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Department of English Studies


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Wellness as Metaphor: Mapping Affect in Heidi Julavits The Vanishers

3rd May 2017, 16:30 to 18:00, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Sean Grattan (Kent)

A staff and postgraduate research seminar.


Narratives of wellness take part in the myth that each neoliberal subject exists as a private and privatized actor able to make decisions that reflect their best interests; attenuated to the smallest fluctuation in bodily states, wellness constantly takes measure of the body.The increasingly visible relationship between affect and labor makes wellness, perhaps, the affect of neoliberalism par excellence. The role of wellness programs is the maintenance of appropriate affective states for working environments.

This talk examines the increased language surrounding wellness in the United States through a discussion of Heidi Julavits’s The Vanishers. The Vanishers insistently maps ways narratives of wellness creep into contemporary American fiction. In The Vanishers the everyday routinization of monitoring affective states becomes deeply entangled in productivity. Julavits describes affective states as contagious and open to influence and attack from others. These attacks force people out of appropriate affective states rendering them unacceptable laboring bodies.

About the speaker

Dr Sean Grattan is Lecturer in American Literature in the School of English, University of Kent.

His research interests include contemporary American literature, twentieth century American literature, gender and sexuality studies, utopian literature, and affect theory. He has published essays on Colson Whitehead, Toni Morrison, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, and William S. Burroughs. He recently co-edited a special issue of Cultural Critique titled “What Comes After the Subject?”

He is at work on my monograph Utopian Affects: Horizons of Community in Contemporary American Literature, which examines the often denigrated place of utopian literature and theory within the contemporary American literary landscape.

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