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Spring 2017 Visual Culture Symposium - Keynote Speaker

Tung-Hui Hu (University of Michigan): "How to Say Whatever: Lethargic Users and the Art of Being Indifferent" 

Wayne State University Student Center

Room 285

5 pm - 6 pm


“Be heard! Review your recent purchase!”, a recent email from Staples.com blares. When ‘speaking up,’ ‘taking control,’ and even ‘fighting back’ have become co-opted by the structures of digital capitalism, what is left? This talk examines artworks and films by Katherine Behar, Tega Brain, and Julia Leigh, whose output often appears repetitive, flat, boring, or uncritical. These artworks are difficult for critics to interpret precisely because they do not fall into the traditional categories of resistance, disruption, or refusal. Instead, by performing what I read as communicative exhaustion, they redirect a viewer’s focus to the suffocating forms of communicative labor within digital culture. Neither able to resist or comply, to form social bonds or act, they address the affective state of being trapped inside unending crisis — a passivity which nevertheless offers another route to the political.

About Tung-Hui Hu

Tung-Hui Hu, a former network engineer, is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Michigan and the recipient of a 2015 NEA literature fellowship. His interests include history and politics of new media, as well as creative writing (poetry).

His poetry publications include: Greenhouses, Lighthouses (Copper Canyon Press, 2013); Mine (Ausable Press, 2007); The Book of Motion (University of Georgia Press, 2003).

His academic publications include: "Black Boxes and Green Lights: Media, Infrastructure, and the Future at Any Cost", ELN 55.1 (2017); "Work at the Bleeding Edge of Sovereignty," in Former West: Art and the Contemporary after 1989 (edited vol, MIT Press, 2017); "Truckstops on the Information Superhighway: Ant Farm, SRI, and the Cloud," Media-N 10:1 (2014); "Real Time/Zero Time," Discourse 34:2-3 (2013): 163-184.

His most recent book, A Prehistory of the Cloud, is now out in paperback from the MIT Press; here are three reviews from The Guardian (short), Critical Inquiry (medium), and The New Yorker (long), as well as an interview with Rhizome on it.

Tung-Hui Hu is currently working on a new book of poems on forests and a scholarly book on lethargy.