Literature and the Mind presented two exciting programs June 1-2 on the cognitive humanities featuring our four visiting European scholars: Marco Bernini, Marco Caracciolo, Karin Kukkonen, and Merja Polvinen.
On June 1st, Bernini, Caracciolo, Kukkonen, and Polvinen directed a special workshop on “Cognition and Creativity” for all interested students, especially undergraduates, at the College of Creative Studies. They discussed topics such as metaphors, personification and how writers shape fictional beings, enaction, embodiment, and predictive processing.
On June 2nd, we had a full day of talks, discussions, and delicious food catered by C’est Cheese in the McCune Conference Room with our visiting scholars. Please see the poster and conference program below.
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Conference program (PDF here):
In “Phantasmal Intersubjectivity: Mental Co-Presence and the Emersivity of Literary Characters,” Marco Bernini discussed the fictional elements that transmigrate into real life outside of the immediate reading context. His talk discussed the “emersivity” of literary characters and asked how and why literary characters enter our cognitive life and give us new cognitive capacities to feel what we would not and could not otherwise.
Marco Caracciolo’s talk on “Embodiment and the Physics of Intersubjectivity in Contemporary ‘Lab Lit’” asked how we can envisage human and nonhuman interrelations, how narrative can integrate realities beyond the human. In particular, Caracciolo directed our attention to the use of metaphors in contemporary lab lit, which focuses on scientists in realistic settings, their personal lives, and how they are related to what they study. The presentation showed ways in which narrative can resist anthropomorphic bias by using metaphor as a formal device to take itself out of human-centered comfort zones.
Karin Kukkonen’s talk, “Mediated Intersubjectivity: Pamela, Julie and 4e Cognition in the Public Sphere,” addressed the role of social cognition in the novel, focusing especially on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse. Pamela itself is comprised of letters between characters, and then dialogue continues through interactions in the public sphere – the conversation is extended through rewritings and continuations of the story, such as Henry Fielding’s Shamela and Eliza Haywood’s Anti-Pamela. After considering the eighteenth century novel, Kukkonen discussed the contemporary web series Skam and ongoing changes in the mediation of social cognition. The presentation considered how serialization prompts a metacognitive response.
In “Enaction, Emotion and Reflective Attention in Narrative,” Merja Polvinen focused on Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, in which artificiality and affect exist simultaneously, playing with the space between truth and fiction. The paratext includes suggestions on how to enjoy the book, twenty-five pages of acknowledgments, and a reflection on issues with the book. The insistence on the paratext makes it seem more like metafiction than a work of nonfiction. Polvinen presented the mental processing involved with this memoir: there is the narrative, the implied author’s actions, and the self-referential processing of ourselves as authorial audience.
Instructor: Aranye Fradenburg
Course: Engl 236, Fall 2016
“Interaction is the conscious or unconscious exchange of behavioral or nonbehavioral, sensible and intelligible signs from the whole arsenal of somatic and extrasomatic [cultural, social and environmental] systems.”
– Fernando Poyatos, “Nonverbal Communication in Interaction: Psychology and Literature”
The purpose of this course is to broaden our understanding of the somatic and environmental features of expressive (and impressive) experience. Readings will draw primarily on the recent revitalization of interest in psychosomatics occasioned by neuroscientific developments in distributed cognition/affect, but will also include social-psychological studies in nonverbal communication (especially paralanguage), enactivist research, and biosemiotics. Authors will include Elizabeth A. Wilson (Psychosomatic: Feminism and the Neurological Body and Gut Feminism); Brian Massumi (ed. A Shock to Thought: Expression After Deleuze and Guattari); Andy Clark (Supersizing the Mind); Giovanna Colombetti (The Feeling Body); Aleksandra Kostic and Derek Chadee (eds. The Social Psychology of Nonverbal Communication); Fernando Poyatos (Nonverbal Communication Across Disciplines and Crosscultural Perspectives in Nonverbal Communications); Marilia Aisenstein and Elsa Rappoport de Aisemberg (eds. Psychosomatics Today: A Psychoanalytic Perspective); Donald Favareau (ed. Essential Readings in Biosemiotics), and Daniel Paul Schreber (Memoirs of My Nervous Illness). If possible, students should have read Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals and Freud’s Studies in Hysteria before the class begins.
Image: “Fig. 9: Cat, savage and prepared to fight, drawn from life by Mr. Wood,” from Charles Darwin, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals
UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center continues its year-long focus on the humanities and the brain in a conference entitled “The Humanities, The Neurosciences, and the Brain.” This conference, held on UCSB’s campus from May 12-13, features Gabrielle Starr as the keynote speaker, and includes presentations by graduate students affiliated with Literature and the Mind.
From the IHC description: “This interdisciplinary conference will exploring the multiple accords, and discords, that characterize humanistic and neuroscientific approaches to the study of the brain…. Participants will explore creative framings of neuroscientific inquiry through humanistic perspectives, as well as artistic explorations of inner states and mental landscapes.”
The conference is free and open to the public. You can find more information, including information about registering to attend, here.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
9:00 AM coffee and pastries
9:15 AM Welcome: Susan Derwin, Director, IHC
9:30 AM Panel 1: Sight and Sound
Katie Adkison, English, UCSB, “Speaking What We Feel: The Sense of Speech in King Lear”
Chip Badley, English, UCSB, “’If not in the Word, in the Sound’: Sound, Affect, Frederick Douglass”
Cole Cohen, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, UCSB, “Merleau-Ponty and Me: The Phenomenology of Neurodiversity”
10:30 AM break
10:45 AM Sight and Sound continued
Phillip Grayson, Literature, St. John’s University, “At The Edge of Evening, Often Forever: Extramission, Consciousness, Literature”
Ery Shin, English, Eureka College, “Imaging the Mind in Literary Contexts”
12:00 PM lunch
12:45 PM Panel 2: Sociality, Intersubjectivity, Empathy
Corinne Bancroft, English, UCSB, “The Face of Friendship in Louise Erdrich’s Fiction”
Ksenia Federova, Cultural Studies, UC Davis, “Identity Transactions and Interpersonal Dynamics in Art and Science”
Cheryl Jaworski, English, UCSB, “The Embodied Mind and ‘the Demon of Domesticity’ in Dickens’s Dombey and Son”
2:15 PM break
2:30 PM Panel 3: Theories of Mind, Machines and Mechanical Metaphors
Hannes Bend, Quantum Physics Aleman Lab and Institute of Neuroscience, University of Oregon, “Metaverses/Myndful”
Jennifer Duggan, English, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, “The Victorians and the Mechanical Brain”
Melissa M. Littlefield, English and Kinesiology & Community Health, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, “Public Displays of Arousal: EEG Wearables and the Fashioning of Instrumental Intimacy”
4:00 PM break
4:15 PM Panel 4: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Historical Influences
Louis Caron, History and Religious Studies, UCSB, “Some Observations on the History of Neuroscience, and on Thomas Willis, the First Neurologist”
Jap-Nanak Makkar, English, University of Virginia, “Libet’s Missing ½ Second, Digital Technology, and Political Critique”
Robert Samuels, Writing Program, UCSB, “Damasio’s Error: The Humanities Between Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience”
5:45 PM reception
Friday, May 13, 2016
8:30 AM coffee and pastries
8:45 AM Welcome
9:00 AM Panel 5: Altered States
Elliott D. Ihm, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UCSB, “Neurocognitive Foundations of Self-Transcendent Experiences: A Speculative Predictive Coding Account”
Brianna K. Morseth, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UCSB, “To Forget the Self: Religious, Cultural, and Neuroscientific Dimensions of Ego Death through Contemplative Practice”
D.C. McGuire, Neuroscience Researcher, “Neuroscience Offers Humanity’s Second Chance”
10:30 AM break
10:45 AM Keynote: Gabrielle Starr, English, New York University, author of Feeling Beauty
“Pleasure and Form: Chasing Imagination”
12:15 PM lunch
1:00 PM Panel 6: Memory and the Creation of Consciousness
Jacob Burg, English, Brandeis University, “Reading Forgetful Minds: The Social Brain in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant”
Wallace Chafe, Linguistics, UCSB, “Immediate versus Displaced Thinking”
Rebecca Chenoweth, English, UCSB, “Remembering ‘The Best of England’ from the Periphery of War in The Remains of the Day”
Sara Pankenier Weld, Germanic & Slavic Studies, UCSB, “The Birth of Consciousness: Andrei Bely’s Modernist Pseudo-Autobiography”
3:00 PM Closing remarks
Image: Rene Descartes, illustration of mind/body dualism from “Meditations on First Philosophy” (duplicated)
Darwin argued that when animals experience emotion, they are experiencing bodily events (the corners of the mouth twitch, blood pressure rises). Expression is emotional experience, not what signifies it. Influenced by Darwin, Freud was convinced that mind and body were in some way of a piece: psychological distress could affect the body and also be caused, in part at least, by the body’s troubles. Since Freud’s time, many researchers, clinicians and theorists have doubted, sometimes even ridiculed, the existence of psychosomatic and somatopsychic phenomena. But times have changed again, and we are more and more prepared to believe, at minimum, that bodily and psychical experience co-construct one another. This course will begin with a sampling of Darwin’s writing on the emotions; with Freud and Breuer’s remarks on abreaction and catharsis in Studies in Hysteria; and with a contemporary study of Hysteria by Christopher Bollas, psychoanalyst (and former English Ph.D.) interested in the idea of a body that prepares to speak, developmentally and otherwise. In this part of the course we will also consider some examples of literature on “lovesickness.” Next, we will consider the embodied character of delusional experience, through Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memories of My Nervous Illness and Freud’s commentary thereon; selections from the works of Deleuze and Guattari and Massumi on schizophrenia and expression; and essays from the anthology Psychosomatics Today: A Psychoanalytic Perspective, which will introduce us to very recent work on these topics. The last part of the course will draw from the work of Elaine Scarry (The Body in Pain), Giovanna Colombetti (The Feeling Body) and Andy Clark (Supersizing the Mind), all important proponents of “distributed”/“extended” mind. The mind may be embodied, but it’s also extended well beyond the body, by means, for example, of written texts. How might we want to conceive of literary experience accordingly?
Image: Still from Chaplin, “Modern Times”
Image: Sam Durant’s “We Are the People” at Project Row Houses. Photo by Rick Lowe.
Below, you will find links to projects that intersect with our biennial theme, “Improvisation.” Feel free to browse and to add by emailing suggested materials to Rebecca Chenoweth or Julie Carlson.
Institutes and Societies
International Institute for the Study of Critical Improvisation (University of Guelph)
International Society for Improvised Music (see esp. “Words/Music/Images/Links”)
Art and Theater
Project Row Houses
Free Southern Theater
Fred Moten|A Wesleyan Reader’s Companion
Literary Hub: An Interview with Fred Moten, Part 1
“Do Black Lives Matter? Robin Kelley and Fred Moten”
Grisha Coleman’s “echo::system”
“echo::system on vimeo”
Philip Ringstrom, “Principles in Improvisation: A Model of Therapeutic Play in Relational Psychoanalysis”
“Dr. Phil Ringstrom on an improvisational mode of treatment,” You Tube
Literature and the Mind has embarked on a two-year study of improvisation. Long associated with the impromptu, the ad hoc, the spontaneous, and the ensemble, improvisation currently is a popular topic in an array of disciplines because of the alternatives it poses to conventional and canonical standards of thought. A key feature of the phenomenology of improvisation is a series of dialectical paradoxes (i.e., tradition/innovation; structure/caprice; trust/risk; solo/group) that enlist modes of thinking that are embodied, post-formal, co-creative, and psycho-eco-analytic and thus that advance our group’s prior investigations of talking cures and theories and practices of care. Another key element is that improvisation is a life practice of virtually every type of creature, study of which demystifies “human” and “being” and intensifies cross-species collaborations, including display behaviors. This past year we read authors and invited speakers who discuss improvisation within disciplines such as performance studies, cognitive neuroscience, psychoanalysis, and biosemiotics. But in considering these various extensions of the history of thought, our particular interest was to stay focused on perspectives that emerge from improvisation’s two chief domains: performance arts and aggrieved communities. Both domains, we believe, not only create things that enliven thought more de/constructively than most other perspectives but also, by approaching “thought” from two of its alleged underbellies, place into conversation and tension the different forms of sociality and society-making that the improvisatory tactics of the arts and the aggrieved envisage. If one powerful definition of jazz is “the sound of surprise,” improvisation, then, challenges us to reformulate trust in contexts where its being broken is a foregone conclusion. At the same time, improvisation in the arts and by the aggrieved demonstrates how crucially thriving remains tied to surviving and vice versa.
Because of this orientation, our group is especially drawn to centers like the International Institute for the Study of Critical Improvisation at the University of Guelph in London, Ontario who consider improvisation as a social as well as aesthetic practice. (Thanks to George Lipsitz, the UC Santa Barbara Center for Black Studies Research is pursuing a partnership with them.) Their projects endorse Muhal Richard Abrams’ assertion that “improvisation is a human right” and emphasize how theories and practices of improvised music offer models for human rights discourse and struggles that do not proceed from enlightenment concepts of autonomy, order, and individualism but instead from cooperation, negotiations of difference, risk-taking, and trust. We thus started the year by reading chapters from one of their several book publications, The Fierce Urgency of Now: Improvisation, Rights and the Ethics of Cocreation, co-authored by Daniel Fischlin, Ajay Heble, and George Lipsitz, and discussed with George Lipsitz (UCSB Department of Black Studies and Sociology) various arts-based community-revisions that are pursuing rights along more poetic lines of justice (e.g., Project Row-Houses in Houston, Free Southern Theater Institute, Students at the Center in New Orleans). But we also wanted our discussions to complicate what this “living-together” through improvisation entails by considering it from the perspectives of the undercommons, a collectivity for whom the concept of rights is bankrupt and whose joy in existence requires not playing with institutions, and of a psychoanalysis that counts living together as a singular creature one of the most problematic features of living. So we invited as our first two speakers Fred Moten (Professor of English, UC Riverside) and Philip Ringstrom (psychoanalyst and faculty at the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis), who are the most creative improvisational thinkers we know in the fields of jazz and black radical thought and of psychoanalysis. Our second set of speakers, Grisha Coleman (Professor of Movement, Computation, and Digital Media, Arizona State University) and Ann Randolph (playwright, sketch comedian, improv instructor), pursue these impulses specifically through bodies of non/thought, each of them expert at using arts of the body to expand spaces for remaking a feel of togetherness.
24 November, 2014: FRED MOTEN
Co-sponsored with “Anti-Racism Inc.” of the American Cultures in Global Contexts Center
Image credit: Mike Tofanelli
“When Literature and the Mind chose as its focus of study improvisation as a life practice that crosses species, foregrounds the arts, and crafts dis/order, we were channeling Fred Moten—and not just because his work is all about the topic and his writing is the most creative and innovatory that we know. It’s also that the things that he studies—jazz, the avant garde, the black radical tradition, the undercommons, fugitivity—are improvisations so that attending to them in the way that he does already puts us in this space, if we can hear what he is saying. There’s the rub. This is a challenge because mostly we encounter Fred through reading, not hearing, his writing, which is difficult and which means to be difficult in part because writing is not the preferred medium of the things he studies, all of whom and which have been defined as “thing” and as “nothing” by western can(n)ons of thought. So Fred writes from beyond the subject/object division, in the break or gap out of which differential somethings are generated, and without spending time—or wasting precious time—objecting to subjects and institutions invested in a symbolic order that perpetuates its relay race, even rat races also known as white flight. Fred’s words make readers go elsewhere, hear other voices and voicings, the noise and shimmer of movement, so that readers have a sensuous experience of absence, a sense of the surround of this sound, this place, this train of feeling. This requires returning words to their matter, the materiality by which loss moves—yo mama—and to the fantasy of the hold, the holding pattern, something that blackness and black study is in, not on its way toward or seeking to escape from, which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require ongoing planning.
If reading typeface can conjure all this, Fred’s writings suggest, imagine—pick up on—what hearing jazz, walking downtown, dancing do. Here is the undercommons, where study happens apart from the sobriety, professionalizing, and criticizing that to his and Stefano Harney’s joint ears ruin universities and rob thought of the capacity to improvise. To me what is so powerful about Fred’s work is how its theorizing and embodying of improvisation connect improvisation and blackness as a life practice, a fugitive planning that we are in to the extent that we are in the dark and are comfortable being there: nothing new and always avant garde, not a choice but also not subjection or subjectifying, a sense surround. ‘Can this interplay of the refusal of what has been refused, this undercommon appositionality, be a place from which emerges neither self-consciousness nor knowledge of the other but an improvisation that proceeds from somewhere on the other side of an unasked question?’ ‘Let’s share so we can differ, in undercommon misunderstanding. Our undercommonness is that we have no standing. That’s all it is, that’s where it’s at, in the open we keep making.’”
2 February, 2015: PHILIP RINGSTROM
Photo credit: Mark Gerald, from “In the Shadow of Freud’s Couch”
“Involved in the school of thinking called ‘Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy’ that foregrounds the relationality of personhood in intrapsychic and interpersonal domains, Phil Ringstrom likes to speak of the ‘committee of the mind’ in describing psychic processes. He thus brings into clinical settings awareness of the startling number of persons and self-states present when allegedly two or three are gathered. In a recent interview celebrating the publication of his new book, A Relational Psychoanalytic Approach to Couple’s Psychotherapy (Routledge, 2014), Phil states that ‘couples psychotherapy may be the best modality for introducing new patients to psychodynamic psychotherapy,’ better initially than the more usual individual therapy, especially for those individuals who enter therapy with little familiarity with psychoanalysis. He gives as example the often-impoverished or astonished reaction of a patient to the invitation to describe how the analyst’s late arrival affected and is interpreted by him or her as opposed to the richly-elaborated response that a husband is ready to offer in responding to his wife’s late arrival to the session. More generally, his approach there, and in the work that we have read for today, is to supplement the analyst’s empathic introspective approach to the patient’s discourse with an enactive approach that attends to implicit as well as explicit modes of communication and draws on close observation of present moment encounters between analyst and analysand.
When we were first drawing up lists of potential invitees for our focus on improvisation, at least 3 people immediately said ‘you have to invite Phil Ringstrom.’ His mode of relational psychoanalysis draws on literary dimensions of the mind both in its attention to improvisation and to structuring features that analytic process shares with drama and theater. Phil’s attention to the committee of the mind, and his attempts to ensure that these various constituents are heard, benefit from drama’s externalization of self-states into distinguishable but interacting dramatis personae. What he calls a relational ethic around which he organizes a therapeutic session helps to keep the role of analyst closer to that of a co-actor or player than director, observer, or critic. His writing fosters our ongoing interests in improvisation and its cross-disciplinary artistry, especially what we have been reading about the musical edges of therapeutic dialogue (Steven H. Knoblauch) and improvisational jazz as embodying the sound of surprise. His stance is theory-play, where a session becomes ‘a dramatic piece that neither of us would imagine on our own.’”
4 March 2015: GRISHA COLEMAN
Co-sponsored with Hemispheric South/s
“Ever since declaring improvisation our focus, we in Literature and the Mind have been eager to have Grisha Coleman here for the ways that her life, career, and practice coordinate several of the modes and theories of improvisation that we’ve been studying: music, theater, psychological and physical movement, forms of philosophy that privilege the senses, and forms of activism that stem from the undercommons. Currently Professor of Movement, Computation, and Digital Media at the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Dance at Arizona State University, Grisha is also a dancer, composer, and choreographer of live performance and experiential media systems. She danced in the early 1990s with the Urban Bush Women and founded the music performance group Hotmouth, which toured extensively in the late 90s. Several of us already encountered one of her modes of thinking in the noon-hour movement workshop she conducted, ‘Embodying the Improvisatory,’ where we experienced ourselves as bodies in space that individuate and flock, rest and move, in a sense-surround where the body is no longer perceived or treated simply as the way to carry around one’s brain.
I first learned of Grisha’s work through Stephanie Batiste, who knew her at Carnegie Mellon and who collaborated with Grisha on a four-person panel called ‘Fat Black Monkeys: Systems Thinking and Critical Culture in the Choreography of the Other.’ The panel engineered a conversation on primates, big data, obesity, performance, and black speculative fictions in order to explore the function of choreography within and beyond the context of dance and of humans. Their focus on data bodies, technological bodies, racialized bodies, animal bodies aimed to highlight kinds of tactical bodies and choreographic thinking that cross species and times. Her amazing installation project, echo::systems, on which Grisha will be speaking today, highlights her other interests and expertise in computation and in environmental studies and activism. One project, ‘36 Walk: a case study of reciprocity in movement and computation,’ joins the kinesthetic and choreographic system that comprises a dance event with the procedural, algorithmic systems that compose the ‘bones’ of computational tools. ‘Echo::systems’ trains this coordination of movement and computation onto concern with the environment, in an effort to regain forms of connection with the land and to move persons to care more for and about it. This is kinesthetic (and kin-aesthetic) ecocriticism that promises to transform how we act in spaces.”
1 April 2015: ANN RANDOLPH: Improv Practicum
Co-sponsored with the College of Creative Studies
Lit & Mind Graduate Student-sponsored event: Organized and introduced by Rebecca Chenoweth
Ann led us in our group’s first graduate student-sponsored event. When we thought about what direction we wanted to take our study of improvisation, many of us hoped we could use our event to put the ideas we’ve encountered so far into physical and verbal practice, by participating in improvisation as it’s understood in theater and even in everyday life. And when we looked for someone who could lead us in this workshop while adding more to our understanding of improvisation, it was clear to us that Ann’s background, focus on narrative form, and enthusiasm would make her the perfect fit.
Ann is an award-winning playwright, storyteller, sketch comedian, and improv instructor. Her latest solo show “Loveland” was awarded “best Solo Show” by SF Weekly and LA Weekly, and “Best Original Script by the SF Bay Critics. Her previous solo show, “Squeeze Box,” was produced by Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft, and it was also awarded “Best Solo Show.” She is also a popular spoken word artist, winning the LA Moth storytelling competition and featuring on NPR, PBS, and the BBC.
As a sketch artist, she has performed her original material with renowned performance groups like The Groundlings and The Midnight Show (connected to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater), and has worked with the likes of Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and the creators of “Reno 911.”
Ann drew on this extensive performance and writing background to lead others in workshops on topics ranging from “writing your life,” to “finding the funny in our darkest hour,” and “the healing power of story.” Ann helped us to engage the performative aspects of improvisation (as we did in Grisha Coleman’s movement workshop), and to consider how improvisation can be put into practice in everyday life.
Each of our speakers was invited to talk about how improvisation figures in their lives, work, and ways of being. One of our underlying questions in focusing on improvisation is how to keep (or to make) life on the ground(less), especially our lives in the university, a source of creativity, of fun, a space that is receptive to un/thinking. Here are some reflections on and reactions to their remarks.
Fred describes what he was doing in In the Break as highlighting improvisation as a method of deconstruction. That book features resources in the black radical tradition that give a clue as to how to move through the nervous position that Adorno characterizes as an oscillation between two impossible modes of being in order to propose improvisation as a counter-neurotic, a pseudo-philosophical intervention. Then four or five years ago, he says, he became increasingly interested in the word “nothing,” by way of trying to remove the traces of agency in uplift-related phrases like “making something out of nothing” or “make a way out of no way.” His interest is in considering nothing as a different form of sociality and has begun thinking about global mysticism in relation to nothingness. This relates to his opposition to subjectivity and his rethinking of consent, expressed in “consent not to be one,” where consent is not tied to a subject or a subjective but instead is a framework in which we live. If sociality is structured not by self/other but by consent not to be one, then shame and a whole lot else isn’t necessary.
Phil’s writing and therapeutic practice challenge the longstanding proposition that an analytic stance of abstinence, neutrality, and anonymity is best suited to eliciting the patient’s unconscious. His mode is improvisational in line with his concept of psychoanalysis as a theory of play, in which the session becomes a dramatic piece that neither analyst or analysand would be able to imagine on their own. Describing several of his cases, he shows how privileging a participant-participant model of interaction allows for the analytic “third” to gain voice and enter the scene more readily. Binaries of dominance/submission or emergence/anxiety interfere with the improvisational, so part of his practice is to come down from the “perch” of neutrality and risk the presence of the present and all that is present in it.
Phil Ringstrom visited Santa Barbara as I was working my way through the “foundations and interfaces” section of the Lit and Mind qualifying exam reading list—although I don’t think it was timing alone that made his visit foundational to me. As I floundered in many different definitions of psychoanalysis and beliefs about how to practice it, Phil Ringstrom helped me to feel, for the first time in my studies, what psychoanalysis could be. Phil Ringstrom peppered his conversational discussion with anecdotes from his sessions that he jumped up and delivered in entertaining solo-performance style. The scenes he shared with us not only demonstrated how delightful it must be to be in analysis with him, but also how much he cares for the people he sees. Committing to play with someone in an imaginative improvised scene not only facilitates psychoanalytic work but also is affirming in itself.
Grisha’s multi-media art and performance installation “echo::systems” works to strengthen people’s capacity to listen as the land talks back. Acknowledging the profound disconnect between what science says and how people perceive what science says about the emerging global environmental crisis, “echo::systems” brings together environmental science, technology, and performance art in an effort to help individuals recover a relationship with the land. Part of this involves denaturing how we act in spaces by providing digitally mediated images of a particular ecosystem at an action station, where an individual’s movement on a treadmill activates real and imagined data drawn from cultural, historical, and ecological information of the given habitat (the entire project includes Abyss, Desert, Forest, Prairie, Volcano). The claim is that this denaturing helps invigorate how we act in those spaces because it provides a kinesthetic and immersive rather than observational and detached experience of space. Moreover, the treadmill makes individuals walk but not move, providing an embodied reflection on differential expenditures of energy. As with other Sense Labs that our group has been studying, Grisha’s “echo::systems” dis/orients minds and bodies in space in the hopes of granting those spaces more time.
Grisha’s interactive art installation of the “Desert” should draw attention to the disconnect between the climate controlled experience of Coleman’s participant-audience living in Phoenix and the life-threatening journey of those attempting to immigrate to the U.S. through the deserts surrounding that asphalt metropolis. Coleman invited Phoenix residents to walk on treadmills while viewing footage she had filmed of the nearby deserts. She incorporated their experiences into her performance that focused on the connection between desert spaces and spiritual journeys.
While Grisha visited us, she also led members of Literature and the Mind and Hemispheric South/s in a Movement Workshop, the first of two encounters that we had with theatrical, dance, and generally embodied forms of improvisation. We followed these wordlessly, focusing on our own movement and that of our neighbors. Rather than directing us to move in a particular pace or direction, Grisha invited us to decide what felt “fast” or “slow” to us, and to maneuver in relation to those around us without being entirely guided by them. This workshop helped us to consider movement in relation to our environment, which is a crucial aspect of the “echo::systems” installation; and more broadly, it challenged us to consider the extent to which our minds are embodied.
Ann first recounted aspects of her life-story as an unintended journey toward improv artistry through a series of improvisatory (aka last-ditch) responses to persistent roadblocks to achieving her goals. In effect, these thwartings suggested to her that the real problem was the idea of life as moving toward a defined goal rather than as ongoing movement in accordance with consideration of where a prior move takes or simply lands one. She then led us through a series of improv exercises. One had us moving through imagined apertures with different parts of the body taking the lead in order to experience what mental/emotional stances emerge when the arm or pelvis or chest leads the body. Pairing off, we then did a series of exercises in relaying speech, responding to the other’s statement “Please don’t go” with “I have to go” back and forth over and over. A final free-write began with the prompt “I knew it was over when” or “how I got my name,” which each of us then read aloud—a striking experience of how intimately one can know another whom one doesn’t know in the conventional sense and of how rarely such encounters happen.
Ann Randolph’s initial solo-performance lured me to into a false state of comfort by inviting me to play my accustomed role of audience member. She then raised the stakes by inviting us to do curious things with our voices and bodies. Some requests seemed natural to me—I guess I do walk around leading with my hips or head. The further her directions pushed me from my own-self-performance, the more challenging they were to follow——I can’t remember the last time I shouted at someone, and it did not feel good during her workshop. These wild and silly activities, however, did loosen something in my mind because when she asked us to write the words came tumbling down like flight attendants fear luggage will from overhead compartments on turbulent flights. While it was frightening to share my personal writing, the willingness of others to share—as they participated in all the other activities—made it possible for me to share mine. I am grateful for the commitment of the group to play and share.
To add to these thoughts, please email Rebecca Chenoweth or Julie Carlson.
Wednesday, April 1, 5-8 PM
Sankey Room (South Hall 2623)
Join us for an evening with Ann Randolph, an award-winning playwright and sketch actor (Groundlings, The Midnight Show). Ann will reflect on improvisation, healing, and everyday life (5-7 PM), and will lead us in some exercises to put this idea into practice (7-8 PM). This is an exciting opportunity to think about improvisation in terms of theater, writing, and pedagogy alongside an acclaimed playwright, spoken word artist, and sketch comedian.
Ann’s past workshops have covered comedy and storytelling in pain, approaches to writing, and modes of creativity. Her solo show “Loveland” has won awards for “Best Solo Show” and “Best Original Script;” she has won the storytelling contest LA Moth; and, through her work with the Groundlings and other shows, she has performed in sketches alongside Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and Thomas Lennon. To learn more about Ann’s work as a writer, performer, and instructor in improvisation, please visit her website at annrandolph.com.
Ann’s visit is co-sponsored by the graduate students of Literature and the Mind, and the College of Creative Studies at UCSB.
Instructor: Julie Carlson
Course: English 233, Winter 2015
How do we get from here to there and what does such movement signify? What role does the aesthetic play in facilitating physical and mental movement, both desired and forced? This seminar focuses on British and German Romantic-era texts that theorize and enact modes of embodied transport: discourses regarding the sublime, imagination, metaphor, and the transporting capacities of art as well as texts depicting desired and forced transportation of bodies (slavery, emigration, urbanization, sexual experimentation).
Most class sessions combine a Romantic-era theoretical text, a Romantic-era literary text, and a contemporary essay discussing a similar process in an effort to consider also how “romanticism” travels across times and places. Readings include: Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, P. B. Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, Anna Barbauld, England in Eighteen Hundred Eleven, William Blake, Visions of the Daughters of Albion,S. T. Coleridge, Christabel, Thomas Clarkson, On the Rise, Progress, and Abolition of the Slave Trade. Contemporary readings include chapters from Doris Sommers, The Work of Art in the World, Edwidge Danticat, Create Dangerously, Robin Kelley, Freedom Dreams, D. W. Winnicott, Play and Reality, Norman Holland, The Brain and Literature.
Image 1: Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, “Psyche Transported to Heaven”
Image 2: Thomas Clarkson, “Description of a Slave Ship”