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Bishnupriya Ghosh: “The ‘Saint of the Gutters’: Mother Teresa as Corporeal Aperture”
January 12, 2011 @ 4:30 pm - 6:30 pm | Stevenson Fireside Lounge
The customary critique of Mother Teresa reads her image as a compromised mass commodity, the anointed saint who habitually produces the “third world” as her necessary gutter. While it is certainly the case that global icons of her ilk lure consumers into commodity fetishism, isolating them from social relations, we see these recursive images routinely deployed in challenges to hegemonic institutions all over the world; reassembled culturally familiar icons surface in the new negotiations over global modernity, often making the news when they instigate outbreaks of iconophobia or iconomania. These iconoclashes suggest there is more to the story of mass stupefaction told in the iconoclastic critique. What better way to think beyond this promissory skepticism than to relocate the scholarly gaze to a global region replete with rich cultural histories of icon veneration? Mother Teresa, then, provides an exemplary instance of a general social phenomena: the periodic outbreaks of anger, grief, even riots, around highly visible public figures (a Lady Diana, a Barack Obama, or an Eva Perón) circulating as icons in mass media. Looking closely at her eruption as popular saint in Kolkata, the talk argues for a reconstituted theory of the icon properly attentive to the mass commodity’s sudden volatilization into a magical technology of the popular.
With a doctorate from Northwestern University, Bishnupriya Ghosh is Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she teaches postcolonial theory, literature, and global media studies. She has published essays on literature, film and visual culture in several anthologies, as well as journals such as boundary 2, Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Public Culture and Screen; a monograph, When Borne Across: Literary Cosmopolitics in the Contemporary Indian Novel (Rutgers UP, 2004); and a co-edited volume, Interventions (Garland, 1997). Her current projects include a second monograph, Global Icons in Public Culture (forthcoming Duke UP) and a web-project on speculative communication in HIV/AIDS prevention media.
This event is presented by the Department of Feminist Studies. It was made possible by generous contributions from the Departments of Film and Digital Media, Literature, History of Art and Visual Culture and Anthropology.