text I’m interested in translating first because I’ve done the most work on it, and also because Life of an Amorous Man would be hard to translate because it largely relies on parodic literary allusions that would be very difficult to capture in an English translation without extensive footnoting. The humor would mostly be in the footnotes so that would be a daunting thing to translate, but I am interested in translating that eventually, after I’ve got tenure.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on developing my dissertation into a book manuscript. In my dissertation I deal with canonical works, all of which are available in modern, typeset editions, which makes them much easier to read than the original, woodblock-printed editions as these are written in a cursive calligraphic style that can be very hard to make out. But there are other works that have not been typeset that I want to look at as I expand my dissertation into a book. Those are much harder to read because of the calligraphic script and the lack of annotations. Annotations are a great help because certain details are often left out of pre-modern Japanese narratives that would be included in modern Japanese writing, and that readers of the time were apparently able to guess but that are not immediately clear to readers today. I want to look at more authors who were contemporary to Ihara Saikaku and at those who wrote in the decades before he started writing fiction. My book will still be a single-author study but I want to contextualize Saikaku’s works so that I can point to the features of his writing that are quite distinctive compared to other writers at the time. This will involve looking at various fairly canonical texts but also some texts that are only available in the original woodblock editions. These texts are accessible in the form of facsimiles available in a few libraries in the United States, such as at UC Berkeley, which has an excellent collection of Japanese writings.

Who do you imagine as the audience of your work?
Realistically I would say that the people most likely to read my work are professors and graduate students in Japanese studies, not just in Japanese literature but also historians, for example. In terms of ambitions of who I’d like to be in dialogue with, I’d like to help people who work in literatures from other parts of the world to become more acquainted with Japanese literature. Certain features of literature from the period that I’m looking at are rather strongly paralleled in other parts of the world, in societies that are undergoing similar types of social development, in which there is an expansion in the size and wealth of the bourgeoisie but there still is an aristocratic monopoly on political power. There are parallels between that situation in Japan and what’s going on in Western Europe at roughly the same time, and there are parallels between the sorts of fiction that are produced in each context. I’d like to be in dialogue with scholars of European literature who are dealing with similar phenomena so that they could get a better idea of how specifically or non-specifically European these phenomena are.

Given your comparative approach, why do you think the humanities are important?
Study of the humanities is important because without it people don’t generally have a very good idea of the actual history of the thoughts that they think are their own. People generally think in pre-packaged ways about, for example, love or honor, and they think of these as their own values and ideas. But in fact they’ve inherited these from the society around them – maybe they’ve tweaked what they’ve gotten from movies, books, and conversations and made them their own to some extent – but they’re less their own ideas than people generally realize. So studying cultural artifacts from other societies where ideas about love, honor, truth, etc. are different from what students are used to will help them see the extent to which these notions are culturally determined rather than universal. The humanities give students a perspective on their own ways of thinking, which they won’t have without exposure to cultural artifacts from pretty far outside their normal frame of reference.

How does your research connect with your teaching?
Right now I’m teaching a class on Japanese literature from roughly the 700s through the 1000s. The texts in question get referenced in the work of Ihara Saikaku, both parodically and not so parodically, and are transplanted, in most cases, from an aristocratic social context to a samurai or bourgeois one. Basically the course I’m teaching now is necessary background for understanding the fiction that’s produced centuries later in Japan. I’m also teaching a film course in which we’re reading a book by Ihara Saikaku called The Life of an Amorous Woman and looking at a 1950s film adaptation of this novel that is very different from the original.

Finally, what are you reading at the moment for pleasure and for your own work?
Right now I’m reading Daphnis and Chloe in the original Greek, in a very well-annotated edition introduced to me by Professor Watanabe from the Classics Department. I’m reading this as a review of my Greek, but also just for pleasure; it’s a beautiful and entertaining pastoral romance. I’m also reading a novel about IT workers in Berlin called Der einzige Mann auf dem Kontinent (“The Only Man on the Continent”), to review my German, as well as Julian Young’s Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography. And for the classes I am currently teaching I am re-reading Life of an Amorous Woman and The Tale of Genji.


Story credit: Tristan Josephson
Photo credit: David Gundry



Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli, Technocultural Studies

Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli joined the HArCS division at UC Davis this fall as an associate professor in the Program in Technocultural Studies. Prior to coming to Davis, she taught in Scotland at University of Aberdeen and University of Edinburgh. She holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature and film studies. Her research focuses on the representation of violence produced by nation-building, ethnocentrism, and sexism, which resulted in The Unmaking of Fascist Aesthetics (University of Minnesota Press, 2001), and her current book project, Mythopoetic Cinema on the Margins of Europe. Her interest in the “digital uncanny” and cultures of surveillance motivated two major conferences: “Recoded” (http:www.abdn.ac.uk/modernthought/recoded/) and “Figures of the Visceral” (http:www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/film-performce-media-arts/new-and-events/the-visceral/figures-of-the-visceral). Ravetto-Biagioli sat down with Jennifer Langdon and Tristan Josephson at the DHI on Oct. 19, 2010 to talk about aesthetics, new media, and the humanities. The following is not a precise transcription of our conversation; instead, we worked together to summarize the highlights of our discussion.


How did you come to the field of technocultural studies? Can you tell us a bit about your intellectual trajectory?

I took a very circuitous path getting to my field. I started my B.A. in the fine arts and ended up with a B.A. in political theory and intellectual history. And then I became interested in historiography and critical theory so I moved my Ph.D. work to comparative literature and film studies, which brought me back to some of the questions of aesthetics. As an artist I was interested in large format photography and mixed media (drawing and photography), but work always involved a mixture of theory, politics, and aesthetics. In my first job, at California Institute of Arts, I taught in both the critical studies and film studies departments, but when I moved to Emerson College where I was placed in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department. In Scotland, I taught at the University of Aberdeen in the Modern Thought Department, and then at University of Edinburgh in Film Studies. So my trajectory and development has been an easy fit into the field of technocultural studies, where all these components come together.

What are you working on now?

I’m trying to finish my second book, Mythopoetic Cinema on the Margins of Europe, which centers on the concept of Europe and the new Europe in the post-Soviet world. I look mostly at film but also performance art that has emerged in response to recent political and cultural changes in Europe. My work responds to the initial utopian ideal that in the post-Soviet era, the Eastern Bloc has now been democratized, when in fact, with the acceptance of capitalist democracy extreme forms of nationalism have emerged.  I’m interested in these types of contradictions, and I discuss how filmmakers and performance artists coming from the so-called “borders of Europe” conceive of what Europe was and how Europe has returned as a mythical project.

With my new project I am interested in the digital uncanny and the specters of the digital. The uncanny as Freud conceived of it — and the way we have thought about it in the twentieth century — really had to do with the return of the repressed. But now we’re talking about technology that can anticipate our responses! That is, instead of understanding the uncanny as some traumatic remainder (from the past), the digital uncanny is something future-oriented. I’m interested in the discrepancy between anticipation and perception, and I look at installation artists like Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Bill Viola, and Janet Cardiff who use surveillance technologies in their interactive work.

I’m also working with a small group of other faculty at UC Davis to organize a two-day conference called “Gaming the Game” in April 2012, which will bring together artists, performers, and scholars to think about, on the one hand, technocultural politics and the militarization of our perception, and then, on the other hand, what kinds of alternative strategies or subversions we can use some of these technologies to produce.

Could you describe the methodologies for your own work, which is profoundly interdisciplinary? What audiences do you imagine reading your work?

Following Deleuze, I think of myself as an idea thief, which allows me to borrow from science studies, cognitive science, critical theory, art history, film theory, art and film. This infuriates some scholars because I’ve used a canonical text in a different way than it was originally intended, but I find this method produces more interesting work.

I think that my audience is varied. My first book dealt with representations of fascism so it attracted an audience of film scholars, historians, and cultural theorists who were interested in the question of how we have represented fascism and what the limits are to such representation. I’m hoping that Mythopoetic Cinema on the Margins of Europe will be of interest to people dealing with political questions of national identity, and those people thinking about the social and political implications of the new borders created in Europe. My more recent work, published in Performance Art Journal and in Representations, indicates a bit of a shift in audience that includes people who are working in digital media, performance studies, and theories of the digital and art history. I hope that this will be of interest to cinema and contemporary theory scholars as well.

Why do you think the humanities are important?

I think that the humanities have gotten hit really hard in the last probably twenty years. Humanities scholars are not that good at making a case for themselves and showing they actually have skills that other people don’t. Humanities scholars provide context and critical thinking. We also have pretty damn good close reading skills. These are the things that we can provide that most other people who get excited about new technology don’t think about, since they don’t think about all the implications. We’re the people who probably have a better way for writing and thinking about things. Why is it that all of a sudden in crisis mode you’ve got to make these cases for the value of the humanities?

In what ways are your teaching and research connected?

This quarter I’m just teaching the theory class for Cultural Studies, CST 200A, and that’s pretty simple for me, because I’m theoretically oriented. It moves from Kant to Kittler so that’s easy to see how that immediately applies to my research. Next quarter I will teach a film theory class and TCS 004: Parallels in Art and Science. These are all pretty related to the things I’ve been working on.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve been re-reading Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (particularly his conceptualization of the virtual), Jacques Rancière’s work on human rights, citizenship, and film aesthetics (and his reading of Godard), Tim Lenoir’s work on games and the military-entertainment complex, and Mark Hansen who is a new media theorist looking at installation and digital art in terms of various theories of the posthuman. These readings are helping me think about how digital technologies have reconfigured our experience of the uncanny, our understanding of an archive, and how digital media transformed how we understand thinking as a process.


Story credit: Tristan Josephson
Photo credit: Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli

This page was last updated: July 6, 2012

 

 

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