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Materia: Uncontained Toxicity


Materia: Uncontained Toxicity

Mar 24, 2021

materia’s fourth event of the 2020-2021 academic term took place on March 11, 2021 via Zoom. Centered on the theme “Uncontained Toxicity,” the virtual gathering featured talks by professors Gisela Heffes (Latin American Literature and Culture, Rice University) and Arndt Niebisch (German Studies, University of Vienna)

In the first part of the session, the speakers delivered their talks back to back. Gisela Heffes addressed uncontained toxicity in contemporary narratives of Argentina as a discourse of mutation and inoculation that appeals to a toxic semiotic while rendering bodies and spaces phantasmagoric specters. Prof. Heffes’s presentation focused on contemporary Argentinian fiction, including the works of María Inés Krimer, Selva Almada, Ivana Romero, Samanta Schweblin, Natalia Rodríguez, and Juan Diego Incardona. Arndt Niebisch revisited William S. Burroughs’s notion of the word virus and discussed how Burroughs’s subversive media guerilla is taken up by posthuman agents in social media networks. In this presentation, Niebisch focused on the concept of the “word virus,” the operation of cut-up as a revolutionary technique, and the operation of “scrambling” as brainwashing.

The second part of the gathering consisted of a Q&A section and an open discussion about Heffes and Niebisch’s talks. Questions addressed literary, technological, and philosophical issues pertaining to: the relationship between the toxic discourse and dissemination; toxicity’s capacity to break through its spatial containments; the manifold ways in which parasites, viruses or toxins penetrate, subvert and/or promote power structures and economic paradigms; the role that desire plays in new porous cartographies and multispecies ecologies; and the difference between (media) parasitism, commensalism, and mutualism. The meeting also discussed concerns peculiar to our contemporary times, marked by political and environmental crises and by the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting ended on a hopeful note, with encouraging remarks by both invited speakers and materia organizers.  

A video of the talk is available here.

materia is a DLCL Focal Group on anthropodecentric thinking. Since 2014, the group has served as a platform for graduate and faculty research. Our meetings combine reading discussion, student presentations, and guest speakers. Regular workshop meetings include some twenty-five participants from ILAC and Comp Lit (the pillars of the group), as well as from English, MTL, German, Anthropology, and Music, among others. We collaborate with several other groups on campus and correspond with similar projects in the Bay Area and elsewhere. Cognate courses, as well as completed and ongoing dissertation projects, speak to the continuing impact of the group. There have been sixteen workshops and an international conference to date. The former average twenty-five participants; the latter had over seventy. The convening theme for our sixth year of activities will be “Life and Transmission.”

Session formats alternate to include discussions of readings moderated by faculty and graduate students, presentations of works-in-progress, and talks by guest speakers. All readings will be pre-distributed by email and are available to download from our website,

For more information, please contact Romina Wainberg at