'Making It Work': US Thought and Culture Between Practice and Paralysis

full name / name of organization: 
University of Michigan US Literatures and Cultures Consortium
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Paul Taylor (Philosophy / African American and Diaspora Studies, Penn State): author of Race: A Philosophical Introduction
Lisi Schoenbach (English, University of Tennessee Knoxville): author of Pragmatic Modernism

Are there distinctively American attitudes toward objectivity and truth, judgment and action? Two of the most enduring cliches about US culture are, first, that its thought characteristically refuses universal grounds, and second, that it privileges material practicality over theoretical or metaphysical abstraction. Yet without universal grounds, how can we be convinced that anything is worth doing? Let’s grant that it is; such a groundless granting may initially let us act with a sense of freedom and unlimited potential, but justifying or revising that action requires us to establish provisional grounds that can themselves be hedged, negotiated, interrogated to the paralyzing point of infinity. Which side of this tension to prioritize—whether to elide contingencies and reduce deliberative friction or to recuperate the experience of hesitancy and dwell in possibility—is a governing question for distinctively American thinkers from Jonathan Edwards to Audre Lorde, Emily Dickinson to Sidney Hook, Jane Addams to Timothy Leary.

With this interdisciplinary graduate conference, we, the US Literatures and Cultures Consortium at the University of Michigan, hope to foster cross-departmental discussion of questions like the following...

How have objectivity, truth, rationality, and agency been represented and conceptualized in US thought and culture? How have these models permitted or circumscribed action? How have they informed individual and communal practices: from action planned or spontaneous, to decision-making public or private, to governance local and federal? What universalist appeals do make their way into US culture? How are shared belief and/or knowledge constructed, articulated, perpetuated, scrutinized and revised without universalist guarantees? How have such modes of understanding interacted and conflicted? How, essentially, have US philosophers, artists, politicians and citizens forged justifications for acting and judging in a world without universal grounds? And how and why have some of them found greater value in resisting just this rush to action?

Such questions might be addressed in relation to topics like, but not limited to, the following:

-the US-ness of US thought
-living with contingency
-specific artworks, historical and cultural events
-pragmatism, neo-pragmatism and other anti-foundationalisms
-metaphysics and materialisms
-epistemology and situated knowledge
-processes of investigation and discovery
-concrete realities and social imaginaries
-agency, deliberation and decision
-methods of social representation
-models of the public realm
-modes of belief, religious and secular
-individual and communal obligations
-art and social change
-educational methodology

Abstracts of up to 300 words for papers that will cast new light on these questions should be submitted by email to usistconference2013@gmail.com by January 8th 2013. We seek submissions from fellow graduate students in any discipline, who work in any period of, and who take any approach to, US Culture.

Accepted presenters will be notified by February 1st.
Visit our website at http://sitemaker.umich.edu/usists/home for more information on this year's events.

cfp categories: 
modernist studies