UB to Hold One of Few U.S. Humanities Conferences

Release Date: October 20, 2005


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- "New Futures: Humanities, Theory, Art," the first annual conference sponsored by the University at Buffalo Humanities Institute, will be held here Oct. 28-29 and will feature presentations by some of the most exceptional scholars and researchers addressing humanities issues today.

The event will be welcome to scholars because, while annual conferences in the humanities are regularly hosted by universities in Europe, Australia, the Middle East and Asia, few American universities sponsor them, the notable exception being the University of Hawaii.

The inaugural conference will take advantage of UB's historic strengths in the fields of poetics, literary criticism and comparative literature to address the future of literacy; the meaning of "humanity" in an age of disposable people; storytelling in the digital age; the concepts of the "self" and the "other" in psychoanalysis, history, gender studies and contemporary philosophy, and differences between "real" and "virtual" in their many representations.

Sessions will be held in the Screening Room in the Center for the Arts on the UB North (Amherst) Campus.

Events will be free of charge and open to the public. The conference schedule is at http://www.humanitiesinstitute.buffalo.edu/popup/conference_schedule.shtml.

The presenting speakers are distinguished and well-known authors, philosophers, intellectual historians, media critics and political theorists. They include:

Brian Rotman, Division of Comparative Studies and the Advanced Computing Center for Arts and Design, The Ohio State University. Rotman is a mathematician and writer currently using robotics and ethology (the study of the fundamental human values and their formation) to construct a model of the psyche that can illuminate technology's ongoing re-structuring of human consciousness.

His presentation, "Ghost Effects," will address the subject of self in relation to changes brought about by contemporary technology, in particular the unreal or "virtual" molecules, space, waves, memory, life forms, bodies, books, sex, tourism and shopping that inhabit the digital age.

Martin Jay, Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History, University of California at Berkeley, one of America's best known and most influential intellectual historians, whose talk is titled "Politics and the Virtues of Mendacity." Martin is a scholar of European intellectual history, visual culture and critical theory and the author of nine critically applauded books in his field, among them, "Songs of Experience," a history of Western ideas about the nature of human experience, and "Refractions of Violence," a book of essays that revolve around the themes of violence and the visual in connection with the Holocaust, virtual reality, religious violence, the art world, the Unicorn Killer, and wide range of other topics.

Rudi Visker, Philosophy Department of the Catholic University at Leuven, Belgium, who will address "The Foreign, the Uncanny and the Foreigner: Concepts of the Self and the Other in Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Philosophy." Visker is an influential, prolific author, speaker and teacher here and in Europe, and the author of "Michel Foucault: Genealogy as Critique;" "Truth and Singularity," a response to critics of Foucault, and most recently, "Inhuman Condition," in which he considers what to make of the surprisingly monotonous series of statements produced by our societies and philosophers, all of which, he notes, converge in the single theme: the importance of difference.

Renowned literary scholar Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr., Professor, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University, where she directs Graduate Studies in Spanish. Sommer's presentation is titled "Cultural Agency, the Wiggle Room." Well-known for her wit and love of language, she has written widely and deeply of cultural agency (the range of creative activities that contribute to society, including pedagogy, research, activism and the arts), patriarchy, minority writing, nationalisms and sexualities, and minority writing in the Americas, among other topics. Her most recent book is "Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education," in which she focuses on humor, particularly bilingual jokes, as the place where tensions between and within cultures are played out.

Elizabeth Weed, Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University, associate director of Brown's Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women. She has edited several important books in her field, including "Coming to Terms: Feminism, Theory, Politics," and is the founding editor, with Naomi Schor, of the influential journal, Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. Her talk, "Reading for Consolation: Irigaray and the Waning of Critique," will address the work of Luce Irigaray, the noted Belgian linguist and psychoanalyst whose writings, based on complex linguistic, philosophical and psychoanalytic precepts, famously focused on phallogocentrism (the male universe as referent), and influenced the feminist movement in France and Italy for several decades.

Rey Chow, Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University, titled her talk "'Human' in the Age of Disposable People." Chow is a critic of the traditional approach of sinologists, Orientalists and Westerners toward China and the "East." She refuses to assign China "absolute difference" from the West and, instead, stakes her ground "neither in the Chinese nor the Western, but rather on a dialectic on which 'Chinese' and 'Western' is played. As a consequence, her work is germane to many disciplines. She has written extensively on film, feminism, fascism, pedagogy and post-modernism. Her rereading of Chinese culture promotes an understanding of otherness that goes beyond colonial discourse.

N. Katherine Hayles, Department of English, University of California at Los Angeles, who will address "The Future of Literature: A Media Perspective." Hayles' current research includes "Virtual Bodies: Evolving Materiality in Cybernetics, Literature and Information," a book-length work that traces the history of cybernetics from 1945 to the present and relates it to post-structural critical theory and contemporary literature.

"Inclusion, Exclusion," is the topic of a presentation by post-Marxist political theorist Ernesto Laclau, Department of Political Theory at the University of Essex, England, where he holds a chair in political theory and directs the doctoral program in ideology and discourse analysis. Laclau also is a lecturer in the UB Department of Comparative Literature and has lectured widely on five continents. Laclau's most important book is "Hegemony and Socialist Strategy," in which he and co-author Chantal Mouffe argue for a radical democracy of agonistic pluralism where all antagonisms (not just that of class struggle) can be expressed.

Paola Marrati, professor of Humanities and Philosophy, The Johns Hopkins University, is best known for her publications on Derrida's readings of Husserl and Heidegger. At the conference she will discuss "The Event and the Ordinary: On the New in the Philosophy of Deleuze and Cavell."

Two plenary sessions will address the future of literacy. During the first session, "The Future of Literacy: Reading," five members of the UB English Department faculty will address literacy and reading. They are: SUNY Distinguished Professor Susan Howe, the distinguished critic and poet noted for her compelling experimental forms; Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Dennis; celebrated poet Myung Mi Kim, director of the UB Program in Poetics, whose work has described by critics as "brilliant," "amazing" and "profoundly important and affecting;" fiction writer Christina Milletti, and poet Karen MacCormack.

The second session, "The Future of Literacy: Reflections on Poetry," will feature the observations and analyses of Steve McCaffery, Gray Chair in Poetry, UB Department of English, and Andrew Benjamin, professor of critical theory in design and architecture, Department of Architecture and Design, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. It will be followed by a closing reception.

The Humanities Institute Web site includes links to information on the conference, institute fellowships and other programs. The Institute Web site is at http://www.humanitiesinstitute.buffalo.edu/about/annualconference.shtml.

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