The Body in Motion: Special Session, MLA 2012 (Seattle, January 5-8)

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Lindsay Reckson
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The Body in Motion: Special Session, MLA 2012 (Seattle, January 5-8)

Seeking papers that explore the kinesthetics of nineteenth- and early-twentieth century American and transatlantic literatures, with particular emphasis on the intersections of literary narrative, discourses of gesture and bodily movement, and emergent visual and communication technologies. From the early nineteenth century onward, scientists and physicians worked to pinpoint gesture’s physiological mechanisms; realist painters and photographers took up the precise art of representing human motion; and theorists of acting, set on defining the body’s theatrical lexicon, distinguished between subjective and objective gestures. With the introduction of sign language in the 1830s, discourses on gesture transitioned from elaborating an idiosyncratic set of bodily practices to recognizing a full-blown system of communication with far-reaching reverberations. Within this cluster of nineteenth-century preoccupations, the body was quite literally a moving text, a site of exchange, transmission, and interaction, and the source of endless (and endlessly flummoxing) experiential data.

Papers might trace overlapping aesthetic and scientific approaches to gesture and kinesthetics; historicize specific bodies in motion, especially as they point up the dynamics of race, gender, sexuality, and class; and/or explore the theoretical life of gesture, embodiment, and performativity. If gesture constitutes a culturally specific set of bodily behaviors, do gestures merely reproduce existing structures, or can gesture itself produce radical change? What kind of agency does gesture enable? How do we recover gestures in the archive? And how does literature help us navigate these questions, even as it produces its own (historical, formal, theoretical) gestures?

Please send 500 word abstracts and a one-page CV by March 15 to Lindsay Reckson at

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