Saturday, May 26, 2007

Jen Boyle, Transversality, and the University as Experimental Site

"All seems to take place as if, in this aggregate of images which I call the universe, nothing really new could happen except through the medium of certain particular images, the type of which is furnished me by my body"--Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory

Without wanting to let go of the conversation here [especially as we, maybe, begin to wrestle anew, following JJC's suggestion, with what we think we mean when we say "humanism"], I can't help myself from sharing with everyone what I think is the very exciting work of Jen Boyle, an Assistant Professor of English at Hollins University [with affiliations in Screenwriting and Film Studies, Women's Studies, and Dance], but currently finishing her year as the Carol G. Lederer Fellow at the Pembroke Center at Brown University, and recent addition to the BABEL Working Group [and thanks to Tim Spence, Jen's colleague at Hollins and BABEL's "historian of devotion," for introducing us to Jen]. Jen's interests and research projects [which include books and articles but also art installations] are eclectic and wide-ranging, and frankly, just damn cool, and here's a flavorful sampling of her current work-in-progress that I think demonstrates that this person called Jen Boyle [who we had not yet met but somehow knew already] has been mining some veins beside us all along:


The Anamorphic Imaginary: Perspective Media and Embodiment in Early Modern Literature and Technoscience

Book Chapter-in-Progress:

"Queer Pet: Sexuality and Becoming-Animal in Early Modern Images of Desire, Suffering, and Bodily Transgression" [book chapter in progress]

Installation Piece-in-Progress:

Perspective and the Affective Image

In Jen's own words, "This [installation] project plays with some of the possibilities in thinking about embodied perception as a phenomenon that exceeds vision. The “technologizing of the image” has become a catch phrase for describing the social and cultural changes brought about by digital media forms. Yet, too often we revert to thinking of both technology and the image (and the new possibilities for “manipulating” images via new technologies) in terms of vision and the human gaze (eye/I). This installation offers some basic play with what Henri Bergson called the “concrete life of the body” and the image by appropriating Durer’s historically iconic Reclining Nude and re-configuring this image as an active installation piece that allows for multiple “affective” perspectives to materialize."

On her website, Jen tell us that one of her concerns is "transdisciplinarity -- a concept both overly idealized and undervalued . . . a theory-practice that both strengthens and invigorates disciplinary perspectives while challenging the boundaries and limits to what counts as knowledge. Transdisciplinary efforts within the academy offer the potential for new publics to form within the university -- spaces that disrupt the predictable recantations of 'things we know we know' and 'places we like to go' (including who we break bread with at lunch). The university should be a place that maintains an active and productive struggle between memory and experimentation: past knowledge and the traces of historical consciousness should be in creative (and at times testy) play with the idea of the avant-garde (the trendy, tedious, and transformational aspects of the latter concept intended and retained). Traditional, historical, and canonical knowledges require performances and rhetoric to re-animate their affective presence. Experimentation requires performances and rhetoric to inhabit memory. Spaces outside the university should mix freely with those within the university.

Knowledge can become transformative when it simultaneously inhabits creative, cognitive, performative/affective, and historical spaces. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is over-determined."

Hmmm . . . sound familiar? Indeed, what Jen writes above seems to provide [to me, anyway], one of the possible beginnings of an avenue out of the current so-called crisis [as Zizek argues, anyway] of the present as a site of "pure meaningless historical experience," and also out of a premodern studies that often defines itself as a site of static knowledges cemented in "tradition."

At one point on her website, Jen simply exclaims, "playful rigor!!!" She then also mentions her interest in "transversality": "developed by Bryan Reynolds, [transversality] is a theorypractice that I (and my students) have found productive and liberating in writing, performing, making, and communicating ( Some features: Intellectual and creative production as "investigative-expansive" versus "dissective-cohesive"; expanding "subjective territory" through one's work and production; "becomings" -- including what you're not ."

And while you're at it, check out also Jen Boyle's cool blog, simply called Jen Boyle.


Jen Boyle said...

Eileen, thanks for the post. Let me just say hello and how excited I am to have been introduced to the work you all are doing at In the Middle, Babel, et al -- look forward to more

Eileen Joy said...

As we say at BABEL, fabulous and ditto.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Bryan Reynolds was two years behind me in graduate school, and quite a force of nature. He now has an ideal job where he actually can combine the interpretive/textual with the performative visual. I like his deleuzian transversality stuff a lot.

Thanks for pointing out Jen Boyle's work, which is also intriguing and useful. I've added her to our ITM blogroll.