By all accounts, we are living in a new age of form in literary criticism: the last decade has seen a slew of monographs, articles, and special issues devoted to what Jonathan Kramnick and Anahid Nersessian have called “the millennial reboot of formalism,” (Kramnick and Nersessian 2017, 652) one largely devoted to the political revivification of form. While these projects vary widely, they are united, in some ways, by a major omission: the body. Indeed, in attending to form as structure, network, and in some cases, underlying ontology, new formalism has, as Zoë Roth points out, largely “repeat[ed] (old) formalism’s error by eliding the fundamental relationship between form and body,” (Roth 2022, 16) overlooking the body as itself a form with which we must reckon. Such an elision would seem to align with what Timothy Aubry has diagnosed as the self-segregation of formalism from aesthetics, and with the “privileging of form over the affective”—and we might add, bodily—“responses that it inspires” (Aubry 2021). What would it look like to overcome this segregation, to understand form not just as noun, but as verb, one in constant dynamic relation, as Sarah Chihaya reminds us, with the activity of embodied perception and apprehension? (Chihaya 2020).
This seminar seeks to think with the manifold modes of relation between the body and form: the ways in which they collide with, articulate, and refract one another. How does the body (de)form our formal categories, whether the novel or the nation, the commodity or the calendar? How might forms transform, unmake, or even create bodies, assimilating them into alternate modes of being, calling up or cutting away prostheses, encouraging or discouraging proliferation, reproductive or otherwise? And, in turn, how might we take alliances and antagonisms between form and the body as sites from which to rethink the notion of form as mere abstraction, yielding a formalism that is always already embodied in the encounter between text and reader?
The seminar is being proposed for inclusion at the American Comparative Literature Association conference in Montreal, Canada, between March 14 and 17, 2024. It will include between 8 and 12 panelists over the course of the conference’s three days. Papers—literary-critical, theoretical, or both—might take up any nexus of the form-body relation. Possibilities include, but are not limited to, forms arising from racialized, gendered, and so-called monstrous or alien bodies; kenotic, disembodied forms; liquid, coagulated, ruptured, or hybrid virtual forms of posthuman embodiment; forms embodied by more-than-human bodies, entanglements, and assemblages (ranging from flora and fauna to ecosystems, from viruses to pandemics, from weather to climate); or forms (dis)embodied by the divine. This seminar welcomes scholars working in or across any language, geographical area, and theoretical framework. While we are primarily interested in an investigation of (dis)embodied form in literature, papers that explore disciplines beyond the literary are also welcome.
To propose a paper within this seminar, submit a paper proposal on the ACLA conference website (https://www.acla.org/node/add/paper), choosing the "(Dis)embodied Forms" seminar. The portal is open until September 30, 2023.
If you have any questions about our seminar or how to submit a paper proposal, please email Devin Choudhury (email@example.com), Kyra Sutton (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Mehak Khan (email@example.com).