On Sympathetic Grounds: Race, Gender and Affective Geographies in Nineteenth-Century North America
With its filigreed, formidable representations of tears and suffering, sentimentalism has remained a divisive genre and category of analysis. In this talk, Naomi offers a new interpretation of the sentimental by mapping its grounds in North America. During sweeping transformations of territory, land stewardship, personhood, and citizenship in the nineteenth century, sentimentalists evoked sympathy to express a desire for a place that was both territorial and emotional—what Naomi calls an “affective geography.” Naomi traces the intricacies attending Americans’ sentimental sense that bodies could merge and occupy the same space at the same time. In the talk, she also thinks through affective geography as a method of critical cultural inquiry that aids in bringing into relief the experiences and perspectives of those whose bodies, labor and sovereignty have been occupied to ground others’ lives and world-making projects. Sympathy maintains its usefulness to settler colonialism and the maintenance of racialized labor in the contemporary present – and may, as well, maintain some value as a means of resisting geographic displacement and physical and metaphysical dispossession.
Naomi Greyer is associate professor in the departments of Rhetoric, English and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa. She is also executive director of POROI, Iowa’s Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry. Her current book project, Writing Through Writer’s Block, maps unjust distributions of block and flow in the American academy, tracing a critical genealogy of the forms and experiences of knowledge creation from the Morrill Land Grant Act (1862) to the speed-up and digitalization of research since the G.I. Bill (1944).
Co-sponsored by the Obermann Center Comparative Ethnic Studies working group