Modalities: Politics and Poetics, 18-19 Sept 2015

full name / name of organization: 
Rice University English Graduate Symposium

This is a symposium about –alities. Now commonplace, terms like temporality, governmentality, positionality, and so on have made their way into literary studies and the humanities more broadly. The broadening of scholarship beyond the human now underway requires that we take a fresh look at the poetics and politics of interpretation, whether or not our scholarship studies the nonhuman explicitly. At the precise moment at which we are being told to look "outside," we need to get clear again: what is this outside? Is it thinkable? Can we say what we have been saying in such a climate?

In short, we want to indulge the perverse intellectual pleasure of reflecting on what we do and how we do it, even as we are being told to get over our "narcissism" and start smelling the nonhuman coffee.

We choose to consider not "environment," say, but "environmentality" in order to avoid sounding monolithic or reified. But if these terms are more than academic politesse, it is time to revisit what we mean by monolithic, reified, and, of course, –ality. By animality, do we mean the conditions of possibility for animals or being-animal? By materiality, are we shifting our focus from material characteristics and attributes to describe instead what modulates or grounds existence? Moreover, are theorizations of animality and materiality as politically motivated and implicative as socially-conscious work on sexuality or postcoloniality?

Although –alities proper may be most explicitly associated with "the linguistic turn" in philosophy and literary studies—not surprising given that "–ality" itself is a suffix signaling a critical change—they far exceed that periodization. Deep reflection has been a key aspect of post-WWII humanities research, sustaining interest in aesthetics, epistemology, and ontology for scholars across the disciplines and working with different topoi and time periods. Words ending in –ality assume or provoke us into self-consciousness. Accordingly, this conference is a call to pay the piper, not by proscribing our philosophical and (meta)linguistic indulgences, but instead by reflecting on the politics of our pet –alities and their aesthetic charge. Reluctant to give up our favorite hobby, our inclination is that maybe we need more self-reflection, more thoughtfulness and rigor, when accounting for our terms and not less.

We invite papers that consider one or more –ality (or –icity)—corporeality, relationality, factiality, historicality or historicity, even reality, etc.—in relation to a text, texts, or object of study, OR take up one or more –ality as an object of study. This two-day conference will take place 18 and 19 September 2015. We encourage you to visit our website, for more information about the symposium and our keynote, Marjorie Levinson. Please submit 250 word abstracts with a title, your name, and academic affiliation by email to on or before 25 June 2015.

Examples of potential lines of inquiry might look like the following...

"Temporality," interpreted strictly, articulates a mode or state of existence based in time. Has recent scholarship equated "time" and "temporality"? What other changes does "–ality" register vis-à-vis time?

If "–ality" can be thought to flag a concept as epistemological, how might sustained attention to "–ality" contribute to topical investments in ontology?

How do considerations of temporality, spatiality, or personality, etc., which correspond to formalist categories of narrative time, setting, and character, respectively, enhance analyses of (an) aesthetic work(s)?

Michel Foucault uses terms like sexuality and governmentality to refer to the development and dynamics of discursive regimes and apparatuses of power and control, an approach scholars have found amenable to politically-inflected analyses. How might this critical constructionist-minded methodology be extended to another –ality?

Like the question concerning Foucault's –alities, above, inquiries might be tailored to other theorists, like Derrida's artifactualities or hostipitality, Baudrillard's hyperreality, Meillassoux's factiality, any of Heidegger's many –alities or –icities, and so on.