[UPDATE] Making Sense: Thinking & Feeling Texts, UVA Graduate Conference

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The University of Virginia Department of English

** The deadline for submissions has been extended. See below for details. **

Why do we feel when we read? From catharsis in tragedy to laughter in comedy, many types of art can be categorized by the sensual reaction we have while we experience them. But our understanding of these reactions can at times seem limited to the biological. Our senses do not just perceive the physical; they serve physiologically liminal roles which govern our interactions with the world surrounding us. This conference will investigate both the role of sense in perceiving the textual and the sensory aspects of texts. Topics will include the five physical senses, affect and sensibility, and the ways in which relationships with other people and environments are conducted and understood through the senses. Additionally, this conference seeks to address mental processes of "sensing," such as cognition, intuition, and learning. Can our readings of text be enhanced by different modes of sensory perception? What is the role of the sensory experience in media such as the visual arts, film, music, architecture, and advertising?

Keynote Speaker: Elizabeth Helsinger

Elizabeth K. Helsinger is the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor, Departments of English and Art History, at the University of Chicago. Her areas of interest include the interplay between literature and the visual arts and the role aesthetic and social assumptions play in shaping the sensibilities of readers. She has published widely on art and social criticism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as well as material culture in nineteenth-century Britain. Her books include Poetry and the Pre-Raphaelite Arts: William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder, and Rural Scenes and National Representation: Britain 1815–1850.

Master Class Speaker: Rita Felski

Rita Felski is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English at the University of Virginia. Her interests include feminist theory, modernity and postmodernity, and genre and cultural studies. Her talk will address her recent work, an investigation into the hermeneutics of suspicion in the interpretive reading practices of the academy. Her books include The Gender of Modernity, Doing Time: Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture, and The Uses of Literature.

Other considerations might include:

• What does the presence of affect or sensibility in a text do to our understanding of it?

• What modes of sensual reactivity do certain texts prompt or reject?

• Does sense in a text mandate its own forms of reading?

• How is our understanding of relationships (between aspects of the self, between self and others, between selves and environments) governed by the senses?

• How does sense manifest itself materially in a text?

• Is the sense within a text, or of a text, gendered or sexualized?

• Are certain feelings or patterns of feeling implied or ignored by certain genres?

• Can we historicize the senses? Do historical periods affect our ability to sense certain aspects of texts?

• What does it mean to be "sensible" or "insensible"? Why does the sensible so often mean the practical and conventional? What is the role of nonsense in literature?

• Do different modes of perception, such as disability, synaesthesia, or even superhuman or supernatural perception, offer alternative versions of sense?

While these questions are grounded in literary studies, the topics engage disciplines related to literature, including theater, music, sociology, psychology, art, art history, anthropology, and science, with each of these fields offering their own methods on "thinking and feeling" texts. To this end, we hope that the conference stimulates interdisciplinary approaches.

We are currently soliciting proposals for 15 minute presentations on three-person panels. To submit, send an abstract (up to 350 words) to gesaconference2010@gmail.com by February 7, 2010. Please specify your name, institutional affiliation, and any technological needs.