Webbed Attachments: Psychedelic Lessons from the Multiverse
This Focus on the Humanities talk explores how the fundamental qualities of the psychedelic experience—including heightened affective intensity, the dissolution of the ego, and a sense of cosmic interconnectedness with the world—offers a hopeful alternative to contemporary identitarianism, a left political logic which frequently associates the pursuit of social justice with the defense of seemingly coherent, bounded marginalized subjectivities. Building on Wendy Brown’s classic formulation of “wounded attachment,” Fawaz argues that in a painful paradox, the obsessive attachment to cultural identity as the vehicle for articulating marginalized subjects’ bids for political freedom, often masks the underlying desire to commune freely across our differences. Against this logic, Fawaz turns to the distinctly psychedelic animated film, Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse (2018), which uses the titular superhero’s signature “webbing” as a visual theory of attachment and affiliation across infinite differences. By visually and conceptually fracturing Spider-Man’s seemingly coherent ego across time and space, the film presents the fictional concept of the multiverse as a distinctly psychedelic figure for conceiving differences as an endless web of relations across multiple dimensions rather than rigidly formed identities.
Ramzi Fawaz is a Romnes Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics (2016) and Queer Forms (2022). With Darieck Scott he coedited a special issue of American Literature titled “Queer About Comics,” which won the 2019 best special issue of the year award from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. Alongside Deborah E. Whaley and Shelley Streeby, he coedited Keywords for Comics Studies, which was selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2022. Fawaz is currently at work on a new book project titled Literary Theory on Acid, in which he argues for the necessity of literary and cultural studies approaches to the contemporary psychedelic renaissance.