The Conference Committee is pleased to welcome 2017’s keynote speakers:

♦ Deborah Jenson  (Faculty page)

Keynote address: “Disability Studies and Marcel Proust: The Neurasthenia Key”

Thursday, March 30, 2017. Toy Lounge, Dey Hall


In previous research, I have argued that Marcel Proust’s father, Dr. Adrien Proust, had provided a model of the neurasthenia patient correlating to his son’s illness experiences. The 1897 L’Hygiène du neurasthénique (translated in 1903 as The Treatment of Neurasthenia) describes a searching-but-not-finding quality of memory, poorly coordinated with conscious life, similar to the “brain fog” now associated with a range of chronic illness diagnoses: “The memory also is diminished in these patients. Their power of recalling past events is defective, because they are unable to sustain the mental effort necessitated by the search for the forgotten incident, and because the greater part of the events that have taken place after the onset of their malady are perceived by them feebly, and hence are badly associated with their conscious personality. […] this is one of the causes that make them perceive in a vague and uncertain manner the incidents of which they are witnesses”. Dr. Adrien Proust notes that this predisposes the neurasthenic male to an obsessive “recherche du souvenir perdu” (“search for lost memory”), in which we can see the mechanism for the virtuosic memory of Marcel Proust the novelist. In this paper, I go on to explore not only the variety of ways that Proust’s life and writing have been used in disability studies “Cripping with Proust,” etc.), but the ways that the now-abandoned diagnosis of neurasthenia can be used to support or challenge some of the key theoretical arguments of disability studies.

Deborah Jenson co-directs the Duke Haiti Humanities Lab (with Laurent Dubois), focusing her work on the history of cholera in Haiti and the Caribbean, and mental health issues among survivors of the Haiti earthquake.

♦ Massimo Riva  (Faculty page)

Dorothy Ford Wiley Visiting Professor

Keynote address: “Italian Shadows: For a Genealogy of Virtual Reality in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century”

Saturday, April 1, 2017. Toy Lounge, Dey Hall


Panoramas, dioramas and magic lanterns conjure up the belle epoque of an optical and mechanical modernity: the “acquarium of remoteness and the past” of which Walter Benjamin spoke, referring to the Kaiser Panorama he visited as a child in Berlin, the toy store of a pre-cinematic and pre-digital adolescent world, magisterially re-evoked by Martin Scorsese in Hugo (2011). Over the past twenty years, propelled by the early excavations of Benjamin, Dolf Sternberger and other pioneers, scholars across a variety of disciplines, from film and media to literary and cultural studies, often inspired by the archaeological method of Michel Foucault, have explored these “curiosities” in order to trace the pre-history of cinema, illuminate the visual culture of modernity, or explore the genealogy of our contemporary media system. All this has led, more recently, to the birth of a new, trans-disciplinary field: media archaeology. In this paper, I will present my current project: a digital monograph, selected for the Brown/Mellon digital publishing initiative, at whose core are five digital simulations of popular optical spectacles from the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. These five simulations are accompanied by five “epistemological tales,” micro-historical case studies focused on Italy as a “virtual” country, and on historical figures of Italian modernity, representative of broader social, political and cultural dynamics: “virtual travel,” “social voyeurism,” “phantasmagoric consumption,” and “instant history.” These four thematic constellations (to use Benjamin’s term) allow us to draw a line, albeit a jagged one, between the analog past and our digital present. A mondo novo journey in the late eighteenth century, Casanova’s life as seen through a magic lantern show, the great Belzoni’s imaginary phantascopic installation at Egyptian Hall in 1821, the Garibaldi moving panorama touring the English provinces in 1860-61, and a stereoscopic mini-grand tour of Italy in 3D, at the end of the nineteenth century, in all their quirkiness and historical contingency, provide snapshots of both the world these media inhabited and the world to come that they foreshadow: ours. In presenting this project, I will also discuss the challenges and opportunities offered by an experiment with the scholarly long-form, in digital format.

Massimo Riva is Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence and Professor of Italian Studies at Brown University, where he also directs the Virtual Humanities Lab – VHL.

And our invited artist:

♦ Greg Lindquist  (Official page)

Friday, March 31, 2017. Ackland Museum