During the break in our critical theory survey class in the basement of Stansbury Hall, I had a conversation with Dennis and a graduate student about memory. I mentioned a party trick -- to recall that moment in detail in any future decade of their choosing. I ran the image through my head a few times and then again later that week, and a few more times after that -- a long-term memory hack. It worked, but I have countless other vivid memories of Dennis Allen beyond that one.
The first time I encountered Dennis, we didn't meet. I was a student in the Economics department, working in my basement office in the WVU Regional Research Institute, when I wandered over to the WVU/Carnegie Mellon English Graduate Student Colloquium. The first paper I attended analyzed scopophilia and Tomb Raider players – how players could identify as Lara Croft while simultaneously fetishizing her/themselves. I was unfamiliar enough with the subject matter that at first, I couldn’t tell if the presenter was saying male gays or male gaze. Dennis asked the first question, which got a lot of laughs, and put the speaker at ease. I can’t do the delivery justice, but the gist was that Dennis wondered if given the analysis, did playing the game cause players to momentarily occupy a lesbian identity. I left Economics and joined English not too long after that.
I’m grateful Dennis and I stayed in touch over the years, especially during the pandemic. I wanted to hear his take on the new Queer Eye, since his writing about the first Queer Eye was so enjoyable. Publishing academic essays that were not only insightful, but also funny, was another of his rare gifts. He said he would think about watching it, but ultimately, he didn’t cave. I miss being able to talk to him.
I never asked Dennis if he remembered the memory trick I promised. There was no need. I’ve come to realize that the unique level of engagement he evoked in his classes, besides making them a pleasure to be in, had many other benefits. When I page through my Literary Theory or Film Theory and Criticism anthologies, our class discussions, my classmates, and Dennis’s lectures come back to me in detail because they were not only stimulating, they are also fond memories. As a result, a consequential portion of what Dennis taught, and the teaching he modeled, became foundational for my academic work and my own teaching -- and continues to meaningfully influence them. --Kom Kunyosying