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


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


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)


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


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)


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)


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)


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)



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.