The Death of "The Reader"; MLA 2011 Los Angeles January 6-9, 2011; deadline: 3/8/10

full name / name of organization: 
Travis M. Foster / MLA
contact email: 

Papers that de-universalize "the reader" by interrogating how the history of reading can influence contemporary critical methods and literary historiography. Approaches combining case study with methodological reflection especially welcome.

Any time literary criticism incorporates the history of reading into its methods, it becomes self-reflective. As soon as we historicize readings of the texts we study, we denaturalize our own readings. Wittingly or not, we interrogate our hermeneutics, our training, our pedagogy. As literary critic Leah Price observes, "the history of books is centrally about ourselves. It asks how past readers have made meaning, … but it also asks where the conditions of possibility for our own reading come from." So doing, it disrupts the projection of our specialized mode of interpretation (call it "close reading" or "critical reading") into universal practice. The history of reading leads, in short, to the death of "the reader." It precludes that transhistorical, unmarked figure whose prevalence remains perhaps the most remarkable constant in the past eighty years of professionalized literary criticism.

This panel seeks papers that address how we might replace "the reader" with a history of readers and reading practices and how this history alters our own specialized modes of reading and interpretation.

250-word abstracts by 8 March 2010.