George Grosz, “Tempo der Strasse” (1918)

COMMA is the Center for Modern Literature, Materialism, and Aesthetics. Operating out of the English Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, this center considers 20th and 21st century literature through the lens of materialist and critical theory. Our methodologies and theoretical interests are diverse, including: the intersection of Marxist and new materialism, feminist and queer studies, postcolonial theory, ecocriticism, affect studies, and biopolitics. Each year we sponsor conferences, guest speakers, and a reading group that brings together faculty, graduates, and undergrads. We also offer an undergraduate specialization through the English major at UCSB. You can read more about us here.

“Proletarian Modernism in the Long 1930’s,” a talk by Professor Benjamin Kholmann (University of Freiburg)

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Please join us for another talk for COMMA’s 2016-17 series, “Modernist Energies.” We continue the year with a talk by Professor Benjamin Kholmann on Tuesday, November 22nd at 3:00 in the Sankey Room (SH 2623).

Professor Kholmann is Assistant Professor at the University of Freiburg.  He is author of Committed Styles: Modernism, Politics, and Left-Wing Literature in the 1930s (Oxford UP, 2014) which cuts against the long-standing tradition of an apolitical modernism to offer a novel reading of modernism of the 1930s as highly political. Professor Kholmann has also edited several volumes, including the forthcoming A History of 1930s British Literature (Cambridge UP); a special issue of Literature and History on Literatures of Anti-Communism (Spring 2015); Edward Upward and the Left-Wing Literary Culture in Britain (Ashgate 2013); and, Utopian Spaces of Modernism: British Literature and Culture 1885-1945 (Palgrave 2012).

Professor Kholmann will deliver a talk entitled “Proletarian Modernism in the Long 1930’s.” This paper identifies a modality of modernist writing that he calls “proletarian modernism”. The writing subsumed under this label is significant for several reasons. First, it usefully defamiliarizes the popular notion of “late modernism” by highlighting an alternative route taken by interwar writing: proletarian modernists, he suggests, aimed at a retooling of modernism, opening up new futures for modernism rather than anticipating its end. Second, proletarian modernism effected a wide-ranging politicization of modernist formal experiment: in works of proletarian modernism, the question of what a properly classless aesthetic looks like is inseparably bound up with the vision of a genuinely classless society. Proletarian modernism thus reopens the question of modernism’s political valences by asking us to think about modernism in proletarian terms; at the same time, it requires us to think about the proletarian aesthetic not in relation to some content (writing which is by and about the working class) but in more specifically formal (or aesthetic) terms.

“Conjectures on World Energy Literature,” a talk by Professor Imre Szeman (University of Alberta)

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Please join us for COMMA’s first event of the 2016-17 series, “Modernist Energies.” We begin the year with a talk by Professor Imre Szeman on Thursday, November 10th at 3:00 in the Sankey Room (SH 2623).

Professor Imre Szeman is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies in the Department of English and Film Studies at University of Alberta. In addition to editing Cultural Theory: An Anthology (2010) and The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (2nd Ed., 2005), Professor Szeman is author of Zones of Instability: Literature, Postcolonialism and the Nation (JHU 2003) and After Globalization (2011) with Eric Cazdyn. His current work spans the  politics of cultural theory to the cultural politics of oil, entitled On Empty: The Cultural Politics of Oil. In addition to these monographs, Szeman is also the co-director of the Petrocultures Research Group and director of the collaborative group research project, After Oil: Explorations and Experiments in the Future of Energy, Culture and Society.

Professor Szeman will deliver a talk entitled “Conjectures on World Energy Literature”

Film Screening of Dziga Vertov’s “Enthusiasm” (1931)

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Please join us for the first event in our 2016-17 series, “Modernist Energies.” On Friday, Oct. 28th at 12:00 in SH 2635 we will screen Dziga Vertov’s 1931 film, Enthusiasm. Vertov’s first sound film tracks the efforts of Ukrainian miners in the Donbass coal mines to fulfill their part of the first five-year plan in only four years. Following the screening, there will be a discussion of the film and two essays by Jonathan Beller and Sergei Tret’iakov (copies available in the CRC). As always, pizza and drinks will be provided!

“A Shade or a Shape of You: Theory of Mind in Lily Briscoe’s Vision,” a talk by Professor Sowon Park (English, UCSB)

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The Literature and the Mind Initiative will host its Inaugural Talk on Monday, October 24th at 5:30 in South Hall 2635. Professor Sowon Park (UCSB, English) will deliver a lecture on Theory of Mind in To the Lighthouse that will be of great interest to all COMMA members.

Professor Sowon Park specializes in British Modernism, Political Fiction, World Literature, and the relationship between Literature and other forms of knowledge, in particular Cognitive Neuroscience. Before coming to UCSB, she taught at Oxford University for over a decade, where she was Lecturer and Tutor in English at Corpus Christi College. Her previous academic appointments were at Cambridge University and Ewha University, Seoul. She has also held visiting appointments at UCSD and ZFL, Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentren, Berlin. She received an M.Phil and D.Phil in English from Oxford. Recently, she was awarded a four-year AHRC grant to work on “Prismatic Translation’. Her latest publication is a special issue of The Journal of World Literaturethat she guest-edited, titled, The Chinese Scriptworld and World Literature (June, 2016). She has published her academic work in The Review of English Studies, MLQ, ELT, European Review, Arcadia,Neohelicon and Comparative Critical Studies.

“A Shade or a Shape of You: Theory of Mind in Lily Briscoe’s Vision”:

In the last fifteen years, “Theory of Mind (ToM)” has been the object of intense investigation in developmental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, anthropogeny, philosophy and literary studies, producing a number of related concepts to develop our understanding of how we impute mental states to ourselves and others. The first part of the paper will provide a brief overview of current research and consider issues that emerge when these terms are translated across disciplines. The second part will discuss relevant findings in ToM research in neuroscience and bring them to bear on the private vision of Lily Briscoe in To the Lighthouse. The aim of the paper is to reflect on what ToM might mean for literary research that makes it distinct from other lines of inquiry and to consider Intersubjectivity from a ToM angle.

Professor Christopher Prendergast’s public lecture “Culture, Politics & Comparative Philology in the Nineteenth Century”

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UCSB’s Graduate Center for Literary Research will host Professor Christopher Pendergast as the Distinguished Visiting Professor for 2016-2017. Prendergast is Emeritus Professor at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of King’s College. He was formerly Distinguished Professor in French and Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

His visit will feature two events open to the public:

1) A public lecture on Thursday, Oct. 20th, 5-7 at Mosher Alumni House:

“Culture, Politics & Comparative Philology in the Nineteenth Century” 

The harnessing of the developing discipline of comparative philology to various agendas centered on ethnicity, nation and race is well-known as one of the key junction points at which nineteenth-century intellectual and academic history connected with political ideology. Christopher Prendergast returns to that scene, but in order to bring into the foreground that yoking of the study of language to politics. He does so principally by way of the key figure of Michel Bréal, the first Professor of Comparative Grammar at the Collège de France.

2) A Graduate seminar on Wednesday, Oct. 19th, 4-6 at Phelps 6206C:

“History and Periodization: The Invention of the Century”

 One of the basic organizing principles of historical study is the division of historical time into units and periods, so basic indeed as to be effectively taken as a kind of intellectual second nature. On the other hand, historical periodization of history has its own history (as well as cross-cultural variations). Professor Prendergast takes the practice of ordering time into units of 100 years and discusses when, how and why this came about, focusing in particular on the history of the French term ‘siècle’.

COMMA’s 2016-17 Organizational Meeting will be held Thursday, Oct. 20th

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Please join us for COMMA’s first meeting of the year on Thursday, Oct. 20th from 3:30-4:30 in South Hall 2617 (the Sankey Room). At the mixer we will discuss programing for the year including upcoming speakers, the film series, and reading group. Wine and snacks will be served.

British Art from Whistler to World War II

From September 18, 2016 through January 8, 2016, the Santa Barbara Museum will host an exhibit of British art from 1890-1945. In conjunction with the exhibit, COMMA will host a series of events and with the generous support of an Arnhold Collaborative Research grant will develop project connecting faculty, graduate and undergraduate student researchers. Details on events and the project will be coming soon. If you would like to learn more British Art from Whistler to World War II, you can find it here.

COMMA’s 2016-17 Program: “Modernist Energies”

“Lightening Fields” (2008), by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

In 2016-17, COMMA will host a program of speakers, films, and reading groups centered on Modernist Energies.

Film Screening of George Miller’s “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (1981)

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Please join COMMA for the final meeting in our 2015-16 series, “In The Desert of the Real” with a screening of the second film in George Miller’s Mad Max series. Set in a post-apocalyptic desert landscape, the film interweaves themes of war, energy, resource scarcity, and environmental justice. The screening will be followed by discussion, and pizza will be provided.

“From Craft to Art: Communicating Through the Medium of Book Art,” a talk by Book Artist Lyall Harris

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Please join us for COMMA’s next event in our year-long series, “The Desert of the Real.” Award-winning book artist Lyall Harris will be presenting “From Craft to Art: Communicating Through the Medium of Book Art” on Thursday, May 5th at 3:00. This event, hosted in conjunction with UCSB Special Collections, will be held in UCSB Library’s Special Collections Conference room (3rd Floor of Davidson Library) with a reception immediately to follow.

Since the late 90s, Lyall Harris’ artwork has been exhibited in more than one hundred solo and juried group shows and recognized with over twenty awards, including The George Hitchcock Prize for painting from the National Academy Museum, NY, and a Purchase Award in Book Art from the University of Utah for a fifteen-book site-specific project. Her book art can be found in numerous Special Collection libraries across the United States, among these, Yale (Haas Arts Library), Stanford (Green Library), Indiana University (Lilly Library), Davidson Library (UCSB) and Smith College (Mortimer Rare Book Room). Harris has been the recipient of fellowships at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, NALL Foundation in Vence, France, and San Francisco’s Grabhorn Institute.

“From Craft to Art; Communicating Through the Medium of Book Art”

Book art at its best is a medium where the maker’s keen use of the material components creates a faceted, more comprehensive and potent language to express content. In this way, the parts themselves, in the context of the piece, become bearers of meaning that work collectively to cause a kind of “transcendence,” from material to conceptual. This is where craft becomes art. Lyall Harris  will present an array of these “literary art objects”—variously spawned by particular texts, “book” forms, specific materials, or images—to illustrate my creative process and the unique potential of book art as medium.

“Getting Real About the Anthropocene,” a talk by E. Ann Kaplan (Stony Brook University)

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Please join us for COMMA’s next event of the Spring Quarter. We will continue our investigation of “The Desert of the Real” on April 15th at 1:00 in South Hall 2623 with a talk by E. Ann Kaplan.

Professor Kaplan is Distinguished Professor of English, and Cultural Analysis and Theory, at Stony Brook University. Her influential works on feminist film theory include Women & Film: Both Sides of the Camera (1990) and Motherhood and Representation (1992). Professor Kaplan’s work on trauma theory includes Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature (2005), and has led her to her current research considering the physic structures of human/environmental relations. In 2015, Rugters published her most recent monograph, Climate Trauma: Foreseeing the Future in Dystopian Film and Fiction.

“’Getting Real About the Anthropocene’: Pretrauma and Cultural Politics in Futurist Dystopian Film (with Reference to Jeff Nicol’sTake Shelter)”

In this talk, taken from her 2015 monograph, Climate Trauma: Foreseeing the Future in Dystopian Film and Fiction, E. Ann Kaplanexplores how cinema negotiates the catastrophe of climate change humans ignore at their peril. She first asks what affects and psychic processes prevent humans from coming together to save the planet. In turning to dystopian narratives to investigate such questions, Kaplan develops the concept of pre-traumatic stress (linked to the familiar Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome), and asks what impact results from viewers occupying a position of “virtual future humans” in climate disaster fictions. Here, Take Shelter will be discussed as a striking example of pre-traumatic stress. Second, Kaplan attends to the cultural politics in disaster scenarios commenting on meanings attached to race and gender; she introduces psychoanalysis to partially explain the evident sexism and racism.  Finally, Kaplan debates whether or not commercial climate disaster films provide an unhelpful sense of mastery, collude with corporate manipulation of fear, or function as a call to action. Film can be a powerful tool for changing consciousness and even policy. She concludes that if we can understand the psychic processes involved in climate denial, we have a chance to rupture the ideological structures that entrap people.

“Red Deserts: a Color Without Substance,” a talk by Professor Tarek Elhaik (UC Davis)

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Please join us for COMMA’s first event of the Winter Quarter. We will continue our investigation of “The Desert of the Real” on Friday, April 8th at 1:00 in South Hall 2623 with a talk by Tarek Elhaik. Professor Elhaik is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis, where he also runs and curates AIL (the Anthropology of the Image Lab). He has published articles in various journals and anthologies, and is the author of The Incurable Image: Curating Post-Mexican Film & Media Arts (Edimburgh University Press, February 2016). As always, snacks and drinks will be provided.

This talk stems from a series of encounters with artists whose “Earth” is grounded in what Elhaik calls a “geo-curation.” Among these artists is Michelangelo Antonioni whose 1964 classic Technicolor filmRed Desert will as our point of departure. By combining anthropological theories of color (Taussig, 2009; Levi-Strauss, 1964) and Deleuze’s meditation on Antonioni’s “geophysics,” the talk remediates and reconfigures Earth as an enduring form and “incurable-image” (Elhaik, 2016) of the so-called Anthropocene. By assembling images from Red Desert alongside those of Robert Smithson’s earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) and Tareq Teguia’s film Inland (2008) Antonioni’s geo-curation emerges as a human practice that inhabits the world as a desert without a substance.

Suggested readings for the talk include:

Deleuze, Gilles. “On The Time-Image” in Negotiations (New York: Columbia U. Press) p. 57-61.

Elhaik, Tarek. “Rome-Algiers-Bahia: A Bloc of Sensation In Lieu of Geography” in in Sweet Sixties: Specters and Spirits of a Parallel Avant-garde. Georg Schöllhammer & Ruben Arevshatyan eds.  Sternberg Press (2014): 217-228. (Attached)

Taussig, Michael. What Color is the Sacred? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p. 3-12

Levi-Strauss, Claude. The Raw and the Cooked. (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970 [1964]), p. 18-20

Film Screening of Nacer Khemir’s “Wanderers of the Desert” (1984)

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Please join COMMA as we continue our 2015-16 series, “In The Desert of the Real” with a screening of the first film in Nacer Khemir’s “Desert Trilogy.” Set in a small town on the edge of an immense desert, Wanderers of the Desert (1984) interweaves myth and dream in order to explore tensions between modern and traditional values. The screening will be held on Friday, Feb. 12th at 1:00 in SH 2635 and, as always, the will be followed by discussion, and pizza will be provided.

Film Screening of Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” (2014)

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Please join us on Friday, Feb. 26th at 1:00 in SH 2635 as COMMA continues the 2015-16 series, “In the Desert of the Real” with a screening of Abderrahmane Sissako’s award winning film, Timbuktu (2014). Inspired by a public execution, Sissako’s film offers a gritty exploration of cultural conflict resulting from the occupation of Timbuktu by a jihadist faction. As always, we will reserve time after the film for discussion and pizza will be provided.

Film Screening of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Red Desert” (1964)

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Please join us for the first event in COMMA‘s winter schedule on Friday, Jan. 15th at 1:00 in South Hall 2635. We will be screening Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964). Following the screening, Eileen Joy (UCSB) will join us to discuss the film and her article “Blue” from the important collection, Prismatic Ecologies (2013). Copies of “Blue” are available in the CRC. As always, refreshments will be provided.

“The Desert on the Doorstep,” a talk by Professor Dick Hebdige (UCSB)

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Please join us this Friday, Nov. 6th 1:00 in South Hall 2623 (the Sankey Room) for a talk by Dick Hebdige (UCSB, Film & Media Studies) entitled “The Desert on the Doorstep.”Professor Hebdige is the author of several important monographs including Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979) and Cut ‘n’ Mix: Culture, Identity and Caribbean Music (1987). The talk will draw upon research conducted through the “Desert Studies Project” (2007-15) run under the aegis of the UC Institute for Research in the Arts.

Figured simultaneously as eternally remote yet all too close to home, the Desert in the era of intensifying crisis in the Middle East and the longest drought in California’s recorded rainfall history refuses to stay put. The deserts east of LA, easily accessed via the arterial sprawl of Interstate -10 serve as home to a growing number of permanent Inland Empire residents and as weekend getaway destinations for second homesteaders, tourists, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, Burners and boulderers alike.  Hubs for agribusiness, the military-industrial complex, the casino, resort and waste disposal industries, the desert hinterlands form the literally overlooked outer- rim components of trans-nationally networked metropolitan ecologies. Drawing on the archive of the Desert Studies project a UC system wide  interdisciplinary arts-centered research initiative centered in southern California’s arid zone this talk addresses the desert’s  problematic placement within the imaginary of  21st century West.

Film screening of Werner Herzog’s “Where the Green Ants Dream” (1984)

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Friday, Oct. 16th at 1:00 in SH 2635 Please join us as we open our 2015-16 series, “In The Desert of the Real” with a screening Werner Herzog’s first film in English. The screening and discussion will be held onFriday, Oct. 16th at 1:00 in SH 2635. Set in the Australian desert, Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) stages a confrontation between environmental activism and modernization as local Aborigines fight a mining company searching for uranium mining sites. Blending documentary and feature film, Herzog explores the legal and philosophical issues behind neocolonialism and the extraction of local resources. The screening will be followed by discussion, and food will be provided.

COMMA’s 2015-16 Theme: “The Desert of the Real”

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As decided at the organizational meeting on Thursday, Oct. 1, COMMA’s 2015-16 theme will be “The Desert of the Real.” The series will investigate the desert’s arid affordances and apocalyptic imaginaries. As sites of political and aesthetic revolution, deserts solicit alternative modes of viewing, thinking, and being. Please join us all year for featured a film series, reading groups, and talks by scholars who traversed terrains both rich and desolate. Our first event will be a screening and discussion of Werner Herzog’s Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) on Friday, October 16th. Wine and snacks will be provided as we kick off our year long series!

Recent publications by COMMA members

Human Programming

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Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom (2016), by Scott Selisker.

Hope at Sea

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Hope at Sea: Possible Ecologies in Oceanic Literature (2015), by Teresa Shewry.

Stuff Theory

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Stuff Theory: Everyday Objects, Radical Materialism (2014), by Maurizia Boscagli.

The Speed Handbook

Speed Handbook

The Speed Handbook: Velocity, Pleasure, Modernism (2009), by Enda Duffy.

Sublime Noise

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Sublime Noise: Musical Culture and the Modernist Writer (2014), by Josh Epstein.

Global Icons

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Global Icons: Apertures to the Popular (2011), By Bishnupriya Ghosh.

Apocalyptic Futures

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Apocalyptic Futures: Marked Bodies and the Violence of the Text in Kafka, Conrad, and Coetzee (2011), by Russell Samolsky.

Tactical Media

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Tactical Media (2009), by Rita Raley.