Reading Material: Textual and Cultural Objects // March 4-6 // Proposals due 1/10

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University of Wisconsin-Madison English Graduate Student Association
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University of Wisconsin-Madison Conference in Language and Literature (MADLIT)
English Dept. Graduate Student Conference

March 4-6, 2010

The Graduate Student Association at the University of Wisconsin-Madison English Department is pleased to announce the 6th Annual MadLit Conference. This year's conference, "READING MATERIAL," engages the intersections between literature and material culture.

The rise of material culture studies in the last decade has begun to move us away from questions about how ideology shapes the world and towards a serious consideration of how our material world makes us. Given its roots in the physical world (as opposed to language and discourse), this emergent critical methodology brings several urgent questions to the doorstep of literary studies: What is the role of the material object in the world of the text? How do we apply reading practices to objects? What are the implications of reading texts themselves as objects? And what does a methodology rooted in "things" mean for the future of literary study?

While grounded in literary studies, these considerations cannot help but engage fields related to literature, including history, art history, theater, paleography, consumer studies, and anthropology, and how these fields produce their own forms of "reading" objects. To this end, we hope this conference will invite a discussion of how literary studies is or should be inherently inter-disciplinary.

Keynote Speaker: Elaine Freedgood

Professor of English at New York University, Elaine Freedgood is a scholar of critical theory and Victorian literature and culture. She has been a foundational voice in the study of objects and things. Her 2006 book, The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel, is no less than a standard in the field and has been called "a manifesto for a new way to read fiction."

We are currently soliciting proposals for 15-20 min. presentations and three-person panels on any aspect of objects, things, and literature Possible considerations might include:

  • What is the importance of distinctions between "objects," "things," "material goods," etc.?
  • What are the limits of the "material"?
  • How do objects cross or define borders? What are the postcolonial implications of material culture studies?
  • What is the materiality of place—of domestic spaces, gothic spaces, etc.?
  • Are objects gendered or sexualized?
  • Does literature mask or illuminate the material world?
  • How does the materiality of the book evolve across periods? How do fields like paleography and book history speak to the relationship between texts and objects?
  • Do artifacts, relics, or curiosities mandate their own forms of reading?
  • How does drama complicate "thing theory," given that the object has a presence on the page and the stage?
  • Does our changing relationship with materials over time complicate our notions of periodization?
  • Do objects produce and/or complicate genre?
  • What is the status of the "thing" in the digital age?
  • How we bridge the perceived divide between abstract theory and a material world?
  • What does it mean to consider a text as a "thing"?
  • How does "thing theory" change the way we read literature? And, more broadly, how does "thing theory" help us rethink the process of "reading"?

Please submit a 250-word abstract to by January 10th, 2010. Accepted papers will be announced by January 25th.