What do holocaust eroticism and lesbian cowboys have in common? Both were on the menu, along with the “Violent Ethics of Whiteness,” at the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) annual convention which was held in Chicago the past three days.
According to Campus Reform, the organization, which sees itself as the ultimate arbiter of things grammatical and defender par excellence of academic freedom, featured Phyllis Lassner among its guests. Lassner, who teaches writing at Northwestern University, presented a talk on “Erotic Terror in Auschwitz: An American Tale.” Included was an exegesis of the 1994 novel “The Kommandant’s Mistress,” which depicts “an erotically violent relationship between a Jewish woman prisoner and an S.S. perpetrator born in Auschwitz and ending in the United States.”
But that wasn’t the only consideration of Judaism. JNS.org, a Jewish news portal, points out that a roundtable discussion titled “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine” featured supporters but no opponents of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
For those whose grievances are more domestic, there were considerations of race. A segment titled “Beyond Huck and Pudd’nhead: Mark Twain and Race” investigated “Constructing a Legacy of Whiteness in The Autobiography of Mark Twain.”
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A special session with something for everyone, moderated by Danielle Christmas, a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, had the catchall title ”Representing Evil: Nazis, Slaveholders, and the Politics of the Perpetrator.” Here is part of the description:
The goal of this panel is to explore American narratives of the Holocaust and slavery rooted in notions of evil. These papers speak to the politics associated with how American cultural production mediates such widely divergent experiences as slavery and the Holocaust through the figure of the evil perpetrator. A significant contribution of our panel to consideration of ‘vulnerable times’ will be the interdisciplinary approaches of the historical, sociological and literary politics associated with textual representations of the Holocaust and slavery. Key epistemological questions frame this collective inquiry: How do we identify the perpetrator? Is motivation a factor in this identification? And how does an American context shed light on the political, ethical, and aesthetic stakes attached to competing accounts of the perpetrator?
Another panel examined racial themes in pop culture. Included were discussions of “The Minstrel Closet: Masked Vulnerabilities and the Postracial in Tropic Thunder,” and “(Post) Racial Vulnerability and Feelings of Blackness in ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’” That’s the TV show, not the book.
Another popular TV show “Girls” was the focus of “’Girls’ and the F Word: Twenty-First-Century Representations of Women’s Lives.” Three sessions addressed “The Politics of Dressing and Nakedness,” dating, and “Popular Music and Issues of Identity” in the show.
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