By Monica Baranko, Annie Hart, and Jenna Wheeler
Shenandoah University’s College of Arts and Sciences hosted the annual Virginia Humanities Conference (VHC) on campus on Friday and Saturday.
Organized by University professor and conference president Petra Schweitzer, Ph.D, the conference boasted attendance from about 100 scholars and undergraduate researchers from around the world, including as far as Massachusetts, Canada, and Germany.
According to Schweitzer, the goal of the conference was to bring awareness to issues in society, and to express that we, as a society, need to help develop ideas to fix these concerns.
“Humanities should not be a mere supplement to the sciences,” Schweitzer said, “but equal to the sciences for the future and progress of humankind.”
Hosting the conference “draws attention to the University and it brings together scholars from other universities,” Schweitzer said. “It introduces the participants to the campus, to professors and students and [they] get to know the professors and students from other universities.”
Another University professor and acting vice president of the conference, Bryan Pearce-Gonzales, Ph.D, said that it “is a big deal for SU to host this conference, as it allows us to showcase our beautiful campus and engaging faculty while providing a space for people to gather and talk about the idea of the ‘unbearable’ and what it means in various fields.”
He also said that hosting the conference is “good publicity” for the University, and that the “dialogue that is fostered can lead to future research projects and collaborations.”
The conference’s keynote address was held on Friday in Stimpson Auditorium. In their address, speakers Lauren Berlant, Ph.D, author and the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English at the University of Chicago, and Lee Edelman, Ph.D, author and the Fletcher Professor of English Literature at Tufts University, discussed the “Pressures of the Unbearable.”
With eager eyes behind eye glasses and wine glasses that revealed an informal and intellectual discussion, Edelman started by posing the question: “What exactly is sex?”
The presenters are co-authors of the book, “Sex, or the Unbearable,” which discusses sex, what it does to people and how people deal with the unbearable parts of life.
“The unbearable is a way about thinking how to live with brokenness,” said Berlant. “Fantasy is the plane in which we fill up the holes in the world. They [society] want the universal human back, but they want it to have a particular set of qualities. I think it’s going to be really complicated for us.”
Berlant showed the crowd her empty wine glass. “This is a glass. What makes it an object is your investment of a world sustaining interest in it, investment in it, and attachment to it,” she said as she explained the term “object” to the audience.
“Sex is always about placeholder objects,” said Edelman. “Negativity has to do with a philosophical recognition of the impossibility of arriving at something, but the coherence to which one might aspire the confrontation with the necessary contradictions, ambivalences, and antagonisms that always structure the self that is trying to overcome those obstacles to its own coherence.”
Michelle Adams contributed to this report.