NeMLA Convention 2020: Formalism and Fun: On Experiencing Text and Time in the Classroom

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Shun Y. Kiang / University of Central Oklahoma
contact email: 

Time is of the essence, and academia has responded accordingly. From measuring objectives and outcomes, to the shortening of course sequences, and from the promotion of multimodal learning and multitasking, to the emphasis on testing over slower, but pleasurable, processes of meaning-making, teaching and learning in the classroom has become rushed and fraught, especially in areas such as composition and the study of literature, where teachers and students struggle to keep up. Keep up or fail: a false dilemma now normalized, forcing itself upon us. In The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (2016), however, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber caution against (de)forming habits of teaching and learning to meet the demands of the corporatized university. Instead of time management, Berg and Seeber advocate for becoming attentive to moments of deep immersion “[i]n order to think critically and creatively,” (26) on the one hand, and embracing a kind of “[c]reativity [that] involves and even demands playfulness,” on the other, to better combat the mechanization of routines and rubrics. Taking a cue from Berg and Seeber, who champion the slow pleasures of teaching and learning, this roundtable seeks to explore techniques of formalism in literary studies that respond to the fullness of text—as words and passages to read and close read, as sounds to produce and listen to, as narrative embodying/enveloping temporalities and worlds, as a shared object bringing together individuals and communities. Or, as what Caroline Levine in Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (2015) describes: the “affordances” (6) of text, the different uses and effects of a work of literature that can be experienced in the classroom. “Formalist ways of reading,” Levine argues, 1) “take account of the temporal patterns of art and life,” (81) which the culture of institutionalization represses, and 2) make necessary the seminar-style of teaching and learning—slow in speed and small in size by design—a space “capable of crossing disciplinary boundaries, encouraging critique and innovation, and prompting deliberately open-ended discussion . . . to disrupt” (48). Among other things, this roundtable, analytical and anecdotal, would like to take up the affordances of formalism as practiced in literary and textual studies, and the affective, lived dimensions of the classroom to approximate an experiential approach to teaching literature and first-year writing, while drawing upon student input to gauge the applicability and desirability of it.

Please submit a 250-word abstract and brief bio to Shun Y. Kiang (Assistant Professor of English, University of Central Oklahoma), panel organizer, using the NeMLA website. See link for more instructions: