Monique Rooney, What Should We Do with Our Brow?

Monique Rooney (ANU), What Should We Do with Our Brow?

Thursday 9 February 2023, 4.00pm-5.30pm via zoom (please email for zoom link)

“How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1600 on their SATs” asks Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jessie Eisenberg) of his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in the opening of David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010). While Mark distinguishes himself as a Harvard student with a perfect SAT, he attempts to demean Erica for what he implies is her affiliation with a middle-tier school (Boston U) while quizzing her as to her view of him. Erica promptly breaks up with Mark and he returns to his dorm where he resentfully blogs about her bra-size. Unable to stop thinking about her “nice face,” Mark distracts himself by programming “Facemash,” an online platform inviting Harvard students to rank the “hotness” of their peers.

The scene dramatises the importance of “brow”—the systematic valuing of intellectual and artistic attainment—in a film that links meritocratic, and particularly male, anxiety to the birth of Facebook. In exploring operations and meanings of brow discernible in contemporary networked literature, film and new media, my paper draws on such path-breaking concepts of Catherine Malabou’s as the (explosive) plasticity of the brain, our alienation from consciousness in a time of distributed intelligence, and the promise of decorrelated (anarchic) as opposed to correlated (ranked and measured) subjects. I consider persistent meanings of brow rankings as these have moved and mutated from early 20th century phrenology to taste-making and networking.

Monique Rooney researches and teaches literature, film, television and new media in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics (ANU). Her book Living Screens: Melodrama and Plasticity in Contemporary Film and Television (2015) draws on Malabou’s theory of plasticity to argue that  metamorphosis and mediation are vital to melodrama’s persistence from the eighteenth century to the present. This paper comes from her current book project Brow Network: Programs and Promises, which argues that brow (as in highbrow, lowbrow and middlebrow) registers our sensitivity to ubiquitous cultures of measurement and ranking.

Jenny Wustenberg in conversation with Rosanne Kennedy

Jenny Wustenberg (Nottingham Trent) in conversation with Rosanne Kennedy (ANU)

“German Memory Culture and Politics: the Documenta 15 Controversy in Context”German Memory Culture and Politics: the Documenta 15 Controversy in Context”

Thursday 17 November, 4.30-6pm, A. D. Hope G28

When Documenta 15 opened in Kassel, Germany this year, it ignited controversy that plagued it throughout. A massive artwork, ‘People’s Justice’, produced by Indonesian collective Taring Padi and displayed in Kassel’s main square, was immediately criticized as antisemitic. The painting was removed and the Indonesian collective in charge of curating Documenta 15, ruangrupa, issued an apology. The curatorial collective took the premise of lumbung–an Indonesian word associated with community rather than the individual–as a basis for inviting Global South artists and collectives to participate. Even before Documenta 15 opened, controversy swirled around the Palestinian collective, Question of Funding, which had supported the BDS movement against Israel. The Documenta controversy has generated extensive commentary on topics including antisemitism, fascism, Israel/Palestine, decolonialism in the arts and international and national frames of reception. In this seminar, Rosanne Kennedy will be in conversation with Jenny Wustenberg, who will provide an overview of German memory culture and politics to help us better understand the Documenta controversy. Rosanne, who visited Documenta 15 and other exhibitions in Berlin featuring work from the Global South, including by First Nations Australian artists, will summarise some of the critical commentary on the debate and share her reflections as a visitor.

Jenny Wüstenberg is Professor of History & Memory Studies at Nottingham Trent University. She is the author of Civil Society and Memory in Postwar Germany (Cambridge UP 2017) and the co-editor of Agency in Transnational Memory Politics (with Aline Sierp, 2020) and the Routledge Handbook of Memory Activism (with Yifat Gutman, 2022) and De-Commemoration: Making Sense of Contemporary Calls to Remove Statues and Change Place Names (with Sarah Gensburger, forthcoming). Her research interests concern the contentious politics of memory, slow-moving change, and methodology in memory studies.

Rosanne Kennedy is Associate Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Culture and Literary Studies at the Australian National University. Her research explores the diversity of cultural forms through which writers, filmmakers and activists mediate and activate the past in the present, and appears in Memory Studies, Signs, Biography, Comparative Literature Studies, Studies in the Novel, Australian Feminist Studies and elsewhere.

Colleagues who are interested in reading about the controversy can find articles by Michael Rothberg, Dirk Moses and others here:

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Meeting ID: 861 8419 0389 / Password: 2022

Sandra Young on Adaptation as Renewal

Sandra Young (University of Cape Town), “Adaptation as renewal: the transformative impact of Hamlet’s travels”

Monday 21 November, 4.30-6pm, A. D. Hope G28

The brooding, introspective, post-Freudian Hamlet, prototype of modern Western subjectivity, has increasingly been made to reckon with the struggles of dispossession, political turmoil and police surveillance as the work has travelled globally. I consider the impact of Shakespeare’s global travels on the figure of Hamlet, and on the play’s capacity to effect discomfiting social critique, when reimagined in non-traditional centres of Shakespearean theatre-practice. Shakespeare’s most famous character has been revitalised through the work of theatre-practitioners and film-makers alert to the political imperatives of their contexts, such as rural Brazil (Zé Celso’s radical Ham-let of 1993 and 2001), India-administered Kashmir (Haider, dir. Vishal Bhardwaj, 2014), post-independence Nigeria (Wèsóo, Hamlet! Or, the Resurrection of Hamlet, by renowned Nigerian playwright, Femi Osofisan, 2014), and consequently, too, the London stage, as was evident in the National Theatre production in 2010, with its emphasis on surveillance. The Freudian interpretative framework, dominant during the last century, has had to reckon with the politics of dispossession and repression brought into relief by the complexities and inequities of a decolonising world. I draw on Edward Said’s insights into the effects of ‘traveling theory’ to conceptualise these transformations: for Said the vocabulary of ‘borrowing and adaptation is not adequate’ to speak of the transformation theory undergoes in unanticipated new contexts. He points to the profound sense of ‘affiliation’ (his emphasis) and creative renewal when ideas travel. The mutuality Said recognises is apposite too, I argue, when considering the transformative impact of Hamlet’s travels and the solidarities and resistances new interpretative contexts across the globe have yielded.

Sandra Young is Professor of English Literary Studies at the University of Cape Town. Her scholarship pursues questions of social justice in works both imaginative and historical. Her most recent book, Shakespeare in the Global South: Stories of Oceans Crossed in Contemporary Adaptation (Bloomsbury Arden, 2019), examines innovative adaptations that engage Shakespeare to tell new stories of dispossession across the global South. Her first book, The Early Modern Global South in Print: Textual Form and the Production of Human Difference as Knowledge (Ashgate, 2015), traces the emergence of a racialized ‘South’ in early modern geographies. Her research explores contemporary cultures of memory in the aftermath of injustice, too, in a range of forms, including testimony, life narrative, visual art, museum practice, and even organised protest. In her current book project, ‘An Intimate Archive: Personal Memory and Public Commemoration in the Aftermath of Apartheid’, she examines the intimate quality of post-apartheid public life and its archive.

Zack Karpinellison on Starstruck: Old Sydney vs New Canberra

Zach Karpinellison, “Starstruck: Old Sydney via New Canberra”

Thursday 27 October, 4.30-6pm, A. D. Hope G28; online (contact

In this work-in-progress paper, I am arguing that the National Film and Sound Archive’s restoration of Gillian Armstrong’s 1982 musical Starstruck led to the creation of a new version of the film which functioned to erase and unmake the original. In this seminar, I will look at some of the differences between the restored and unrestored versions of Starstruck. These differences provoke questions about nostalgia, authorial intervention, and national memory. In particular, I will draw attention to the way that the restored version of the film anchors itself to the American cut, and I will consider how this affects cultural and social perception of Australianness in relation to this obscure Sydney-based musical.

Zach Karpinellison is a second-year PhD student in the Interdisciplinary Cross-Cultural Research program at ANU. His work takes place at the intersection between screen and museum studies, and the subject of his research is the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

Wannes Dupont on “Pinks, Reds and Post-war Blues”

Wannes Dupont (NUS Yale Singapore), “Pinks, Reds and Post-war Blues: Homosexuality and Global Institutions in the Early Cold War Era”

Thursday 3 November, 12.30-1.30 pm, A. D. Hope G28; online (contact

Today, as pluralism and the civil integration of sexual minorities have become hallmarks of Western countries’ liberal identity, we must recall that the opposite was the case when the notion of ‘the West’ emerged out of the ruins of World War II. During the 1940s and -50s, North America was in the grip of simultaneous ‘Red’ and ‘Lavender’ scares that involved the active persecution of communists and queers at scale. These scares reflected the need for moral restoration after a period of drastic social changes. This talk addresses how Europe also saw an unprecedented wave of homophobia between 1945 and 1965. It demonstrates how local dynamics resonated with transnationally circulating concerns to bolster a widespread fear of ‘homosexual seduction’. During the long 1950s, however, growing international cooperation in the lap of the newly founded United Nations and organisations like Interpol also paved the way for homosexuality’s (partial) decriminalisation during the 1960s and the 1970s.

Wannes Dupont is currently Assistant Professor of History at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, but will become a Lecturer in the History of Sexuality at the University of Edinburgh come January. He previously conducted research as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University and as a postdoctoral fellow of the Flemish Research Foundation at the University of Antwerp. His research focuses on the European and global sexual past, queer history, reproductive politics, and the intersections of biopolitics and religion.

This seminar is funded courtesy of the Research School of Humanities and the Arts Visiting Fellows scheme

John Flower (University of Kent), “Some Thoughts on the Present State of the French Novel”

John Flower (University of Kent), “Some thoughts on the present state of the French novel”

Thursday 13 October, 4.30-6pm, A. D. Hope G28

With nearly 600 new novels published every year, to talk of recurrent themes or preoccupations in recent years is at best hazardous if not a waste of time. There is the usual cry that the vast sprawling novels of the nineteenth century and the masterpieces of the twentieth requiring the reader’s time and patience are still to be regretted, and that the impact of the visual—notably television and the comic strip—has encouraged a taste for instant consumption. That various aspects of contemporary politics and society have drawn novelists’ attention is clear; at the same time well-established concerns such as the Occupation or memory and history or the role of women, for example, continue to inspire some writers and satisfy their editor’s commercial ambitions.

Prof John Flower is Emeritus Professor of French at the University of Kent.  He has held professorial posts at Exeter UK and in France at Paris X-Nanterre and Bordeaux. He has published extensively on French literature, culture and politics since the early twentieth century, notably on the work of François Mauriac. He was founding editor of the Journal of European Studies and until 2021 its general editor.

COVID safe event: Social distancing / masks mandatory / COVID safety officer

Online: Zoom Meeting ID: 861 8419 0389 / Password: 2022

Maureen Gallagher on Decolonial Gazing and Hermeneutic Resistance

Thursday 6 October, 4.30-6pm, A. D. Hope G28

“Decolonial Gazing and Hermeneutic Resistance: Black German Challenges to White German Cultural Hegemony in the Museum”

This work in progress essay highlights the ways that Black Europeans, in this case in the German context, challenge universalizing notions of cultural heritage to highlight decolonial possibilities and interrogate the collection, display, and spectatorship of museum objects in majority-white contexts. I use the Berlin Ethnological museum in its former and current iterations as a representative example of debates about collecting and looking at museums, showing how thinkers like Fatima El-Tayeb and Kum’a Ndumbe III and initiatives like No Humboldt21! offer challenges to universalizing discourses and reflect the gaze back on whiteness. Finally, I offer a reading of a literary challenge to this universalism in Sharon Dodua Otoo’s 2021 novel Adas Raum (Ada’s Realm).

Maureen Gallagher is a lecturer in German Studies at ANU. She holds a PhD in German Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is currently working on a book manuscript on whiteness in Wilhelmine German youth literature and culture based on her dissertation. Her research and teaching interests include race and gender in German colonial literature, Black German Studies, connections between German Studies and Indigenous Studies, and inclusive, anti-racist and decolonial teaching practices.

COVID safe event: Social distancing / masks mandatory / COVID safety officer

Online: Zoom Meeting ID: 861 8419 0389 / Password: 2022

Lauren Goodlad (Rutgers University) on “The Lifecycle of Writing Subjects.”

Join us for this special CuSPP Seminar, featuring Lauren Goodlad (Rutgers University)

Thursday 13 October 10:00-11:30am (AEST), ZOOM ONLY

“The Lifecycle of Writing Subjects: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Large Language Models” 

This paper uncovers the “realities” of AI with an emphasis on the machine learning technologies that drive the new surveillance economy and its characteristic structures, social relations, and onto-epistemological conditions of possibility. I dwell on large language models (LLMs) because these systems for generating human-like text are the subject of heightening commercialization and debate, and I discuss them in relation to Ted Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010). Though this novella follows a long line of fictional works that render “AI” in terms of an anthropomorphised technology that does not exist, its near-future storyworld is nonetheless illuminating of today’s data-driven systems for prediction and optimization, and their relation to the material conditions and “lifecycle” of writing subjects.

Lauren M.E. Goodlad is Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Rutgers, New Brunswick. She is the chair of Critical AI @ Rutgers and the editor-in-chief of Critical AI, an interdisciplinary journal published by Duke UP that will be launched in 2023. Goodlad’s work on language models overlaps with a new project, Genres that Matter: The Ontological Work of Nineteenth-Century Fiction, and a recent (December 2020) co-edited special issue of MLQ, What Is and Isn’t Changing: Critique after Postcritique. She is the lead US PI for an NEH-funded international collaboration between Rutgers and ANU which has centered on data ethics and data ontologies.

ANU COVID Safe event: social distancing, masks mandatory, COVID safety officer.

Online: Zoom meeting ID 8619 8419 0389, Password 2022

Monique Rooney on Malabou’s Anarchy and Varda’s Sans Toit ni Loi (1985)

Join us for the next CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 25 August 2022, 5.00pm – 6.30pm (Please note that this seminar is beginning at the later than normal time of 5pm; please note also that this seminar is taking place via zoom ONLY; please contact for the link and password).

The Pleasure of Self-Erasure: Catherine Malabou, (Sexual) Anarchy and Agnès Varda’s Sans Toi ni Loi (1985)

Adventures and solitude of a young vagabond (neither withdrawn nor talkative), told by those who had crossed her path, that winter in the South of France. But can one render silence, or capture freedom?

The film wanders between Mona and the others. We glimpse their lives, and then move on. I really liked all the characters in this story, here and there, like small “figures” in a winter landscape, where, coming toward us, walking, is a rebellious girl. (Agnès Varda, “Publicité,” quoted in Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, To Desire Differently 285-6).

This work-in-progress paper reads Agnès Varda’s Sans Toit ni Loi (meaning “without roof or law”) through the lens of Catherine Malabou’s conceptualisation of anarchy as order without command or beginning (“Politics of Plasticity: Cooperation without Chains,” 2021, and Pleasure Erased: The Clitoris Unthought, 2022). I elucidate key elements of Malabou’s anarchy and, in particular, I highlight her argument that the clitoris (a “little pebble” or “scruple”) is a symbol of sexual anarchy. The paper also draws on Rebecca J. DeRoo’s argument that Varda cultivated “strategic naivety,” with her public presentation of her apparently artless relation to cinema history enabling her negotiation of, and survival within, a male-dominated industry. DeRoo also highlights the disruptive role that non-cinematic works, including Renaissance painting and vernacular photography, play in Varda’s films. My paper suggests that it is the intermedial role of photography and ancient myth that meaningfully punctuate both Sans Toit ni Loi’s montage and narrative. My paper ultimately suggests that the female film-maker partially occludes the anarchic (“wandering”) nature of film itself, training its attention instead on the image of the “rebellious girl” that is Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire).

Monique Rooney teaches literature, film, television and new media in the English program, School of Literature, Languages and Literatures (ANU). The author of Living Screens: Melodrama and Plasticity in Contemporary Film and Television (2015), she is currently writing a book titled Brow Network: Programs and Promises. The plan is that this paper’s reading of anarchy in Varda will be published as part of a collection of essays on Malabou in an upcoming special issue of Film-Philosophy.

Derek Allan, “The Very Idea of Art”

Join us for the next CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 28 July, 2022, 4.30 – 6pm.

The Very Idea of Art

Donald Preziosi, an influential modern voice in art history, argues that his discipline has proved ‘particularly effective in naturalizing and validating the very idea of art as a “universal” human phenomenon’. If this claim is true, it would mean, in my view, that art history has done a serious disservice to our modern understanding of art. For as the French art theorist, André Malraux, points out, the idea of art is definitely not a universal human phenomenon, there being ample evidence that the vast majority of cultures throughout history, have not regarded their painting, sculpture, poetry, and music as ‘art’.

Today, of course, we willingly regard many works from non-European and early cultures as art and welcome them into art museums, but this is a recent development, barely more than a century old. This paper examines certain major issues arising from this situation, including: when and why the idea of art arose; the radical change in the word’s meaning that occurred after Manet; how this change led to the inclusion of many non-European and ancient works in our modern world of art; and the inadequate responses to these developments by modern philosophers of art and art historians.

Dr Derek Allan is a Visiting Fellow in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics at the Australian National University. His principal research interests are the theory of art and literature, European literature, and visual art. Derek’s publications cover figures such as Dostoyevsky, Laclos, Goya and the twentieth-century art theorist and novelist, André Malraux. His most recent publication is a book entitled André Malraux and Art: An Intellectual Revolution. It is also available in French.

ANU COVID safe event: Social distancing / masks mandatory / COVID safety officer

Online: Zoom Meeting ID: 861 8419 0389 / Password: 2022