Deep Dish - Unbecoming Life: Notes on Jellyfish Immaterialism

Thursday, September 15, 2016 -
12:00pm to 1:00pm
Eva Hayward
McClelland Park Building, Room 402

This talk offers a reading of Giancarlo Pastore’s novel Jellyfish (Trans. Jamie Richards. Las Cruces, NM: Xenos Books, 2007) to interfere in the burgeoning tide of critical work in Animal Studies that anchors their analytic claims on theories of becoming and “new materialism.” Focusing specifically on the jellyfish that pulse, sting, and drift through the Pastore’s novel, this paper asks how disintegration, disease, and disruptive undoing generally disfigure the tropic force of becoming and matter itself. With Pastore’s Jellyfish the central character describes his Kafkaesque struggles with AIDS and opportunistic diseases as unbecoming jellyfish. Unbecoming functions less as a metaphor here, but synecdochically—as his illness continues to disable his body, it is also loosening the boundaries that limit or hold the body together. The jellyfish, in its translucency, tentacularity, and pulsive mobility are resonances of his body’s drive toward quiescence, toward unbecoming. Rather than impelling subjects to reach for every expanding formations of self or the social, unbecoming suggests negativity, a resistance to discursification, rationalization, or even negotiation. Not unlike the gelatinous ambiguity of jellyfish, unbecoming is unseemly. To be unbecoming is a critique; unbecoming undermines by working against being. Installed in the subject virally, unbecoming highlights the unbinding excess of affect—an impacting force that give rise to indeterminate sensations. It puts into motion negativity that counteracts optimistic affirmations of the human’s infinite potential for life, un-resting political diplomacy and destabilizing the dream of a common world.

Eva Hayward received her PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz in History of Consciousness. Her dissertation focused on feminist science studies and visual culture in which she did ethnographic work of marine biological laboratories in California. Hayward has previously taught courses on film/video, science studies, and feminist/queer theory at the University of California, Santa Cruz, University of New Mexico, Uppsala University (Sweden), Duke University, and University of Cincinnati. Currently, she is an assistant professor in Gender & Women's Studies at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Her research focuses on aesthetics, environmental and science studies, and transgender theory. At the University of Arizona, she has developed course on Feminist Animal Studies, Ecofeminism, and Sexuality & Aesthetics.  She has recently published articles in Transgender Studies Quarterly (she edited a special issue on the intersection of transgender and animal studies), “FingeryEyes: Impressions of Cup Corals” appeared in Cultural Anthropology, “Carnal Light” appeared in Parallax, “Sensational Jellyfish” appeared in differences, “Lessons From a Starfish” appeared in Women’s Studies Quarterly, “Spider City Sex” appeared in Women and Performance. Hayward’s forthcoming book “SymbioSeas” (under contract with Penn State Press) looks at underwater representations of marine organisms to think about the interplay of art and science, sex and species, mediation and intimacy.