ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P37)

The aesthetics and fictions of science

Location Convention Centre Auditorium I
Date and Start Time 05 April, 2012 at 15:00

Convenors

Raminder Kaur (University of Sussex) email
Saif Eqbal (Jawaharlal Nehru University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

We invite panellists to explore the dynamics between science and its percolation through representations in popular culture such as science fiction/fantasy, superhero comics, media and other outlets intended for the broader public.

Long Abstract

The panel seeks to explore the dynamics between science and its percolation through representations in popular culture such as science fiction/fantasy, superhero comics, media and other outlets intended for the broader public. We consider to what extent there is a fundamental epistemological gap or, conversely, areas of affinity across the domains of specialised and lay knowledge. What kinds of circuits of power and knowledge are implied in this exchange? How are aesthetics to be conceptualised, either in terms of scientific domains and practices and/or their filtration through various sites in popular culture? How does gender, culture, race, nationality and age affect the universalist assumptions of science? How are imaginaries to do with the nation and/or state introduced and how may modernity/ies be understood when considering the interface between science and culture? How is science rationalised or mystified through its representations in popular culture? How is the idea of divinity incorporated to represent and/or justify science or magic? How might even currents in popular culture influence practices and inventions to do with science and technology? We invite panellists to consider some of these and other questions related to the topic.

Discussant: Dr Hilal Ahmed

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Forensic fictions: first thoughts on media representations of forensic science

Author: Marcus Banks (University of Oxford )  email

Short Abstract

Drawing upon initial findings from fieldwork in forensic science laboratories in the UK and South India, this paper examines the so-called "CSI effect" (by which trial juries are thought to be swayed by popular television representations of forensic science) as a mode by which routine science practice becomes aesthetically 'fit for purpose'.

Long Abstract

Over the past decade, the representation of forensic science practice has been mediated globally on television through shows such as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and locally through shows such as "Silent Witness" in the UK. Such shows romantically aestheticize forensic science practice to a surprisingly high degree, given the often gory nature of the subject matter (though such romantic aestheticization of horror has a long history dating back at least to Murnau's "Nosferatu" (1922) and is also seen in the current vogue for "teen vampire" fiction), and the frankly dull routine of forensic laboratory practice.

This paper draws upon initial findings from fieldwork in forensic science laboratories in the UK and in South India to argue that the "CSI effect" (a presumptive "media effect", proposed by lawyers, whereby trial juries are influenced more by the media representation of forensic science than the actual evidence presented in court) derives from both naive assumptions about the "effects" of the media and a misunderstanding of actual forensic science practice. The paper concludes with some thoughts about how the dead themselves - often the subjects of these media representations - might want to be represented.

The Fictions of Science and Cinema in India

Author: Raminder Kaur (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

I consider the content and contours of speculative fiction that engages with the imaginative potential of science (as opposed to actual scientific developments), and that nowadays manifests itself as a distinctive form in terms of the speculative fiction masala in India.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I consider the historical precedents for and contemporary phenomena of speculative fiction film in India. My main attention is towards speculative fiction that engages with the imaginative potential of science (as opposed to actual scientific developments), and that nowadays manifests itself as a distinctive type in terms of the speculative fiction masala (SFM). Speculative fiction is the preferred term in view of the Eurocentric and modernist framework implicit in the concept of science fiction. The SFM is characterised by imaginaries of science, modernist and/or arcane, that propel the narrative whilst availing itself of the masala aesthetic that came to fruition in the decades following the advent of sound in the 1930s. It could be argued that film enabled the possibilities of recreating an otherworldly 'wonderscape': cinematic scenes that encapsulated and encouraged a sense of wonder in an accentuated suspension of disbelief. Sometimes wonderscapes defined the spirit of the film in terms of the 'devotional', the mythological', the Arabianesque fantasy, or speculative fiction; other times it entered in measured doses by way of delicious action and delirious dance sequences, devices which themselves attached to the aforementioned genres.

Chronicles of a disappearance: P K Rosy and contemporary Malayalam cinema

Author: Bindu Menon (Lady Shri Ram College )  email

Short Abstract

The paper tries to understand the multiple intersections of the new technology of cinema with the social and how it became crucial sites and technologies in reordering caste end gendered bodies by examining a series of violence events against the first Malayalam film Vigatakumaran and the dalit actress Rosy in 1929.

Long Abstract

This paper is an attempt to understand a series of violence around the first screening of the first malayalam film Vigatakumaran(1929), in Thrivuananthapuram, South India, whch was particularly targeted at the heroine of the film- the dalit actress P .K.Rosy, setting off a series of violent incidents and finally leadng to the exile of Rosy from Trivandrum . Rosy's story have been excavated from the discursive layer's of history and re told in popular journals, novellete , poetry and in the memorials organised by Dalit organisations and visits the contemporary, with political and moral stakes, for a range of constituencies.. While remaining indebted to discourses on caste and gendered bodies as historically constituted, this work is equally interested in the early female body in cinema and its multiple interactions with the social .Early cinema in its first decade in the region offers an especially forceful impetus to think about the body apart from traditional categories because over a hundred years ago, as a developing new visual technology with its own complex conventions of intelligibility in the midst of an uneven, nonlinear, and hesitant process of emergence cinema becomes a crucial site for reordering the gendered body.The paper further sets out to explore the affective experience of exhilaration and phantasmagoria with caste and gendered bodies in the context of new technologies like cinema and argues that the presence of a dalit woman on screen challenges the political and ontological assumptions of the times intimates what could be called an 'unthinkable' in Bourdieu's terms.

The dialectics of tradition and modernity in Indian superhero comics

Author: Saif Eqbal (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

Indian superhero comics had to face the challenge of engaging with both the modern and tradition. The paper seeks to study the nature and extent of this engagement and the treatment of superheroes/heroines, their powers and geographical spaces.

Long Abstract

Indian superhero comics are unique as they have had to conform to the realities of the 'modern' allied with rationality and science, as well as 'tradition' where religion, morality, and ideas to do with manhood, spirituality, tantra and mantra reign supreme. This gave rise to an interesting dialectical approach in the birth of superheroes themselves where traditional legends were woven around scientific rationales culminating in the rise of superheroes who were modern men but built in the image of the perfect man - that is, maryada purusottama Ram, an incaranation of god himself. Also the powers of indigenous superheroes are uniquely Indian - divine or indigenised scientific gifts - and rarely would a superhero have powers that would be of alien origin. The tensions between tradition and modernity become obvious in the case of superheroines who would be modern independent females but also uphold moral ideals about traditional womanhood.The adaptations of the idea of god, deva, take completely new meanings hovering often on the margins of blasphemy and irreverence, with deva being treated as part of an advanced /parallel civilization/universes. The ultimate evolution of the stories take place when magic is actually treated as a science. Another area of this contestation has been the representation of space in the comics which eventhough always set in metropolitan cities is based on the template of village India, a communal whole where the alter egos of the superheroes and heroines have a very active social life.

Media of desire? Olfactory aesthetics and olfactory agency in an exhibit on human sexuality

Author: Susanne Schmitt  email

Short Abstract

This contribution focuses on the representation of sexual attraction in a Science and Medical History Museum in Germany. Based on ethnographic fieldwork it interrogates the conflicting meanings, agencies and aesthetics of odors that are (or have once been) considered to be aphrodisiatic within a western-European context.

Long Abstract

This contribution focuses on the representation of sexual attraction in a Science and Medical History Museum in Germany. Based on ethnographic fieldwork at the museum and moving through three different contexts of meaning, performance and (re)interpretation, it elaborates on the use of odors that are (or have once been) considered to be aphrodisiatic within a western-European context: drawing on a specific perspective, namely, sensory anthropology and ethnography, I ask how part of an exhibition about human sexuality at the Deutsches Hygiene Museum in Dresden is being experienced by various groups of protagonists within the museum such as tour guides, security staff and visitors and how it relates to their experience of working at and visiting the museum as bodily beings. In doing so, I elaborate on the exhibit's smellscapes as constituent of the exhibition as life world and performative space for those who work there and interrogate what specific cultural meanings the senses of vision and smell convey in this microcosmic narration on human attractiveness that is strongly based on locally contested sociobiological assumptions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.