Jacob Crystal Archives - Kendall College of Arts and Sciences

Jacob Crystal

EGSA symposium 2022 review: Performance and the Body in a Time of Contagion

On Saturday, April 9, the English Graduate Student Association (EGSA) hosted an online symposium titled Performance and the Body in a Time of Contagion.

Twelve master’s and doctoral students from The University of Tulsa and other institutions presented papers alongside keynote speaker Pamela Gilbert, the Albert Brick Professor of English at the University of Florida.

a screenshot of a computer screen with 21 people on a Zoom conference
Symposium attendees during keynote presentation by Professor Pamela Gilbert (top row, center)

English Ph.D. student and EGSA President Jacob Crystal said that the symposium planners settled upon the theme when considering the non-stop academic rigor demanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I began to wonder what it might look like if we talked about how all of us must perform daily routines and functions while many of the world’s populations are battling the virus’ spread,” Crystal remarked. “Students were trying to work through what it means to be forced to function like everything is perfectly fine, when in fact the world is being ravaged by the pandemic.”

Meshing perfectly with the symposium’s theme, Gilbert’s keynote presentation was titled “Contagion, Bleak House and the Limits of Community.” Following this fascinating account of Dickens’ novel in the context of sanitation processes in 19th-century London were remarks by TU President Brad Carson. After that, attendees enjoyed three student-chaired panels focusing on “The Body and Its Spaces,” “Race and Colonialism” and “Gender and Queerness.”

A network of peers

For Crystal, one of the major benefits for students of participating in the symposium is that it enabled them “to hear from other cohorts on what their current research interests are, which oftentimes leads to a collective of students who are then able to talk about and engage with the same topics. This fosters a network of peers that want to help each other with their research and educate them on their findings.”

For her part, presenter and English MA student Mikala Richardson was a fan of the virtual delivery mode: “I think the advantage of a symposium like this one is that it’s accessible. Students and professors who might not have been able to attend due to distance and situation are able to simply find a Wi-Fi location and attend.”

Faculty support

Throughout the day, faculty support was strong both on and off screen, as many professors from the English department watched students present and interacted with them by asking questions about their papers and ideas. Crystal also emphasized how two professors, in particular, assisted with the creation of this year’s symposium: “I do want to give an acknowledgement to Drs. Dennis Denisoff and Laura Stevens for their constant support of what EGSA does, especially our annual symposium. We couldn’t do what we do without them.”

Performance and the Body in a Time of Contagion

Saturday, April 9
9:45 a.m.-3:15 p.m. (CT)

Join Zoom meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81656078453?pwd=eUswdTFjZm9SL3I3NllReHFFbVNYZz09

Meeting ID: 816 5607 8453
Passcode: 32MdgU

Illustration by William Blake showing two figures set against a menacing sky and landscapeIn April 2022, we will have passed the two-year mark of living in a COVID-ridden world, in which millions have died or lost loved ones. It is also a world in which people have chosen or been forced suddenly to perform new roles, engage new identities and develop new relationships between the body, the Other and performativity.

Race, gender, class and even species are, arguably, products of the body. As Judith Butler proposes, with regard to gender specifically, effects are “produced through the stylization of the body, and hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and styles of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self.” As much as gender is a repetitive act, then it also concedes to a sort of performance-based activity, which begs the questions:

  • How do radical changes to our daily lives impact performance and the performative?
  • Who loses politically when we remove the essential?
  • What can literature and art contribute to the politics of the body?

This year’s English Graduate Student symposium seeks to underscore the ways in which people are drawn or forced to perform during times of crises or otherwise.

Symposium agenda

Introductions and welcoming remarks — 9:45-10 a.m.

Brad Carson, President of The University of Tulsa

Laura Stevens, Chair of the Department of English & Creative Writing

Dennis Denisoff, Director of Graduate Studies

Keynote address — 10-10:45 a.m.

Pamela Gilbert, Albert Brick Professor of English, University of Florida — “Contagion, Bleak House and the Limits of Community”

Panel 1: Body and Its Spaces — 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 

Panel chair: Seungho Lee (University of Tulsa)

Ira Sen (University of Mississippi), “Staged Moor: Aaron’s Shadowy (Dis)Positions in Titus Andronicus

Tyler Dick (University of Central Florida), “‘Through Supreme Acts of Mirroring’: Ecological Colonization(s) in Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation

Mikala Richardson (University of Tulsa), “Mind, Body, and Soul: The Trauma of Transportation in Jack Maggs

Seungho Lee (University of Tulsa), “‘You’ve no idea how difficult uneven ground is when it’s dark’: The Peripatetic Failure and the Materiality of Walking in E.M. Forster’s Howards End

Lunch break — 12:15-1 p.m.

Panel 2: Race and Colonialism — 1-2 p.m.

Panel chair: Ciara Graham (University of Tulsa)

Cooper Casale (University of Tulsa), “Shapes at a Distance: A Case for Afro-Vorticism”

Cheyenne Symonette (Michigan State University), “Sorrow in the ‘Porno-Tropics”

Ciara Graham (University of Tulsa), “Sex, Power and Racial Subjugation in James Baldwin’s ‘Going to Meet the Man’”

Panel 3: Gender and Queerness — 2:15-3:15 p.m.

Panel chair: Jamie Walt (University of Tulsa)

Seona Kim (University of Tulsa), “Exile and Pride: Reclaiming the Disabled Queer Body through Autobiographical Narrative”

Nathan Blue (University of Tulsa), “Teebs and Texts: The Queer, Digital Ecology of Tommy Pico’s Nature Poem

Emma Palmer (University of Tulsa), “Charlotte Temple and the Tear as Agency”

Jamie Walt (University of Tulsa), “We Love to Hate Them: Male-to-Female Relations in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried


Please note: All times are Central Time.

If you have any questions about this year’s symposium or the English Graduate Student Association, contact Jacob Crystal at jac3565@utulsa.edu.

Keynote speaker

Pamela Gilbert
Albert Brick Professor of English, University of Florida

woman with long hair wearing a sleeveless teal-colored blouse with her left arm crooked at her sidePamela Gilbert’s most recent book, Victorian Skin: Surface, Self, History, focuses on the history of the body, medicine and realism in the nineteenth century, with special attention to skin and surface. This is an extension of her long-term work on the history of the body and medicine in the period and on the history of genre. Other areas of interest include popular literature and medical humanities.

Some recent publications include “Recent Studies in the Nineteenth Century,” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 59.4 (2019): 913-954; “Sensation,” in Routledge Handbook of Victorian Literature, Talia Schaffer and Dennis Denisoff, Eds. Routledge, 2019. pp 95-105; “Dreadful: Aesthetic Fear in Victorian Reading” in Dreadful Passions: Fear in the Literary and Medical Imagination Medieval to Modern, London: Palgrave, 2018: 79-99; and “How Disgust Entered the Ghost Story,” in Routledge Handbook to the Ghost Story, Scott Brewster and Luke Thurston, Eds. London: Routledge, 2018: 409-417. A recent coedited project, Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature in four volumes, Blackwell, 2015 (Coedited with Dino Felluga and Linda Hughes), won the “Outstanding Reference Book” designation from the American Library Association, January 2016. Gilbert was a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow (2016) and Society for the Humanities Fellow at Cornell (2016-17).

Gilbert serves on the executive committee for NAVSA (the North American Victorian Studies Association) and on several editorial boards. She is the series editor for the SUNY Press book series Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. At the University of Florida, Gilbert is affiliated with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and is a founding member of CISMaC, the Collective for the Interdisciplinary Study of Medicine and Culture. She regularly teaches courses in Victorian Literature, Literature and Medicine and topics in Victorian Gender and Class.