CFP: [Theory] The Poetics and Politics of Reading

full name / name of organization: 
Rachel Freedman

'The Poetics and Politics of Reading: Studies in Honour of University
Professors Linda Hutcheon and J. Edward Chamberlin'

March 19-21, 2009 at The Centre for Comparative Literature, University of
Keynote Addresses: Professor Sander L. Gilman (Emory University) and
Professor Emeritus Mario J. Valdés (University of Toronto)

As 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Centre for
Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, the 20th Annual
International Graduate Colloquium will celebrate its longstanding place as
a nexus of provocative thinkers on and influential theories of reading: its
nature, its significance, its politics. Beginning with the watershed work
of its founder, Northrop Frye, the Centre for Comparative Literature has
been the birthplace of some of the most important contributions to the
field of literary and cultural studies, particularly regarding the status
of readers (who can read?), their place in the culture around them (by what
terms can they read?), their relationships to texts (what can be read and
how?) and their relationships to one another (how can they read the signs
of another/an Other?). Over the years, these contributions have included
now-classic works, such as Wolfgang Iser’s 'The Act of Reading', Paul
Ricoeur’s 'The Rule of Metaphor' and Fredric Jameson’s 'The Political
Unconscious', all delivered as lecture series at the Centre.

For the past 25 years, the Centre for Comparative Literature has been home
to two outstanding and highly-regarded scholars pursuing, in different
ways, the same questions that have characterized the Centre from its
inception. University Professors Linda Hutcheon and J. Edward Chamberlin
have challenged scholars in all areas of the humanities to re-think the
conditions, processes, functions and implications of reading and have
articulated original and groundbreaking theories of its power in individual
and cultural life. In order to honour the work of Professors Chamberlin and
Hutcheon as they retire from full-time teaching, to initiate a dialogue
concerning the place of their ideas in the larger context of critical
theories of reading, and to establish a firm theoretical base at the Centre
for Comparative Literature from which to continue our proud tradition of
both asking and addressing the most pressing new questions within the
humanities and social sciences, we present the 2009 Conference: 'The
Poetics and Politics of Reading.'

Consider some of the following questions:

• What is the difference between a subject-agent and a reader? Is there a
difference? How must a subject-agent both fashion and position him- or
herself in order to become a reader? (See Chamberlin’s 'Living Language'
and 'Dead Reckoning: Navigating Oral and Written Traditions', or 'If This
is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?')

• What is a text and how does a reader approach it? What are the limits on
what can be read? Must a text be recorded or written down in some way, or
can it be a finite thing (such as an oral narrative), or an unstable and
changing thing (such as a performance or another person)? Can anything with
semiotic properties (such as a home, a horse, or a series of cultural
artifacts) be read, or is there something unique in the process of reading
written literature?
(See Chamberlin’s 'Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations' and 'If
This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?')

• What does reading do for the reader? Is there some sort of fundamental
human need to read? What might it be? Does reading stabilize the Self, or
destabilize the Self, or does the Self only emerge in the first place as a
consequence of reading? Can reading in new ways contribute to new
self-understanding and new understanding of others? How?
(See Hutcheon’s 'Irony’s Edge, A Theory of Parody')

• To what extent is it possible to read a text that is foreign to one’s own
experience, e.g., a text rooted in the experience of another time, another
place, another gender, another sexuality, another class, etc.? What roles
do power relations and social antagonism play in reading this kind of text?
Does this kind of reading concretize or destabilize power relations and
social antagonisms, or does it do something else? What are the ethics of
reading another’s text?
(See Hutcheon’s 'Politics of Postmodernism', 'Poetics of Postmodernism'; or
Chamberlin’s 'If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?' or 'Come Back
to Me My Language: Poetry and the West Indies')

• What is the distinction between observing and respecting alternative
reading practices and orientalizing or exoticizing them? Can one learn to
read the way readers in other cultures or socio-economic groups do?
(See Chamberlin’s 'Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations'; 'Living
Language' and 'Dead Reckoning: Navigating Oral and Written Traditions')

• What is the relationship of reading practices to economic and cultural
life? Does the former change as a consequence of the latter, or vice versa?
Or is there a dialectical relationship, and what might that look like?
(See Hutcheon’s 'Theory of Adaptation')

• How can the study of aesthetic form connect to a larger picture of
history and cultural life? How able is a reader to approach the study of
form from a position of objectivity? Is this even desirable?
(See Hutcheon’s 'Poetics of Postmodernism', especially on ‘historiographic

Preference will be given to papers that explore these questions, and others
related to them, while commenting on the contributions Professors
Chamberlin and Hutcheon have made to scholarship in this area. Mention of
their work is not required; however, we recommend reading their works, to
get a sense of the framework for the Conference and as an excellent guide
to critical theories of reading and possible directions for future research
and writing. Detailed bibliographies and biographies of Professors
Chamberlin and Hutcheon are available at

Please submit 250-350 word abstracts to by
September 15, 2008.

Include with your abstract:
Name and Affiliation
Email Address and Postal Address
Telephone Number
A/V Requirements

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Received on Tue Aug 05 2008 - 15:17:50 EDT