CFP: [Theory] Conference on Commentary

full name / name of organization: 
Nicola Masciandaro

Glossing is a Glorious Thing: The Past, Present, and Future of Commentary
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
April 9-10, 2009

Keynote Event
The Future of Commentary, a roundtable discussion with:
David Greetham (CUNY)
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford)
Jesús Rodríguez Velasco (Columbia)
Et al.

Sponsored by:
The Graduate Center and the Ph.D. Program in English, CUNY
Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary (


Il y a plus affaire à interpreter les interpretations qu'à interpreter les
choses, et plus de livres sur les livres que sur autre subject: nous ne
faisons que nous entregloser. Tout fourmille de commentaires; d'auteurs, il
en est grand chertéâ€"Montaigne

[There is more to-do interpreting interpretations than interpreting things,
more books on books than on any other subject: we do nothing except gloss
each other. Everything swarms with commentaries; of authors there is a
great lack].

Montaigne’s critique, which does not exclude his own Essais, is emblematic
of the ambivalent status of commentary in modernity. Commentary is both an
outmoded form of textual production tied to premodern constructions of
authority and an indispensable dimension of scholarly work. This
ambivalence is most conspicuous within the humanities where the commentary
genre, like a popolo minuto of the academic city-state, holds an explicitly
subordinate position beneath the monograph, the article, and the essay,
however much, and maybe all the more so when, work of these kinds is
constituted by commentarial procedures.

But there are clear signs, both intellectual and technological, of return
to and reinvention of commentary. Several humanistic auctores of the last
century have worked innovatively within the genre: Walter Benjamin’s
Arcades Project, Martin Heidegger’s lectures on Hölderlin’s “Der Ister,”
Roland Barthes’s, S/Z, Jacques Derrida’s Glas, Luce Irigaray’s An Ethics of
Sexual Difference, J.H. Prynne’s They That Haue Powre to Hurt; A Specimen
of a Commentary on Shake-speares Sonnets, 94, and Giorgio Agamben’s The
Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, et al. In The
Powers of Philology, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht has described the material
situation in which commentary may become ascendant: “The vision of the
empty chip constitutes a threat, a veritable horror vacui not only for the
electronic media industry but also, I suppose, for our intellectual and
cultural self-appreciation. It might promote, once again, a reappreciation
of the principle and substance of copia. And it might bring about a
situation in which we will no longer be embarrassed to admit that filling
up margins is what commentaries mostly doâ€"and what they do best” (53).

This conference proposes a dialogue about the past, present, and future of
commentary, not only as an object of intellectual and theoretical inquiry,
but also with regard to commentary’s practical potentialities, to its place
within the evolution and becoming of academic labor in the lived present.
The prospect of a “return” to commentary, whatever forms it may take,
renders conspicuous and questionable some of the most hallowed and
taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature of scholarly practice, for
instance: the distinction between primary and secondary text; the primacy
of noesis over poesis, or thinking over making; the synthetic,
thesis-driven, and polemical character of understanding; and so forth.
Presentations that engage with such implications are particularly welcome.
Please submit 250-word abstracts by October 1, 2008 to Word attachments preferred.

Organizers: Nicola Masciandaro (, Karl Steel
(, Ryan Dobran (


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