2022 ASCA Dissertation Award:
Jakko Kemper, Technological Aesthetics of Imperfection in Times of Frictionlessness
Film scholars in the room today may remember the anecdote about movie producer Sam Goldwyn and director Cecille B. DeMille regarding chiaroscuro lighting. It goes something like this: It was 1915, and DeMille was making The Warrens of Virginia, for which he borrowed some spotlights from an opera house intending to create deep shadows. When Goldwyn saw the results, he was terribly annoyed. ‘Who wants to watch a movie whose supporting actor is the shadows?’ he asked. Cecille kept his cool and replied that it wasn't his problem if Goldwyn did not recognize Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro. The movie was advertised as ‘the first ever to use Rembrandt's lighting techniques,’ and Goldwyn vowed to charge double for the entrance tickets.
Somewhere in a book whose title I have long forgotten, this anecdote is used to reflect upon film's impossibility to perfectly reproduce reality and how that may be precisely the origin of its beauty. Unless I have completely missed the point (which could always be the case), Jakko Kemper's thesis, ‘Technological Aesthetics of Imperfection in Times of Frictionlessness,’ ambitiously dwells on a similar topic, although not for the specific case of film, but technology, instead. Kemper invites us to embrace finitude and fragility through his writing and locates imperfection as space and source for sparking care and building a more sustainable relationship with the technological world.
Kemper’s work is not only inspiring but also provides the reader with a much-needed sense of hope. In a context where we are all threatened daily by a technological culture of perfectibility, Kemper's thoughts and views of what is possible are beautifully and convincingly subversive. He is a little bit like the unknown bearded man in the very first cave of the Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda, who puts a copy of his thesis in your hands and says: ‘It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.’
2022 ASCA Article Award:
Mikki Stelder, ‘The colonial difference in Hugo Grotius: rational man, slavery and Indigenous dispossession,’ Postcolonial Studies, 2021.
This year’s ASCA article award goes to Mikki Stelder’s ‘The colonial difference in Hugo Grotius: Rational Man, Slavery and Indigenous Dispossession,’ published in the journal Postcolonial Studies. Hugo Grotius is certainly a figure from whom scholars can learn. Do we not think of ourselves as activists tarnished in some kind of bookishness? That Grotius himself once escaped prison in a box with theological books should not keep anyone from reading what he writes, rather than filling the gaps in the contradictory tale of Dutch colonialism with the tale of the ‘sovereign subject’ Grotius is known to have initiated.
Stelder does just that – reading, that is – and she discovers a blind spot. Centering on the notion of (dis)possession, she disproves the myth of a Dutch ‘innocence’ in colonial matters, for which Grotius has been used as token. If Dutch colonizers acquired lands and enslaved populations forcibly, then they did so at least based on the rules of trade. These rules required equal partners, and Grotius’ notion of the ‘undifferentiated sovereign subject’ allegedly supported that equality.
Yet, reading Grotius again, Stelder shows that this ‘contract colonialism’ always was meant to provide a ‘pre-emptive logic of conquest’ that procured Dutch colonizers their ‘possessions’ by allegedly safeguarding natural law and protecting the indigenous people from their own naturally reduced access to ratio. The position of the undifferentiated sovereign subject had been reserved for Christians – there is no way to overlook this, as she shows.
This close reading with an eye for the roles of the subject in the text and in reality, reaches the bottom of where a blind spot has come from. That blind spot keeps us busy in the world we live in today. The committee therefore thinks the article embodies the tenets of cultural analysis and deserves being singled out: We wish Mikki all the best in continuation of her bookish activism ‘ASCA style’!
2022 ASCA Book Award:
Quinn, Emelia (2021). Reading Veganism: The Monstrous Vegan, 1818 to Present. Oxford University Press.
The ASCA Awards committee presents this year’s book award to Emelia Quinn’s Reading Veganism: The Monstrous Vegan, 1818 to Present. Reading Veganism, published by Oxford University Press, provides a profound and perplexing history of vegan representation in English literature, from Mary Shelley to Alan Hollinghurst.
It asks the question why the vegan appears in a monstrous guise across 200 years of literary history, showing how veganism is presented as a physical indisposition or repression of innate appetites, often implicated in moral righteousness, aspirations for the ‘beautiful soul’, or fascist quests for purity even. The way in which Quinn exposes and analyses the gloomy sides of veganism makes Reading Veganism such an original and revealing study.
Reading veganism, however, also offers ways of embracing monstrous vegans, pointing out their dynamic, non-delineated, and queer dis-positions enabling temporary escapes from existing structures in Butlerian terms. Quinn introduces the notion of ‘vegan camp’ – think: Lady Gaga’s ‘Meat Dress’ – as a vegan mode of being and reading that offers acknowledgement of one’s implication within structures of violence, while allowing an outlet for the utopian optimism that remains.
Reading veganism is a true ASCA study, about an extraordinary, verging on wacky topic; conducting an incredibly clever and creative analysis from a broad humanities perspective; realising methodological innovation, while being at the centre of contemporary debates. Finally, the committee highly valued Quinn’s style, which is honest, intelligent, well-composed and bubbling with understated humour. One example involves the many resurgences of the monster of Frankenstein throughout the book, from a MacDonald’s commercial featuring a Frankenstein chicken to repressed homosexual desires, compared to a plant-based diet, in Hollinghurst. Quinn has added a multifaceted interpretation of vegan identity to the ASCA library, and a reparative mode of being and reading ‘vegan’ in the 21st century.