The Artist-Critic: Aesthetics and Ideology in Criticism by 20th-Century Writers (Deadline: 30 Sept. 2014)

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NeMLA (Northeast Modern Language Association)

46th Annual Convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association
Toronto, Ontario
30 April - 3 May 2015

This roundtable seeks literary critics and creative writers invested in scrutinizing the aesthetics and political agendas of twentieth-century Anglophone writers who also penned literary criticism. In their introduction to the influential 2012 "Peripheral Realisms" issue of Modern Language Quarterly, Jed Esty and Colleen Lye critique what they term the "feedback loop between critical theory and artistic practices enshrined in such classics as Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark and Salman Rushdie's Imaginary Homelands." Esty and Lye express wariness of the amalgamation of radical artistic techniques and utopian politics that seemingly motivate these texts. That is, they warn against the widespread belief that fiction and aesthetics alone can overcome the traumas of colonialism, racism, gendered violence, and so on.
However, Esty and Lye's assessment of artist-critics like Morrison and Rushdie disregards the larger tradition of artist-critics that, in the twentieth century, includes Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Robert Penn Warren, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Seamus Heaney, Margaret Atwood, David Foster Wallace, Arundhati Roy, Zadie Smith, and others. Their critique also discounts the ways in which these figures often cast literature and literary criticism not as utopian blueprints, but as platforms for an engaged political and cultural critique of the empire, the nation-state, gender norms, heteronormativity, and so on. This roundtable will therefore analyze and assess Esty and Lye's depiction of the artist-critic as a figure trapped in an unproductive "feedback loop." As such, this roundtable will discuss the artist-critic's role in the public sphere, as an individual offering aesthetic and ideological principles that seek to transform art and politics into creative and social praxis alike. The roundtable will also address the artist-critic's role in the practices of postcolonialism, cultural studies, queer theory, disability studies, and so on.
Abstracts are due by 30 September 2014 via NeMLA's online submission system. Log in or sign up at NeMLA User Home.