Friday 8th and Saturday 9th November 2019
University of Warwick
In Todd Haynes’ 1995 film Safe, Carol (Julianne Moore) is plagued by ‘multiple chemical sensitivities’. The character experiences her environment as a series of toxic threats that cause accumulating and varied physical and psychical consequences. The film concludes with Carol holed up, alone, in an antiseptic pod in a therapeutic community in the desert. She will be safe here, as long as she remains insulated against the ever-increasing threats of the contemporary world. Thus, it is only through a radically diminished life of social and cultural isolation that Carol can survive and be ‘well’. Safe, then, raises a series of questions about the nature and value of toxicity, vulnerability, safety, and resilience that have become culturally central in the twenty-first century. This conference aims to explore the concept of toxicity in relation to a number of contemporary political concerns including culture, health, economics, gender, and ecology. We are concerned to examine how cultural practices (from theatre to graphic fiction) and critical methodologies, for example in performance studies, are contributing to, and intervening in, contemporary anxieties about safety, risk and toxicity. How is toxicity produced, sustained, and distributed? The conference seeks to examine what lies beneath labels of toxicity and interrogate the complex politics of threat, vulnerability, safety, and resistance.