CFP: Melville and Aesthetics (2/1/05; collection)

full name / name of organization: 
Samuel Otter

         Proposals are invited for a volume of essays on the works of=20
Herman Melville and the =93aesthetic turn=94 in contemporary literary=20
criticism. Over the last few years, it has become clear that there are=20
many gifted critics of American literature out there with aesthetics on=20
their minds. In this volume, we hope to create a forum in which literary=20
critics can engage questions associated with that topic on the common=20
ground of a single author=92s work.

         We have placed Melville at the center of the project for several=20
reasons. One is that his work invites readings that integrate formal,=20
historical, political, and theoretical concerns. Another is that he=20
foregrounds the topic of canonical authority; as Myra Jehlen has pointed=20
out, even the most demystifying of critics tends to grant Melville=92s work=
transhistorical stature. Yet another is that his work is so diverse,=20
formally and stylistically, that he is likely to attract a wide range of=20
critical perspectives and to prompt an equally wide range of=20
questions. Some of the questions that it=92s possible to imagine asking=
What kinds of things provoke aesthetic responses from Melville? What makes=
the formal properties of those things attractive to him? What kind of=20
relationship is there between his aesthetics, his philosophy, and his=20
politics? How does he respond to the inherent ambiguities of the aesthetic,=
i.e., its location in the subject and the object, its capacity to promote=20
ideology and critique? What are the pleasures and difficulties of reading=20
Melville? More generally, what has been the place of the aesthetic in the=20
last twenty-five years of Americanist criticism? How have the legacies of=
formalism (Russian, English, American) been taken up (or not) in recent=20
Americanist criticism? Where might we now re-place the aesthetic, in=20
relation to current modes of theoretical and political critique, and how=20
might Melville help us find that place?

         Our aim is to build in various ways on the most important recent=20
studies of aesthetics, including George Levine=92s Aesthetics and Ideology,=
Frank Lentricchia and Andrew DuBois=92s Close Reading, Susan Wolfson and=20
Marshall Brown=92s special issue of Modern Language Quarterly on =93Reading=
Form,=94 Michael Clark=92s Revenge of the Aesthetic, Christopher Castiglia=
Russ Castronovo=92s special issue of American Literature on =93Aesthetics=
the End(s) of Cultural Studies,=94 and Michael B=E9rub=E9=92s The Aesthetics=
Cultural Studies. Like most of the scholars in those volumes, we are=20
interested in developing modes of criticism that are attentive to aesthetic=
experience in the context of the insights that have been generated by=20
historicism, feminism, studies in race and ethnicity, queer studies,=20
psychoanalysis, and critical theory.

         We welcome essays from various perspectives and with different=20
emphases. We encourage potential contributors to be responsive to the=20
aesthetic dimension of particular works=AD-the stuff of which they are made=
and the style of their making. Please email proposal (500 words) and=20
one-page cv by February 1 to either Samuel Otter ( or=20
Geoffrey Sanborn (

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Received on Mon Dec 05 2005 - 13:14:24 EST