SCMS 2018 Panel CFP
Don’t Worry Be Happy: Visual Culture and the Aesthetics of Depression
With headlines like “How to deal with 2016 despair” and “The psychological roots of liberals’ Trump depression,” the idea of depression seems an apt framework for cultural criticism today. “Left Melancholy” is a term that has been around for years, often used by Marxists facing the failures of communism at the end of the 20th century. This form of political melancholia has intensified and permeated further in the 21st century. Our contemporary political malaise, the prevalence of images of suffering, and the economic woes of widening inequality all contribute to an overwhelming mood of stagnation, perilousness and depression that arguably defines this moment in time.
If depression defines a cultural mood that extends beyond the individual, might we also identify it as an aesthetic paradigm? Christine Ross’s The Aesthetics of Disengagement: Contemporary Art Depression (2005) makes this argument by positing that feelings of depression are not only reflected in art, but that art actively contributes to the evolving social configurations of depression. Likewise, in Depression: A Public Feeling (2012) Ann Cvetkovich uses formal language to discuss what she sees as a fundamentally political affective state. The idea of “the impasse,” blockage, and the dissolution of the subject under contemporary social pressures are foregrounded in her work.
We are proposing a panel for SCMS that takes seriously Ross’s contention that depression is an aesthetic paradigm. We are interested in its various visual manifestations and the corresponding political implications. Building on terms like the “impasse” from Cvetkovich and “disengagement” from Ross, we add to this the possibility for depression to take the form of pressure, impressions, depressions, density and dissolution. In other words, we posit there is a physics of depression that takes shape in visual culture.
For this panel we are looking for papers that creatively use the concept of depression as a reading strategy to analyze an interesting or unusual aesthetic object that speaks to this particular moment in time. We are open to papers that approach the topic from a variety of angles, from gender and sexuality, race, poverty, history, mental illness, academia, and environmentalism, among other possible frameworks. To be considered for the panel please send a 250 word abstract to [log in to unmask] by Monday, July 31. Please include a title and 3-5 sources as well as brief author information. We will send acceptance notifications by Monday, August 14.
Possible topics include but are not limited to:
*The use of depression as a political tool in gender & sexuality studies and its relation to visual culture
*Depression as a reaction to images of suffering from places as far away as Syria to places much closer to home like the city of Flint
*Cinema studies in decline and the possibility for a discipline to be depressed
*Mania, which Freud identifies as one possible manifestation of melancholia, as an aesthetic mode
*The depiction of mental illness in visual and popular culture, such as Zoe Quinn’s “Depression Quest” or Allie’s popular webcomic, “Hyperbole and a Half”
*The concept of “depressive realism” and the power of cynicism manifested in visual culture
*Climate change and the disappearance of the future; “low pressure” weather systems
*Modes of disengagement in visual and popular culture; distracted viewing and/or addiction as a form of disengagement; nichification in media and the isolation of viewers, etc.
*Economic depression/precarity and its relation to visual culture
Suggested Readings for Inspiration:
1. Cvetkovich, A. (2012). Depression: A Public Feeling. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
2. Flatley, J. (2008). Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
3. Freud, S. (1957). "Mourning and Melancholia." In J. Strachey (Trans.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 14, pp. 243–258). London: Hogarth Press.
4. Ross, C. (2005). The Aesthetics of Disengagement: Contemporary Art and Depression. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press.
For more information contact Laurel Ahnert ([log in to unmask]) or Lauren Cramer ([log in to unmask]).
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama: http://www.tcf.ua.edu