Criticism as Method: Mediating Literature and Politics (3/19/09; MLA '09)

full name / name of organization: 
Swati Rana, MLA Graduate Student Caucus
contact email: 

CFP: "Criticism as Method: Mediating Literature and Politics"
A Panel of the Graduate Student Caucus, MLA 2009

The Graduate Student Caucus, an affiliate organization of the MLA, invites current graduate students to submit proposals for a panel discussion entitled "Criticism as Method: Mediating Literature and Politics" at the 2009 MLA annual meeting from December 27 to December 30 in Philadelphia.

In a recent essay, Rita Felski turns to the issue of critical method, calling for greater attention to the disciplinary practices that inform and structure our criticism and guide how we think about how we read. While we are generally trained in the exercise of reading theory, we do not always have the opportunity to consider how best to undertake this exercise as an analytical procedure in conjunction with readings of literary, cultural, and historical texts. As Felski argues, the "impact of new theoretical pictures on actual reading practices is more attenuated, mediated, and unpredictable than we have been willing to recognize."

This panel explores criticism as method specifically as it mediates the relationship between literature and politics in our work. We focus on this relationship due to ongoing, spectacular contention about the place of politics in academia and related anxieties about literary criticism's tendency to stray too far afield from its "proper" province. Our aim is to provide a forum for those with political stakes in their literary readings to subject their researches to methodological scrutiny.

We invite papers from graduate students who are analyzing "literature" in relation to "politics"—both of which we understand as heuristic formations at the outset—and would like to be self-reflexive about this process and its broader implications for literary criticism. Taking your work as a case study in method, we ask that you consider the following questions. How do you define the boundaries of the literary and the political in your work? What are the benefits and limits of literary study as a mode of political inquiry? How has your literary critical training served your approach to politics? What additional skills have you needed to acquire, ranging from archival methods to language study to social practice, in order to pursue your inquiry? What disciplinary and interdisciplinary formations have limited or enabled your undertaking? Would you best describe the relation of the literary and the political in your project as symptomatic, reflective, dialectical, constitutive, deconstructive, or otherwise? How has your academic work inflected your worldly commitments?

Possible topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:
--Public function of close reading
--"Just reading" as political practice
--New formalist approaches to history
--Hermeneutics of suspicion
--Reconsidering symptomatic interpretation
--Articulation as political method
--Practicing Marxian aesthetic theory
--Politics of subaltern critique
--Affective turn as political turn
--Constructing genealogies of the present
--Archival discovery as political work
--Disciplinary formation of literature
--Service learning in literary studies
--Literary scholar as public scholar
--Traversing academia and activism

Presentations should be fifteen to twenty minutes in length. Please submit an abstract of 300 to 500 words by March 19 to with "MLA Panel Submission" in the subject heading.

For further information please contact:
Swati Rana
Department of English
University of California, Berkeley
322 Wheeler Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-1030