Reading Surfaces in Early Modern England

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Alex MacConochie, Megan Bowman/ Northeast Modern Language Association

“The surface is where most of the action is.”

--James Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception


The recent turn toward “surface reading” asks us to consider: just what is a surface? What kinds of actions happen there? This panel seeks papers that dwell at the surface of early modern English literature, attending to the ways that early modern surfaces (re)animate evolving dialogues on surface reading practices, materiality, and the limits of critique. What is the relationship between surface and depth? Can we interpret or read a surface? How do early modern surfaces resist or encourage interpretation? How can attending specifically to the surface complicate evolving scholarly conversations on early modern bodies, objects, and texts?


Hidden in plain sight, surfaces can be transparent, opaque, pigmented, illuminated, protective, smooth, rough. Particular surfaces have characteristic shapes, textures, and conceptual affordances. They are places of encounter and exchange. Surfaces touch, stick to, glide past, one another. When surfaces meet, they become sites of cultural contact and conflict, conversation and conversion, refusal and resistance.


Papers might address the surfaces of earth and sea; textiles; architecture; reflective, decorative or invisible surfaces; cosmetics; skin—human, animal, sweaty, burned, of the living and the dead, gendered, aging, raced; or the page itself. Conceptual approaches to the idea of “surface” are also welcome.


We invite thoughtfully superficial readings of early modern prose, poetry, and drama, drawing on a wide variety of critical approaches, including material culture studies, book history, and theories of race, gender and sexuality. This panel will be part of the 51st Annual Convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association which will be held March 5-8, 2020, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Please submit abstract proposals of no more than 300 words by September 30, 2019, using the NeMLA link: