The Program in Critical Theory will support four Designated Emphasis students’ dissertation projects in 2022–2023. Kevin Stone and Saniya Taher will receive semester-long Critical Theory Dissertation Fellowships, while Phillip Campanile will receive a Critical Theory Completion Grant and Laila Riazi will receive a Critical Theory Research Grant.
Support for this year’s awardees is generously provided by the Magistretti Graduate Fellowship Fund through the Division of Arts and Humanities, the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the generosity of many other colleagues and friends.
Kevin Stone is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. Before entering the PhD program at Berkeley, he studied at Harvard University (AB 2013) and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (Fulbright Grant). His research interests span Romanticist and Modernist prose in English and German. Theoretically, his interests lie at the intersection of aesthetics, queer theory, and the history of sexuality.
His dissertation project, “A Kink in the Plot: Fetish Desire, Literary Modernism, and Narratives of Social Integration,” traces the literary historical development of the aesthetics of kink desire, rooted in nineteenth-century Victorian medicine and German sexology. His project examines Romantic and Modernist novels that adapt the structure of the marriage plot and the Bildungsroman and yet undermine their linear narratives of the social integration of the individual subject’s sexual desires. He argues that the fragmentary nature of these narrative forms emerges from the contemporary impossibility of creating a narrative of social integration for certain categories of sexual desire and taste. Yet from this impossibility emerged new forms of sexual sociality based not on a dialectic sublation of the individual with the family and the state, but rather on subcommunities formed from a shared pedagogy and aesthetic experience of desire.
Saniya Taher is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. Her work is situated across Post-Colonial Theory, Black Studies, Psychoanalysis, and Critical Theory, and brings together Arabophone, Anglophone, and Francophone literature from the mid-20th century to the present. Her dissertation project undertakes a critique of structures of redress by staging encounters between Frantz Fanon’s anti-colonial thought, his political and clinical writings from 1951-1961, and post-colonial Middle Eastern and North African texts written amidst war and destruction between 1967-2003. At stake is a resituating of Frantz Fanon and his work as belonging to the critical tradition of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as a critical exploration of the limits, possibilities, and transformations of anti-colonial discourse under post-colonial conditions.
Phillip Campanile is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geograpy with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. His research looks at the various political ecological histories that plants are capable of telling. To Campanile, it appears that there is something unshakably right in what Edgar Anderson said in the early 1950’s: “the history of weeds is the history of man [sic].” In being in the “wrong” place or somehow in an inappropriate context, weeds tell us about landscape and ecological science but also about history, aesthetics, epistemology, and even ethics.
Campanile’s work centers on a particular plant called Japanese knotweed and its inexorable spread across postindustrial Europe and North America. Japanese knotweed colonizes bare rock and scree after a volcanic eruption. Outside of its native context, it indicates a history of ecological disturbance and devastation, and it invites us to investigate that history. Its presence in urban wastelands, along creek and canal sides, in road margins, and along railroad tracks opens on to the history of Western empire in the Far East, the epistemology of taxonomy, the transformation of complex ecologies into capitalist infrastructure, the racialized fear of invasion, settler colonialism, hysteria about property value, how ecology orders the world, the history of medicine, and so much more.
Campanile uses the methods of urban political ecology and the environmental humanities to orient his work, but at the methodological and theoretical heart of his work is an attempt to reconstruct Theodor Adorno’s idea of natural history and to read WG Sebald’s Rings of Saturn as a method for interpreting landscape. By extending a non-identical and embodied hermeneutic to the study of landscape, he looks to trouble the way we interpret our everyday environments in the Anthropocene.
Laila Riazi is a Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature and the Program in Critical Theory. Her dissertation, “War Without Now: On the Counter-histories of Violence” recovers some aesthetic practices that address themselves to ongoing militarization and its afterlives throughout the first and second Gulf Wars. Beginning from a post-Cold War moment that saw the reinvigoration of racial terror and neocolonial and techno-military domination in the Middle East, her project reckons with hegemonic modes of accounting for war—whether through official body counts, embedded reporting, or aerial imagery—and asks how specific forms of political and environmental violence are otherwise figured. Through readings of literary and visual texts, but also diaries and dream records, political speeches and journalistic accounts, her dissertation brings together the material history of contemporary militarism with the poetic and rhetorical forms by which it is both lived and contested. More broadly, Laila’s research and teaching focuses on anticolonial/decolonial modes of inquiry, political struggle and aesthetic expression; transnational and postcolonial cultures, mostly by way of Arabophone, Anglophone, and Francophone writing; the temporality of environmental violence and loss; and psychoanalysis, clinical and theoretical. Currently she co-coordinates the Townsend Center Working Group on Psychoanalysis with Uttara Chaudhuri and serves as assistant at the Berkeley Psychoanalytic Society.