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PROGRAM: Extinction Thresholds Symposium

Extinction Thresholds Symposium

co-sponsored by

the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, & Sexuality

and the Society of Fellows & Heyman Center for the Humanities

Wednesday, February 26 | 12 – 3PM

Heyman Center Common Room, Columbia University

Event Schedule

12:00PM — Introduction

Tiana Reid, IRWGS Graduate Fellow and PhD Candidate in English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

Bio: Tiana Reid is a sixth-year PhD candidate in the Department of English and Comparative Literature. Her writing has appeared or will appear in publications including American Quarterly, Art in America, Bookforum, Feminist Formations, The Nation, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and The Paris Review. She is a member of the editorial collectives of The New Inquiry, Pinko, and Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory.

12:10PM — Lecture and Q&A

Elizabeth Povinelli, Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

Title: The Extinctions of Geontopower

Abstract: This talk explores the concept of extinction from within the organization of geontopower and its current unraveling.

Bio: Elizabeth Povinelli is a critical theorist and filmmaker. Her critical writing has focused on developing a critical theory of late settler liberalism that would support an anthropology of the otherwise. This potential theory has unfolded across five books, numerous essays, and thirty-five years of collaboration with her Indigenous colleagues in north Australia including, most recently, six films they have created as members of the Karrabing Film Collective.

1:00PM — Graduate student panel

Ami Yoon, PhD Candidate in English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

Title: On Surviving Extinction in the New World

Abstract: Reading the colonial practices of animal extinction in the New World through Herman Melville’s “The Encantadas” (1854), this paper suggests that Melville’s text offers a challenge to expand our sense of responsibility to nonhuman lives, in memory as well as in practice. Against the context of nineteenth-century scientific thinking about extinction, which exempted from moral analysis the violence suffered by animals, “The Encantadas” emphasizes a shared vulnerability to extinction, pushing us to think beyond what Judith Butler has called hierarchies of grief in the face of mass violence. In tracking the animals, we find models for survival and positive relation in a world of ubiquitous devastation, orienting us instead to sociality that takes place across species divides.

Bio: Ami Yoon is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia, where her research focuses on early and nineteenth-century American literature, poetry and poetics, and ecology. She is currently at work on a dissertation entitled “Practicing Truth: Poetry, Natural History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century America.”


Diana Rose Newby, IRWGS Graduate Fellow and PhD Candidate in English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

Title: Orchidelirium as Environmental Imperialism in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes

Abstract: This talk explores the mutual imbrication of environmental oppression and Western imperialism by attending to a specific historical example of their overlap, “orchidelirium.” A Victorian-era craze for the coveted flowers native to South America, orchidelirium is a significant yet critically underexamined site of environmental imperialism in the 19th century and beyond. Through a reading of the orchid-hunting subplot in Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie Marmon Silko’s 1999 historical novel Gardens in the Dunes, I treat the orchid as a living symbol of both the human and nonhuman precarity enacted by imperialist disruptions of colonized ecologies. Centering indigenous cosmology, this talk amplifies and extends Silko’s ethics of cross-species relationality, communication, and care in order to consider possibilities for resistance to the threat of extinction facing the orchid and other Amazonian inhabitants today. 

Bio: Diana Newby is a PhD candidate in Columbia’s Department of English & Comparative Literature. Her research sits at the intersection of 19th century literature, the history of science, and affect studies, with a particular focus on emotion and embodiment in the Victorian novel. She is a contributing writer for Synapsis: A Health Humanities Journal, and her work is also featured or forthcoming in/on Politics/Letters, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, and Teaching Gradually: Practical Pedagogy for Graduate Students, by Graduate Students.


Noni Carter, PhD Candidate in French and Romance Philology, Columbia University

Title: Performing the Neurotic: Memory and Black Subjectivity ‘At the End of the World’ in Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts

Abstract: This article presents the deconstructive concept “neurotic memory” through an analysis of Rivers Solomon’s sci-fi neo-slave narrative An Unkindness of Ghosts. Neurotic remembering is a performative practice that on one level invokes, demonstrates, and repeats the violence inherent in the institution of slavery as it stages the ontological contradictions of the black enslaved female. At the same time, this performative practice presupposes a process of incessant deconstruction and reinvention in the face of trauma, bringing to the fore certain “fugitive sensibilities,” strategies of being and relating beyond the human that open space for the creation of new epistemologies, identities, and pockets of resistance.

Bio: Noni is currently finishing a PhD in Francophone/Postcolonial studies with a focus on memory, gender, and slavery in the literary traditions of the Black diaspora, specifically the French Caribbean. Her dissertation work explores scientific and literary investments in the “human,” a category elaborated and debated in the thought of the European Enlightenment and re-scripted in recent afro-diasporic artistic work. She currently works with Small Axe Journal, Columbia’s Cultural Memory Seminar, and CSSD’s Transnational Black Feminisms. Noni is also a historical and speculative fiction published author. 

2:15PM — Reading and Q&A 

Julietta Singh, ACLS Burkhardt Fellow, University of Richmond and Columbia University

Title: The Breaks: An End of the World Reckoning

Abstract: The Breaks is a new manuscript that takes the form of a letter to a young, mixed-race daughter about mothering at the end of the world. As an extended maternal meditation, it borrows and departs from a Black paternal epistolary tradition, centering instead on brownness and daughters as overlooked sites of revolutionary potential. The reading will draw from a series of literary “episodes” that ask over how to teach, learn, and make family in the wake of Trump-era global political crisis and irreparable ecological catastrophe.

Bio: Julietta Singh is a writer and academic who works at the intersections of feminist and queer theory, decolonial studies, and the environmental humanities. She is currently an ACLS Burkhardt fellow at Columbia, and the author of Unthinking Mastery: Dehumanism and Decolonial Entanglements and No Archive Will Restore You.

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