Lecture: "Form = Material ??? Flywhisks and Catastrophe Logic in a Colonial Milieu"
Abstract: When is it helpful to think about formal problems as some of the materials with which we shape our histories? I will share a few writing tactics, worked out while grappling with a troubling history. It could well have taken the easy form of event-aftermath, given the widespread childlessness found in Belgian Africa’s equatorial forests from the 1930s, following iconic imperial violence—(think: Joseph Conrad, Roger Casement, rubber, cut-off human hands)—during Congo’s early rapacious years.
Instead of one arc about warfare, medicine, and suffering, I began tracing two crossed lines of evidence about power, nervousness, and words. As flywhisks suggest, vernacular motion surfaced with suggestions of clearing, ridding, ousting. Concepts, like reverie and repetition, became working materials. Yet narrative adhesion came from poetic bits, from tracking figurations and stories that enabled hints and contours of anger, jauntiness, dreams, and interior points of view.
Biography: A specialist of history and anthropology in Africa, Nancy Rose Hunt focuses on matters medical, therapeutic, and gender, while paying attention to material objects, everyday technologies, visual culture, and violence. She has published articles and essays on reproductive politics, breastfeeding, nursing, letter-writing, bicycles, comics, and power in colonial situations; as well as on abortion in African novels; colonial technologies and postcolonial debris; and the acoustics of war and humanitarianism. Her first book, an ethnographic history set in the Belgian Congo and then Zaire, A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Work, Medicalization, and Mobility (Duke,1999), received the Herskovits Book Prize in 2000. A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo (Duke, forthcoming) analyses two intertwined domains--the securitization of therapeutic insurgency, and the medicalization of infertility--in a part of the Belgian Congo (1908-60), which became iconic as a zone of rubber extraction, war, and horrrific violence in the period when Congo was King Leopold’s Free State (1885-1908). She is also working on a condensed world history of health and medicine for Oxford University Press.
Since 1985, she has done field research and taught in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, and Burundi, under Social Science Research Council and Fulbright fellowships. A Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in 2001-02 and at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin in 2010-11, she was named a CICS Human Rights Faculty Fellow at Michigan for 2012-2013.
Free and open to the public.
This lecture is part of the Thursday Speaker Series of the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies. It is made possible by a generous contribution from Kenneth and Frances Aftel Eisenberg.