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The Aesthetics of the Swarm in Selected Works by Jorie Graham and the Sensory Ethnography Lab

Tanner, Julia Rose-Marie Jane (2018) The Aesthetics of the Swarm in Selected Works by Jorie Graham and the Sensory Ethnography Lab. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the aesthetics, ethics and eco-politics of the swarm. In equal parts unsettling and mesmerising, the swarm is a mobile collective characterised by vitality, uncontrollability and alterity. In developing the swarm as a tool to think with, this project contends that artistic representations of the swarm can both register the dangers of our current biopolitical and environmental situation and provide alternative models of subjectivity, collectivity and communal action. The thesis brings together the ethnographic films of Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab and the lyric poetry of the most eminent poet affiliated with that university: Jorie Graham. These artists’ post-millennial films and poems are populated by swarming ants, shoals of fish and colonies of bats—but also swarms of humans and machines. Responding to the swarm as a multi-species phenomenon, the thesis combines scientific understandings of swarms as ‘superorganisms’ with approaches from posthumanism, ecocriticism and both ‘old’ and ‘new’ materialisms. The swarm carries considerable symbolic freight, yet it remains resolutely material. In a post-millennial context of biopolitical exploitation and environmental degradation, intuitive connotations of the swarm’s profusion and incursion are unsettled by a recognition of the ‘creaturely’ aspects of the swarm’s shared bodily vulnerability. In the films and poems under scrutiny, the swarm operates as a marker of beneficent community and inhuman destruction; of inclusion and exclusion; of vulnerability, resilience and uncontrollability. Albeit in markedly different ways, Graham’s lyric poetry and the Sensory Ethnography Lab’s experimental films both seek to express the swarm’s diverse, and at times contradictory, modes through experiments in sensory aesthetics. Navigating between material and symbolic swarms as these appear in the films and poems selected for study, this thesis asks to what extent swarmic representations can engender a compassionate awareness of both social and ecological connectedness in a troubled world.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Environmental Humanities, Aesthetics, Swarm, Poetry, Ethnographic Film, Biopolitics, Affect, Jorie Graham, Sensory Ethnography Lab
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of English (Leeds)
Depositing User: Ms Julia Tanner
Date Deposited: 27 Mar 2019 13:52
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2019 13:52
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/23402

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