Sexual Agent or Victim: URI PhD candidate Michele Meek Discusses Conflicting Narratives Centered around Amy Fisher

 

As the latest installment of the URI Department of English’s Graduate Student Colloquium Series, on Thursday, October 1st, 2015, URI PhD candidate Michele Meek presented a riveting talk to an attentive audience titled “A Dangerous Girl or a Girl in Danger?: Shifting Sexual Agency in Narratives about the ‘Long Island Lolita.'”

Additional chairs were ushered in minutes before the talk to accommodate the eager crowd, and Professor Naomi Mandel’s introduction served to prepare the audience with descriptors of Meek’s work as “edgy” as it focuses on topics such as rape, pornography, and sexuality. Drawing on her keen interest in film and images, Meek opened her presentation with a series of images from the television movie, The Amy Fisher Story (1993), starring Drew Barrymore. After walking the disquieted audience through the narrative of events between Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco, Meek proceeded to present a counter narrative as seen in an alternate television movie, Amy Fisher: My Story (1992). Rounding out the possibilities of their affair, Meek then presented a third possible narrative as she showed her audience images from Casualties of Love: The “Long Island Lolita” Story (1993).

Meek then revealed her main point of interest surrounding the Amy Fisher narrative, as it relates to her dissertation, in which she examines specific narrative moments that depict “consent puzzles,” or ethically and aesthetically ambiguous depictions of sexual situations, where as readers or watchers, we may feel a sense of discomfort, and as scholars, we find no simple answers.

Further investigating the media frenzy surrounding the trial of Amy Fisher, Meek examined how the tabloid media shaped not only the general public’s opinion of the affair, but the extent to which the prosecuting and defense attorneys involved in the case were influenced by and responding to sharply drawn victim/perpetrator portrayals with Buttafuoco and Fisher exchanging roles at various points in order to further either the prosecution’s or defense’s agenda.

Drawing on her research conducted at the Library of Congress media archives, Meek analyzed the role of multiple Hard Copy and A Current Affair exposés, as well as the three made-for-television movies mentioned above and the true crime novels written from various perspectives.

Meek focused on specifics such as how the emergence of Fisher’s work as an escort, her sexual abuse as a child, her rape as a twelve-year-old by a workman at the house were used as effective rhetorical strategies for either Fisher’s defense or prosecution.

Drawing on the work of gender theorist, Judith Butler, Meek problematized the victim/perpetrator dichotomy rife throughout the media spectacle surrounding Fisher’s trial, in order to suggest that to access a girl’s sexual agency, we might need to allow for some more ambiguity by allowing the ‘consent puzzle’ to exist.

Meek then fielded a wide range of questions from the diverse audience. Within this dialogue, Meek and the audience addressed the Anita Hill case, revictimization within the field of psychology, and concerns about Long Island ethnic identity further expanding and demonstrating the importance of Meek’s work.

Revisiting NecronomiCon Providence

In August, The Lovecraft conference returned to Providence, RI in honor of H.P. Lovecraft’s 125th birthday.  Sponsored by the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council, the Rhode Island Historical Society, and the city of Providence, this year’s event was an exciting exploration of this author’s life and works.  In addition to the symposium on new academic research, there were panels discussing literary analysis of weird fiction as well as its influence on popular culture, vendors with all manner of books and artwork, and exhibitions of Lovecraft-inspired art, theater, and film.  I was first introduced to this wonderful conference two years ago.

In 2013 I presented an academic paper at the Howard Phillips Lovecraft academic conference and convention in Providence, Rhode Island.  Having recently graduated with my Master’s degree, I was simultaneously filled with unbridled ambition and crippling anxiety; riding on the high of producing a Master’s thesis while unnerved at the prospect of being thrust out into the real world to mingle with accomplished scholars.  The experience was invaluable in providing that first foray into the wide world of conferencing while helping me surmount my fear of venturing into the daunting unknown that is Academia.

For the uninitiated, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) was born in Providence, Rhode Island.  He spent most of his life in the College Hill district of the city where he wrote for pulp magazines including Weird Tales.  His body of work is widely regarded as the pinnacle of weird fiction: a convergence of science fiction, horror, and fantasy.

In 2013, one of the largest Lovecraft conventions was held at the Providence Biltmore, which Lovecraft called “the sumptuous Biltmore Hotel, which is 18th century in every essential outline and decoration.”  Affectionately termed NecronomiCon after a plot device used in Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror, the gathering was equal parts academic conference and outlet for weird fiction fandom.  There were numerous panels featuring preeminent Lovecraft scholars including S.T. Joshi and Robert M. Price, as well as talks regarding Lovecraft’s lasting impact on film and television that featured renowned director Stuart Gordon.

Despite the celebrities of Lovecraft studies, my personal highlight was the Emerging Scholarship Symposium.  This series of academic presentations was dedicated to various topics of Lovecraft scholarship.  I presented a paper culled from my Master’s thesis research titled “Poe, Lovecraft, and ‘The Uncanny’:  The Horror of the Self.”  This essay posited a psychoanalytic interpretation of Lovecraft’s speculative fiction as a progression from that of Edgar Allan Poe where the narrative “self” becomes the locus of fractured and displaced identity.  As the subconscious mind exists as alien or “other” to the conscious mind, characters (and particularly the narrators) of Poe and Lovecraft are external representations of internal dissonance.  The self is its own primal source of terror, which inevitably evolves into self-loathing.

The Emerging Scholarship Symposium was an audacious forum for professional and amateur academics to present their research regarding the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  There was some backlash regarding the designation of the event as one for “Emerging Scholarship” as several presenters were experienced academics with a wide array of published works on various topics not limited to weird fiction.  This moment brought some humor and much needed humanity to the esoteric affair as the stuffy aura that sometimes plagues Academia was interrupted by the vaunted pride of the experienced scholars and the reckless abandon of the uninitiated, eager to have something (or anything) published.  The panel has since been rechristened the Dr. Henry Armitage Memorial Scholarship Symposium, which is another whimsical reference to Lovecraft’s elaborate mythos of interconnecting characters and settings.

Student Accomplishments

Greetings students, faculty, and visitors! As everyone is gearing up for the 2015-2016 academic year, we thought we’d start off by reviewing some of the accomplishments of our graduate students from last year. What better way to inspire us all to submit that article, chair that panel, give that talk, or take on that new project than by celebrating what our peers have already accomplished. We congratulate everyone on their success and look forward to an even more productive year! (If you have been left off of this list, please contact us so we can get you added and celebrate your success!)

Laura Marie Marciano, a first year PhD student, will publish her first full length book of poetry, Mall Brat, with Civil Coping Mechanism Press in 2016. She also continues to work in the online publication of female-identified and queer poets, through her collective Gemstone Readings. www.gemstonereadings.net.

Karen Shea presented “‘I Never Did This in My Country’: Easing Post-Secondary ESL Writers out of Their Comfort Zones by Introducing Them to Rhetorical Reading and Prezi” as part of a larger panel presentation entitled “‘But I Don’t Have Time to Teach Reading’: Using Multimodal Approaches to Teach Rhetorical Reading in the Composition Classroom” at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in March. She also presented “Not Only in Words: Multimodality and Prezi in Postsecondary ESL” at the Massachusetts Association of Teachers to Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL) Conference in May.

Eileen James, a Ph.D. student specializing in Rhet./Comp, published her poetry “Gardens Grow” in Contraposition Magazine and “Nightmares” in Monsters and the Monstrous: Global Interdisciplinary Research Studies. She also published “Encouraging Connections to Support a Positive Culture of Writing Assessment: Adjunct Composition Instructors, Students, and Campus Resources” in CCCC Forum. She presented her paper “Incomplete Soul: Problematic Portrayals of the Black Nerd Character in Contemporary American Media” at the National Association of African American Studies Joint Conference, as well as gave a poetry reading titled “One Normal Body: Black Mother, Black Girl, Human Being” at the English Graduate Organization Conference, UMASS Amherst. She was also a conference panel presenter at CCCC with fellow URI students Ashton Foley, Bridget Fullerton, and Jenna Morton-Aiken. Their panel was titled “Crafting a University-Wide General Education Writing Rubric: Taking on Thorny Public Practices in the Rose Garden.” Her paper was titled “Participant Recruitment and Rubric Development.”

Sara E. Murphy organized a discussion panel titled “Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society 25 Years Later: Meditations on Melodrama, Trauma, Solidarity, and Suicide” for the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association Conference in Baltimore in November, in which she presented her work, “Dead Poets Society and the American Culture of Suicide,” alongside that of department student and alumnae Brittany Hirth, Gavin Hurley, and Don Rodrigues. In March, she was the invited speaker at a university-wide talk for the annual awareness week of the URI chapter of the National Nursing Fraternity, Alpha Tau Delta, giving a presentation titled “Breaking Silence: Perspectives on Contemporary Suicide.” Also in March, she presented her paper, “Suffering in Silence: The Stigma of Superheroism in Suicidality for the End-of-Life Population” at the American Comparative Literature Association Conference in Seattle. In April, she defended successfully her PhD dissertation, “Toward a Psychosocial Understanding of Suicide in American Literature and Culture of the 1990’s,” directed by Professor Martha Elena Rojas. Most recently, Dr. Murphy was elected to the Credentialing Council of the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Following commencement, she will continue her work as an instructor in the Honors Program and the Thanatology Program while conducting grief and suicide education seminars and intervention programs in the private and public sectors.

Barbara Farnsworth has a book chapter coming out in June 2015. The title of her chapter is “The Self-Analysis of Christopher Tietjens” and the book is: War and the Mind: Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End: Modernism, and Psychology (ed. Ashley Chantler and Rob Hawkes, Edinburgh University Press). Along with fellow URI students Ashton Foley and Beth Leonardo, she proposed and presented a panel at the Northeast Conference on British Studies at Bates College, ME. Carolyn Betensky was kind enough to join them on their road trip and moderate their panel. The panel’s name was “Exploring Perceptions of Women in Nineteenth-Century England.” Barbara’s paper was “Surplus Spinsters in He Knew He Was Right.” Along with six other students (Ashton Foley, Molly Hall, Beth Leonardo, Danielle Sanfillipo, and Kara Watts) from Travis Williams’ Fall 2014 Hamlet class, Barbara participated in a Round Table on April 18 at the URI Graduate Conference. The roundtable was titled: Possibilities in Discourses of Hamlet: A Roundtable.

Sarah Kingston has a chapter in a book coming out in June. The chapter is called “The Work of Sleep: Insomnia and Discipline in Ford and Sassoon.” The book is called War and the Mind: Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, Modernism, and Psychology (editors are Ashley Chantler and Rob Hawkes, Edinburgh UP).

Ashton Foley participated in the self-proposed roundtable “Possibilities in Discourses of Hamlet: A Roundtable” at the URI Graduate Conference on April 18. Her paper was “From Geruth to Gertrude: Depictions of Motherhood in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Its Sources.” Fellow URI students Beth Leonardo, Barbara Farnworth, Kara Watts, Danielle Sanfilippo also participated in the panel. It was moderated by Prof. Travis Williams. She presented her paper “Crafting a University-Wide General Education Writing Rubric: Taking on Thorny Public Practices in the Rose Garden” (with Bridget Fullerton, Eileen James, and Jenna Morton-Aiken), at the Conference on College Composition and Communication Annual Convention, in Tampa, FL. She also presented “Recasting Fortune: Absence as Catalyst for Sentimental Education in Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World,” at Boston College’s Biennial English Graduate Conference in Chestnut Hill, MA. Finally, she presented “The Victorian Woman as Prescribed by Medical Science (Revised),” as part of self-proposed panel titled “Surplus, Succubus, or Slut? Exploring the Perceptions of Women of the 19th Century England” at the Northeast Conference on British Studies Annual Meeting in Lewiston, ME. She presented with fellow URI students Beth Leonardo and Barbara Farnworth, with Prof. Carolyn Betensky acting as respondent and moderator

Jillian Belanger received the URI Digital Literacy Summer Scholar Grant. She presented her paper “Summer Institute in Digital Literacy” at RIDE Innovation Powered by Technology Conference. She also presented “How Many Discourses Does It Take to Screw in a Humor Symposium?: Theorizing the Pedagogical Possibilities of Humorous Media” at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference. At the International Society of Humor Studies Conference she presented “Rhetors and Jesters: Rereading the Stand-up Comedians as Sophists” and at the URI Digital Literacy Institute she presented “Tools and Technology in the ELL Classroom.” The Journal of Media Literacy Education accepted her book review of A Pedagogy of Powerful Communication: Youth Radio and Radio Arts in the Multilingual Classroom by Dana Walker, publication forthcoming.

Anthony Conrad Chieffalo presented a paper at the Dr. Henry Armitage Memorial Symposium during NecronomiCon Providence 2015, a biennial conference featuring numerous academic panels relating to native Rhode Island author H.P. Lovecraft. Titled “From Crawling Chaos to Elder Things: Mythic Evolution in Weird Fiction,” this marks his second contribution to the symposium. His paper from the 2013 conference titled “Poe, Lovecraft, and ‘The Uncanny’: The Horror of the Self” was recently published in Lovecraftian Proceedings No. 1 (editors are John Michel Sefel, Niels-Viggo S. Hobbs, and Robyn Hill, Hippocampus Press.)

The Unexpectedness of Beauty

In this fascinating and wonderfully candid audio discussion, URI Professors Mary Cappello and Peter Covino discuss the complex, philosophical notion of “beauty” from a variety of intermingled perspectives: the artistic, the pedagogical and the personal. Cappello, a well-known writer of literary nonfiction, and Covino, an accomplished poet, describe ways in which “unexpected beauty” surfaces in and informs their own creative projects. Sometimes in life this “unexpectedness” presents as a form of, what Peter Covino calls, “dark energy”: things like trauma, abuse, violence. Yet this “dark energy” can provide the opportunity for a cathartic form of beauty to surface. Professor Covino goes on to describe writing poetry as a challenge toward self-recognition and “self-soothing” — what he describes in a one of his poems as the “soothe-less tangle” of language. He views language as offering a medium of solace: “you’re not sure how terrible your pain is, you’re not sure how difficult your challenges are, until you start to write them down, until you start to share your stories.” This translation of struggle, the articulation and expression of it, can be beautiful.

Mary Cappello describes her aesthetic at one point as a form of “disruptive beauty.” She is interested in “jaggedness” and “interruptive beauty”: an idea she defines as emerging “out of confrontation, over and against a determination to aestheticize experience.” Further, Professor Cappello offers a very interesting way of thinking about “ugliness” less binaristically with respect to beauty; she invites us to think of it as a differential, the space between the lyrical and the jagged: “I was thinking of a beauty not opposed to ugliness…can we talk about anti-beauty, unbeauty, or create a new term altogether?” She encourages the artist to be alive to the “availability of beauty,” and to be on the lookout for “beauty in unexpected places.”

Throughout this rich and in-depth conversation on beauty, both Cappello and Covino share interesting details of their lives, their creative process, as well as read from each other’s (and their students’) work. The full audio conversation can be found here. Some shorter snippets of their conversation are also available from the links below.

Big Names Visit A Small State

June 19-21 marked the 8th annual Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. Annually, the University of Rhode Island’s Department of English brings together writers from across the spectrum of place and profession for three electric days of learning, networking and practice. From Harvard to UPenn, from RIC to Brown, from California to Florida, from Providence to Bristol, writers of all walks of life enjoy workshops, craft sessions and readings.

Besides the tremendously popular keynotes at this year’s gathering, from Alison Bechdel, Charles Bernstein and Percival Everett, certain events stood out as participant favorites.

Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar returned to the conference (after being a keynote speaker at the 2013 conference) and was met with great enthusiasm. One of his events was a conversation with Guggenheim Fellow and Professor Mary Cappello, where they addressed the “turning points” of their careers, their drive and their practice–to a standing room-only group of attendees. Of his former professor from his time as an undergraduate at SUNY/Buffalo, Akhtar has said that Cappello played a key role in shaping him as a writer.

Elaine Sexton and Kristin Prevallet also made a tremendous impact on their attendees. A conversation between the two during the penultimate time slot of the conference addressed a subject on the mind of anyone who has attended a conference before: “What now?” Sexton and Prevallet conversed on subjects like community building, networking, getting published, being employed–important questions, especially to poets. Their insight impacted the group as they both have worked extensively in a variety of fields.

National Book Award nominee and Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, Jody Lisberger had one of the most well-attended events. Her craft session, “Writing or Wanting to Write a Novel or Book-Length Memoir–Strategies for Success” was held in the Agnes G. Doody Auditorium to a group of more than 70.

There were many talented and accomplished writers at the conference in June, and whether they were familiar with the conference from previous years or new to the University of Rhode Island, they contributed to a terrific experience for many of Rhode Island’s writers.

 

Alumnus Thomas Barkman Writes Poetry at Bryant

This past spring, I was invited to Bryant University in Boston as part of the school’s events for National Poetry Month. With the help of another creative writer, Maria Anderson, I provided poems for any passer-by with the gumption to request one— they submitted a topic and I generated material. Poetry on demand: sitting at a typewriter, which was projected on a television screen, I cranked out poems (in triplicate) for four hours, with the clatter of keys resounding in the rotunda. Passing periods between classes were exceptionally busy and some of what was written includes: poems on dogs and sports; love poems for sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and lovers; and a sonnet on the subject of Greek Week. Bryant University was exceptionally hospitable and continued events through April (National Poetry Month), gearing up for a celebration of the 15th anniversary of The Bryant Literary Review, an annual publication of poetry and fiction. The Bryant Literary Review was founded by poet, Dean David Lux. I wrote on a Smith-Corona.

Ph.D. Student Rachel May Publishes Quilting Book

image-1 This past January, Ph.D. candidate Rachel May celebrated the publication of her first book, Quilting with a Modern Slant: People, Patterns, and Techniques Inspiring the Modern Quilting Community.

An exciting and valuable resource for quilters and potential quilters alike, Rachel’s book opens with instructions for making a quilt that even beginners will feel confident following. An illustrated, easy-to-follow, how-to guide, “Six Steps to a Quilt” introduces many tips, tutorials, and offers advice for quilters of all skill levels. Sections of the book discuss quilting in connection to history, politics, and sociopolitical issues surrounding a number of topics, such as domesticity and quilting’s gendered history.

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Tim Amidon Shares His Research on Firefighters’ Multi-modal Literacies

On December 6th, Tim Amidon (PhD candidate, Rhetoric and Composition) gave a Brown Tim basket_tendingBag talk in which he presented work from his dissertation, “‘You Can’t Just Learn That Knowledge—That Unspoken Knowledge’: Firefighters’ Multi-modal Literacies.”

Tim, who has been a firefighter for fifteen years, began his talk by explaining that firefighters are too often considered to be “people who do, not people who think.” The research he conducted—which included interviews and field observations—challenges that assumption, and it also challenges our understanding of literacy practices and knowledge work.

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Beazley Kanost’s “Whose Cool? The Direction Truth Takes in Portrait of Jason”

What is cool? Used so frequently in everyday vernacular, the “cool” has acquired various ambiguous shades of meaning. In a talk on December 4, Beazley Kanost (PhD candidate, Beazley cropped 3English) challenged our ordinary notions of the cool, taking up and carefully theorizing both the idea of the “cool” in 60s counter culture and the implications of the political stance that lies behind our assumptions about the “cool.” Kanost’s “Whose Cool? The Direction Truth Takes in Portrait of Jason” draws from her work on experimental film of the 60s, particularly material from her visit to the Shirley Clarke Papers archive at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in Madison, Wisconsin, funded by a graduate research grant from the University of Rhode Island Center for the Humanities. Central to Kanost’s argument is the way in which the subject of Clarke’s film projects is often the “cool man.”

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