Alex Pittman // Feb. 11, 2020

The Reserve Army of Affectivity: Surplus, Service, and Psychodrama in the work of William Greaves

Alex Pittman, Tue. Feb 11, 2-3pm. 220 York Street, Room 001.

A detail from the Criterion Collection cover of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, which features a still from the set overlaid with a psychodramatic tool known as a sociogram.

This talk examines the uses of psychodrama, a therapeutic theory and technique that deploys theatrical strategies of role play and reenactment, in several works by the filmmaker William Greaves. It focuses in particular on In the Company of Men, a 1969 documentary that both tracks and attempts to contribute to efforts to use psychodrama to repair communication between white factory foremen and black men who had been labeled “the hard-core unemployed.” Situating psychodrama as simultaneously a cinematic technique, a gendered strategy of racial governance, and a model of workplace training that was anchored in the emergent social conditions of the deindustrializing United States, this talk proposes a theory of “the reserve army of affectivity” in order to understand the power dynamics that Greaves’s film documents but does not quite name: that is, the process of putting people who have been consigned to the status of industrial and social excess into service for the emotional training of capital’s managers.

Alex Pittman is a term assistant professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Barnard College. Currently he is working on a book titled Capital in the Flesh: Constrained Intimacies in Black Art after Deindustrialization, which examines the politics of gender in the work of black performing and visual artists as they grapple with transformations of labor and social reproduction in the United States since 1968. His research on the intersections of race, sexuality, labor, and aesthetics in the work of artists such as Doreen Garner, Harry Crews, Tehching Hsieh, and Lucille Ball has been published in Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the ArtsWomen & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, and Social Text’s Periscope.

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