ESA Conference 2008: Talking Trash

Talking Trash: Rethinking the Abandoned, the Recovered, and the Depraved

Linda Neiberg
Jason Schneiderman

Conference Date: February 29, 2008

The earlier culture will become a heap of rubble and finally a heap of ashes; yet, over the ashes, spirits will hover.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein

What is the fascination of the devalued and discarded? Is it simply the return of the repressed – the object that returns to haunt us? Is it the terror of the void and the space we can never know? From the Christian obsession with the keystone that was once rejected to Alice Walker’s rehabilitation of Zora Neale Hurston’s reputation to John Waters’s gleeful declaration that his work is “trash,” there is a certain cache to the recovery of the devalued and discarded. Does the tastemaker need the humiliation of the trash heap from which to rescue the loved object and prove a superior palate, or is the trash heap an accident that the archive is always seeking to encompass? How do speech acts construct value? How does insult designate certain objects and people as “trash” and how do marginalized people talk back? This conference, organized and sponsored by the CUNY Graduate Center’s English Student Association, hopes to stimulate a broad field of inquiry ranging from New Historical approaches to Renaissance sewage management to examinations of Lindsay Lohan’s inarticulate Blackberry epistle. We seek to bring together students from a wide variety of literary, historical, theoretical, aesthetic, and political perspectives in a rigorous attempt to think trash from every angle. While academic papers are preferred, we also invite participation from practicing artists, filmmakers, and videographers.

Possible topics include, but certainly are not limited to:

Material artefacts as cultural or personal history

Sanitation / Recycling

Affluence and Waste

Consumer culture and Planned obsolesence

Propoganda / Psychological operations (psyops)

Pop Art / Recycled objects and images / “Proposals for Impossible

Palimpsests and Textual archaeology

Hidden histories and Forgotten texts

Intercepted letters in novels and plays

Reception histories

Aestheticist collectors

Culture of blackmail / Literature of blackmail

Multiple revisions of texts (Editions, Archives, Genealogical editions)

Slang and Standard English / Rhetoric of English

Literature of AIDS

Canon formation

Paperback culture / Trash novels

Non-canonical works of literature

Futureless essays, unpublished works, sketches, and works-in-progress

Marginalization of conquered subjects / Resistance by conquered subjects

Incarcerated subjects / War and political refugees / The culture of


Speech Acts and Insults


Dirty jokes / Playing the Dozens



The “Dean Scream”

Performance art

Bread & Circus and Entertainment for the masses

Dominatrixes / Drag Queens / Performances of Sexuality


Comedy and its recycling of headline news / Vaudeville

Toni Morrison’s “Rememory”

Searching for the “Zulu Shakespeare”


Ephemeral flowers

The Rehabilitation of American Literature (making an “American

Oral culture/ Written culture

How to think Non-canonical authors outside the lines of influence

Undervalued texts

Always Already

Anthology expectations

Camp’s sly refusals

Plagiarism and Quotation across texts

Derek Jarman’s celebration of film stock’s short shelf life

B-movies / Homemade movies / Movies with a twist

Zine culture and non-traditional forms of publication

The White House

Poltical campaigns

Resurfaced E-mails (Abramoff, Gonzales, etc.)

Global warming / Ecology


Cosmetic surgery / Extreme makeovers

Trailer park

Talk shows / Reality TV / Soap operas / E! channel

Decadence v. Trash