Edith Wharton and the Aesthetic, ALA Boston May 26-29, 2011; deadline Jan. 10 2011

full name / name of organization: 
Gary Totten/Edith Wharton Society
contact email: 

CFP: Wharton and the Aesthetic

The Edith Wharton Society will sponsor a session on “Wharton and the Aesthetic” at the American Literature Association Conference in Boston on May 26-29, 2011.

Adopting what has come to be called a new formalist approach, this panel will examine Wharton’s engagement with the aesthetic and its ideological implications. Both Terry Eagleton and Frederic Jameson have argued for the ideological function of the aesthetic. In _Criticism and Ideology_ (1978), Eagleton views the literary text as not merely the “‘expression’ of ideology” but as a “certain production of ideology” (64) which, as he notes in _Ideology of the Aesthetic_ (1990), can provide a “powerful challenge and alternative to . . . dominant ideological forms” (3). Jameson asserts in _The Political Unconscious_ (1981) that the production of aesthetic form is an ideological act, the function of which is to imagine “formal ‘solutions’ to unresolvable social contradictions” (9). Taking a new formalist position that depends on the connections between ideology and the aesthetic posited by Eagleton and Jameson, Richard Strier in his essay, “How Formalism Became a Dirty Word” (in _Renaissance Literature and Its Formal Engagements_ [2001]), uses the term “indexical,” to refer to “formal features of a text, matters of style, [that] can be indices to large intellectual and cultural matters” (211).

Papers are invited that explore the ideology of the aesthetic in terms of subject/theme or device/technique in Wharton’s work. Possible topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

• the formal features of Wharton’s fiction or nonfiction as indices to larger intellectual or cultural issues

• Wharton’s use of the aesthetic in her fiction to address social issues or attempt to “solve” social contradictions

• Wharton’s use or manipulation of the aesthetic in her fiction as a challenge to dominant ideologies

• Wharton’s use or manipulation of genre as an ideological act

• the ideological implications of Wharton’s writing about the aesthetic in her autobiography, _The Writing of Fiction_, or other nonfiction essays

• the ideological implications of Wharton’s relationship to the aesthetics of realism, naturalism, or modernism, or to the novel of manners, the bildungsroman, the local color story, travel writing, and so forth

• _The Decoration of Houses_ and other writings on art, architecture, or design as ideological acts

Presentations will be limited to 20 minutes.

Please send a brief proposal (250-300 words) and short CV (1-2 pages) by email to the panel chair by 10 January 2011:

Gary Totten
Department of English, #2320
P.O. Box 6050
North Dakota State University
Fargo, ND 58108-6050

Conference details may be found at the American Literature Association web site:

cfp categories: 
modernist studies