“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, April 19, 2013

Constance Penley at Cultures of Energy

“The Environmental Media Initiative: Transforming Communication and Collaboration among the Sciences, Humanities, Industry and the Public,” paper given at the Cultures of Energy 2nd Annual Spring Research Symposium, April 19–21, 2013

Anthropologist Dominic Boyer introduces the show. Congratulations on tenure sir. He introduces Caroline Levander. 

Caroline Levander. She introduces the speaker with humor and intelligence. Good at her job, she is, Vice Provost of Interdisciplinary Initiatives, and English prof. Concern that the university was migrating away from humanistic inquiry. She was on the energy and environment task force as the only humanist rep. When faculty thought about what might be possible they gave remarkable responses. Caroline merely telegraphed that back. Since we have literally nothing to lose, why not actually try and win? Dream team of humanists put together the Mellon Proposal. Thanks to Jack Zammito. It’s been an amazing expression of ambition and generosity. 

The other Vice Provost is unable to be with us. But he shares good news. As part of Rice’s ongoing commitment to initiatives in energy and environmental research, he has asserted the significance of the humanities and interpretive social sciences. Under the aegis of Dominic Boyer, the future director, there will be a vibrant new center on this topic. Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences. 

Dominic now introduces Constance Penley. It’s a wonderful day towards which we have been working for the past two years. This initiative is incredibly important and visionary. Thanks to Caroline for writing the grant. And for making sure humanities were central. Jack as co-leader from the beginning. And for making the Sawyer Seminar extra special. And all the collaborators. They have been the best I’ve ever known. Dominic reads a long list. 

When something like 10 years ago at Cornell there was a cross campus initiative proposed the Vice Provost was out of his job a year later! 

But here students and faculty came together from the beginning. Is it because we are more easy going and civil in the bayou? And also our species and our planet are more desperate and more urgent than a decade ago. That task has taken a big step forward with the founding of this new center. Freud, Truth comes in repetition. We have the chance to do something very significant. We are the first Center in the world to think energy. 

There are a lot of clusters continuing: the arts; infrastructure; philosophy; catastrophe; communities. An undergrad only advisory committee. Outreach to broader Houston community. Partnering with other groups across the world. 

I now have the immense pleasure of welcoming Constance Penley of UCSB. She has produced erotic programming for HBO and has written for screen. Libretto for Biospheria (on Biosphere 2). Digital Ocean: a project for high school students to monitor declining fish stocks. 

She epitomizes Cultures of Energy. 

We can’t just live compartmentalized academic lives in our era. She encourages us and soothes us. 

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