Intersecting the Sexual: Modes of Early Modern Embodiment (symposium)

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Scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, 14-16 November 2019

Differences of gender, age, and social position informed both the rhetorics and the lived experiences of sexuality in the early modern period. Yet other modes of embodiment—such as those associated with racial identity, physical incapacity, impoverished vagrancy, and conspicuous sartorial display—also impacted sexual practices and meanings in ways that have yet to receive sustained scholarly attention. Rather than simply expanding the category of the sexual, this symposium aims to understand how a focus on these other modes of embodiment might complicate or unsettle current theories and histories of sexuality. While building on insights from early modern sexuality studies, presenters will also draw on theoretical models and methods from adjacent fields such as early modern race studies, disability studies, transgender studies, global Renaissance studies, material culture studies, and posthumanist studies. How might the objects and questions foregrounded by such approaches advance the study of early modern sexuality beyond familiar paradigms? How might such intersections contribute to both historicist and present-day understandings of sex, gender, and embodiment?

Organizer: Mario DiGangi is Professor of English at Lehman College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of The Homoerotics of Early Modern Drama (1997) and Sexual Types: Embodiment, Agency, and Dramatic Character from Shakespeare to Shirley (2011). He has edited three plays by Shakespeare and, with Amanda Bailey, Affect Theory and Early Modern Texts: Politics, Ecologies, Form (2017). His current project explores sexuality and race in English Renaissance literature.

Provisional Schedule
All sessions will take place in the Foulke Conference Room, 301 East Capitol Street, SE) unless otherwise specified.

Thursday evening, 14 November 2019
Welcome: Owen Williams (Folger Institute)

Opening Plenaries
Chair: Mario DiGangi (City University of New York)

Ian Smith (Lafayette College)
Sexuality x Race
Valerie Traub (University of Michigan)

6:30 Opening Reception (Founders Room)

Friday, 15 November 2019
9:30 Coffee and Pastries

Call to Order: Owen Williams

Chair: Allison Hobgood (Willamette University)

Simone Chess (Wayne State University)
Vin Nardizzi (University of British Columbia)
In this session on “Disability,” we will address the symposium themes through the framework of three recent publications in disability studies, Jasbir K. Puar's The Right To Maim (2017), Elizabeth Bearden's Monstrous Kinds (2019), and Jason S. Farr's Novel Bodies (2019). In our coordinated position papers, we will highlight concepts and points of conflict elaborated in these three important disability studies publications, toward a set of provocations about approaches to the study of disability and sexuality in early modern England.

Lunch (on your own, with suggestions provided)

Material Culture, or Plumes, Puffs, Pumps, and Poses
Chair: Jean Howard (Columbia University)

James Bromley (Miami University)
Natasha Korda (Wesleyan University)
This session explores the insubstantial pageantry of early modern sex, situated at the intersectional nexus of queer theory and historiography, the new materialisms, posthumanism, trans*animalities, theater and performance studies, and race and disability studies. James Bromley peruses early modern plumage via new materialist theory as a potent site of transmateriality, one that provokes us to query the taxonomic limits of sex and interspeciation. Natasha Korda’s provocation takes the form of “Notes on Elizabethan Camp,” proposing a prehistory of fugitive frivolity via Sontag, Bette Davis, POSE, and the Met’s 2019 extravaganza, Camp: Notes on Fashion.

Cross-Cultural Encounters

Chair: Bernadette Andrea (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Abdulhamit Arvas (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Carmen Nocentelli (University of New Mexico)
What happens to our understanding of early modern sexuality when we take into account non-European histories, practices, and beliefs? How did these histories, practices, and beliefs shape the organization of European sexual discourses and subjectivities, both on the periphery and in the metropole? Finally, can we use intersectionality to acknowledge how these discourses and subjectivities were often co-productions between the so-called East and the West? Cross-cultural encounters, we suggest, require us to think intersectionally in at least two ways. First, by making it obvious that sexuality cannot be thought about without also thinking about racial difference, ethnic distinction, and religious affiliation. Second, by showing that sexual discourses could be produced literally at the intersection between competing structures of power and knowledge.

Brief Remarks
Chair: Mario DiGangi

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Coffee and Pastries

Chair: William Fisher (City University of New York)

Colby Gordon (Bryn Mawr College)
Marjorie Rubright (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Although early modern studies has amply engaged with gender nonconformity, crossdressing, and sodomy, the field has only recently begun to consider the transgender possibilities of Renaissance literature. This panel asks how we might expand critical inquiry into questions of transgender embodiment for an era that predates the technologies of medical transition. This session will consider how contemporary trans studies might allow us to access familiar texts in new and surprising ways. We focus on the confluence of trans theory and early modern studies in a ‘case altered’: the related stories of Moll Cutpurse and Mary Frith. Through a diptych of papers on The Roaring Girl and The Life of Mary Frith—-texts that serve as test cases for exploring the tensions and overlap between feminist, gay and lesbian, queer, and trans scholarship—-we propose that the archives and literature of early modern studies can expand the contexts, methods and authorized genealogies of contemporary trans studies.

Coffee Break

Chair: Urvashi Chakravarty (University of Toronto)

Julie Crawford (Columbia University)
Ari Friedlander (University of Mississippi)
Those interested in questions of status and sexuality in the early modern period have often focused on the erotics of status (such as master/mistress-servant) and the myriad forces that render disparate bodies, relations, and sexual practices desirable or obscene. In this panel we are more interested in considering the production of status – of valued and devalued bodies and acts – than in its manifestations. How does biopolitical thinking about laboring bodies or populations and the fine discriminations of their capacities affect our understanding of sexuality? How might the consideration of actual labor practices, including those with materially-transformative capacities, produce new status and sexual possibilities?

Lunch (on your own, with suggestions provided)

Chair: Holly Dugan (The George Washington University)

Amanda Bailey (University of Maryland)
Christine Varnado (University at Buffalo)
Posthumanism accounts for the interactions of multiple actors--human and nonhuman, virtual and material--and argues for a distributive, composite notion of agency. In this panel, we explore how methodological approaches that dislodge the human subject ask us to rethink the relationship of interiority and corporeality. How can queer reading practices, for instance, aid in disaggregating and pondering the multiple different orders of thing, material and incorporeal, that challenge the definitional boundaries of the “human”—such as a stain that takes center stage in an unfolding national drama, mobile, and expanding in complexity; or post-human (dead) human remains? In considering the question “What is human?” our papers will explore how Macbeth stages the problem of how life enters and leaves the world, and disembodied consent and resistance in The Rape of Lucrece.

Response and Moving Forward
Jeffrey Masten (Northwestern University)

Closing Reception