Arts & Culture

Tucker Comments on Victorian Pseudoscience, Romance

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

The pseudoscientific myths about love and sexuality that abounded in the Victorian era, many of which seem “cruel and oppressive” by today’s standards, could also offer women relief from the era’s “rigid gender politics,” according to Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker, who comments on the topic for a Broadly article.

For much of the 19th century, the Western world was fascinated with a variety of pseudosciences, or theories that lack a basis in the scientific method.

“Definitions of science were malleable and hotly contested in the 19th century,” said Tucker, who is also associate professor of science in society, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and associate professor of environmental studies. “Far from being on the sidelines of intellectual life, spiritualism and other unconventional forms of knowledge often provided a means for Victorians from a variety of different social backgrounds to question scientific authority and to ask what counted as a proper science, or as a ‘scientific practice.'”

“One of the great myths about the Victorian age [was] that it was sexually repressive; on the contrary, Victorian society was obsessed with sexual reform, heterosexual and homosexual love, lust, and sex (as well as of the policing of sexual desires),” added Tucker. “Love and sex were both controversial and politicized.”

Pseudoscientific theories included phrenology (which was used to explain the different propensities of men and women toward love and sexual desire); the use of love potions made of dangerous ingredients such as arsenic and belladonna; beauty face masks made of raw beef; cures for low libido such as bull testicles; and vibrators used to treat “hysteria” in sexually frustrated women.

According to the story, “Victorians were also surprisingly progressive on what would eventually evolve into more enlightened views on gender.

“Theosophists [occult philosophers] believed that life in male and female bodies taught different lessons; for some, this meant that it was necessary for the Ego to incarnate many times as both female and male,” Tucker explains. “Many theosophists believed, for example, that in their evolutionary progress men reincarnated as women, and women as men. Therefore at any given time, as one believer in this theory said in 1892: ‘We have… men in women’s bodies, and women in men’s bodies.'”

New Center for the Arts Exhibition Explores Duality

Multimedia artist Clarissa Tossin discusses her artwork at the IN STEREO event and artist walkthrough on February 7, 2017. Photo by Perceptions Photography.

Multimedia artist Clarissa Tossin discusses her artwork at the IN STEREO event and artist walkthrough on Feb. 7. (Photo by Perceptions Photography)

In the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery sits an old Volkswagen Brasília, surrounded by a sampling of artwork in all different mediums. This the Center for the Arts’ latest exhibition, Stereoscopic Vision, which fuses photography, sculpture, and video from different bodies of work by Brazilian-born artist, Clarissa Tossin. Stereoscopic Vision highlights the dualities between natural and manufactured; two and three-dimensions; co-dependent economies; intention and actuality; and the United States and Brazil.
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For Tossin, who is based in Los Angeles, this is her first solo exhibition in the northeast. Tossin considers herself a multimedia artist. “I work with installation, video, photography and sculpture in an expansive way, which allows me to incorporate other mediums to the work and move freely among these disciplines” she explained. “I’m interested in looking at architecture, not only from its physical qualities, but the ways it signifies and is used.”

Besides this exhibition, Tossin is preparing to shoot a new film called Maya Blue, which will premiere in September at Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a Getty Foundation initiative that explores the connections between Los Angeles and Latin American art. “The film examines the influence of Mayan architecture on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, an important LA landmark,” she said. “The piece will document a performance responsive to the site, in which a woman engages with the house’s architectonic features with choreography drawn from ancient Mayan traditions.”The free

The free exhibition is on display through Sunday, March 5. The Zilkha Gallery is open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Additionally, Wesleyan artists in music, poetry, and dance are participating in IN STEREO, a series of pop-up performances that are related to or inspired by Tossin’s work. The Feb. 21 performance spotlights dancers and choreographers.

Manaster ’01 Exposes the Messiness of Life in New Book

the-done-thing-book-jacketIn The Done Thing (Tyrus Books, 2016), author Tracy Manaster ’01 introduces us to Lida Stearl, a newly retired widow growing more obsessed each day with her ex-brother-in-law Clarence, on death row for the murder of her sister almost 20 years earlier. We watch as Lida strikes up a correspondence with Clarence while posing as a naïve twenty-something in need of a friend. We witness the rawness of Lida’s pain when she realizes that her niece Pamela, whom she raised as her own, has been in contact with the man she has despised for all these years. And we stand by helplessly as we observe Lida’s obsession, once kept in check by her marriage and her career, spiral out of control—setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy the one thing that matters most: her relationship with Pamela. Library Journal, in a starred review, says, “Manaster has written a deeply human and morally saturated novel, with captivating language. Don’t miss this sympathetic examination of how a tragic incident can irrevocably change a life’s course.” While Publishers Weekly says, “In this engrossing story about the effects that vengeance can have on love, Manaster refuses to take the happy, easy way out, instead leaving her strikingly relatable characters with just enough room to breathe.”

In this Q&A, Manaster talks about the characters she brings to life in The Done Thing.

Q: Where did the idea for The Done Thing come from?

A: The Done Thing had its inception in the worst short story written in the 80-year history of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  In an attempt to settle a pretentious bar argument about whether or not a piece could have both a twist ending and emotional heft, I had a proto-Lida—I think her name was Joan—puttering about her house in a state of focused fury, knowing that miles away in Arizona a proto-Clarence was being executed for the death of her sister. The twist was that because Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, she misses the actual moment of his passing.

It was a terrible story. I lost the argument. The twist robbed the narrative of emotional resonance. But the premise was a good one, meaty enough to carry a book, and I began to hone in on Lida: her voice, the world she navigates, the impossible resolution she craves. It took nearly a decade—and everything I learned from writing, editing, and publishing my debut, You Could Be Home by Now—for me to become an adept enough writer to be equal to that voice.

Q: Was it always your intention to create a character like Lida, with whom we empathize, even when she’s at her worst? Was it a creative struggle to keep that balance in mind—the fine line between righteous anger and going too far—as you moved through the story?

A: After the initial “hey, wow, this could be an actual book” inspiration, Lida’s essential character gave me very little trouble.

Wesleyan Editors Call for New Books by Alumni, Faculty, Students, Staff

WES_0411Wesleyan is known for its top-notch writing programs and for the accomplishments of its community of award-winning alumni, faculty, students and staff book authors, editors and translators.

Members of the Wesleyan community—alumni, faculty, students and staff—are invited to submit their latest books, as well as information about forthcoming and recently signed titles, and other literary news, to Laurie Kenney, books editor for Wesleyan magazine. Books and information received will be considered for possible coverage in Wesleyan magazine, on the News @ Wes blog and through Wesleyan’s social media channels, as well as through possible in-store display and event opportunities at Wesleyan’s new bookstore—Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore—which will open on Main Street in Middletown later this spring.

Fill out our simple Author Questionnaire to submit your book information now.

While the editors can’t guarantee coverage for any book, due to the sheer number published each year, they hope that gathering and sharing information about these projects through various university channels will help to better serve and promote Wesleyan authors and their work.

Advance reading copies and finished review copies can be sent to: Laurie Kenney, Books Editor, Wesleyan University, Office of University Communications, 229 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459.

Sawhney Authors Essay in Times Literary Supplement

Writing in The Times Literary SupplementAssistant Professor of English Hirsh Sawhney muses on the recent election of Donald Trump and the cultural divide in America while nursing “the second cheapest single malt Scotch” on the menu at a New Haven bar. He contemplates whiskey’s particular place in contemporary American culture, talks politics with others at the bar, draws from literature, and recalls the personal struggles of his family and friends. At the conclusion, while discussing the election with a neighbor (referred to, in jest, as “Professor Pesci”), Sawhney argues:

My point is that we teach our students to be wary of “othering” people who are different from us, the way Americans and Europeans have done to Asians or Muslims throughout the modern era. We write about the need to empathize with people who are driven to violent ideologies and actions as a consequence of their disenfranchisement. Should we not extend a similar empathy to white Americans who, we think, have committed a reckless and egregious act in voting for Trump? Professor Pesci says, “I just can’t see what end that would serve”. An end is quite clear to me as I sign my credit card receipt. If we don’t begin to understand and empathize with these people – not their mendacious leaders – their anger will grow, and they will do more irrational things that advance an agenda of hate and incompetence. And, in turn, our fear, desperation and anger will grow. Our politics will become further bifurcated, and our country will lie in ruin more quickly than is inevitable. And if this election has taught us liberals anything, it is that we care deeply for our country, despite our intellectual reservations about its ethical and historical record.

Winston Translates Handke’s Moravian Night

9780374212551Krishna Winston, the Marcus L. Taft Professor of German Language and Literature, translated The Moravian Night: A Story by German novelist Peter Handke. The American translation was published in December 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

Reviews of the translation have appeared in The New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and Kirkus.

Winston specializes in literary translation and has translated more than 35 works of fiction and non-fiction from Handke, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Günter Grass, Christoph Hein, Golo Mann, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Hans Jonas. Her translations make available to the entire English-speaking world works originally written in German, and she has received three major literary prizes for her translations. She also was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the Federal Order of Merit, by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Krishna Winston

Krishna Winston

The Moravian Night, as summarized by the book’s publisher, explores the mind and memory of an aging writer, tracking the anxieties, angers, fears, and pleasures of a life inseparable from the recent history of Central Europe.

Mysteriously summoned to a houseboat on the Morava River, a few friends, associates, and collaborators of an old writer listen as he tells a story that will last until dawn: the tale of the once well-known writer’s recent odyssey across Europe. As his story unfolds, it visits places that represent stages of the narrator’s and the continent’s past, many now lost or irrecoverably changed through war, death and the subtler erosions of time. His story and its telling are haunted by a beautiful stranger, a woman who has a preternatural hold over the writer and appears sometimes as a demon, sometimes as the longed-for destination of his travels.

Östör Debuts New Film to International Audiences

Ákos Östör

Ákos Östör

Ákos Östör, professor of anthropology and film, emeritus, lectured and presented his latest film, In My Mother’s House, at more than a dozen universities in India, Turkey and throughout Europe in 2016.

On a random Thursday in 2005, Östör’s wife, Lina Fruzzetti, opened a a startling email that read, “If this is your father, we are cousins.”

In My Mother’s House follows a decade-long quest to learn more about Fruzzetti’s Italian father who died young in Italian-ruled Eritrea, and her Eritrean mother who does not dwell on the past. Above all, Fruzzetti strives to understand her far-flung African, European, and American family against the backdrop of colonial rule, worlds at war, migration, grief, diasporas, and the global world. Her life experiences and widely dispersed family are placed into the context of global events and changes.

“Filming on the run, not knowing what will happen next, in the cramped living rooms, crowded markets and villages of Eritrea and Italy, we went wherever the events took us,” Östör said. “The film attempts to sustain the spirit of discovery and tense anticipation we felt during the production process. After all, we were protagonists, as well as historians, ethnographers and filmmakers. The improvised, mostly handheld shots, without any opportunity to prepare, create an intimacy that brings the viewer along as if participating in events as they unfold.”

Östör has already shown clips of the film to a Wesleyan audience in 2015 when it was a work-in-progress.

Both Östör and Fruzzetti are anthropologists and filmmakers who have authored award-winning films and have written over a dozen books.
In My Mother’s House is their first, deeply personal film. Their previous films in India and Tanzania concern individual lives in small communities, in contexts ranging from sacred rituals and festivals in a town, to women scroll painters and singers in village West Bengal; from fish markets in Dar es Salaam, to a handicapped people’s cooperative in Zanzibar. All were shown at festivals around the world and won numerous awards.

Watch a trailer of In My Mother’s House.

J-Hoon Musical Ensemble Presents the Music and Dance of the Ancient People of Kermanshah

From 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 11 in the World Music Hall, engage in a panel discussion on the diaspora of the Kurdish people, the largest ethnic group in the world without a country that they can call their own. The program focuses on the integration of the Kurdish people into Western societies as refugees, their trials and tribulations during their assimilation, as well as the current and the future position of the Kurds in the geopolitical landscape and the stability of the Middle East and the fight against terror.

This program will be followed by a musical and dance performance by the J-Hoon Ensemble, a NYC-based ensemble focused on the folkloric music and dances of Kurdistan.

Tickets are available at the Wesleyan Box Office.

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Krishnan Named One of “10 Toronto Stage Artists to Watch”

(Photo by Michael Slobodian)

Hari Krishnan (Photo by Michael Slobodian)

Associate Professor of Dance Hari Krishnan has been named one of “10 Toronto Stage Artists to Watch This Winter” by NOW Toronto magazine, which highlights his upcoming spring production, “Holy Cow(s)!” exploring cultural appropriation. It will run March 23-25 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

The profile of Krishnan states: “A few years ago, Krishnan heated up the local dance scene with a sizzling, eyebrow-raising piece about queerness called SKIN. Now, just in time to melt winter’s last snow comes a white-hot mixed program sending up ideas about gender, sexuality and cultural taboos. The night of solos and ensemble pieces includes works by David Brick, Seán Curran and Jay Hirabayashi. But look for Krishnan’s signature style – which mixes contemporary with Indian Bharatanatyam – to get you to say that title out loud.”

New Book by Arndt ’92 Explores How the American Right Created Trump

The Right's Road to Serfdom, by Chris ArndtIn The Right’s Road to Serfdom: The Danger of Conservatism Unbound: From Hayek to Trump (Bulkington Press, 2016), Christopher F. Arndt ‘92 argues that conservatism is not what it pretends to be and that the American Right created Donald Trump. “There’s a destructive logic that has led the so-called ‘Party of Liberty’ to nominate an authoritarian like Donald Trump as its leader,” says Arndt, a former Wall Street executive and portfolio manager, in the press materials for the book. “I wrote the book to explain how this happened—to offer a readable, yet substantive account of recent political developments and do so in the context of the principles of political freedom that are common to us all.”

Below, News @ Wes talks with Arndt about the book, the subsequent election of Donald Trump, and the future.

What prompted you to write The Right’s Road to Serfdom?
There is a lot of confusion surrounding recent political developments, and in particular political developments on the American Right.  I wrote the book to clarify recent events, to offer a warning, and also to serve as a timely reminder of the American ideal of Liberty. That’s a pretty general answer so let me provide an example:

In early September of 2016, the Dallas Morning News—a famously conservative newspaper—wrote an editorial urging its readership to reject Trump’s bid for the presidency. In doing so, the editorial writers of the paper noted that “Trump is—or has been—at odds with nearly every GOP