First Forum 2020


The University of Southern California
Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Conference

First Forum 2020

University of Southern California
Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Conference

October 23 and 24

Register to attend.

Passing is so passé, or so we’re told. In “The ‘Empire’ Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto,” Sandy Stone ambivalently articulates a personal and political imperative for transsexuals generally, and male-to-female transsexuals in particular, “to forgo passing” and, rather, to transition “to read oneself aloud” (232). For Stone, passing, or its necessity, involves the individual and collective scrubbing of enfleshed histories, and forecloses the possibility of authentic relationships with others. According to Stone, gender passing—as a performance of hegemonic discourses, as a disidentification with gender normativity, as a movement towards new horizons of desire—is analogical to the experience of racial and sexual passing, against which people of color, gays, and lesbians have already imagined new modes of embodiment, resistance, and solidarity.

Stone’s earnest and urgent call to become posttranssexual—to actively not pass—opens problematics of subjectivity, agency, and authenticity that scholars across disciplines have long before and since complicated. In “‘A New Hope’: The Psychic Life of Passing,” C. Riley Snorton considers how the possibilities of failure, misrecognition, and misidentification inherent to passing “serves as a context for the emergence of selfhood” (82). In “Passing for Free, Passing for Sovereign: Blackness and the Formation of the Nation,” Sandra Harvey historicizes passing as a system of “the antebellum slave surveillance regime” (13), and the fabrication of the pass and its policing as the context through which Black racial passing came to signify fugitivity, deception, and freedom across identificatory milieus.

Following Stone, Snorton, and Harvey’s critical readings of the transitivity and transversality of passing across gender, race, and sexuality, the First Forum Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Conference at the University of Southern California invites emerging scholars, educators, researchers, artists, activists, and community members to consider passing, what Snorton identifies "as the practice of moving from an oppressed group to a dominant group” (79) and what we consider as a technology of and against visual, aesthetic, cinematic, televisual, and computational regimes of knowledge.

For us, questions like the following emerge: How do the theoretical approaches to passing offered by Black studies, Indigenous studies, Chicanx studies, Asian-American studies, trans studies, queer theory, gender studies, feminist theory, and disability theory, among others, shift questions of (good) representation and authenticity fielded by cinema and media studies, and vice versa? How have racial, gender, sexual, able, and class passing been central to the historical and technical formation of American cinema and spectatorship? Does passing open new ways to think about systems of surveillance and capacities to perform opacities?

We invite applicants to think across passing both as a minoritarian and minoritizing technique of endurance and resistance, and in its idiomatic forms. How, for instance, do idioms such as “passing for,” “passing up,” “passing through,” “passing away,” and “pass/fail,” among others, gain their significance and cultural force through common sense understandings, lived experiences, and racialized/racializing and gendered/gendering systems of passing?

We take this conference as an opportunity to reflect critically on the disciplinary and cultural inheritances, of passing and otherwise, that have been passed on to us, and to project the futures that passing opens up. How do people and makers tactically (re)appropriate regimes of visuality that produce and are produced by paradigms of passing in order to survive, collect, escape, destroy, and (re)build? We welcome proposals that address passing from a variety of epistemologies, methodologies, and lived experiences. We encourage Black, Indigenous, person of color, trans, and queer applicants.

We thank the ZdC Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Association, the Department of Cinema and Media Studies, the Levan Institute for the Humanities, the Visual Studies Research Institute, the Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study, the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity, the Division of Media Arts and Practice, and the Program in Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture for their crucial support of this conference.

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