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Friday, September 20 • 10:45am - 12:00pm
Witnessing, Speculation, and Surveillance

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Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint, "Writing What Remains Unknown: Mystery, Enigma & Silence in Post-Dicatorial Narratives"

Cathy Caruth asks in Unclaimed Experience: “What does it mean to transmit and to theorize around a crisis that is marked, not by a simple knowledge, but by the ways it simultaneously defies and demands our witness”?

At a time when knowledge and facts are increasingly being replaced in political discourse by beliefs and opinions, this presentation seeks to examine the complexity of bearing witness to truths that resist or exceed comprehension through judicial or journalistic language. As someone who was born in Burma/Myanmar during the dictatorship (which lasted nearly four decades, from 1962-2011), but grew up in the diaspora, I am especially interested in how the legacy of dictatorship—a legacy of violence, oppression, and paranoid—dismantles the workings of time, space, and the boundaries of the self. In this presentation, I will speak about my own work as well as work by other contemporary female writers such as Verónica Gerber Bicecci’s Empty Set (Coffee House Press, 2018) and María Negroni’s The Annunciation (Action Books, 2019), which attempt to language and narrativize the timeless, ubiquitous, and haunted event that is military dictatorship. How can a writer undertake the task of re-membering a past that is fractured, unofficial, or disappeared? How can one move beyond dualistic understandings of experience—victim versus oppressor, truth versus fiction, trauma versus normalcy? What does one do with the gaps between memory and history, between testimony and literature, and between the past and the present?


Eldritch Priest, "Melodies, Moods and Holes: Wayward Thinking in the Zone of Exclusion"

I traveled to Chernobyl in June 2018 with a small group academics and artists to think about what dwelling in and passing through a “zone of exclusion” might entail, not in a metaphysical sense but also not not in a metaphysical sense. As I learned, thinking about The Zone is not a straight forward affair. On the one hand The Zone is exactly what you might think it is—a radioactive territory whose crumbling ruins and growing wildlife bear witness to the failure of the soviet nuclear dream. Yet on the other it’s also not what you think it is, like a hole is not the nothing it appears to be but a something that, strictly speaking, it isn’t. Because of this ontological uncertainty The Zone is not only something to wander in but something to be wondered about. And as such, it may be better dreamed than simply thought of.

Drawing on my zonal meanderings and a speculative form of acoustic ecology as well as employing a liberal dose of poetic license, I develop a “fabulosophy” that takes a stroll through a forgotten cemetery, an improvised melody played beneath a secret radar array, and a daydream had in a dilapidated post office as expressive of a thought experiment whose meaningful result is more a fictional achievement than a factual reckoning. Images and sounds from my peregrinations through the Zone figure in this work as elements that advance a story about a future people displaced by climate change who evolve the ability to lure affections from environmental spaces by casting melodies into them. In this future history we learn about the costs of noise and the nature of holes; we discover that media travel backwards in time, and we sense not what the zone is but what mood it’s in.


Emma Rayward, "As if: Constructing speculative topological fiction"

Speculative topological writing is an interdisciplinary practice that approaches fiction about real and non-real objects from a mathematical perspective. Topology is a discipline that focuses on the relationships between, and the position of, points of sets in space. Topological fiction allows for a reconfiguration of tangible and intangible structures by re-evaluating the kinds of transformations that can take place within them. Through a sample of writing experiments that deploy topology’s concepts and methods, as well as their results, the proposed paper both articulates and demonstrates this creative practice.

Topology operates with a specific language: a combination of natural as well as mathematical language, with the former re-appropriating terms from the latter. In topology, open and closed are not antonyms, a space can be both open and closed. Topological fiction brings these defined terms back into natural language, maintaining an internal logical consistency, but producing a radically different appearance. Ben Marcus has undertaken a similar project in his novels, including The Age of Wire and String, where English terms are separated from their typical definitions. Learning and using the language of topology is like learning a foreign language, one must work to make sense of the new relationships between words, objects and subjects. The effect this produces may be disorienting, but it enables encounters with alternate perspectives and novel ways to approach the world.

More than using topology as an analogy to describe contemporary conditions, it is used as a method to reconfigure the language used around such conditions. My writing will always be informed by local and global politics, so using the language of topology I attempt to reckon with the outcome of the recent Australian federal election and the conservative beliefs that underpin it. I write 'as if'; writing about the real world in a non-real way.


Davis Schneiderman, "Drone-Space Modulator"

"Drone-Space Modulator” is a nine-minute film made in partnership with the drone firm AeroVista Innovations; the film documents Schneiderman, his wife, Kelly Haramis, and their family playing under the thermal shadow of two drones. The film examines the anxieties of the present moment where “drones” are the remote harbingers of distant bombing and devastation and also the stuff of $20 children’s toys. Made up of technologies ranging from simple batteries to more elaborate high-tech software, the drone is a complicated amalgamation machine that has captured our collective imagination in the 21st century. Both enemy and friend, it conjures up the lethal accuracy of military grade Predators and those quick-silver, toy-like cameras that captures breathtaking aerial shots.

The film was shot at Highland Park, Illinois’ Olsen Park, and is connected to the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibit Moholy-Nagy: Future Present, about groundbreaking Hungarian artist Lazlo Moholy-Nagy.

Schneiderman conceptualized the blocking of the two craft in relation to each other, along with the thermal elements and the title cards containing Moholy-Nagy quotations; this interplay becomes part of the through line tracing the kinetic sense of play and freedom embedded in the possibility of the craft—the joy of close flight—and the surveillance regime implanted into the technology. Schneiderman, Haramis, and their children are never in danger, despite the quickening thermal images that close the piece. Yet, they are in danger. We are in danger. And someone is watching. That last sentiment is a platitude. Obviously, our passwords are compromised. Of course, our civil liberties have been challenged. We know it. We accept it. We invite it into our yard, and after charging in our micro USB port, we watch it take flight above just our heads.


Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint

Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint is the author of the novel, The End of Peril, the End of Enmity, the End of Strife, a Haven (Noemi Press, 2018), which won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the family history project, Zat Lun, which won the 2018 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize... Read More →

Eldritch Priest

Eldritch Priest writes on sonic culture, experimental aesthetics and the philosophy of experience from a ’pataphysical perspective. He is Assistant professor in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. Eldritch is also a composer and improviser, as well as... Read More →

Emma Rayward

Emma Rayward is a current Doctor of Creative Arts candidate at the Writing and Society Research Centre of the University of Western Sydney. Her thesis project is interdisciplinary, sitting at the juncture of topology, science fiction and experimental writing practice. Emma’s writing... Read More →

Davis Schneiderman

Provost and Dean of the Faculty / Lake Forest College, Lake Forest College
Davis Schneiderman is Krebs Provost and Dean of the Faculty, and Professor of English at Lake Forest College. He is the author or editor of more than 10 books. His first short-story collection, there is no appropriate #emoji, will be released in Fall 2019, and his recent novels BLANK... Read More →

Friday September 20, 2019 10:45am - 12:00pm PDT