Upcoming Conference/Keynote

Excited to announce that I will be the keynote speaker at Western University’s annual grad conference on “Toxic/Cities,” held March 2-4, presented by the Graduate Programs in Comparative Literature, Hispanic Studies, and Theory & Criticism.

Consider submitting! CFP below.

Call for Papers


19th Annual Graduate Student Conference

March 2-4, 2017

Western University, London, Ontario, Canada

Deadline for submission of abstracts: December 2, 2017

Presented by the Graduate Programs in Comparative Literature, Hispanic Studies, and Theory & Criticism

Western University invites you to take up the topic: Toxic/cities

at the 19th Annual Graduate Student Conference, to be held from March 2-4, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada.

Historically, the city has been considered a place of civilization, modernity, and opportunity; yet, for many the city is also a site of exploitation, excretion, and contamination. Millions of immigrants flocked to Ellis Island with the hopes of finding a better life in New York City; however, for many, the American Dream was shattered by the reality that the city can be monstrous and barbaric. Spanish author García Lorca wrote in his poem “The Dawn”: “The light is buried under chains and noises / in impudent challenge of rootless science. / Through the suburbs sleepless people stagger, / as though just delivered from a shipwreck of blood.” While some successfully navigate this darkness, many people encounter a place full of toxins and decay. A city that is both living and dead.

As Italo Calvino puts it in the last part of Invisible Cities, “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.” The city, like an organism, is permeable and vulnerable to the very toxins it produces. People inhabiting toxic spaces can revel in this darkness or try to resist it. Decay itself can be revitalizing or lethal; dead communities can come alive. Conversely, the liveliest of communities can succumb to toxins and die.


This conference seeks to examine literary, historical, and theoretical investigations of toxicity in spaces, including but not limited to cities, suburbs, countrysides, or imaginary spaces. Topics for discussion include notions of abjection in literature and theory, contamination of language and degradation through translation, garbage art, indigenous eco-visions, rabid consumerism, scientific fallout, and disposable cultures. We encourage submissions from across these disciplines: literary, critical and cultural theory, cultural studies, philosophy, digital humanities, linguistics, film studies, visual arts, history, anthropology, and sociology. We invite submissions on:

  1. Toxicity
  2. Authors, languages, theories, cultures, texts, films, and artworks that depict contamination or decay.
  3. Decay in communication caused by literary, linguistic and cultural barriers, silence, censorship, semantic ambiguity, practices and cultures of ineffective language acquisition.
  4. Toxic consequences of:
    1. language evolution and variation, dialect contact, language attrition.
    2. birth of monstrosity, mutation, madness, mad science.
  • the pharmakon, dark vitalism/ecology, immunitary logics
  1. Recovery from periods of decline and decay (coming out of toxic environments).


  1. (Toxic) City
  2. Studies of spaces including but not limited to urban, suburban, rural, or imaginary spaces from a variety of approaches such as ecocriticism, sustainability, digital humanities, the Anthropocene, dystopian theory, etc.)
  3. The collapse or metamorphosis of religious institutions, political systems, social values, or economic policies that are in decay.
  4. Resistance to decay, ways of expressing resistance, autopoeisis as counter-discourse, immunization / inoculation, coping mechanisms, resolutions to toxic issues, positive visions of social cohesion.
  5. Decay as productive of underground networks of communication and speculative theory.

 Related fields and topics may include:

Feminist studies Utopia/Dystopia
Cultural studies Petro-fiction
Queer studies The post-human
Ethnic studies Experimental arts
Indigenous studies The DarkWeb
Disability studies Post-colonialism
Translation studies
Visual arts
Creative Writing / Expressions
Film studies

We are asking those interested in delivering 15 to 20-minute presentations to submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to uwo19mllgradconf@gmail.com by December 2, 2016. Please include your name, paper keywords, institutional affiliation, technical requirements, and a 50-word bio in your email. Abstracts and presentations in English, Spanish and French are welcome, and selected papers will be published in The Scattered Pelican, a peer-reviewed journal run by students of the comparative literature program, after the conference. *We are also accepting original artwork in the form of video, photography, visual arts, sound art and poetry.  For more information, including submission guidelines for artworks, please visit www.uwotoxicityconference.wordpress.com

Non-constitutive Rhetoric: Or the Banality of Control

I prepared this paper for the forthcoming National Communication Association conference for a panel on affect. As with a much academic writing, I followed fairly strict disciplinary constraints; in this case, I am bridging rhetorical theory and advances in affect studies from other fields. The argument is not terribly original, though I make a few important distinctions that weed out inadequate interpretations of affect and establish the political stakes of affect theory (from a Marxist perspective). I will cut out roughly 3/4 of the material (to about 1200 words) to reduce it to a 10 minute talk.

My purpose today is to update the rhetorical studies theory of subjectivity. I argue that ‘affect theory’ should replace the older psychoanalytic model of interpellation. To concretize my argument, I analyze banal rhetoric; namely, the cybernetic subjectivity produced by “stock listings, currencies, corporate accounting, national budgets, computer languages, mathematics, scientific functions, [and] equations” (Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 80).

Before I dive in, let provide you with a short preview of my argument. I begin by considering an essential axiom of critical rhetoric theory: “rhetoric produces subjectivity.” The prevailing theory is that subjectivity is an ideological effect of an implied audience (Charland, “Québécois”; Delgado, “Chicano Movement”). The most popular explanatory mechanism is interpellation, which draws on Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory of symbolic mediation (Althusser, “ISA,” 162). I argue that this model is no longer appropriate, for as Eugene Holland argues, “what Althusser actually describes is not the ideological constitution of the Subject, but only of the citizen” (“Schizoanalytic Critique”). The consequence of my argument is that rhetoricians explaining subjectivity through interpellation limited their focus to the State and relations of obedience/disobedience.

Second, I explain how banal rhetoric reveals modes of subjectivity beyond the citizen-subject. My claim is that rhetorical power now “speaks, communicates, and acts ‘assisted’ by all kinds of mechanical, thermodynamic, cybernetic, and computer machines” (Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 29). I analyze “the language of infrastructures” to show how rhetoric solicits subjectivity without constituting a people or even addressing a subject (Pasolini, Heretical Empiricism, 63; Lazzarato, Signs and Machines, 61). As such, I do not celebrate affects as a challenge to abusive power; rather, I follow in the footsteps of Frédéric Lordon, who argues in Willing Slaves of Capital that joyous affects are the very means of our contemporary exploitation.

Lastly, I suggest two consequences from studying banal rhetoric: one, artifact selection need not be tied to rhetoric that hails “the people,” invokes an identity, or provides a symbolic program of action (McGee, “The People”; Charland, “Peuple Québécois”; Delgado, “Chicano Movement”); and two, the political search for rhetorical resistance need not emerge from distinct counter-publics or out-law discourses (Warner, Publics and Counter-Publics; Sloop and Ono, “Out-Law Discourse”).

Briefly restating my roadmap: I begin by discussing interpellation, continue with a discussion of affect, and end with the consequence an affect theory of subjectivity for future scholarship. Continue reading “Non-constitutive Rhetoric: Or the Banality of Control”

Three New Publications

Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So…(1998) dir. Krzysztof Wierzbicki

Three new publications:
> “Philosophy, Science, and Virtual Communism,” Angelaki 20(4): Link, Liberated
> “The State, Concept not Object: Abstraction, Empire, Cinema, ” parallax 21(4): Link, Liberated
> “Confronting Connectivity: Feminist Challenges to the Metropolis,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 12(5): Link (live Nov 19), Liberated.

Connectivity as Inclusive Disjunction

cloudAbstractly, connectivity operates through inclusive disjunction, a process that puts otherwise foreign elements into communication with one another through an encounter that does not require those pieces to operate through a shared logic.[i] Rather than in-folding some common term, such as the introjection of an imperial dictate, The Metropolis unfolds. It exposes interiors through a mutual opening up (to name a few: the privatization of economic risk through increased debt obligation, the removal of tariffs that protect national industries, or the exemption of citizenship rights against government assassination).[ii] In this sense, those who condemn capitalism as a homogenizing force are incorrect – inclusion can spread through divergence. The Metropolis retains differential relations of parts by selecting “a particular zone that varies with each” that will make possible its integration of the “sum of infinitely tiny things.”[iii] Furthermore, by being more than inclusion based on a common term (the law, a nation, a people), disjunction is pure relation, a movement of “reciprocal asymmetric implication,” that expresses only difference itself (and not imposing equivalence, resolving into a general category, or synthesizing into a superior identity).[iv] The Metropolis hence shares Deleuze’s “most profound insight” that “difference is just as much communication, contagion of heterogeneities,” which means, “to connect is always to communicate on either side of a distance, by the very heterogeneity of terms.”[v] The effect of this contagion does not result in a unity, combination, or fusion; inclusive disjunction maintains a “politeness” – “an art of distances.”[vi]

Continue reading “Connectivity as Inclusive Disjunction”

Confronting Connectivity

The future is ‘connectivity,’ or so say today’s tech execs. “Soon everyone on Earth will be connected,” they declare, followed by worn promises of increased productivity, health, education, and happiness.[i] On its face, they are simply echoing the old trope of the level playing field repeated by empire builders from Niccolò Machiavelli to Thomas Friedman. What then is new? How connectivity forges horizontal connections between the virtual and physical worlds. As a consequence, the digital logic of combinatorial difference is now used as a tool of governance to “intensify, accelerate, and exacerbate phenomena in the world so that a difference in degree will become a difference in kind.”[ii] In sum, connectivity is the new techno-utopian business strategy that braids the physical with the virtual to create a socio-political empire of difference.

Google’s connectivity thesis is a sign that power is logistical – its authority resides in roads, cellphone towers, and data centers, which are overseen by legislators who keep the flows moving. Continue reading “Confronting Connectivity”

Defining the Virtual Concept: An Idea that “Does Not Refer to the Lived”

state-conceptThis is an excerpt from my forthcoming essay in parallax that provides a Deleuzian theory of the State by way of cinema, cultural studies, and rhetorical theory.

Defining the state as a virtual concept requires an explanation of the virtual in Deleuze’s work. Deleuze does not mean simulated, as in ‘virtual reality’, in fact: ‘the virtual is opposed not to the real but to the actual’.[1] The virtual and the actual together make up two mutually-exclusive sides of the real.[2] The actual is a given states of affairs that is populated by bodies. The virtual is a ‘pure past’ of incorporeal events and singularities that have never been present, which have ‘the capacity to bring about x, without (in being actualized) ever coming to coincide or identify itself with x, or to be depleted and exhausted in x’ while ‘without being or resembling an actual x’.[3] In this sense, the virtual includes all potential worlds, everything that inhabits them, all of their really-existing potentials, and their every potential to differ that coexists with he actual.[4] To illustrate the complex character of the virtual, Deleuze is fond of quoting Jorge Luis Borges, whose ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ includes a fictional book of Chinese philosophy that creates an opening ‘to various future times, but not to all’. [5] ‘In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of others’, he writes, ‘in the almost unfathomable Ts’ui Pên, he chooses – simultaneously – all of them’ and thus ‘creates various futures, various times which start others that will in their turn branch out and bifurcate in other times’.[6] In fiction, the book is able to depict the virtual as ‘an infinite series of times, in a dizzily growing, ever spreading network of diverging, converging and parallel times’ that creates a ‘web of time’ – ‘the strands of which approach another, bifurcate, intersect, or ignore each other through the centuries’ and thus ‘embraces every possibility’.[7] Continue reading “Defining the Virtual Concept: An Idea that “Does Not Refer to the Lived””