Gendered Agency

September 17, 2009
"Gender and Agency at the Asylum: Casebook Photographs in Early 20th Century England"
Susan Sidlauskas
, Professor of Art History, Rutgers

This lecture will present the newest phase of a project that was originally launched at the IRW two years ago on the relation between art and science in 19th and early 20th century medical photography and will focus on a different, but related, category of medical imagery: a series of photographs of male and female patients pasted directly into the medical casebooks of a private sanitarium outside London. The Holloway Sanitarium casebooks served to document each patient’s condition upon admission, according to the strict requirements of the “Commissioners on Lunacy.” While there were more female than male patients, there is a roughly equal proportion of female to male photographs. There are distinct pattern of difference between male and female presentational styles, and medical histories, but both groups share a significant feature: a striking disjunction between image and text. By and large, the casebook photographs do little to “illustrate” a diagnosis, or to provide visual evidence of a patient’s mental unease, even when the narrative account of that disturbance seems quite dire. In accounting for this discontinuity between the visual and the medical “evidence,” and proposing a different way to think through their intersection in the Holloway casebooks, Professor Sidlauskas hopes to offer the beginnings of a theory and history of the visual culture of medicine.

October 8, 2009 
"Sexiles: (post) Colonialism and the Machine of Desire"
Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel
, Professor of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies, Rutgers

This presentation focuses on migration, gender, sexuality and race to trace the centrality of intra-colonial displacements in the configuration of alternative Caribbean identities. The talk begins with a discussion of the diverse meanings of the term sexile—a term Manuel Guzmán coined to refer to exile motivated by sexual alterity, and the term used by our undergraduate students to refer to "banish a roomate from the room/dorm/apartment for the purpose of engaging in intimate relations with one's significant other/sex partner" (Urban Dictionary). Professor Martínez-San Miguel uses these two different meanings as a point of departute to analyze the regulation of sexuality within Caribbean identity discourses that are produced in the context of migrations between the islands in the Caribbean and former or actual metropolitan centers.  She analyzes three case studies to develop the main argument. The first one is the expulsion of female excessive eroticism from Caribbean national discourses as illustrated in the works of Pedro Juan Soto and Maryse Condé. The second case is the the representation of heteroracial erotics as a central motive in the discourses on Caribbean miscegenation, as seen in the work of Mayote Capécia, Frantz Fanon, and Luis Rafael Sánchez.  The third case is the invisibilization and exclusion of sexual minorities, as seen in the works of Luis Rafael Sánchez and Reinaldo Arenas.  In the three different cases studied, sexiles face expulsion from their national community and abjection for their racial ambiguity in a metropolitan context, and fiction becomes the discursive space from which to propose a postcolonial poetic and epistemology.

October 29, 2009
"Religious Ethics, Agency, and Feminist Politics: Some Reflections on Politics of Piety"
Saba Mahmood
, Professor of Social Cultural Anthropology, UC-Berkeley

In this lecture, Professor Mahmood reflects on why ethical practice and bodily form matter to questions of feminist politics and analytics. By engaging some common misreadings of her argument in Politics of Piety, Mahmood urges feminist scholars to critically re-think the normative status accorded to secular conceptions of the self and body in contemporary debates about religion.

January 28, 2010
"Gender and Agency: Perspectives from Language"
Laura Ahearn
, Professor of Anthropology, Rutgers

In this lecture, Professor Ahearn emphasizes the importance of using language to analyze agency within specific social and historical contexts. Defining agency as the “socioculturally mediated capacity to act,” she discusses grammatical and discursive expressions of agency in a Nepali village, where increased female literacy rates have enabled young people to develop a ritual of love-letter writing. By analyzing the linguistic construction of these love letters, it is possible to explore the villagers’ own changing conceptions of agency.

February 18, 2010
"Christine in the Cutting Room: The Cinematic Embodiment of Transsexual Celebrity Christine Jorgensen"
Susan Stryker
, Professor of Gender Studies, Indiana University

This talk draws upon research for a transgenre film Professor Susan Stryker is making about 1950s transsexual celebrity Christine Jorgensen. Jorgensen is remembered primarily as a visual icon of transsexuality, but prior to her post-surgical celebritization, she worked as a newsreel editor at RKO Studios. She thus performed labor as both image and image-maker. Building from a remark Jorgensen once made to American television journalist Mike Wallace—that she used to "work on one side of the camera" because she "didn't know how to appear on the other side"—the argument develops that Jorgensen's change of sex was conceived by her, and can be understood by us, in cinematic as well as surgical terms. Such an approach allows for a better understanding of the agency Jorgensen expressed through her somatic transformation: a process in which we can perceive a "technology of gender" whose surgical and hormonal techniques create spatiotemporal images according to logics and mechanisms of visual production. Stryker's suggestion being that Jorgensen was an auteur of her own embodiment.

March 4, 2010
"Jenny Saville Remakes the Female Nude—Representing Agentic Womanhood"
Diana Tietjens Meyers, Ellacuría Chair; Philosophy, Loyola University Chicago

Jenny Saville is a leading contemporary painter of female nudes. This paper explores her work in light of theories of gender and embodied agency. Recent work on the phenomenology of embodiment draws a distinction between the body image and the body schema. The body image is your representation of your own body, including your visual image of it and your emotional attitudes towards it. The body schema is comprised of your proprioceptive knowledge, your corporeally-encoded memories, and your corporeal proficiency with respect to various environments and activities. Saville is concerned with body image issues, and Professor Diana Tietjens Meyers discusses how she reconfigures representational practices with respect to feminine body images. However, the most exciting potential for feminist analysis of the state of the female nude derives from the concept of the body schema, for this concept endows the human body with subjectivity and agency. Her key question, then, is by what pictorial means and to what extent Saville succeeds in representing agentic womanhood? Meyers argues that interpreting Saville’s paintings from the standpoint of the body schema demonstrates the radicality of her remaking of the female nude and the rapport between her imagery and feminist values.



**Download the 2009-10 IRW Distinguished Lecture Series poster featuring artwork by Emma Amos.**