Always Periodize? Methods and Implications of Literary History (ACLA, March 29--April 1st, 2018)

deadline for submissions: 
September 21, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Ralph Clare, Boise State University; Matthew Mullins, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jeffrey Severs, University of British Columbia

In the very first issue of Comparative Literature René Wellek challenges A. O. Lovejoy’s insistence that the explanatory power of traditional periodization has been exhausted. In the pages of PMLA, Lovejoy had advocated that literary critics think in terms of “Romanticisms” in the plural rather than “Romanticism” in the singular. “I propose to show,” Wellek counters, “that there is no basis for this extreme nominalism, that the major romantic movements form a unity of theories, philosophies, and style, and that these, in turn, form a coherent group of ideas each of which implicates the other.” Nearly seventy years later, the question of periodization has become central to literary studies once again. David James and Urmila Seshagiri, for instance, have reiterated the value of periodization, while Ted Underwood and Eric Hayot have interrogated periodization as such. This seminar seeks to extend this conversation by exploring the methods and implications of periodization for the ways we read now.

An extraordinary number of periodizing terms have arisen in recent decades, including post-45, technomodernism, post-postmodernism, metamodernism, late capitalism, the new sincerity, post-irony, neoliberalism, cosmopolitanism, the anthropocene, and the posthuman, among others. What drives this impulse to periodize now?  Is it simply a result of the necessity to find postmodernism’s successor? In what ways is it symptomatic of our times and the inability, as Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism argues, to imagine an alternative future to our capitalist present? Does periodization contribute to notions of rupture, or does it hide a deeper, underlying historical continuity?  How can we truly know when a period has ended, is passing, or has begun? What are the politics of periodization from theory to theory? Even literary sociology, for example, finds itself in a meta-moment when trying to periodize the present and the recent past, for it too is caught up, and has a marked interest, in shaping the field of literary-critical/academic production. And those who would expand modernism up to the present moment (as well as further into the past) and swallow the postmodern whole find themselves dealing necessarily with modernisms, not a single modernity. Is all periodization just a totalizing move—an effect of dialectical historicism? What would a periodization not “dialectically driven” look like? Can one periodize in a straight line?  What would it mean to “periodize” via lines of flight?  

This seminar invites papers to consider the curiously pressing question of periodization, whether by offering new concepts, questioning existing ones, examining the philosophy of historical/cultural periodizing, or weighing the continuing value, if any, of the postmodern, as well as that term’s fate.  Papers might consider periodization aesthetically—in terms of new literary and cultural productions, form, styles, and genres—and/or historically, with reference to changing economic, political, scientific, and technological conditions.  

Please submit abstracts from September 1-21st directly through the ACLA website at: