Geoffrey C. Howes
Where Such Ailments are Rampant: The Representation of Madness in Austrian Fiction
The purpose of this project is to culminate many years of research, thinking, writing, and speaking about the representation of madness in Austrian literature by writing a book titled Where Such Ailments are Rampant: The Representation of Madness in Austrian Fiction. The book is founded on four premises: 1) it will ask not how or why a society produces mental illnesses in some of its members, but rather how a society treats those members who do suffer from mental illness; 2) it will apply Arno Gruen’s theory of the “insanity of normality” (1987), a sociological definition of schizophrenia that asserts that persons with major mental illness do all they can to resist the fragmenting of their emotional integrity, whereas the“insanity of normality” results from precisely this fragmentation of emotional integrity; 3) it will proceed from the documented self-perception of Austrians that their society produces more mental illness than others; and4) it will apply a pattern of representation that I have discovered in many fictional texts in which one or more characters(“patrons”) take a personal, non-professional interest in another character(the“client”) who is afflicted with madness.
Our Invisible Beasts: Tales of the Animals That Go Unseen Among Us: A Contemporary Bestiary
My goal is to complete the writing of a contemporary bestiary: a book of stories about imaginary animals, based on scientific facts. A narrator describes the animals as she explores questions of sex, love, evolution, extinction, the nature of the mind, and the nature of animality. Each story takes intriguing data from the life sciences -- from quirky facts to important ideas – and weaves them into a playful, poetic, and philosophical tale. More broadly, my goal is to establish a new form of writing that explores, imaginatively, what it means to be human within the natural order – a form based on the traditional bestiary, but updated for our contemporary context and its topics.
The proposed bestiary serves two related cultural needs. First, the need to transform our views of other animals, our own animality, and the ecosystem in which we live. Mass extinctions, climate change, large-scale environmental disasters such as the BP spill, and similar topics are new territory for cultural imagination. As we sometimes painfully discover our interconnection with all of nature, the traditional Western view of humanity as creation’s crown, transcending the beasts, no longer applies. We need to re-envision what it means to be animal and to be human. This need is currently articulated across the range of humanistic and environmental studies that, together, compose “posthumanism” (or “animal studies.”) My creative work draws on posthumanist ideas, to help readers think in fresh ways about ourselves as animals among animals. Second, the bestiary serves the need to grasp, with our imaginations, the science that is key to understanding animals and the natural world. The necessity of integrating science, art and the humanities, for a better relationship with nature, has been famously expounded by E.O. Wilson in such works as his best-selling book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. My book will embody E.O. Wilson’s concept of consilience, through interweaving science – which shows how the world is – with art, which shows how it might be, and explores the meanings of how it is.
Infrastructures of Feeling: Media, Materialism, and Struggles for the Geographies of Culture
The proposed project develops my research program on materialist geographies of cultural struggle through media by developing a book manuscript and two articles to push and define the contours of this quickly emerging field of study. Following Raymond Williams, this project is interested in the “constitutiveness” of symbolic and terrestrial infrastructural forms and, importantly, the materiality of them both. It proposes the development of my previous work over the last decade on MTV, media labor, and urban telecommunications infrastructure in New York City through updated interviews, the investigation of recent changes in infrastructural production or in its use, and the expansion of the study beyond MTV to incorporate the seismic shifts in media culture toward interactive technologies (despite or because of their synergistic relationship with older media like TV), and further engaging debates about emotion, cultural power, and materialism. Part of what is proposed here is bridging such emerging debates in cultural and economic geography to those in communication and cultural studies with the intention of advancing a critical methodology and media theory commensurate with the new cultural politics of urban economic crisis, enforced scarcity through international intellectual property law, and the industrialization of mobilizing political movements. But, what this project will also bridge is the tensions between overly deterministic conceptions of the political economy of media and overly indeterminate conceptions of audience and reader autonomy. It will do this with an emphasis on empirically grounded theory construction.
Second Honeymoons, Jurassic Babies: Identity and Play in Chennai's Post-Independence Sabha Theater
Second Honeymoon (1977) and Jurassic Baby (2000) are the titles of two very popular Tamil-language plays from what I call the Sabha Theater genre that is based Chennai, the capital of the South Indian state of Tamilnadu. Second Honeymoons, Jurassic Babies is a book project based on my dissertation concerning this theatrical genre that relies on the patronage of voluntary organizations known as sabhas and also reflects a shared political ideology, structure, and aesthetic. Sabhas are dominated by middle-class members of the high-caste Brahmin community, and this book demonstrates the social and ideological significance of regional language popular theaters in developing and projecting community identity. I further argue that the influence of the sabhas extends beyond their narrow target audience, as these cultural organizations are key players along with the press and the academy in creating a notion of “good” taste in Chennai and throughout India. The key role that middle-class Indians play in the still-developing global culture of the 21st century underscore the need for empirically-based research such as this into their values, aesthetics, aspirations, and allegiances. This book combines ten years, four visits to India, and more than twelve months of extensive ethnographic research with writers, actors, and audience members of the sabha theater with performance and area studies approaches to construct a thorough vision of the development and trajectory of a specific theatrical tradition that despite its cultural importance has been largely ignored by scholars. Second Honeymoons, Jurassic Babies proposes a name and sketches generic boundaries for this type of theater, and seriously considers what the plays mean for those who produce and consume them. My research engages a number of methodological and theoretical issues including the relation between art production and audience; the interaction of literary texts, live performances, and mass media texts; and the effects of class, caste, and ethnic/religious identity on the content and aesthetics of theater.