Classification: University of Toronto English Graduate Conference 2018
Graduate English Association, Department of English, University of Toronto
April 27, 2018
Keynote Speaker: Professor Julietta Singh (University of Richmond)
Language is legislation, speech is its code. We do not see the power which is in speech because we forget that all speech is a classification, and that all classifications are oppressive.
Roland Barthes (1977)
[T]he process of categorizing—or, in identity terms, naming—is not unilateral. . . . Recognizing that identity politics takes place at the site where categories intersect thus seems more fruitful than challenging the possibility of talking about categories at all.
Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991)
In the wake of three centuries of Enlightenment philosophy Henri Bergson attacked the hubris of a scientistic faith in the ability of the human mind to classify, conceptualize, and master the flux of life through reason. Arguing that an intellect adapted to the study of inanimate material could never capture life itself, he proclaimed that "In vain we force the living into this or that one of our molds. All the molds crack."
Acts of classification and categorization have found no shortage of hostility from critics in the last century. This hostility is captured in the above quote from Roland Barthes, who alleges that "all classifications are oppressive," or Jacques Derrida's insistence that "there is no idealization that keeps itself pure, safe from all contamination." Resistance to the taxonomic impulse has recently returned in Graham Harman's account of ontologically "withdrawn" objects, Karen Barad's "intra-action," and a host of other thinkers engaging with the nascent fields of "Speculative Realism" and "New Materialisms." Ecological thinkers like Lawrence Buell have attacked the Western world's obsession with rational mastery for being the foundation of environmental exploitation. Timothy Morton has recently extended this argument by asserting that certain beings—"hyperobjects" like climate change—exist on scales too large to be meaningfully conceptualized by humans.
In contrast to thinkers like Barthes who emphasize the violence of classification, there are many strands of thought that seek to harness classification's productive and critical capabilities. Bruno Latour has recently argued that finding “the right interpretive key,” rather than disavowing classification and conceptualization entirely, is necessary to grapple with the complexity of technological modernity. Foucault's "reverse discourse," Spivak's "strategic essentialism," Crenshaw's "intersectionality," and Puar's "conviviality" are a just a few influential concepts that seek to affirm the usefulness of classification for the struggles of oppressed peoples.
Lastly, work in areas of literary, film, and visual culture studies are structured by classifications: historical periods, media, and genres remain disciplinary forces that organize scholarly work in these fields (and the structure of university departments, journals, and conferences). In literary studies, scholars are eager to define and classify modes of reading and interpretation—suspicious, reparative, distant, and surface are just a few of these categories that have received attention. Caroline Levine's recent work has reinvigorated many critics' desire to name and classify literary forms. All of this has happened even as scholars increasingly pursue "interdisciplinary" forms of inquiry.
Our conference seeks papers that investigate, criticize, reformulate, or create classifications—or that think with, about, or against the theme of classification itself.
The “Classification” conference will be held at the University of Toronto’s Department of English in the Jackman Humanities Building on Friday, April 27th, 2018. Lunch and refreshments will be provided. Papers of 15-20 minutes will be delivered in panels of three, with question periods to follow.
Applications should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 2nd, 2018. Please include:
1. An abstract describing your paper (max. 300 words)
2. A short biography (max. 50 words)
For further inquiries, please contact the U of T GEA conference committee at email@example.com
Possible topics include:
- Genre, Canonicity, Periodization
- Temporalities: queer time, standardized time, futurity, extinction, deep time, "the Event"
- Spatial Scales: geographies, nations, planetarity, "the local," the microscopic
- Mixed Media: Comics, illustrated texts, sound studies, language in film and visual art, digital texts
- Indigineity, Indigenous nationhood, Indigenous literatures
- Diaspora, Migration, Post/colonialism, hybridity
- Posthuman, Nonhuman, and Ecological thinking, including Ecocriticism, Object Oriented Ontology, Speculative Realism, New Materialism, Animal Studies
- Life writing, biography, autobiography, non-fiction as "literature"
- Translation, adaptation, remixes, remakes
- Gender, sexuality, queerness, and normativity
- Race, racialization, racism, histories of race
- Class, class conflict, Marxism
- Type, stereotype, personae, character, identity
- Types of reading: critique and post-critique; reparative and paranoid hermeneutics; close, surface, and distant reading