CFP: [Theory] CFP: Ethical Criticism After Barthes (9/15/07; NEMLA, 4/10/08-4/13/08)

full name / name of organization: 
Zahi Zalloua
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Ethical Criticism After Barthes

39th Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 10-13, 2008
Buffalo, New York

While ethics and literature have long enjoyed a complementary relation
among critics in the Aristotelian tradition such as Wayne Booth and Martha
Nussbaum, the late twentieth century has seen an attempt to think of the
relation between ethics and literature differently, to take up an ethical
approach that would recognize the specificity or “singularity of
literature,” to borrow Derek Attridge’s suggestive formulation. Attridge
contends that “to find oneself reading an inventive work is to find oneself
subject to certain obligationsâ€"to respect its otherness, to respond to its
singularity, to avoid reducing it to the familiar and the utilitarian even
while attempting to comprehend by relating it to these” (The Singularity of
Literature). His notion of an inventive work recalls Barthes’s ideal of a
writerly textâ€"a literary work whose goal is “to make the reader no longer a
consumer, but a producer of a text” (S/Z). An inventive work clearly
shares the writerly text’s inexhaustibility, as well as its resistance to
the reader’s voracious appetite (or “comfortable practice of reading”), in
the way that confounds readerly expectations (Pleasure). But an inventive
work does not privilege hermeneutical agency, which risks glorifying the
reader as a producer of meaning. Nor does it indulge the reader’s
eroticized fantasies: “the text is a fetish object, and this fetish desires
me,” writes Barthes in The Pleasure of the Text. Unlike the writerly text,
which pleases the reader by submitting to his or her desires, the inventive
work elicits an ethical response. It calls upon the reader not only to
produce and delight in potentially endless interpretations of the text, but
also to respect its otherness, to sustain its singularity, and to resist
the narcissistic assumption that it exists purely for oneself.
Complicating the Barthesian model of a passive/active reading with two
types of readers, consumer and producer, the inventive work requires a
reconceptualization of both terms, a reading that perpetually hesitates
between making sense of, and preserving an openness to, the work’s alterity
and altering effects. This panel seeks papers that explore the possibility
of ethical criticism after Barthes, an approach that foregrounds pleasure
in the act of reading without, however, making such textual pleasure
(jouissance) devoid of ethical concern.

Please send abstracts (250 words) to Zahi Zalloua at by
September 15, 2007.

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Received on Thu Aug 09 2007 - 18:06:27 EDT