Balancing Acts and National Security – Risk, Embodiment, Affect

Balancing Acts and National Security – Risk, Embodiment, Affect

Kathleen Woodward (English, University of Washington)
Friday, April 20 / 3:30 PM
McCune Conference Room, 6020 HSSB

A hyper–keyword in contemporary American culture, risk pervades the discourse of entrepreneurial culture and finance capitalism on the one hand (risk–taking to reap off–scale financial reward is applauded) as well as the discourse of avoiding hazards of all kinds on the level of everyday life on the other (risk–taking in relation to one’s health in particular is condemned). At base is the notion of risk as a calculation, as quantifiable, as belonging to the realm of the probabilistic, as a kind of balancing act, with risk being understood in relation to another term (risk–benefit and risk–cost). In this talk I consider different kinds of balancing acts where the discourse of risk seems altogether banal and beside the point, although the body is definitively in danger: Philippe Petit’s To Reach the Clouds: My High–Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers (2002), an account of his wire–walking between the Manhattan twin trade towers in 1974 when he was twenty–three, and Joan Didion’s Blue Nights (2011), her meditation on the life and death of her daughter, their intertwined lives and feelings, and her own frailty at the age of seventy–five. How might we imagine risk in relation not to benefit or to cost but to trust?

Woodward  is Director of the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington and Chair of the National Advisory Board of Imagining America, a broad–based network of scholars and leaders of cultural institutions devoted to fostering the development of campus–community partnerships. The author of Aging and Its Discontents: Freud and Other Fictions (1991) and At Last, the Real Distinguished Thing: The Late Poems of Eliot, Pound, Stevens, and Williams (1980), Woodward is completing a book on the cultural politics of the emotions entitled Statistical Panic and Other New Feelings. She has published essays in the broad cross–disciplinary domains of technology and culture, aging and the emotions in many journals, including New Literary History, Discourse, differences, and Cultural Critique, and is the editor of Figuring Age: Women–Bodies–Generations (1999) and The Myths of Information: Technology and Postindustrial Culture (1980).

Sponsored by the College of Arts & Letters, UCSB Arts & Lectures, The Center for Nanotechnology in Society, The Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, The Center for Information, Technology and Society, The Carsey–Wolf Center, The American Cultures and Global Contexts Center (the Department of English),  Transcriptions (the Department of English), the Department of English Department of Film and Media Studies, the Media Arts and Technology Program, and the Department of Computer Science, and the IHC.