CFP: [Victorian] Rethinking Victorian Studies

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Sharleen Mondal
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Even as Victorian Studies owes much to critical work that engages in
theoretically sophisticated, insightful analysis of the various social and
cultural processes—including liberalism, imperialism, and nationalism—that
inform literary production, the need to revisit the core assumptions that
undergird much of this work remains critically urgent. Some assumptions
about the Victorian period itself that once seemed foundational, such as
gendered notions of public and private, or issues around class identity,
are being reconceptualized, as are romantic critiques of the Enlightenment
and poststructuralist denouncements of nineteenth-century democratic
principles. While this process of reconceptualization is fruitful and
necessary, so, too is scholarship that explores the critic’s own
positionality in crafting the logics which inform “Victorian Studies” as a
field formation. Recently, provocative arguments have emerged that have
sparked much debate around central problematics in Victorian Studies; Erin
O’Connor, for instance, critiques postcolonial scholarship that follows
what she reads as Gayatri Spivak’s polemical model for a kind of uncritical
bashing of nineteenth-century texts. Amanda Anderson has recently argued
for revitalizing academic argumentation, advocating procedural liberalism
against the “vogue” intellectual tendency to read all institutions and
practices as essentializing. What is at stake in these arguments about how
we argue, as Patrick Brantlinger has pointed out in his response to
O’Connor, and as Bruce Robbins and Elspeth Probyn suggest in their
respective replies to Anderson, is the formation of the critic’s
assumptions about the kinds of argument, evidence, and stakes that “count”
within the field formation of “Victorian Studies.”

Scholars who have included in their work critiques of the presuppositions
of the field itself have offered promising insight into not only the
immediate “objects” of their studies, but also into the field’s own
critical approaches and methodologies. Thus Leila Silvana May’s
reconsideration of Nancy Armstrong’s foundational work Desire and Domestic
Fiction calls into question what May terms the “functionalism” of rendering
middle-class culture homogenous, and the resulting overdetermination of
“class” in work that relies on this framework. In a separate conversation,
Jordanna Bailkin usefully argues that approaching Victorian liberalism
through material culture studies reveals the field’s own acceptance of
liberal material-moral associations, therefore illuminating the
relationship between material culture studies and politics. This kind of
work occasions a rigorous rethinking of what is meant by “Victorian
Studies,” thus allowing explorations of, for instance, how we think of the
“canon,” the distinction of “major” and “minor” literatures, and how we
teach and produce scholarship as we navigate such categories, without
allowing the categories themselves to remain deeply entrenched in a
rigidified field formation.

It is in light of such critical interventions, then, that this panel seeks
submissions that continue this rigorous and field-reflexive scholarship.
Topics may consider, but are not limited to:

--how “texts” are defined
--the function of “literature” in the performance of “culture”
--defining and justifying the “non-canonical”
--the limitations of author, genre, and form in constituting the discipline
--interrogating constructions of the “marginal”
--the critics’ positionality to the object of criticism

Please send 300-word abstracts and one-page C.V. to by March 18, 2008.

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Received on Tue Mar 11 2008 - 11:46:06 EST

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