The next SAM seminar...
SAM Seminar Series

Radical Absence:
Traumatic Affects in the Digitally Mediated Experience of Disappearance

When Tuesday 30 August, 5 – 6.30pm
Where Cinema 327, Robert Webster Building, UNSW Kensington
Disappearances keep appearing in the digital sphere: video circulates of ISIS beheading of a kidnapped journalist; MH370 vanishes into the sky yet its real and imagined journeys are traced ceaselessly; friends learn someone close to them has died when Facebook ‘memorializes’ their page. Each is different: a lost airplane, unreported boat people, a deceased life. In the work of trauma studies scholars such as Cathy Caruth (1996) and Shoshana Felman (1992), such events are felt but unrecognized, known to have happened but unable to be represented. Yet these are traumas that can be experienced with intensity and immediacy in their digital mediations. They are encounters with radical absence. Affect theory offers the means to reconceptualise this ‘vicarious trauma’ (Kaplan 2005, p. 87); it bridges the conceptual gap between an event that happened and the meaning it contains. Since affect is ‘the simultaneous participation of the virtual in the actual and the actual in the virtual, as one arises from and returns to the other’ (Massumi 2002, p. 35), it offers a way of understanding trauma in keeping with the digital: fluid, moving, changeable, multitudinous and even contagious. This paper traces the contours of encounters with video beheadings, the vanishing of MH370, and markers of digital death as encounters with radical absence that are emblematic of the complexity of traumatic affect and mediated trauma in the digital sphere.

Michael Richardson is Lecturer in the School of the Arts & Media at the University of New South Wales. His research examines literary, cultural and media affect, focusing on torture, trauma, climate change and power. He is the author of Gestures of Testimony: Torture, Trauma and Affect in Literature (Bloomsbury 2016), co-editor of Traumatic Affect (Cambridge Scholars 2013) and was awarded a 2014 Varuna PIP Fellowship for his in-progress first novel. Before entering academia, he was speechwriter to The Hon. Jack Layton MP, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada.

Visit the event page.
Bookings not required.
Following the seminar please join Michael for the launch of his new book:

Gestures of Testimony:
Torture, Affect and Literature

Launched by Professor Anna Gibbs (WSU)

Wednesday 30 August, 6.30pm
Whitehouse, UNSW Kensington


After 9/11, the United States became a nation that sanctioned torture. Detainees across the globe were waterboarded, deprived of sleep, beaten by guards, blasted with deafening music and forced into obscene acts.

Bringing the vibrant field of affect theory to bear on theories of torture and power, Michael Richardson adopts an interdisciplinary approach to show how testimony founded in affect can bear witness to torture and its traumas. Grounded in provocative readings of poems by Guantanamo detainees, memoirs of interrogators and detainees, contemporary films, the Bush Administration's Torture Memos, and fiction by George Orwell, Franz Kafka, Arthur Koestler, Anne Michaels, and Janette Turner Hospital, Richardson traces the workings of affect, biopower, and aesthetics to re-think literary testimony. Gestures of Testimony gives shape to a mode of affective witnessing, a reaching beyond the page in the writing of torture that reveals violent trauma - even as it embodies its veiling.

Finding us
Robert Webster Building is located mid-way off the UNSW main walkway. Map Reference G14. Cinema 327 is located on the third floor. More information on getting to UNSW.

There is limited parking on the campus but free parking is available from 6:30pm in the car park next to NIDA accessed via Day Ave.

Visit the School of the Arts and Media website.

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