Performing Knowledge (deadline 9/30/10; NEMLA April 7-10, 2011)

full name / name of organization: 
John Savarese, Rutgers University

This panel invites papers that examine how literary texts perform knowledge, and how literature becomes an object of scholarly knowledge in a variety of disciplinary settings. Panelists might address literary representations of the cleric, the virtuoso, or the pedant; the use of scholarly paratexts (the gloss, the appendix, the footnote); or, more broadly, the influence of disciplinarity and professionalization on the literary text. For more information, see below.

Send abstracts to Sean Barry,, and John Savarese,, by 9/30/10.

NeMLA 2011: New Brunswick, NJ, April 7-10, 2011.

We propose this panel as a forum to explore the relationship between literary performance and scholarly or specialized knowledge. Literary practice perennially thematizes its vexed yet productive relationship with more systematic or disciplined modes of knowledge-production. From the crackpot schoolmasters of Greco-Roman comedies to the professors of twentieth-century academic novels, scholars have proven reliable targets of satire. Meanwhile, ostensibly scholarly devices like the gloss, the appendix, and the footnote have proven well suited to a variety of literary ends, from the ridicule of "learned lumber" to the authentication devices of historical fiction. More broadly speaking, techniques of textual scholarship have placed the literary artifact within wider fields of humanistic and scientific inquiry, opening literature up to the methods of classical philology, the human sciences, and natural philosophy. This panel would investigate the relationship between these complementary aspects of literary knowledge, both historically and within the modern academy. Panelists might thus examine literary representations of scholars and scholarship, questions of authorial decorum, or the literariness of scholarly texts across the disciplines.

Recent work in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary and intellectual history has documented the influence that the rise of the professions exerted on a modern conception of literature—one distinct from earlier, more capacious formulations such as rhetoric and belles lettres. While such accounts have provided a compelling description of the differentiation of specialized knowledge, we propose that the equation of "Literature" with modernity might profitably be complicated by fostering dialogue between scholars working in different languages and historical periods. We hope that this panel will afford a chance to examine the persistent, reciprocal relationship between intellectual performance and the struggle to define and justify literature.