MLA 2023 Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory and Our Work Now (Special Session)

deadline for submissions: 
March 16, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Nate Mickelson, New York Univ
contact email: 

Paul Ricoeur insisted there is always more meaning than can be articulated, appropriated, or understood. This session seeks enactments, explorations, and reconsiderations of his Interpretation Theory 50 years later. Though the book was published in 1976, Ricoeur delivered the lectures in fall 1973. It was a period of social and intellectual reckoning similar to our own. Ricoeur had recently relocated to the University of Chicago from Paris-Nanterre under criticism for his attempts to mitigate conflicts during the 1968 student uprisings. In parallel with this personal crisis, Ricoeur was turning in his thought from considerations of symbolic interpretation to considerations of texts and their social and political dimensions. Like the essays published in The Conflict of Interpretations and From Text to Action, the lectures of Interpretation Theory challenge poststructuralist pessimism about the entanglement of meaning and desire. They assert a view of textual interpretation grounded in possibility rather than lack.

With these considerations in mind, the session aims to explore how Ricoeur's work might offer new openings for literary study in precarious circumstances. Some questions to consider:

  • What does literary interpretation look and feel like in the midst of crisis?
  • What forms and methods of literary interpretation will enable us to meet and understand our moment as it unfolds?
  • How might the inherent limitations of interpretation serve as catalysts to, rather than cautions against, further interpretation?
  • How can we activate relations among texts, our experiences of and with them, and the worlds they invite us to consider?
  • How might humility and wonder function as modes or moods of interpretation?

To propose, please send a 250-word abstract and short bio to by Weds, March 16, 2022.