[UPDATE] The Task of the Critic: March 25-26, 2011

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Yale University
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What is at stake when we read a text? What do we mean when we call ourselves literary critics or practitioners of critical theory, literary theory, or men and women of letters? This conference calls out to those who practice close reading and invites them to reflect on what happens in the critical moment of reading. We are preoccupied with the question of the status of the material produced by the reader of texts. What is the task of the writer of "secondary literature"? Beyond questions of a particular critic's adherence to a given methodological approach, what does it mean to suggest that the critic has a calling?

How does one locate the limit between "primary" and "secondary" literature, and, more radically still, what is at stake in continually redrawing the line between literary and critical texts even as those who lay claim to the title of literary critic increasingly draw from a growing breadth of disciplines? We want to take seriously the exigency of defining the limits of those disciplines even as we point to a site of correspondence between them.

The critic is no longer merely he who pulls back the veil and reveals the content of the work by sweeping its form aside: the critic is no longer given the task of simply paraphrasing. The crisis of the critic is that he, in Benjamin's words, stands before the question of Darstellung no less than the writer of "primary texts", and yet we will and, perhaps, must insist on a distinction between the work of the critic and the work of the artist.

While we welcome submissions that reflect on the works of critics, participants are further invited to tackle the question: why read literature? and to think critically about the humanist insistence on literature's humanising influence on the reader. Is the task of literature to explore what it means to be human? As even literature departments increasingly depart from the study of literature, why should we insist that literature has a place in the academy?

Participants should not feel compelled to offer an explicit or determined notion of 'criticism'. We welcome any sustained attempt to explore or rethink the figure of reading in its various textual manifestations and variations.

Topics of particular interest might include:

• scenes and sites of reading. suggested authors include but are by no means limited to: Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, Friedrich Schlegel, Walser
• the critic's rhetoric: the disruptive forces of humour and irony. Schlegel's On Incomprehensibility. (Ir)responsibility and (un)ethical criticism/representation in Sebald. Influential readings and/or reading under the influence: Benjamin's On Hashish.
• reading the writing on the wall: Dinesen or Heine's Belsazar and the (un)readability of curses, prophecies, etc. Benjamin on prophesy and the Messiah. How do we read words or understand tasks that seem to come from elsewhere?
• readerly authority vs. authorial authority. The problem of origin perhaps with reference to Benjamin's Task of the Translator. Pointing to or playing out the distance from an origin, problems of citation: Paul de Man.
• reading and its other: Proust's reading scenes; reading and the (other?) synthetic processes occurring in the proximity of and simultaneously with the act of reading. Does the work of the imagination occur in reading or only alongside reading? Reading and the metaphorical exchange of interior and exterior.
• reading the unreadable that calls out to be read: Freud's Dream Interpretation.
• private reading (reading as ingestion) vs. reading as a public, inter-subjective act, for example in Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas
• the critic as representative: striking a balance between speaking (judging) for the self and speaking as the vehicle for an other: Burke. The critic and the vox populi vs. the critic as social or political critic or outcast (vox Dei?). Hölderlin. Rousseau. Adorno.
• (Not) reading political symbolism: Heine's allegorical ballet (Reisebilder). Where do we locate the political moment? Returning to ideology vs. reading the political turn in a work.
• Hermeneutical systems and their unravelling: Heidegger, Husserl, Derrida.


Abstract submission deadline is 20.Jan.2011