MLA (5-8 Jan 2012, Seattle) Victorian Division panel--Ethics and Literary Experience

full name / name of organization: 
Eileen Gillooly/MLA Division on the Victorian Period
contact email: 

Ethics and Literary Experience

"the only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings, is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling erring human creatures"—George Eliot

Much of the writing produced by Victorians was explicitly aimed at evoking sympathy for others (fictional and non-fictional) and developing the moral imagination so as to produce more responsive readers and empathic political subjects. We seek papers that discuss, theorize, and critique the experience--the affective responses; identifications and resistances; imagined political, aesthetic, intellectual, and moral stakes, investments, and implications--of reading Victorian literature(s) ethically.

In what ways is our literary experience ethical? What roles do form, tone, and style play in making it so? By what means and methods do writers offer a compelling, if unrealizable, ideal of what it might mean to be morally wise and ethically responsive, even while representing the ways in which we fail to overcome what Eliot referred to as our "moral stupidity"? How is our own native egocentrism engaged and challenged by the reading experience? What are the ethics of empathic identification? Ought our understanding of a character's distorting "center of consciousness"—an understanding acquired in the experience of reading--to provoke a recognition of our own similar fate? Does our sympathy for a character and our "knowledge" of that character's internal life have repercussions beyond the reading experience: that is, can such responsiveness actually shape our interactions with others or help us to interpret them?

250-350 word proposals by 15 March to Eileen Gillooly (eg48@columbia.edu)