Even the introductions couldn’t prepare the Fisher Center Series’ crowded Geneva Room audience for the intricate stitching together of prose and argument, fiction and lecture, gender and animation masterfully crafted by Shelley Jackson, writer and professor at the New School in New York City.
“Jackson’s works are of the needle-art, where words and bodies come into contact in a stitched form in her acclaimed hyperfiction ‘Patchwork Girl’ and in the form of tattoo etchings in her latest work, “SKIN, a mortal work of art” published on the skin of more than 2,000 volunteers,” explained Betty Bayer, Fisher Center Series Director and professor of women’s studies.
Grafting artistic arguments to excerpts from her writing, Jackson gave life to a lecture that was — like its subject matter — a patchwork. “I followed the title of my talk, Words and Other Bodies in Motion, not knowing exactly where it would lead,” Jackson said. “And it led me to a question that, I suppose, comes up in all of my work: what is the relationship between language and the body? From my talk’s title, it’s as if words were alive-as if blood were being pumped through them.”
By way of the Geneva Room’s projector, Jackson not only read “Patchwork Girl,” but she showed it to her audience as it was meant to be read: as a electronic, literary text of hyperlinked paths that gives new life to the female monster in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
Extending the life of her text into theory, Jackson proposed that, “Perhaps readers are Frankenstein’s, re-animating a conglomeration of the texts that they read. Or readers are writers, giving the final signatures to the works that they read, giving a temporal – instead of electric – current to otherwise dead words.”
“Like animated films, fiction is a place of motionless words that gives the illusion of worlds in a series of stills that are animated by the reader at the speed of living into our own timeline,” Jackson said.
She explained how her fascination with the visceral – and sometimes guttural – physicality of language took the form of what she calls a “mortal work of art.” It started with a letter calling for volunteers to have her short story “SKIN” printed one word at a time – with any adjoining punctuation — in the tattooed ink of volunteer’s skin. Those volunteers would be the only people to ever read the original story, creating a living text of people that move about the world.
“The project blurs then makes a complete collapse of any body language division,” Jackson explained. “It makes the volunteers, who I call ‘words,’ conscious of our relationship to our matrix, to the paradoxical way that by bringing material things, like a text, to life, we also bring it to death.”
“As these ‘words’ die, the story changes,” said Jackson.
With the conclusion of her hybrid lecture, Jackson fielded questions from students, faculty and staff alike-all of whom were thrilled to explore deeper into her body of work. “The best thing that can come out of a lecture like this is the inspiration to go write,” explained Jillian Burcar, Fisher Center Pre-Doctoral Fellow. “As a writer, I was certainly nourished in that way. I look forward to re-listening to her lecture on the podcast.”
“I’m not sure what, yet, but somewhere in the middle of her lecture, something happened. I became so inspired-and I’m not even a writer: I’m a math major,” explained Bailey Meeker ’09. “I’ve been working on this math problem for a few days and had kind of hit a dead end with it. But after listening to this lecture, I feel really invigorated to get back to it.”
To find out more about Jackson, visit www.ineradicablestain.com.
Upcoming Fisher Center Series events include a four-day event in March that begins with a screening of the ground-breaking Anime film, “Grave of the Fireflies” at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 2 in the Sanford Room. A second anime film, “Tekkonkinkreet,” will have a screening and panel discussion with screenwriter Anthony Weintraub and Japanese Anime and culture expert Roland Kelts on Tuesday, March 3 at 6:30 p.m. in the Sanford Room. The following day, Wednesday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Geneva Room, Kelts will offer a Fisher Center Lecture, titled “Pop Culture in a Multipolar Japan.” Kelts will also follow-up his lecture with a morning roundtable discussion on Thursday, March 5 at 9-10 a.m. in the Fisher Center (Demarest 212).