Do television and film create new memories? Or, do they simply introduce new ways to experience long-held memories? When it comes down to it, how do we decide what counts as a memory and whose memories matter? These questions are at the heart of this year’s Fisher Center theme of Memory and Gender.
“Our theme might even turn the familiar strange as speakers plumb film and other archives to revisit life stories and accounts of the past, says Betty M. Bayer, director of the Fisher Center and associate professor of women’s studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “Our fall line-up brings to campus a stellar group of scholars and artists, whose work on film or in theatre or writing introduces new ways to think about memory.
The first speaker will be Alison Landsberg, associate professor of literature and film at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on “Making Love, Not War: Illicit Liaisons and Prosthetic Remembering in the Silent Western. She will speak at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, in the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library on Pulteney Street.
Landsberg will examine how cinema becomes part of cultural or personal memory, as well as how mass cultural technologies – cinema and experiential museums – make it increasingly possible to “have memories of events one didn’t experience.
Her talk will draw on how “the frontier was represented in some silent western films, what it means to “remember the frontier in this way, and to consider both the pleasures and dangers associated with what she calls “prosthetic memories of the frontier past.
The author of “Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture, she is working on a second book, “Squaw Men and Indian Wives: Mapping Gender, Race and National Belonging, 1870-1930. Her writings have also appeared in The Liquid Metal Reader, Film and Popular Memory, and The Cyberculture Reader. Her research interests include early cinema, race and self-making, museums and the installation of memory, and the politics of consumption. She holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago.
Four weeks later, Jackie Orr, professor of sociology at Syracuse University, will perform “daddy does cybernetics: Diary of a Mental Patient. Her talk will begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, also in the Geneva Room.
This performance has been described as an historical, somewhat hysterical, story of U.S. Cold War culture caught between the threat of contagious panic and the government-sponsored imperative to “Keep Calm! Part social history, part political theater, part schizophrenic poetry, and part memoir and memorial, this piece of “performance theory evokes the reasoned madness of an era from which we perhaps have yet to emerge fully.
“daddy does cybernetics presents the entangled narratives of Talcott Parsons, the pre-eminent U.S. sociological theorist who taught at Harvard from 1927 to 1973; and his daughter Anne, a cultural anthropologist who studied mental disease until she was institutionalized at Yale Psychiatric Institute in 1963. Staged against the backdrop of Orr’s own white suburban childhood—in a Cold War society rapidly transformed by new techno-scientific dreams and realities— the performance explores theaters of memory, power, knowledge, and desire animating individual and social psychological life as well as social scientific practices. In it, the symptoms of an era are brought together with proliferating government and academic studies of collective panic for a drama of intimate dis-ease of nuclear (family) relations. Orr has published “The Militarization of Inner Space, and articles in feminist science studies.
The Turtle Gals will present a theater workshop, “Introduction to Turtle Gals Collective Methodology, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, in The Fisher Center, 212 Demarest Hall. A reading, “The Only Good Indian Is …, will begin at 7:30 p.m. the following day, Wednesday, Oct. 24 in the Geneva Room.
Dramatizing encounters between turn-of-the-20th-century Aboriginal performers and their 21st-century counterparts with stories, song and laughter, Turtle Gals Theatre Troupe revisits Aboriginal performers from the 1880s in Wild West shows through silent film, burlesque, opera, vaudeville and Hollywood. As Native theatre artists, the performers explore the legacy of prominent performers of that era for themselves as artists and for native women.
Their performance invites the audience to ask how iconic memories stand in for identities and reveals a paradox in how memory and history mediate identity – what is lost is not simply to be recovered but re-membered. The presentation planned here will be premiered in December and has been praised as “hilariously entertaining, “unique and a “brilliantly executed ride! Founded in 1999, Turtle Gals draws on traditional forms of storytelling, oratory, song and dance, integrating them with current technology and popular culture to develop non-linear multi-disciplinary theatre forms. For details, visit http:www.turtlegals.com.
Concluding the semester’s speakers, Wayne Koestenbaum, distinguished professor of English at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, will offer “Hotel Theory, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, also in the Geneva Room.
The next morning, he will be joined by Stephen Kuusisto ’78 for a talk on “The Lyric Essay and Memory, at 10 a.m. in Demarest 212. The new issue of The Seneca Review, conceived as a tribute to founding editor Deborah Tall, will be unveiled at that time. Kuusisto and Tall presented a President’s Forum talk together in September 2006, shortly before her death at age 55. She had taught at the Colleges for more than 25 years.
Koestenbaum’s new book, “Hotel Theory/Hotel Women, is a work of non-fiction and fiction residing beside one another, column-by-column, page-by-page. “Theory is the name of the hotel, a place where “certainty falls apart, or where stupor gets an airing, writes Koestenbaum. It runs alongside the fictional narrative of Hotel Women, a “dime novel story of Lana Turner and Liberace whose real-life troubles mingle with their fictional ones.
The book “intertwines panic and calm as it turns hotel into a genre of writing where philosophy, history, film, literature and the author’s dreams spill into what one reviewer calls an “oblique manifesto for a philosophy of being-here, being anywhere.
The author is also a Visiting Professor in the School of Art at Yale University, and received the Whiting Writer’s Award. His previous works include a novel, “Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, creative nonfiction works “Andy Warhol, “Cleavage: Essays on Sex, Stars, and Aesthetics; “Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon; “The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire, as well as books of poetry, including “Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films, “Model Homes and “The Milk of Inquiry.
As is traditional, each speaker will lead a roundtable discussion from 9 to 10 a.m. the morning after their talk in Room 212 of Demarest Hall. The evening talks and morning roundtables are all free and open to the public.
The Fisher Center for the Study of Men and Women brings together faculty, students, and experts in gender-related fields to explore gender and sexuality in the arts, humanities, and social and natural sciences, in an effort to foster mutual understanding and social justice in contemporary society. It was endowed with a $1 million gift from Emily and the late Richard Fisher, whose son Alexander graduated from Hobart College in 1993.