[Msa-discuss] CFP: Nobody's Disease: Theorizing Syphilis and Subjectivity

Carrie Johnston johnsci at quincy.edu
Tue Sep 23 13:43:57 EDT 2014

Dear Colleagues:

Please consider submitting a proposal by November 1 for the collection
described below.

Nobody’s Disease: Theorizing Syphilis and Subjectivity

Syphilitic rhetoric has proven itself as contagious as the disease itself.
Brian R. Shmaefsky’s 2010 study points to the history of naming the disease
after one’s enemy, “due to the perception that syphilis was cased by
immoral acts, such as prostitution and indecent acts with animals.” Thus,
fifteenth-century Italians blamed Columbus for bringing syphilis to Italy,
changing the name from the “Venetian Disease” to the “Spanish Disease.”
Turkish Muslims labeled it the “Christian Disease.” Tahitians infected by
British sailors called it the “British Disease.” In its long history of
transmission, syphilis became both nobody’s and everybody’s disease. More
specifically, syphilis was unique among other illnesses because it
engendered a liminal space characterized by self-alienation specific to
infection, as well as the desire to displace this dis-ease via the
marginalization of others. Thus, syphilitic rhetoric long prefigured the
biopolitical thought generated by theorists such as Foucault and Kristeva.

The immoral stigma of syphilis still persists and, as current scholarship
demonstrates, is used to reinforce social hierarchies, marginalize minority
populations, and control women’s bodies. Furthermore, the recent
controversy caused by Kevin Birmingham’s claims in The Most Dangerous Book:
The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses (2014) that James Joyce suffered from
syphilis reveals that work remains to be done in the field of literary
studies to reconceptualize the relationship between syphilitic identity and
modern identity.

Because current scholarship seems rather at a stalemate in terms of
analyzing syphilis by way of gendered and racialized paradigms, Nobody’s
Disease seeks to broaden syphilis scholarship by inquiring how
syphilis--more than any other endemic disease (tuberculosis, polio,
cholera)--has had a fundamental role in shaping modern subjectivity the
world over, in ways that exceed gender and race categories.While these
connections obviously cannot be denied, it would appear that syphilis’s
long history as the disease of the Other necessarily incorporates a great
deal of anxieties regarding personal, political, and national
subjectivities. Thus, this collection of essays aims to open up the field
by exploring transatlantic texts beginning in the 19th century and
continuing onward to the present day that examine the cultural constructs
of syphilis (or potentially related venereal diseases) and their
subjectivity-shaping mechanisms and potential.

Essays might consider the following:


   How might the phenomenological heft of syphilis be bound up with its
   symptomatology? Where do the lines between phenomenological virulence,
   etiology, idiopathy and stigma blur and coalesce? (considerations of this
   nature might take up 19th-century physicians’ obsession with
   differentiating gonorrhea from syphilis, for example, in spite of
   long-standing confusion between the presentation of the two)

   Why has syphilis long been conceptually defined an “endemic” disease, as
   opposed to other diseases that have been identified as “epidemics” at given
   times (e.g., polio in mid-century America)

   Metacritical essays might consider the significance of the predominant
   gendered and racialized critical paradigms of syphilis

   Consideration of syphilis’s structural power in modern
   institution-shaping (e.g., IRB development and development of the
   modern-day “race for the cure” in medical research)

Email proposals of 350 words to Kari Nixon (mnixon at smu.edu) and Carrie
Johnston (johnsci at quincy.edu) by November 1 in anticipation of full essays
due by April 1.

Thank you for your attention,

Carrie Johnston, Quincy University
and Kari Nixon, Southern Methodist University
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