Cogut Institute for the Humanities

Collaborative Public Workshop

April 26, 2024

The 2024 Collaborative Public Workshop celebrated the work of seven Brown University Ph.D. candidates completing the Doctoral Certificate in Collaborative Humanities and features presentations of their innovative and timely work.

Each session included commentaries from scholars Caroline Levine (Cornell University), Uri McMillan (University of California, Los Angeles), Peter Szendy (Brown University), and Alexander Weheliye (Brown University), as well as a Q&A.

Presented by the Collaborative Humanities Initiatives at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities.


Session 1

  • Prudence Ross, “‘Space May Produce New Worlds’: Architecture as Resistance in Paradise Lost
    Commentators: Caroline Levine and Peter Szendy
  • Yannick Etoundi, “Abolishing Slavery, Building French Colonialism: Guadeloupe and Martinique, 1848–1900”
    Commentators: Caroline Levine and Alexander Weheliye
  • Moderator: Shahzad Bashir

Session 2

  • Istifaa Ahmed, “Touch Me After the End of the World: Touch, Dehiscence, and Inhuman Intimacies in Octavia Butler’s ‘Bloodchild’”
    Commentators: Uri McMillan and Peter Szendy
  • Sneha Chowdhury, “Hölderlin, Agyeya, and the Third Step of Poetry”
    Commentators: Caroline Levine and Peter Szendy
  • Moderator: Shahzad Bashir

Session 3

  • Will Johnson, “Listening and Processing: The Ghetto Riots as Sound, Score, and Interpellative Media”
    Commentators: Uri McMillan and Peter Szendy
  • Jay Loomis, “Son Jarocho Communities and Fandango Culture: The Black Atlantic in Southern Veracruz”
    Commentators: Uri McMillan and Alexander Weheliye
  • Kamari Carter, “Black Artists, Protest Practices, and Activist Exhibitions: An Analysis of Institutional Exhibiting and Protest Art in New York City”
    Commentators: Uri McMillan and Alexander Weheliye
  • Moderator: Amanda Anderson

Speaker Abstracts and Bios

As queer/trans of color cultural productions orient us toward otherwise worlds, what happens after we get to the end of the world? This paper asks: How does speculation imagine worlds beyond our current order, which takes enslavement, colonization, and ecological ruin as given? How does speculation get us to what Denise Ferreira da Silva refers to as “the end of the world as we know it”? As the genre of science fiction often performs racially and sexually transgressive narratives of colonialism, slavery, and conquest, I look toward Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild” in this paper. Gan, the protagonist of “Bloodchild,” in deciding to incubate the eggs of a centipede-alien species, makes clear an entangled touch that veers both a curative potential and a violative capacity. Reading the characters of “Bloodchild” as simultaneously agents and recipients of touch, via the pleasures and horrors of interspecies intimacy, I frame touch as a form(lessness) of mutual desire and haptic exchange, and as an embodied figuration of violence under coercive and predatory power. This paper examines what the optics of touch can offer as a fleshly archive of the transcendent and interspecies organismic body in the (un)making of what Sylvia Wynter refers to as colonial “Man.” Ultimately, I am invested in what it means to touch, after the end of the world.

Istifaa Ahmed is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of American Studies, focusing on minoritarian performance and aesthetics, queer/trans subjectivities, speculative fiction, black feminisms, and queer of color critique. Centering the body, the erotic, and the flesh as analytical and methodological lenses to recast (in)human lifeforms, elemental intimacies, and modes of fugitivity, her scholarship is highly interdisciplinary and operates beyond the conventional boundaries of discipline. Their dissertation considers the concept of porosity to think through the movement, permeability, and shapeshifting capacity of flesh as a site of aesthetic responses to violence. She holds an M.A. in public humanities from Brown University and a B.A. in ethnic studies and a B.A. in gender and women’s studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She also pursues community-engaged projects with her dance studio, entailing collaborative choreographies and video productions that center creative knowledge productions. (Bio composed by Yannick Etoundi)

This paper is a comprehensive examination of artists of color and their practices in and outside of the institution. Using the American art scene as a foundation and abstraction as a movement, with examples found in New York City (the institutions in question being the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the New Museum), this paper serves to divulge the historically problematic nature of exhibition practices at museums that have set the precedent for comprehensive group and solo exhibitions, and the pitfalls and protests birthed from an ever-growing and ever-evolving demand for Black art within predominantly white institutions. Starting with an investigation into one of the earliest protests held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, this paper presents a comparative throughline between artists, art practices, and art institutions framed through the lens of protest.

Kamari Carter is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Music and Multimedia Composition program in the Department of Music, working primarily with sound, video, installation, moving image, and performance. He offers a multisensorial practice through recording and amplification techniques that circumvents and investigates structures of power, identity-formation, control, and surveillance. He posits the work of Black artists and other artists of color as protest, attuned to the contradictory valences of the art world that these artists inhabit, critique, and subvert. He examines artist practices through the optics of improvisation, which he presents as a survival mechanism and mode of resistance in the art world. His work has been exhibited at Automata Arts, MoMA, Mana Contemporary, the RISD Museum, Microscope Gallery, the Lenfest Center for the Arts, and Wave Hill. He holds a BFA in music technology from the California Institute of the Arts and an MFA in sound art from Columbia University. (Bio composed by Istifaa Ahmed)

In the early 1970s, vanguard Hindi modernist poet Satchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayan (“Agyeya”) traveled the length and breadth of West Germany, delivered lectures on Hindi and Indian literature, and visited several literary sites, Friedrich Hölderlin’s famous residence, the Hölderlinturm, being one of them. In order to mark the occasion of his visit, Agyeya wrote a Hindi rendition of Hölderlin’s “Hälfte des Lebens” (“Half of Life”) titled “तीसरा चरण” (“The Third Step,” 1976). This paper argues that Agyeya’s lyric poem, vis-a-vis Hölderlin’s, is an instance of critical overhearing that reinforces the poetic silence of Hölderlin’s poem. Agyeya’s poetic freedom emerges from his ability to settle the differences between the neo-romantic Hindi literary movement called “Chāyāvād” and the new poetry movement called “Nayi Kavitā” by choosing to rewrite a German romantic poem in a way that foregrounds historical reality (“Yathārthvād”).

​Sneha Chowdhury is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Comparative Literature, whose work sits at the intersection of literature and philosophy, with an emphasis on romanticism and literary modernism in England, Germany, and South Asia. Her writing has appeared, or is forthcoming in, Los Angeles Review of Books, Modern Language Notes (German), The Modernist Review, and German Life and Letters. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Calcutta and an M.A. and M.Phil in English from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has teaching experience from Brown University and the Universities of Calcutta and Delhi. (Bio composed by Kamari Carter)

The Decree for the Abolition of Slavery of April 27, 1848, is upheld in French abolitionist ideology as a pivotal moment when the French Republic rose up to liberate enslaved Africans in the name of human rights, Western democracy, and civilization. Yet, this narrative of emancipation belies the unbroken restrictions on Black life as the fabric of French Antillian society was restitched from racial slavery into direct colonial rule. Centering emancipation’s wake in Guadeloupe and Martinique from 1848 to the dawn of new imperialism in 1900, this paper proposes a historiographical review as a departure point to study how the built environment, shaped by centuries of racial slavery, was weaponized to reconfigure the enslaved Black body into the colonial Black native. By weaving together an interdisciplinary framework that draws from postcolonial architectural history and Black critical thought, this paper works through themes such as the built environment of enslavement, emancipation and freedom, racial capitalism, colonial urban planning, European modernity and assimilation, and the memorialization of slavery and abolition.

Yannick Etoundi is a Ph.D. student and researcher in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. His research and writing highlight the critical difference between architecture and the built environment, especially as either term is considered through the lens of slavery, abolition, and colonialism. Through a methodological approach that draws from black critical thought and postcolonial architectural history, he constructs semantic networks and conceptual frameworks that highlight the often-overlooked relationship between art, architecture, place, environment, and the historical figure of blackness. At the core of his research are the pivotal concepts of the African building tradition and the built environment of enslavement — both challenging the prevailing notion of European encounter as the genesis of spatial design. He holds an M.Arch and a B.Arch from the Université Libre de Bruxelles and a BSocSc in International Studies and Modern Languages from the University of Ottawa. (Bio composed by Will Johnson)

This paper responds to three newsreels produced by Universal Pictures between 1964 and 1968. As each newsreel mediates distinct moments of black unrest in Watts, Detroit, and Newark, these events and actions become historically indexed as “the ghetto riots.” Close attention is paid to the newsreels’ use of orchestral music that, in my experience as researcher and sound artist, functions as an interpellative device. Throughout my engagement with this media, I am called to recursively transform from listener to subject, raising the following questions: Who is the listener in relation to the subject and when does one become the other? Can the process of listening offset the violence of subjection? Responding to a pivotal auditory scene in Black Skin, White Masks where Frantz Fanon splits and rejoins as listener and subject, Pierre Macherey describes interpellation as a call “addressed to all and to which all, without exception, not only must answer, but answer in fact, by acknowledging — by ‘recognizing’ — that they have positioned themselves according to the forms that the call destines for them.” Through text and sound, this paper argues for a fundamental distinction between being a subject and becoming a listener.

Will Johnson is an audio artist from the Bronx, New York. His work mobilizes the concept of space in his engagement with blackness, the Black radical tradition, and historical record. Some of his motivating questions are: How can we think space through sound and visual media? Can we think beyond space as emptiness measured and defined by borders and limits? Can the Black radical tradition be thought of in the language of a shared space of thought — one that challenges Western modes of organizing space? Johnson brings to these meaningful and generative questions a wide and rich range of experiences — an upbringing amongst musical parents; a B.A. in interdisciplinary studies at New York University, Gallatin; a career composing and performing pop music; and his current work as a graduate student in the Music and Multimedia Composition program in the Department of Music at Brown University. (Bio composed by Prudence Ross)

This paper is about son jarocho music and fandango culture in southern Veracruz as dynamic sites of live music, percussive dance, social activism, community building, racialization, and most importantly, fun. I went to more than 40 son jarocho dance parties from June 2022 to August 2023 and spent two winter breaks in Santiago Tuxtla, which has many fandangos at that time of the year. I recorded dozens of hours of video and took thousands of pictures of friends, acquaintances, and strangers at fandangos — or huapangos, which is another name for this type of Mexican dance party that features live son jarocho music and a carefully crafted, wooden dance platform, the tarima, where the people gather to strum jaranas, pluck requintos, and perform stompdance footwork, known as zapateado. In this paper, I analyze video clips, including footage from several fandangos I attended. I quote teachers and friends and people of hospitality, who shared their ideas and experiences and food and drink and homes, and I cite scholars of music and Blackness and Afro Latin America and the Black Atlantic. This paper highlights several examples of son jarocho music and fandango culture stimulating and sustaining positive social change.

Jay M. Loomis is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Ethnomusicology program in the Department of Music. His research interests include organology, coloniality and decoloniality, and the music of the Americas, especially son jarocho in southern Mexico. His work has been supported by numerous grants and scholarships, the most recent being a grant from the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology for his work on the replication of a Native American Kiowa flute. His writing has appeared in journals such as Frontiers in Neuroscience and Sounding Out! He has served as a teaching assistant at Brown University and Stony Brook University and as an English teacher in Spain, Mexico, and China. (Bio composed by Sneha Chowdhury)

Paradise Lost contains many architectural elements — towers, thrones, walls, stairs — but only one piece of architecture that reflects today’s notions of what a building is. The palace in Hell, Pandæmonium, is the single built structure in the text that is complete in its description and stages a sustained and active inhabitation. The question that motivates my analysis is: Why? Why is the piece of architecture in Paradise Lost that feels most familiar to us located in Hell? This paper begins by considering Pandæmonium as a tool for temptation. Drawing from the work of Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space, which argues that social space and the built environment condition behavior, I read Hell’s capital at first as a tool through which Satan coerces his followers into accepting him as a second God. In this way, architecture can be considered a result of fallenness, carrying the capacity to lure individuals away from a proper relationship with the divine. I then complicate those claims by rereading Pandæmonium from a Satanic perspective. Analyzing the parliamentary event that occurs inside of the space, my paper considers how Pandæmonium’s capacity to condition behavior facilitates a doomed, utopian resistance to a tyrannical God.

Prudence J. Ross is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English. Her research interests include colonial and postcolonial studies, literature and cognitive/psychological science, medieval poetry and poetics, trauma theory, and science fiction. “My research,” she writes, “is focused on the methods through which discontinuity is challenged, explored, and represented in literature. […] While my primary focus is on fragmentation arising from religious and political conflict in the early modern and Renaissance periods, I have also taken an interest in these phenomena as they operate within science fiction and postcolonial texts.” She earned her B.A. in English and economics from Brandeis University in 2020 (magna cum laude). She has extensive teaching experience at Brown University, including a course of her own design titled “The Politics of Monstrosity from Beowulf to Slender Man.” (Bio composed by Jay Loomis)

Commentator and Moderator Bios

Amanda Anderson is Director of the Cogut Institute for the Humanities and Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English and Humanities. Her research focuses on broad questions of intellectual history, disciplinary formation, and the relations among literature, moral life, and politics. She is the host of the podcast “Meeting Street: Conversations in the Humanities,” and her books include Character: Three Inquiries in Literary Studies (University of Chicago Press, TRIOS series, 2019; with Rita Felski and Toril Moi), Psyche and Ethos: Moral Life After Psychology (Oxford University Press, 2018), Bleak Liberalism (University of Chicago Press, 2016), The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory (Princeton University Press, 2006), The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment (Princeton University Press, 2001), and Tainted Souls and Painted Faces: The Rhetoric of Fallenness in Victorian Culture (Cornell University Press, 1993). She is co-editor of George Eliot: A Companion (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) and Disciplinarity at the Fin de Siècle (Princeton University Press, 2002).

Shahzad Bashir is Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities and Professor of History and Religious Studies at Brown. He has worked on topics concerned with history and historiography, Persian poetry, the study of Sufism and Shi’ism, messianic movements originating in Islamic contexts, and religious representations of corporeality. His most recent publications include The Market in Poetry in the Persian World (Cambridge University Press, 2021) and the digital book A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures (MIT Press, 2022). He is an associate editor of the journal History and Theory and edits the book series “Islamic Humanities” for University of California Press.

Caroline Levine is David and Kathleen Ryan Professor of Humanities at Cornell University. She is the author of four books. The most recent, The Activist Humanist: Form and Method in the Climate Crisis (Princeton University Press, 2023), grows out of the theoretical work of her earlier Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton University Press, 2015), winner of the James Russell Lowell Prize from the MLA and named one of Flavorwire’s “10 Must-Read Academic Books of 2015.” She has also published The Serious Pleasures of Suspense: Victorian Realism and Narrative Doubt (University of Virginia Press, 2003) and Provoking Democracy: Why We Need the Arts (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007). She is currently the 19th-century editor for the Norton Anthology of World Literature and spends much of her free time enaged in climate activism, including the drive to divest the Cornell endowment (successful in 2020).

Uri McMillan is an Associate Professor in the Departments of English and Gender Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Embodied Avatars: Genealogies of Black Feminist Art and Performance (NYU Press, 2015), winner of the William Sanders Scarborough Prize from the Modern Language Association, the Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theater History, and the Errol Hill Award from the American Society of Theatre Research. He is completing a cultural study of Black and Brown creatives in 1970s New York titled “The Seventies in Color.” He has published essays in Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, ASAP/Journal, and museum/gallery-based publications for the Studio Museum in Harlem, Aperture Foundation, MCA Chicago, and the Brooklyn Museum.

Peter Szendy is David Herlihy University Professor of Humanities and Comparative Literature at Brown University. He leads the “Economies of Aesthetics” initiative at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities. His recent publications include Powers of Reading: From Plato to ebooks (English translation forthcoming with Zone Books), For an Ecology of Images (English translation forthcoming with Verso), Bendings: Four Variations on Anri Sala (Mudam-Mousse Publishing, 2019), The Supermarket of the Visible: Toward a General Economy of Images (Fordham University Press, 2019), and Of Stigmatology: Punctuation as Experience (Fordham University Press, 2018). He curated the exhibition “The Supermarket of Images” at the museum of the Jeu de Paume in Paris (February–June 2020), and he is the musicological advisor for the book series published by the Philharmonie de Paris.

Alexander Ghedi Weheliye is Malcolm S. Forbes Professor in the Department of Modern Culture and Media and the Brown Arts Institute at Brown University, where he teaches critical theory, Black literature and culture, gender and sexuality studies, social technologies, and popular culture. He is the author of Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity (Duke University Press, 2005), Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Duke University Press, 2014), and Feenin: R&B Music and the Materiality of BlackFem Voices and Technology (Duke University Press, 2023).

About the Seminar

The spring 2024 Project Development Workshop (HMAN 2500) was led by Amanda Anderson, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities and English and Director of the Cogut Institute for the Humanities, and Shahzad Bashir, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities and Professor of History. Over the course of the semester, students each develop and workshop a paper while performing a number of diverse academic roles: they nominate and introduce a text to the seminar that was formative for their scholarly development; they serve as first questioners for papers workshopped by others; and they interview one of their peers and prepare an introduction to their work. By providing training and preparation for roles that are crucial to the practice and fabric of academic life, yet are seldom the object of formal study and reflection, the seminar reimagines the conditions and extends the limits of an interdisciplinary and collaborative research space.

About the Doctoral Certificate

The Doctoral Certificate in Collaborative Humanities promotes cross-disciplinary work oriented toward the most challenging questions facing humanities research today. Collaboration is built through research practices dedicated to thinking together across disciplines and geographical locations. Participants pursue these forms of inquiry through teaching models and student practices that experiment with group presentations, collaborative online discussions, coauthored seminar papers, and other forms of intellectual partnership.