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Comparative Literature
Cornell University

Curriculum Vitae


Contemporary theoretical thought has turned surface phenomena into the grounds and foundations for conceptual work: from moebius-strips to simulacra, from skin to screens, from folds to planes. What accounts for the pervasive fascination with surface imaginaries in recent theoretical thought? And what allows apparently quite similar figures to be deployed for very different theoretical and political purposes? Membranicity consists of a series of critical reflections on the deployment, as well as the folding and warping, of figures of superficiality, flatness, smoothness, transparence, and nakedness in contemporary theory, from deconstruction to biopolitics, from media studies to queer and transgender theory, from animal and environmental studies to phenomenology, from systems theory to aesthetics. For its critique of theoretical uses of specific material phenomena, it takes up the figure of the membrane as its nodal point. Membranes are liminal figures, pliable walls that create spatial separation, that regulate what passes through and what remains on the other side, while also being prone to penetration and rupture. By the same token, membranes are also figures of connectivity as membranous layers become connective tissue or serve as envelope that enfolds other matter. The etymological origin of the term membrane frames it as part and parcel of a whole, as membranicity resonates with membership. Membranes can bear marks, screen medial projections, become grazed by friction, or vibrate upon impact. The term membranicity signals the protean capacity for connection, separation, projection, resonance, filtering, folding, and layering connected to membranous figures, and thus also the multiple, potentially competing membrane imaginaries that we see used for different theoretical purposes. Membranicity scrutinizes how different theoretical approaches strategically select concrete surface imaginaries and put them to conceptual use, thus analyzing conceptual mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, of connection and disconnection. As a material, medial, and symbolic lens, the figure of the membrane provides insights into how theories deal with liminality, how they construct or blur cultural, sexual, medial, and species differences. To harness the flexibility and plasticity of membranous forms—which elude conceptual fixing as they fulfill multiple, differing roles and are in constant intercourse with and slippage toward other surfaces—also means to think creatively about the practice of theory as well as its political and ethical impact.

Andrea Bachner, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University, holds an M.A. from Munich University, Germany, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Her research explores comparative intersections between Sinophone, Latin American, and European cultural productions in dialogue with theories of interculturality, sexuality, and mediality. Her first book, Beyond Sinology: Chinese Writing and the Scripts of Cultures (Columbia University Press, 2014), analyzes how the Chinese script has been imagined in recent decades in literature and film, visual and performance art, design and architecture, both within Chinese cultural contexts and in different parts of the “West.” She is the co-editor (with Carlos Rojas) of the Oxford Handbook of Modern Chinese Literatures (2016) and has published articles in Comparative Literature, Comparative Literature Studies, Concentric, German Quarterly, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Taller de Letras (among others) as well as in several edited volumes. Her second book, On Inscription: Material Metaphors and the Making of Theory (under review Fordham University Press) provides a genealogy of the concept of inscription that probes the media imaginaries of poststructuralist theory, whereas a third project, Comparison at the Margins: Latin America and the Sinophone World, reflects on the limits of comparison through an exploration of the rich history of cultural contact, exchange, and affinity between Latin American and Chinese cultures from the late 19th century to today. While at the Society, she will be working on a book on surface metaphors in contemporary theory.

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