Aesthetics of Transport Symposium

Friday, February 11, 2011
Pembroke Hall 305

The symposium will feature lectures by four scholars of transport, aesthetics, and transnational practices – Marian Aguiar (Carnegie Mellon), Miranda Burgess (University of British Columbia), Lindsey Green-Simms (College of Charleston) and Caren Kaplan (University of California, Davis) – and a roundtable discussion with members of the Brown Community. “The Aesthetics of Transport” positions transportation as a crucial aspect of modern life that has influenced transnational cultural production, and bringing these scholars to Brown University to present their work will give the Brown community access to a growing conversation regarding the intersection of mobility, mediation, and experience. These scholars approach transportation from a humanities perspective; their research and scholarship highlight the ways in which forms of cultural expression respond to forms of transportation and the aesthetic experience of travelling in technology. In addition to a recurring trope in modern literature, film, television and other arts, transportation carries its own particular aesthetic. The specific characteristics of transportation aesthetics depend on their social, cultural, national, and economic contexts. Their work articulates transportation and culture to discourses of consumerism, citizenship, nationalism, and postcoloniality. 

Changing modes of transportation in modern industrialized societies are themselves highly technologized and dependent on industrial modernity and technological innovation even as these new forms of travelling and moving themselves participate and enable modern industrial society. As such, “The Aesthetics of Transport” brings to light the transformations in cultural expression in the face of modernity, industrialized capitalism, and the increased technologization of the lifeworld. The aesthetic experience of transportation involves shock, disjuncture, anxiety, and distraction. Alongside these discomforts of movement, travel itself has been attached to the accrual of self-knowledge and knowledge of others. Thus the romance and adventure of travel are coextensive with the travails of the actual journey. In addition, transportation involves changing perceptions of timespace relations, geography, belonging, and community. Accordingly, “The Aesthetics of Transport” engages questions of exile, displacement, tourism, escape, and migration.

More than identifying transport, travel, and/or mobility as a recurring trope in cultural works, these scholars emphasize the fashion in which the experience of transportation itself structures cultural expression. The aesthetics of transportation thus influence and even create new aesthetic movements and new ways of understanding the world. In other words, media (defined broadly) can represent movement and has the power to move their audiences. “The Aesthetics of Transport” examines transportation as aesthetic experience that entails emotive and affective mobility as well as physical movement. Thus transport is conceptualized as the capability to convey, carry over, and enrapture, as well as a vehicle for those capabilities.

Speaker Biographies

Marian Aguiar is an Associate Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies at Carnegie Mellon University. Her research focuses on the different forms of modernity that appear in the global context. Her forthcoming book Tracking Modernity: India, Trains, and the Culture of Mobility (University of Minnesota, 2010) explores cultural representations of the modern by considering the imagination of railway space in colonial, nationalist and postcolonial South Asian contexts. Professor Aguiar has taught on such topics as postcolonial studies, South Asian literature and film, South Asians in the diaspora, and culture and globalization. Her articles have appeared in Cultural Critique, Modern Fiction Studies, Journal of Modern Literature, and Rethinking Marxism, as well as in edited book collections.

Miranda Burgess is an Associate Professor of English at the University of British Columbia. She works on British and Irish literature from the 1780s to the 1830s, and the history and theory of genre, mobility, media, and feeling. She is the author of British Fiction and the Production of Social Order, 1740-1830, which explores the uses of genre change in developing theories of British society and British nationhood. She is completing Romantic Transport: Mobility, Anxiety, and the Poetics of Feeling, 1790-1830, a book that examines ‘transport’ (the movement of feelings and objects, and the technologies facilitating each) and anxiety (in its clinical and more broadly social senses) in relation to the poetics of form and figuration at the turn of the nineteenth century. Her next project, Being Moved: Mobility and Romantic Aesthetics, is a cultural history of the emergence and embrace, in poetics and criticism as well as in philosophical aesthetics, of an understanding of aesthetic experience in which what is above all at stake in the reading of literature or the viewing of art is the activation, transformation, and potential or actual physical mobilization—in short, the movement—of the reader.

Lindsey Green-Simms is an Assistant Professor in English at the College of Charleston. Her research and teaching are situated at the intersections of postcolonial theory, African literature and film, globalization, and gender/sexuality studies. Her current book project, Postcolonial Automobility: West Africa and the Road to Globalization, examines how the contradictions of globalization are embedded in both the commodity of the automobile and in automobility, the ideal of the fully mobilized self that is typically coupled with the technological device of the automobile. She argues that in West Africa, automobility becomes a misplaced idea, a concept that begins to fissure and expose many of its original inconsistencies and forms of dissonance. She has published articles on African films and plays, Nollywood video-films, and human rights cinema in The Journal of Postcolonial Writing; Viewing African Cinema in the Twenty-First Century (Ohio U. Press); Indiscretions: At the Intersection of Queer and Postcolonial Theory (Rodopi Press); and The Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities, and Nations.

Caren Kaplan is Chair of the Cultural Studies Graduate Group and Professor in American Studies at UC Davis. She received her PhD in the History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz in 1987 and worked at Georgetown University and UC Berkeley before joining the faculty at UC Davis in 2004. Prof Kaplan is the author of Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Duke 1996) and the co-editor of Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (Minnesota 1994), Between Woman and Nation: Transnational Feminisms and the State (Duke 1999), and Introduction to Women’s Studies: Gender in a Transnational World (McGraw-Hill 2001, 2005). Her current research focuses on digital humanities, visual culture, militarization and consumer subjects, and technologies of location and navigation.