Panel previews: Sex and Archiving in Public

Panel three of the 2016 MLA Subconference brings together various presentations that explore the tension between the public and the private in popular and literary texts. Don’t be fooled, however: this panel won’t be an academic snoozefest, as the presentations intentionally aim to engage participants.


With her presentation “David Foster Wallace, Dave W., and Saint Dave,” Ándrea Laurencell Sheridan will explore the tension between the public and private spheres of our lives by sharing her personal experience with the David Foster Wallace archives in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Points of discussion will include:


  • Widespread lack of privacy due to technology and our ever-changing openness to sharing our lives online

  • Scholarly access to previously private correspondences, drafts, and notebooks

  • Conceptualizations of a crafted David Foster Wallace for public consumption, and “Dave W.”—the private, familiar Wallace


Sheridan hopes to open her presentation up to an interactive dialogue about not only Wallace, but other authors living and producing during this technological age of public-ization of the private.


In “Capitalism as the public negotiation of the private?,” Daniella Gáti would like to test out the thesis that one of the ways in which late capitalism works is that it indulges us in the illusion that the private can be bought through the public—specifically that a purchase of affect is possible as a consumable good on public markets. She sees her presentation as a workshop where participants are invited to explore this strategically produced belief of making private goods publically transacted ones by analyzing a popular song: Lana Del Rey’s “National Anthem.” Points of discussion will include:


  • How the pursuit of individual, personal and therefore private affect is transformed into the compulsive hoarding of the enjoyment of particular consumer goods

  • How the late capitalist system makes us believe that private goals can be packaged into publically available goods and sold.

  • How the song’s status as a consumer good can be enjoyed both in public and private spaces


The role of the presenter will be intentionally confined to presenting questions, showing the song as material to work with before stepping back into the role of a moderator-synthesizer.


Finally, “Sex: It’s All in the Family” from Mary Zaborskis will explore how queer studies and the history of sexuality have demonstrated that sex is anything but a private act. Zaborskis, however will point to one domain where the lines between public and private remain especially blurred—the modern, heteronormative family. In particular, Zaborskis is interested in exploring moments in popular culture that both demonstrate and disrupt the dynamics of the power relation between parents and children in heterosexual, nuclear families. Look forward to her analysis of


  • A 2015 Yoplait commercial

  • The network television series Pretty, Little Liars

  • And, Dee Ree’s Pariah (2011)


We will discuss how children break the cultural scripts of sexual silence in the family and attempt to discipline adult sexuality, often through the threat of making that sexuality public, and how these attempts and their outcomes are determined by class, race, and gender.


And, don’t forget to show up early for some free lunch and conversation with your fellow Subconistas.