Thursday, March 17, 2011

Draper alumna teaches yoga workshop

2001 Draper graduate Heidi Spear focused on comparative literature and performing arts at NYU, then studied at the Globe Theater in London. Now she has taken her interdisciplinary methods to a physical field: yoga.

Heidi is offering a workshop called "The Yoga of Shakespeare: To Thine Own Self be True" at Kripalu, the yoga retreat center in western Massachusetts. "We use the language and poetry of Shakespeare," explains Heidi, "where it intersects with the inquiry of yoga to develop self-observation without judgment and sink into the layers of creative consciousness to connect that inward place where creativity and inner wisdom reside. It's great for students, teachers, and all who need tools for de-stressing, and tapping into their creative/knowledge space."

Since we love bragging about our alumni, and since we know that de-stressing can be a boon to busy students, we thought we'd pass along the information about Heidi's class (for which no experience with Shakespeare or yoga is necessary). More information is on the Kripalu website.

Calling Graduate Students to write for ESQ's New Feature:The Year in Conferences

ESQ:  A Journal of the American Renaissance is now putting together a team to cover the upcoming American Literature Association conference to be held May  in Cambridge MA for  "The Year in Conferences."  This new feature is a group-authored "report from the field."  Last year groups covered ALA, ASA, C19, and MLA; the completed piece will appear in the next issue.

Additional information:

"The Year in Conferences" is an annual group-authored report from the field that will provide a snapshot of what’s going on at the conference level.

The idea is to assemble clusters of graduate students who will collaboratively author thematic reports from the major conferences that take place over the course of the year. Ideally, the clusters will be composed of students from a variety of institutions.

Once teams are assembled, we determine through a collaborative process of email and skype exchanges, what strands will be covered and by whom. I meet with the group on-site to further discuss format and procedures. By the time we meet at the conference site, we will have established contact through an email strand, a skyped planning meeting and also set up a google docs account for the project. (Using google docs really facilitates the collaborative writing process. In fact the multi-leveled opportunities for collaboration is one of the features of this experience that I think has been so wonderfully productive.) Contributors collaborate with me, each other, Jana Argersinger and the rest of the journal staff as well as see how other teams put together their entries.

All of this yields an important resource for the profession, a professionalizing experience, exposure to other people in the field, and a publication. In fact, I’m so excited about this that this is the one thing I am doing for the journal while I am on leave!

I hope you’ll share my excitement about this new feature for the journal, share this email with whomever you think might be interested, and let me know if you have any further suggestions for how this might be developed.

All best-

Augusta Rohrbach
Associate Professor of English
Editor, ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance
Department of English
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99163

The Freudian Robot: Digital Media and the Future of the Unconscious (3/22)

Lydia H. Liu (author) in Conversation with McKenzie Wark
Tuesday, March 22, 7pm at BookCulture, 536 West 112th Street

The Freudian Robot: Digital Media and the Future of the Unconscious, by Lydia Liu, is the first in-depth study of the political history of digital writing and its fateful entanglement with the Freudian unconscious. The book shows how the convergences of literary modernism, mathematics, and psychoanalysis in the 20th century transformed alphabetical writing system into the post-phonetic, ideographic, and universal system of today's digital media. Altering the threshold of sense and nonsense in communication processes, the remarkable event has compelled a new understanding of language, human-machine interplay, and the Freudian unconscious.

Lydia H. Liu, W.T. Tam Professor in the Humanities in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University

McKenzie Wark, Associate Dean of Eugene Lang College at the New School

Thank you,
Sarah Monks, Administrative Assistant
Institute for Comparative Literature and Society
t.(212)854-4541; f.(212)854-3099

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Breaking Down “Breaking Boundaries”

by Michelle Matthews (Silver School of Social Work) and Katie Koumatos (Draper Program)

A week ago, we (Michelle and Katie) attended the 13th Annual Women’s History Conference at Sarah Lawrence College together. Entitled, “Breaking Boundaries: Body Politics and the Dynamics of Difference,” the conference incorporated scholastic voices from a variety of very different but interconnected disciplines, including a strong presence from the disabled community, the fat activist community and scholars studying the specific experiences and needs of African American women. We both had a really wonderful time and wanted to share our experiences with you.

The conference was scheduled to begin Friday evening with a keynote address by Marilyn Wann, author of Fat?So! and fat-activist extraordinaire. When we arrived, Marilyn was already there, inviting people to step on her Yay! Scale. An excellent example of the way that Fat Activists are creatively subversive, the Yay! Scale is a scale in which the numbers have been removed and replaced by compliments. Repurposed for the task to creating body self-esteem, this scale weights you and then gives you compliment. While the Yay! Scale told Katie that she was “the definition of Cute”, Michelle was reportedly “Fine, bordering on Perfect.”*

Marilyn’s keynote address was a basic introduction to the arguments behind the Fat Acceptance and the Health at Every Size (HAES) movements. She led the group in an analysis of the cultural associations of the fat/thin binary and challenged the common misconceptions about fat bodies. This ended up being a very useful exercise as people who were well versed in the culturally constructed ideas around race and gender were able to see how many of the same associations – dirty, ugly, messy, lazy, dangerous – as are used to oppress other marginalized groups are used to oppress fat people .

I (Katie) felt that one of the most salient points that Marilyn made revolved around the money that we spend on dieting in this country. Despite the fact that scientific studies have consistently shown that diets fail 95% of the time, last year Americans still spent over $59,700,000,000 trying to lose weight. Putting this into perspective, that is enough money to build a house for every single homeless person in this country and still have more than twenty billion dollars left over.

Wann offered valuable knowledge, but it was her engaging demeanor and happy dances that turned what could have been a cold lecture of facts and frustration into an enjoyable shared learning environment. Ending on a fat mad lib and a song, Marilyn’s keynote was engaging, informative and fun.

The evening continued with some dinner and a night of spoken word poetry. Maria James-Thiaw, Lara Frater, Tatiana McKinney and other poets all contributed to the event. By holding it in the Slonim Living Room, an intimate and safe space was created for personal and political expression.

Saturday began with a plenary panel that included presentations by Kathleen LeBesco, Susan Schwiek and Zoe Spencer. While the presentations by LeBesco and Schwiek were compelling and informative, we both felt that it was Spencer’s work, entitled “The Sexualized Body Politics of African American Women: From Enslavement to Hip Hop,” that really engaged and challenged the audience.

In my (Michelle) opinion, Spencer’s presentation was the highlight of the day. Not only did I love the fact that she is a fellow social worker, but her work was truly gripping. Several times she pointed out the race bias of the audience in a challenging but non-judgmental way. Her lecture was organized around the historic stereotypes of African American women and included categories like the Jezebel, the Mammy, the Sapphire and the Welfare Mom.

In the beginning of her lecture, she carefully presented the true horror of African American women’s slavery. Working to help the audience fully grasp the extent of their oppression, Spencer reiterated that these women had been treated like animals. They were raped, used to breed more slaves, and denied the chance to be mothers to their children. It was clear that she felt the need to impress upon us the intensity of this trauma and how her community is still feeling the effects of it. She moved through history, discussing the changing stereotypes of African American women and how their sexuality has continued to be controlled, manipulated and adjusted to fit the needs of the dominant culture. It was towards the end of the lecture that she interrupted herself to tell the mostly white audience that their lack of personal interaction with the African-American community probably left them with skewed views of African-American women. “You don’t go over to our houses for dinner. You don’t invite us to your house for dinner. For many of you, your ideas of African American women come from these constructed stereotypes.”

I (Katie) was particularly impressed with Spencer’s courage in challenging the notion of liberal safe spaces and her decision to present her work in a style that differed from the traditional academic model. Her lecture was equally filled with intense scholastic research and casual stories, random thoughts and personal interjections as she visibly negotiated how to best share this information with our particular audience. After the presentation, I (Michelle) sought her out to thank her for her lecture and talk with her more about teaching difference within the field of social work. We came to the conclusion that teaching difference and politeness are really incompatible, as it takes the uncomfortable experiences of being confronted with your privilege to allow students the chance to learn their biases and better understand “ethnocultural issues.” Spencer didn’t shy away from creating this same uncomfortable space with the audience and we both greatly respected her fierce candor.

The conference broke up into a series of smaller sessions, intermingled with a lunch break and some more hands-on activities. While the smaller presentations were engaging, it was truly these two larger lectures that captured our attention. We both networked a great deal, meeting scholars from other institutions and establishing the beginning of what could be very beneficial collaborative projects.

That first night, Marilyn Wann said, “If we can’t be at home in our own bodies, where are we supposed to go?” This beautifully sums up the entirety of the conference. As women, we must fight to regain psychological and physical ownership of our bodies above all else. If we are undermined in the control we have over how we conceive of our own flesh, everything else that we do in the world is weakened.

Katie Koumatos is a first year student in the Draper Program. She is trained in psychological anthropology and uses a multi-media approach to study the burgeoning fat activist movement. Michelle Matthews is a first-year master's student in the Silver School of Social Work, where she focuses her practice on health and women's issues. She founded the Size Diversity Coalition of Social Workers and blogs as the Fat Social Worker. Katie and Michelle are both fat activist who first met on a list-serve created to support the writing of the Fat Studies Reader. They met in person two months ago when Katie arrived in New York and have been planning mischief ever since. Currently they are working on creating an NYU student group affiliated with fat activism out of which they plan to run the Fat Studies Writing Workshop, a writer’s group for academics in this developing discipline. They are also planning on attending the Endangered Species: Women international summit at The New School this coming weekend. They welcome their fellow students to join them at this upcoming conference. You can reach them through their nyu emails at ksh287 or mmm608.

*We are planning a “Make Your Own Yay! Scale” Workshop for the Spring. If you are interested in joining us, please shoot us an email.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Student Profile: Scott Kaplan on Organizing the "Bodies on the Line" Symposium with Anna Deavere Smith

A second year Draper student, Scott Kaplan is also a diversity educator, reading teacher, and playwright. He has written two full length plays--one of which had a reading at the off-Broadway theater company Primary Stages--and was recently awarded an Emerging Jewish Artist Fellowship by the Bronfman Center at NYU.

Scott has also worked with the actress Anna Deavere Smith since last year. A MacArthur fellow who is renowned for her “documentary theater” pieces which chronicle episodes of violence, struggle, and healing in contemporary American history and life, Anna is also a professor at NYU who seeks to involve graduate students in greater scholarly and artistic dialogs. As Anna’s research assistant, Scott helped organize a nine-day symposium called Bodies on the Line last semester. He sat down with us recently to talk about his research and work with Smith as well as this unique symposium.


Sitting around a table with Anna Deavere Smith and nine other artists last November, Draper student Scott Kaplan had to ask himself, “What am I doing here?”

Anna had gathered a diverse group of international artists and writers to participate in a nine day symposium called Bodies on the Line. Taking the complex idea of “borders” as a point of departure, Bodies on the Line sought to “explore...artistic representations and investigations of immigration, statelessness, and identity in the contemporary world.” The symposium paired nine fellows--including a Brooklyn-based professor, a French-Algerian rapper, an Argentinian printmaker, and a Vietnamese photographer--with locals artists for nine days of events. In one event, cellist Michael Fitzpatrick was paired with Rabbi Irwin Kula to “discus[s] the power of good vibrations” in promoting peace and compassion. In another, South African playwright Yael Farber’s play, “He Left Quietly,” which originally cast real people telling their own stories on stage, was reinterpreted by a cast of New York actors.

As Anna’s research assistant, Scott was glad to have a part in the preparation of Bodies on the Line. He had already been eager to develop practical experience organizing arts symposia, and found that this one afforded a unique opportunity to do so, since it pushed participants to consider the process of developing and participating in academic conferences just as much as the actual content of the symposium itself. Only half of Bodies on the Line was composed of public events; the other half was made up of working groups of invited fellows, local artists, and the symposium organizers. The dual principal, Scott explained, was for the participants to consider artists as objects of analysis while also reflecting on the methodology of the conference organizers.

These themes were particularly resonant with Scott because they formed some of the core issues that he and his fellow classmates explored in a course that he took with Anna in spring 2011: “The Aesthetics of You.” It was a selective class—Anna conducted interviews with students before admitting them—and Scott was the only non-actor to apply. Seeing a great potential for dialog in bringing together students with differing disciplinary background and artistic processes, Anna was “intrigued” by Scott’s application, and admitted him to the course.

“The Aesthetics of You” pushed students to grapple with the process of self-examination and artistic representation. One of the most memorable exercises the students undertook was to create a filmed presentation of themselves: an eight minute video where they said anything they wanted about who they were as individuals. Then, Anna assigned each student to replicate verbatim—in gesture and words—one of their classmate’s presentations. In pushing students to embody the physicality and language of their peers, Anna helped to exemplify what Scott refers to as one of her “credos.” Namely, “if you say a word long enough, it becomes you.”

This practice of empathy is an underlying theme in a talk that Anna invited Scott to give during her provostial lecture (called “The Mighty and the Vulnerable”) in October 2010, and again to the assembled artists and writers during Bodies on the Line. Scott’s talk discussed the recent suicide of Rutgers undergraduate Tyler Clementi. In this age of internet anonymity, when one’s words have such a large outlet and are so much easier to produce without worry of authorial identification, Scott used his talk to advocate for a greater sense of communal responsibility and awareness.

The importance of taking responsibility for what one says, writes, creates, and makes public resonated strongly with many of the artists attending the symposium. Many of these artists—such as photographer David Taylor, whose most recent project documented activity on the Arizona border—implicate others in their work, and as such “are very conscious of how their work is presented,” Scott says. “Of what is said, and what is left out.”

It didn’t take long for Scott to understand his role at the conference and answer his “Why am I here?” question. During a private meeting of one of the symposium’s working groups, he was the only person at the table who was a new organizer and a current graduate student. And it was precisely that combination that made his perspective and experience so valuable.

While Bodies on the Line—with its many different goals, complex structure, and the diverse perspectives of its participants—was already ambitious in scope, it was only ever intended to be a point of departure for those involved. During the nine days of the symposium, Anna and her fellow participants hoped “ create new artistic partnerships, to inspire future projects, and to use artistic practice as a way of investigating new and historical ideas.” The next phase of the conference, for Scott, will be to co-write a piece with Anna about the symposium, reflecting on that experience and how to apply it in his future scholarship.

-Larissa Kyzer & Georgia Jelatis-Hoke-

The Threesis Challenge is on!

You are cordially invited to attend the GSAS Threesis Academic Challenge hosted by The Graduate School of Arts and Science Master's College on Saturday, April 9th at 3:30 pm. Please click to view the invite and to RSVP for this event:

The Threesis Academic Challenge is a tournament style competition through which master's students can showcase their scholarly achievements. Competitors present the research of their thesis or final project in three minutes or less to an audience and a panel of judges hoping to win prizes totaling $2,500.

This competition originated the University of Queensland in Australia. The Graduate School of Arts and Science is proud to be the host of the first Threesis competition in this hemisphere. In honor of the heritage of the Threesis, the reception following will have a distinctively Aussie flavor.

Reminder: CFP - Shift: Graduate Journal of Visual and Material Culture

We would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone of an open call for submissions to the fourth issue of Shift, set to be launched 01 October 2011. Shift welcomes academic papers, as well as exhibition and book reviews, dealing with visual and material culture from graduate students in any discipline in the humanities. Papers may address a full range of topics and historical periods.

All manuscripts should be sent by email to by 01 April 2011.

For further details and submission guidelines please see the journal website at

Veronica Carter and Steve Marti
Shift: Graduate Journal of Visual and Material Culture