Cassandra Guan


Cassandra X. Guan’s research is situated at the intersection of screen media studies and the history and theory of the life sciences. Her book manuscript Maladaptive Media: “Life” and Other Works of Animation integrates contemporary theorizations of plasticity with psychoanalytic and post-Marxian critiques of work to reimagine the work of animation in a global context and from a materialist perspective. As a biological concept, plasticity refers to the capacity of a living system to respond to environmental pressure with a change of form, state, and/or rate of activity. Against the backdrop of a receding tide of vitalism in new media philosophies, Maladaptive Media aims to historicize the generic assertion that “life is a process of mediation” by drawing attention to the form of the apparatus in which the plasticity of life became an object of scientific knowledge, aesthetic experience, and political governance. Across a series of historical case studies, Guan’s book moves from the malleability of the single organism made visible on film to the convulsion of entire political economies and body politics in the throes of state-planned industrialization. From positions informed by a critical tradition that puts technicity at the center of human identity, its author emphasizes the entanglement of the bio-logical with the techno-logical, arguing that twentieth-century experiments with adaptive plasticity mobilized the excessive dimension of evolutionary and economic drives to destabilize the mediated environments of the modern world, while instrumentalizing the productive forces of alienation.

Guan received her Ph.D. in 2021 from Brown University’s Department of Modern Culture and Media; while at Brown, she was the recipient of the Presidential Fellowship, the Joanne Casullo Fellowship from the Whitney Independent Study Program, and the Josephine De Karman Dissertation Completion Fellowship. She has since held a Dean’s Faculty Fellowship in the Program for Science, Technology, and Society at Brown and taught courses in STS and film studies as a Visiting Assistant Professor. Her scholarly publications include “Critique of Flowers: The Exigency of Life in the Era of Its Technical Reproducibility” in October 175 (winter 2021), “Rewriting the Ethnos through the Everyday: Ulrike Ottinger’s China. Die Künste – der Alltag”—a forthcoming book chapter in Ulrike Ottinger: Film, Art and the Ethnographic Imagination (Oxford: Berghahn Press, 2023), and a co-edited dossier on “Natural Aesthetics” in Screen 61, no. 2 (summer 2020). In addition to her scholarly activities, Guan is a faculty member at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program and a Core Critic in the Yale School of Art. At Yale, she teaches a graduate seminar on the aesthetics and politics of the attention economy and advises MFA students in the Painting and Printmaking Program.

Guan’s postdoctoral fellowship is sponsored by the Center for Art, Science, and Technology at MIT (CAST).