“No one is better at creating new ways of naming our world through language than writers,” Rebecca Mark, Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English, stated in her introduction to Greta LaFleur’s lecture in Freeman Auditorium Monday evening.
LaFleur, assistant professor of American Studies at Yale University, was invited by the School of Liberal Arts Department of English to give a lecture to undergraduates on her research and work that mines sexual violence, race, and the #metoo movement through the lens of literary and legal histories of the United States.
In her talk, “Ugly Histories: What Literary Study Can Teach Us about the History of Sexual Violence in America,” LaFleur examines two “widely publicized representations of rape in 18th century North America” through execution narratives, or what would be referred to now as “true crime” narratives, and seduction narratives.
“I want to shift the conversation, especially when it comes to thinking about the history of both legal and cultural responses to sexual violence, away from a language of perpetrator and survivor, or criminal and victim, or any of the number of languages that are available for use that organize us into sides, and to think instead about the way that the law works with structural hierarchies of racism to produce different kinds of what I call ‘sexual vulnerability,’” LaFleur explained.
LaFleur read several narratives from the 1700's, and also gave examples of early rape law, further emphasizing how sexual violence is understood in relation to race and gender. Concluding, she explained, “one of the many things that literary studies offers us is training in attention to the world-making power of language, especially when it comes to movement ideologies, including those of the #metoo movement.”
Following the lecture, Tulane’s Michael S. Field Assistant Professor of English and Africana Studies Z’étoile Imma led a Q&A session with English majors Swati Parashar, Caroline Tweedie, T. Margaret Munthali, and Samantha Woods, and also opened the floor to questions from the audience.
As Michelle Kohler, an Associate Professor of English and one of the faculty organizers of LaFleur’s lecture, stated, “many of the questions students raise about their own experiences are the very questions we work toward answering in English departments and in humanities scholarship more broadly, and we want our undergraduates to see the force of the work they're doing as students and researchers of literature and culture. We also have a lot to learn from our students and are thrilled with their participation on the panel and in other events with our guests.”
Greta LaFleur is assistant professor of American Studies at Yale University, and serves as the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Program in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale University. She published her first book, The Natural History of Sexuality in Early America in 2018 an is working on a new book project exploring the relationship of cultural and legal responses to sexual violence to the history of sexuality.