Unless otherwise indicated, please send paper proposals for special sessions to the NASSR 2015 conference organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a brief CV and indicate the session for which you would like your paper to be considered. Those papers not selected by special session leaders will be automatically considered for the general call for papers.
(Please see the Call for Papers for more information.)
Leigh Wetherall Dickson: “Romanticism and Revolutionary Suicide”; OPEN
Description: The symbolic import of suicide was hotly contested in various texts of the Romantic era. For instance, in the Neoclassical mode and in some radical literature, suicide was lauded as heroic. It was also a popular element in the sometimes vapid, tear-jerking literature of sensibility and tales of celebrity suicides, such as that of the young poet, Chatterton. In Gothic novels, such as Hogg’s Justified Sinner, self-killers represent horror and utter sinfulness, and yet many other writers, following Burton’s influential Anatomy of Melancholy of 1621, attributed suicidality to extreme religious devotion. Most powerfully, though, in the period’s major ideological battles, suicide strongly conveyed revolution, the defiance of tyranny, and a defence of one’s existential and bodily autonomy – all key characteristics of Romanticism as it has traditionally been defined. Nevertheless, by the end of the period, the legal understanding of suicide was linked almost invariably to victimhood, rather than to resistance.
Please send 350-word abstracts for 20 minute papers that consider any aspect of suicide in relation to Romanticism, Revolution and Human Rights to Dr Leigh Wetherall Dickson (email@example.com) by January 17th, 2015.
Mary Favret: “The Right to Work”; OPEN
Description: How can Romantic texts and discourse help us think about the right to work and workers’ rights: about what counts as work, who gets to work and who has to work? Do Adam Smith’s formulations of labor in The Wealth of Nations or Wordsworth’s anxieties about his leisure in the opening book of The Prelude have any validity in the present? How do considerations of the nature(s) of work and the right to work re-orient our reading of Romantic forms and institutions — including Literature, Schooling, Slavery and Abolition, the Home, Nature, the Everyday, etc. To what degree do Romantic conceptualizations of labor and rights inform our own work as scholars and teachers?
Nanora Sweet and Kate Singer: “Hemans and Human Rights”; OPEN
Description: I told him that I looked upon scales as particularly graceful things, and had great thoughts of having my picture taken with a pair in my hand. ~Hemans turns Wordsworth’s jibe from housekeeping to Justice.
While Felicia Hemans is often seen as the conserving mother and poet of duties, this panel will explore her as a dissident, justice-seeking woman whose concern for human rights in war and governance, in personal life and even death, gives her urgent poetry much of its strength and resilience. Possible topics include the rights of noncombatants, prisoners of war, veterans and their widows and orphans, political prisoners, and ethnic and religious minorities; the right to due process, to civic representation and national self-determination; a woman’s rights in marriage and her eligibility beyond that for power and honor; a right to happiness in childhood and adulthood, and to freedom from confiscation in life, and the right of sepulcher in death.
In calling for this session, we seek a variety of papers, for example those that establish the provenance of such rights in Hemans’s British setting and her post-revolutionary historical moment and that pursue questions like the following: What is Hemans’s own judicial thinking or political philosophy? How does Hemans theorize her judicial thinking or political philosophy? How are these inflected by gender, class, nation, or other notions of history? Further, what was her acquaintance with reformers or reformist thought and writing about rights? What is the role of Celtic interests in her portrayal of rights? Of national aspirations as in Greece and Switzerland and elsewhere? Of confessional, colonial, émigré, or indigenous positions? Of international liberalism emanating variously from Liverpool, Boston, Cadiz, Coppet? And what in her media of poetics and dramaturgy blazons human rights in a post-revolutionary era?
Brian McGrath: “Compelling Anachronism: Romanticism as Method”; OPEN
Description: Sponsored by the NASSR Theory Caucus
Somehow romanticism always seems timely. This timeliness, for instance, may help explain why romantic texts have repeatedly played important roles in the generation of new scholarly and theoretical approaches to literature: from deconstruction (Paul de Man reading Shelley) to New Historicism (Marjorie Levinson reading Wordsworth) to queer theory (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick reading Austen) to digital humanities (Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker reading Scott). But romanticism’s excessive timeliness also suggests a certain untimeliness. To be always of the moment is never to be of any one moment. What is it in the aesthetic or formal discourse of romanticism that repeatedly compels a new relationship to the present? How, in other words, does romanticism compel anachronism, and how might we think of romanticism’s capacity for rewarding anachronism as itself a method? Proposals are welcome for papers that explore romanticism’s irruptive relationship to history, investigate specific instances of anachronism, and/or pursue anachronistic readings of romantic and post-romantic texts.
Lisa Kasmer: “Imagined Geographies and Nationhood”; OPEN
Description: Foregrounding the productive power of nationalism, this panel will examine the construction of British nationhood in the Romantic period through the literary treatment of maps and mapping. In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said posits that the struggle over geography is “complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings” (7). Recent scholarship has treated the spatial representation of British nationhood, and the naturalization of maps, in particular, has been examined in terms of the construction of the nation. In effect, British maps not only make geopolitical claims about territorial possession and knowledge, but were also used as a means of exerting sociopolitical control. This perspective explains how material representations of the nation in literature create imaginative geographies that attempt to order and control territories and their people. This panel seeks papers that explore material representations, especially cartographic representations, of the British Empire in Romantic literature to consider the ways in which the nation conceived of citizenship and rights through spatial perceptions. Please send an abstract of 300 words.
Gary Dyer: “Rights to Expression, Rights to Literary Property”; OPEN
Description: This session will examine the relationships in the British Romantic Period between, on the one hand, rights to speak, write, and publish freely, and, on the other, rights over literary property. Scholarship on press prosecution in this era is extensive, and much has also been written on copyright law and its role in shaping conceptions of authorship. The nature of these two classes of rights is that they can overlap, complement each other, or clash. The right to liberty of the press can conflict with rights to literary property simply because enforcing the latter necessarily restricts expression. These rights still contend with each other today throughout countries which rely upon the English legal tradition, and they contend in a manner established during the long eighteenth century. (In the United States, for example, debates concerning how long copyrights ought to last or concerning the scope of “fair use” are shaped by two imperatives dating from the 1790s: since 1789 the Constitution has authorized statutes that “secur[e] for limited Times to Authors [. . .] the exclusive Right to their [. . .] Writings,” yet since 1791 the First Amendment has guaranteed “freedom of speech, or of the press.”) Papers for this session might address any of a wide range of topics involving relations among these different formulations of rights. Below are a few of the most prominent issues in the period.
After the last Licensing Act expired (in 1695), Britain was unusual insofar as prior restraint—“censorship” in the strict sense—no longer existed: a publisher did not need approval from authorities before offering a book for sale. Writers, publishers, and printers did, however, need to worry about criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits after they produced works that were deemed offensive. William Blackstone, acknowledging that “liberty of the press” was “essential to the nature of a free state,” explained that this meant “laying no previous restraints upon publications, and not [. . .] freedom from censure for criminal matter when published.” The principle was that a person was free to publish material that was seditious, blasphemous, obscene, or defamatory, though doing so risked criminal punishment or civil damages. Though not free to publish with impunity, he or she was free to publish.
However, copyright laws necessarily restrict freedom of the press: the original British copyright statute (1710), for example, granted copyright-owners “the sole right and liberty of printing and reprinting” their books. The key provision was not the right to print and reprint but the monopoly over that right. As William St. Clair (among others) has shown, copyright restricted the public’s access to texts in the Romantic Period, and sometimes restricted access more fully and efficiently than the old licensing system could have done. The most common and effective method of protecting literary property against the threat posed by an unauthorized edition was to seek an injunction from the Court of Chancery prohibiting its publication. Here copyright law differed from the law of criminal or civil libel. A man who published a book that was blasphemous (or seditious, etc.) might be fined or imprisoned if convicted by a jury, but a man who attempted to publish a book without the copyright-owner’s consent might be stopped from publishing, and while in the first instance the public would have the opportunity to read the work, in the second they would never see that edition. More importantly, in some cases the public would be prevented from seeing the work at all: obviously most plaintiffs in copyright cases wanted to be the only vendor of the work in question, and thus set prices with no prospect of market competition, but some plaintiffs wanted to suppress the work entirely. Lord Byron, for example, was granted an injunction to stop a piracy of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers even though no authorized edition was in print, and his objective was to keep this early work from readers. Matters became complicated if, for example, a man attempted to publish a work that was blasphemous (or otherwise offensive) and that also belonged to someone else. In the most notorious case from the Romantic Period involving literary property, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon, ruled in 1817 that because Robert Southey’s play Wat Tyler arguably was seditious, he could not defend Southey’s literary property by suppressing an unauthorized edition (the practical effect of Eldon’s decision, as everyone observed, was that a play which might be seditious could be sold freely and cheaply). Whereas most copyright-owners went to Chancery to protect their sales, Southey wished to ensure that Wat Tyler, an old composition that reflected his earlier radicalism, was not sold or read at all. Much like Byron, Southey wished to exploit his property rights in order to censor his younger self.
Eric Lindstrom: “Ordinary Language and the Romantic Performative”; OPEN
Description: Sponsored by the NASSR Theory Caucus
In On The Genealogy of Morals (1887), Nietzsche hazards the assertion: “To breed an animal with the right to make promises—is not this the paradoxical task that nature has set itself in the case of man? Is it not the real problem regarding man?” There is debate over the translation of versprechen darf. Should it mean, “who makes promises,” with or without the ‘right’?
Adducing nineteenth-century textual examples including Jane Austen’s Emma, Stanley Cavell argues in the chapter “Performative and Passionate Utterance” for what he terms “the rights of desire”—rights stressed beyond institutional social “responsibilities of implication” (Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow ). By positioning what he later calls “the imperative of expression” in terms of the language of rights beyond their institutional setting, Cavell at once challenges a narrowly contractual understanding of rights and extends the responsive range of J.L. Austin’s foundational account of performative utterances in How to Do Things with Words. The model of explicit performative illocution (“doing things” in speech acts) is hereby nuanced to include Austin’s initially under-emphasized category of perlocution (the realm of intersubjective contact registered through and by our speech acts, from hate speech to seduction).
Cavell’s 2005 account is perhaps best understood as an instance of powerfully belated reflection on performativity, insofar as he imagines a possible future “force” for radical performative speech that exceeds its institutional past: a future for language as a limitlessly responsive yet also disruptive event; as theorized by Jacques Derrida, Shoshana Felman, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick and others since the moment of Derrida’s controversial texts, “Signature Event Context” and “Declarations of Independence,” in the 1970s.
Sponsored by the NASSR Theory interest group, this panel envisions and welcomes paper proposals in at least the two following areas: (1) those intensively focused on the philosophical theory of the language of the Romantic Performative (and the traditions of German Romanticism, Ordinary Language Philosophy, Deconstructive and poststructuralist thought, Queer Theory); (2) applied readings of Romantic-era writers, such as (but not limited to) Mary Wollstonecraft, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Mary and Percy Shelley, and Walter Scott.
Laura Kremmel: “The Right to Be Monstrous: Disability and Illness in the Gothic”; OPEN
Description: Special Session Sponsored by the International Gothic Association
By definition, the Gothic presents a space, circumstance, or individual that is unwell, that causes a sense of dis-ease. It involves infection, poison, corruption, deformity, mutation, and experimentation, all of which challenge notions of the natural, healthy body. In his much-cited introduction to The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales, Chris Baldick classifies the Gothic as a “sickening descent into disintegration” (xix). Yet, its plots never start out this way, characters often seeking to maintain or reinforce the utmost standards in health. After all, one of the tradition’s most iconic figures, Frankenstein’s creature, arises out misguided attempts to manipulate a body’s condition. When the creature opens its insalubrious yellow eyes, its creator expels it at once, denying it the right to exist in a state of un-wellness. The text itself, however, allows it to live on, goading its disruption of human wellbeing.
This panel invites papers that look at the ways in which the Gothic allows for possibilities beyond the conventional idea of healthy bodies. Deviations from the typically healthy body are often configured as monstrous, frightening, and abject, making the body foreign and confusing. Yet, the Gothic also gives such bodies a space of their own to tell their stories, a place where authors suffering from illness or disability could also find solace. Papers on this panel will look at the Gothic’s endorsement of the right to be monstrous—to be unwell—a right that cannot be denied without horrific consequences.
Julie Murray: “The ‘Rights of Woman’”; OPEN
Description: Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 A Vindication of the Rights of Woman has had a long and complex afterlife. Much like its author, the text has functioned as determinate origin for everything from women’s studies curricula, to feminist literary history, to histories of the suffrage movement. This panel welcomes papers that take up the unfinished business of Wollstonecraft and the “rights of woman.” Are the “rights of woman” human rights? Is there a clear line that connects calls for rights in the 1790s to 21st-century articulations of human rights? In his recent book on the historical formation of human rights, Peter de Bolla suggests not. He argues that in fact there is little basis for any theory of continuity between 1790s understandings of rights and their 21st century iterations. Papers may take up this or any other aspect of the “rights of woman”: other calls for the “rights of woman” in the period; Wollstonecraft and her contemporaries; the legacy of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; or ways of understanding the relationship between rights then and now.
Tilottama Rajan: “The Right Of/To the Negative”; OPEN
Description: Sponsored by the NASSR Theory Caucus
According to Friedrich Schelling, “humans show a natural predilection for the affirmative, just as much as they turn away from the negative. Everything that it outpouring and goes forth from itself is clear to them. They cannot grasp straightforwardly that which closes itself off.” This session will take up the rights of the negative in Romantic philosophy, political theory, or literary texts that raise larger theoretical questions.
Please send 350-500 word proposals to Tilottama Rajan (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Alyssa Bellows and Alison Cotti-Lowell: “Community Rights”; OPEN
Description: Many of the themes currently listed focus on rights from the perspective of the legalized individual. We propose a session that thinks about rights from the perspective of the community. This allows for two broad considerations: First, how are rights distributed among groups or communities? We aim to shift conceptually how we think about rights in relation to the dynamic of power: rights as a distributed power of a group, rather than belonging to the individual. Second, how are rights conferred unofficially, and how do communities regulate themselves from the inside; that is, outside written or official codes? The opportunity here is to think through alternative systems of rights that are neither official, nor state-sanctioned, nor law-given but still organize and mediate social relations.
The significance of self-governing community is particularly relevant to the late 18th to early 19th centuries as a continuation of 18th-century discussions of sympathy; as a reaction to the French Revolution (being one official rule of law overthrown by another that (however popular its origins) became just as official); as a discussion following up on the tension between the private patronage of the landed gentry and the developing state and governing systems; as a consideration of the developing structures of private punishment that parallel those developing publically (as explored by Foucault). How does our understanding of Romanticism shift when we think about it from the perspective of unofficial groups? How does this perspective shift our understanding of rights?
Finally, as we think about rights in formulations of unofficial multiplicity, we can pay special attention to alternative structures of organization. What alternative methods or means of mediating rights arose? What surprising alliances or partnerships formed to preserve, fight for, or represent rights? When and how did such alliances give rise to assemblages or networks that sought a greater good? And what inevitable tensions resulted? We welcome papers that explore any questions related to the ways that rights are conferred by communities and engaged by groups, with particular emphasis on how literature mediates such networks.
Frederick Burwick: “Rights, Reform, and the Labor Movement”; OPEN
Description: Special Session Sponsored by the European Romantic Review (ERR)
In 1799 the manufacturing constituencies won the support under the government of William Pitt the Younger to pass An Act to prevent Unlawful Combinations of Workmen. The Combination Act prohibited trade unions and any other attempt by the workers to establish collective bargaining. Further restrictions were imposed by an additional act passed in 1800, which stipulated a sentence of three months in jail or two months’ hard labor be imposed on any working man who endeavored with another to gain an increase in wages or a decrease in hours or who solicited anyone else to leave work or objected to working with any other workman. Pitt interpreted all unrest among the workers as radicalism and anti-monarchical Jacobinism.
Papers for this special session need not address laboring-class poetry or prose, but they should examine the literary response to working conditions during the years in which owners of the factories, mines, and mills were able to impose long hours and low wages on the men, women, and children they employed.
Please send by 17 January 2015 proposals of up to 350 words and a brief CV to Frederick Burwick at email@example.com.
Christopher R. Clason: “Human Rights in German-Speaking Lands during the Romantic Period”; OPEN
Description: Human rights, guaranteed by a constitution, became significant desiderata among artists and intellectuals in early nineteenth-century “Germany.” Initially inspired by the Revolution in France (but later horrified by its chaos and bloodshed), advocates for the rights of the individual in culturally German lands explored diverse paths toward political unity and a measure of personal freedom. Perhaps the most important event during the early nineteenth century was the defeat of German armies and the occupation of the German Heimat by Napoleon and the French. The unsettled times gave rise to a broad range of literary, artistic and cultural responses, from the political and social writings of the early German Romantics, through the tales and novels of the second Romantic wave (especially those of E. T. A. Hoffmann), to the oppressive judicial mandates handed down by the reactionary legal bureaucrats of the Austrian Metternich regime and its minions in German-speaking lands. Those who sought to effect political change received harsh penalties; the works of some underwent strict censorship, while other artists and activists were sent into exile or to prison. Despite the great thoughts and bold articulations that gained expression in many literary and political works, the end result for most champions of human rights was bitter disappointment.
The organizers of this session welcome abstracts of 300 words, addressing most broadly the ideas, issues and artistic expressions of human rights in German-speaking lands during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, including:
- Reception of revolutions in America and France, and human rights.
- Human rights in Romantic art, letters and thought: from Herder through Novalis, the Schlegels & the Grimms to Nietzsche and Wagner.
- Expressions of human rights in women’s writing of the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth century in German-speaking lands.
- Literary responses to forms of oppression: censorship, exile, and imprisonment in Romantic literature.
- The literary and judicial writings of E. T. A. Hoffmann and human rights.
- Treatment of other(s): defining “otherness,” treatment of specific groups, anti-Semitism, misogyny, etc.
- Representations of Napoleon / French occupation in the literature of the period.
- Grass-roots responses: the Burschenschaften, the Turnvereine, and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, in the history and literature of German Romanticism.
- Heinrich Heine and human rights.
Alexander Grammatikos: “Lord Byron and Rights”; OPEN
Description: Special Session Sponsored by The Byron Society of America
Lord Byron was a passionate and life-long defender of people’s rights. In the House of Lords he argued for the right of Catholics to be represented in parliament; in his personal correspondence he supported writers’ claims to copyright over their own works; and in a decision that led to his death, he travelled to Greece to help the Greeks realize their right to become an independent nation. His preoccupation with rights extended to his poetic works, too. For example, in Sardanapalus, the misguided but well-meaning titular leader laments “To me war is no glory—conquest no / Renown. To be forced thus to uphold my right / Sits heavier on my heart than all the wrongs / These men would bow me down with” (18.104.22.1685-8). Here, in but just one example from Byron’s oeuvre, the poet demonstrates his keen understanding of the often relative nature of “rights” (for a king to retain his, he required war and conquest) and the personal price one had to pay to uphold them.
Complementing NASSR’s broader theme of “Romanticism and Rights,” we invite proposals that consider Byron’s engagement with “rights.” Submissions may include, but are not limited to:
- Byron and the right to freedom of religion
- Byron and the right to national independence
- Byron and animal rights
- Byron and authorial rights
- Byron and the right to sexual and gender expression
- Byron and the right to freedom of speech
- Byron and the rights of the disenfranchised and poor
- Byron and Eastern rights
- Byron and female rights
Angela Esterhammer: “John Galt’s Properties”; OPEN
Description: New approaches to the wide-ranging work of John Galt are welcome. “John Galt’s Properties” could explore themes of real estate, inheritance, entail, law, land rights, and transatlantic colonization, especially Galt’s involvement with the Canada Company. Equally welcome are papers on distinctive or innovative ‘properties’ of Galt’s fictional or non-fictional writing.
John Robbins: “Bringing the Message to the People: Romantic Science and Performance”; OPEN
Description: Special Session Sponsored by the NASSR Science Caucus
From Humphry Davy’s wildly popular scientific lectures, to displays of the power of the battery to “reanimate” human and animal corpses, to mesmerism performances that spellbound thousands, science during the Romantic period was deeply invested with elements of performance. Scientists relied on public approval to secure financing and reinforce their claims to professional legitimacy, while the public demanded ever more spectacular displays of the power of new developments. Meanwhile, quacks, itinerant performers, and charlatans competed for influence and public recognition with scientists within established associations such as the Royal Society and Royal Institution. This panel invites papers that consider the relationship between science and performance, each broadly construed, during the Romantic period. A major subject of the panel will be examining how the Romantics sorted out the “right” way of doing science, wading into the contested space of legitimate and illegitimate science in order to establish claims for authority.
Judith Thompson: “John Thelwall and the Rights of Nature”; OPEN
Description: Special Session Sponsored by the John Thelwall Society
The Rights of Nature, John Thelwall’s reply to Edmund Burke in the 1790s Revolution Debate, has not received as much attention as the contributions of Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft; nevertheless it offers a natural focal point for any discussion of Romanticism and Rights. Its pioneering enquiries into “the RIGHTS OF LABOURERS” are particularly apt as we approach the centenary of the Winnipeg General Strike, as is its prescient vision of public education for “every man, and every woman, and every child” within a cooperative knowledge economy in which “every large workshop and manufactory” is a kind of Socratic “common bank” to which “each brings … his mite of information, and putting it to a sort of circulating usance, each contributor has the advantage of a large interest, without any diminution of capital” (399-400).
Not just the arguments within this 1796 pamphlet, but its far-reaching title, are significant in an era in which “the rights of nature” has become a watchword in discussions of environmental ethics and “earth jurisprudence.” This invites reconsideration of the way Thelwall and his contemporaries anticipated, and might contribute to, current global ecocritical and biopolitical movements; for example through examination of Thelwall’s materialist theories of animal vitality, his representation of indigenous rights in The Incas and The Daughter of Adoption, or his ecological excursions and pastorals, including The Peripatetic’s poetic vindication of the “joys peculiar” of all living creatures, and insistence that “every tenant of the sentient sphere” must “yield,—and make / to other each.”
The John Thelwall Society has been founded to promote public knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of John Thelwall’s life, ideals and accomplishments, and to follow his example in informing and educating those who campaign for a democratic polity and the global advancement of human rights and civil liberties. This special session, sponsored by the John Thelwall Society, invites papers on these and any other ideas raised by, or texts related to, the Rights of Nature. Papers need not deal specifically with Thelwall, and presenters need not be members of the John Thelwall Society. Please submit 250-word proposals for 20-minute papers.
Jared McGeough: “Heterotopias: Romanticism and Jacques Ranciere”; OPEN
Description: Special Session Sponsored by the NASSR Theory Caucus
This panel explores the work of Jacques Ranciere and its increasing relevance for Romantic studies. Contesting conventional views of Romanticism as a naive turning away from the political, Ranciere identifies in Romantic-period art the development of a “literary formula for the democratic principle of equality,” thus restoring Romanticism to the forefront of contemporary debates on the complex relationship between aesthetics and politics (Politics of Literature 10-11).
This panel invites papers focusing on any aspect of Ranciere’s thought and its relationship to Romanticism, including but not limited to:
- Applications of Ranciere’s philosophy to Romantic art (literature; visual arts; architecture; dance, etc.)
- Ranciere on the politics of literary form
- Ranciere’s interpretations of specific Romantic literary and philosophical figures and texts (Wordsworth; Hugo; Flaubert; Kant; Schiller; Hegel)
- Ranciere’s organization of the history of aesthetics (Ethical; Representative; Aesthetic)
- Critiques of Ranciere’s approach to Romanticism
- Ranciere’s relationship to other theoretical approaches to Romanticism (Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe; Lyotard; Schmitt; Adorno; Marxism; Deconstruction; New Historicism; Formalism)
Evan Gottlieb and Alexander Dick: “Realisms and Romanticisms”; OPEN
Description: The emergence of two distinct but related theoretical approaches – Speculative Realism and New Materialism – has begun to reinvigorate debates about materiality, objectivity, and agency in several disciplines. Broadly understood, these movements seek ways of experiencing, accessing, representing, and modeling the object world that break from Kantian and post-Kantian phenomenologies, which preoccupy themselves with the ways that humans translate or re-code the world through “finite” anthropocentric value systems. Writers associated with these movements—Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux, Bruno Latour, Jane Bennett, Ian Bogost, Karen Barad, Timothy Morton, and so on—vary widely in their methods for conceiving things, objects, and forces through frameworks effectively alien to ourselves. They share a common conviction, however, that new modes of engagement with the world beyond the human are both desirable and necessary if we are to engage properly with many of the 21st century’s most pressing problems: the ongoing global warming and megaextinction processes that constitute the Anthropocene, the myth of disembodiment that permeates digital culture, the neoliberal assumption that all agency is reducible to individual human agency, and the balkanization of academic disciplinary frameworks that might otherwise offer alternatives to these conditions.
Our aims are to review these new realisms and materialisms and to test their effectiveness and appropriateness as tools of analysis for the study of Romanticism. Writing at the onset of the capitalist and industrial Revolutions and in the wake of the philosophical upheavals that from Descartes and Spinoza to Locke, Hume, and Kant were separating the notion of human subjectivities from the things around them, the Romantics were obsessed with how and why we know things, especially things that seemed different from and yet strangely like people, sometimes because these “things” were people as in the popular “it-narratives” or in the literatures of slavery and abolition. We want to think about the way experiments with literary forms and genres intersect with questions of exactly what kind of “thing” literature is: novel, poem, book, text, writing, speech, gift, or commodity. In keeping with the general theme of the conference, we also want, more particularly, to ask how our attention to debates in the Romantic period about objects and their relations, their “dignity” or their “democracy” might change conversations today about ethics and rights, conversations that remain largely preoccupied with the status of the human.
Beth Lau: “Jane Austen and Sciences of the Mind”; OPEN
Description: Since their first publication, Jane Austen’s novels have been noted for their focus on the inner thoughts and social interactions of ordinary people, rather than on dramatic external events and exotic locales as most previous fiction had done. Austen’s astute representations of her characters’ mental states, alone and in conversation with others, reflect new ideas about psychology and brain science of her era: concepts ranging from sympathy and the moral sense, the association of ideas, the creative imagination, the embodied mind, the unconscious, and the operation of memory, among others. Austen’s concern with the workings of the mind also makes her an ideal candidate for critical approaches that draw upon recent psychological studies, especially in the field of cognitive neuroscience. Important work in the emerging discipline of cognitive literary theory by scholars such as Alan Richardson, Kay Young, and Lisa Zunshine have taken Austen as a subject, suggesting the rich possibilities of this approach to her novels. New scientific research into how individuals infer the thoughts of other people (Theory of Mind), the way particular thinking habits affect mood, the effects of various types of brain injury, the uses of daydreaming, the function of storytelling for individual and community identity, the workings and uses of memory, and many other topics are relevant to and can help illuminate characters, issues, and incidents in Austen’s novels.
My session on “Jane Austen and Sciences of the Mind” invites papers that explore connections between Austen’s work and studies of the brain and human psychology from either the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries or from the late twentieth/early twenty-first (or both). Please send 350-word proposals for 20-minute papers.
Julie Camarda: “Animal Poetics”; OPEN
Description: This panel on the relationship between animals and romantic poetry will elicit new perspectives on how animal rights and science bear on poetic form and genre. There have been a number of studies of prose writings that address animals and animal rights. However, this panel will examine the intersections between animal and poetic forms, inviting papers that give precise and compelling eco-critical, historicist, and formalist readings of how romantic political, philosophical, and scientific discourses might challenge or amend typically metaphorical and figurative conceptions of animals in the period.
This panel brings together work on the Romantic animal to demonstrate the ethical and historical importance of this subject for post-Enlightenment thought. We place animals in the context of recent eco-critical work that redefines “nature” in relation to romanticism. In particular, this panel will focus on how scientific and political discourses treatment of animals and animal rights manifest in romantic poetry—and if poetry has a distinctive capacity to resist or challenge these discourses. These issues include vegetarianism, animal magnetism, vivisection, Cartesian mechanical animals, sentiment and animal cruelty, farming practices, and Enlightenment distinctions between man and animal. According, given the significance of the Romantic animal, we ask how its presence in the period may alter or elucidate our readings of romantic poetry’s form and broader metaphors. To this end, we build on recent scholarship by critics like David Perkins, Teresa Sherman-Jones, Ron Broglio, and Kurt Fosso, which recognizes romantic-period animals as embodied creatures that challenge our definitions of sentience. The Romantic animal is not only a metaphorical creature, and we solicit new scholarship that addresses the idealist and materialist connections between animals and “inanimate” matter in the romantic imaginary.
Possible questions our panel may ask include: How does the juxtaposition of animals with politically dispossessed and previously “domesticated” humans influence poetic representations of the natural world? How does the choice of specific animals affect a poem’s form or genre? What can animals teach us about poets’ explorations of unintelligible natural processes and poetic subjecthood? How can an animal be a poetic or political subject instead of an object? How does adopting an animal’s perspective alter a poem’s rhythms and tropes? How does the implementation of dialect affect our sense of an animal’s—and a poet’s—wildness? Can we take a natural historical approach to poems like Shelley’s “To a Skylark” or Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”? The panel will feature three 20-minute talks followed by a question and answer session. Please send abstracts of no more than 500 words.
Heidi Scott: “Right Fuel, Wrong Fuel: Romantic Reactions to Shifting Energy Sources”; OPEN
Description: The Romantics witnessed the most profound change in fuel sourcing in human history: at the beginning of this short era, England ran on biomass, as human societies had for our two-hundred-thousand year history. By the end of the era in the middle of the nineteenth century, coal had nestled into every corner of the kingdom, with the coal-rich Midlands fueling the revolutions of stationary and moving industry and intensifying empire-making as a way to secure natural resources and labor.
Because of its position at this pivot point in fuel history, Romanticism is as often associated with pastoral and sylvan locales as it is with urban and industrial ones. The major authors are often lumped into former and latter categories: Wordsworth and the Lakers, sylvan; Blake and Lamb, urban. Fuel source has a direct influence on the environment, economy, and society of an area. Romantic nostalgia might imply that wood is clean and cheery; coal is dirty and degrading. Some of the literature does indeed bear out that opposition: a blazing wood fire is an unequalled symbol of hospitality in all of Austen’s novels. But the issue is not so simple. Biomass sources of wood, brush, and animal fodder were fraught with scarcity and were often associated with indigence and bare subsistence. Fossil fuel represented productivity, innovation, and global travel as well as the more rehearsed coal pollution and urban squalor. Atmospheric science was just beginning to theorize the effects of large-scale carbon dioxide emissions, often with sanguine prognoses of a gently warmed planet.
The morals, aesthetics, idylls, and jeremiads of fuel source are an excellent frame for Romantic ambivalence about technology and the industrial future using ecocritical methods. This panel’s discussion has a direct bearing on our own contemporary debates about right and wrong in energy sourcing, particularly the oppositions to hydro-fracking and tar sands extraction, the airy promises of renewable fuels, and the renaissance of biomass.
Daniel Block and Kristina Mendicino: “Of Rights: Romantic Prepositions”; OPEN
Description: From Rousseau’s Du Contrat Social to Kant’s Zum Ewigen Frieden and Lincoln’s “Of the people, by the people, for the people,” prepositions introduce many major texts of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century political theory, and in a way that renders the assumption of any stable theoretical position utterly precarious. For if the law must be posed, laid down, set—as the verbs ponere / tithêmi / setzen indicate—and verdicts take the form of sentencing, neither gesture can be thought without a previous dis-position or pre-position that presumes but does not validate a fixed framework of relations. Why might the inaugural gestures of Romantic political theory take a prepositional form, we ask, and how do prepositions articulate those dispositions that may be possible before the law? How does the discourse of rights rely on prepositions to delineate the relation between?
This panel welcomes papers that reflect on Romanticism’s prepositional language, broadly construed. Suggested topics might include, but are not limited to: the grammar or rhetoric of expressing a relation between; the act of pre-positioning or pre-fixing one thing before or in front of another; the preamble, preface, introduction, or other literary forms that undertake a setting forth or exposition; and the role of the prefix in Romantic-era formulations of universal or unalienable human rights.
Michael Nicholson: “Romantic Remains”; OPEN
To be left behind after the removal, use, or destruction of some part, number, or quantity.
To continue in the same place or with the same person; to abide, to stay.
The survivors of a war, battle, or other destructive event.
A relic of some obsolete custom or practice; a surviving trait or characteristic.
A part or the parts of a person’s body after death; a corpse.
The literary works or fragments (esp. the unpublished ones) left by an author after death. [OED]
Romantic culture’s most familiar rhetorics of revolution are progressive, teleological, messianic, and apocalyptic. Building upon the etymology of the term “remain(s)” as a term that denotes survival and persistence as much as death and decay, “Romantic Remains” will consider the whole range of “remain(s)” in relation to “rights” (political, cultural, literary, scientific, environmental, corporeal, and otherwise). This panel will therefore theorize the era’s less critically prominent forms of protest such as stasis, resistance, delay, disappearance, survival, and/or endurance. In a moment whose most prominent poetic works, embodied individual lives, and grand political narratives focus on vigor, life, growth, evolution, and development—Wordsworth’s “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” Barbauld’s “Little Invisible Being Who is Expected Soon to Become Visible,” and Shelley’s “Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory”—who or what gets left behind? What radical possibilities lie on the other side of Romanticism’s forward-thinking forms of enthusiasm, passion, utopianism, and optimism?
As the necessary consequence of works such as Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey and Volney’s Ruins, Romantic critics have always taken an interest in Europe’s physical remains. Yet in our present moment of environmental catastrophe and ruin, a diverse array of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scholars have drawn new attention to the possibilities and anxieties of contingent, biodegradable, unhurried, and uncertain forms of existence and aesthetics: Kevis Goodman and Jonathan Sachs (slow time), Jonathan Bate and James C. McKusick (Romantic ecology and green writing), Paul Fry (ontological radicalism), Anahid Nersessian (nescience), Anne-Lise François (recessive agency), Timothy Morton (dark ecology), and Jacques Khalip (anonymity and dispossession). In its focus on natural rhythms, formal omissions, and vanishing acts rather than developmental narratives or confident subjects, this panel will turn toward a critique of the idea that Romanticism always proceeds though rapid movement and productive presence. With this end in mind, we will study the period’s conservationist energies in the realms of ontology, politics, and aesthetics—how the positions of remaining behind, moving slowly, and entirely disappearing often allowed Romantic writers to contest the excesses of an increasingly accelerating age focused on imperial expansion, economic development, and sociocultural improvement.
Papers may consider “Romantic Remains” in relation to a wide range of formal, historical, theoretical, and critical concerns, that might include:
- necromanticism / material remains: corpses, ruins, relics, residues, wastes, wrecks, dust, rubble, and debris
- formal remains: elegies, epitaphs, scraps, elisions, gaps, fragments, caesurae, ellipses, and repetitions
- biological / natural processes: decomposition, defilement, deterioration, erosion, putrefaction, and decay
- the poetics of nostalgia / memory and ephemerality / forgetting
- outmoded, suspended, superseded, and left over genres, modes, and personae
- spatial remains: localism, dispossession, immovability, and immobility
- temporal remains: anachronism, haunting, and gradualism
- textual / authorial negotiations of invisibility, anonymity, disappearance, obscurity, or
- memorialization and categories of identity such as gender, race, class, sexuality, and disability
- biodegradable / sustainable aesthetics
- scientific and antiquarian analyses of extinction, evolution, and survival
- the ruins of Romantic criticism and theory / the remains of Romantic literary history / the afterlives of Romantic writing
Rachel Seiler-Smith: “Experimental Subjects”; OPEN
Description: This panel seeks papers on the rights (and ethical rightness) of subjects and conductors of Romantic experiments. The animal, the poor, the slave, the imprisoned, the child, the corpse: all exemplary specimens of the bodies most vulnerable to the spirit of experimentation. Despite many Romantic protests against reason’s nightmares, experiments with living beings persisted throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. New legislation, such as the Anatomy Act, began to challenge the use of certain experimental subjects and raised questions about who holds the right to consent (or not) to scientific, medical, or even social scrutiny. Meanwhile, imaginative work such as Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads and Shelley’s Frankenstein framed themselves as experiments in creation, questioning what it meant to be responsible in caring for such creatures. In some cases of Romantic experiment, the creatures and subjects question back. What other strategies articulate the rights of individuals to resist or participate in experiments advertising themselves as a “benefit to mankind”? In what cases was consent given, and how was such consent construed? How did such forays into literal and figurative experiment contribute to new understandings of the rights to subjectivity? What sorts of knowledges and new concepts of rights are produced from the denials and/or developments of a “test-subject’s” informed consent?
Noah Comet: “Romanticism in All the ‘Wrong’ Places”; OPEN
Description: This panel will address the rights and wrongs done to British Romantic tenets, texts and heroes as they are construed (or, perhaps more interestingly, misconstrued) by subsequent readers and writers up to WWII. We may think about questions of canonicity, intertextuality, political and philosophical reframings, and the institutionalization of “Romantic” ideology and beliefs. A transatlantic approach to this topic is not required, but is very welcome.
In short—what is this text doing here? What are some of the surprising or maybe even inappropriate places where we find allusions to or direct quotations from the authors of our period? What unlikely patterns of readership and reception emerge when one surveys special-interest and/or foreign periodicals for excerpts and reviews of British Romantic texts? Where, when and how are ostensibly “scandalous” or “irreverent” texts finding their ways into curricula and civic discourse? How does author biography and/or obituary (in long or short form)—especially with respect to figures such as Coleridge, Byron Shelley, and L.E.L. whose lives and deaths present biographers with challenges to polite decorum—fare across national boundaries and/or across time? What are some of the unexpected itineraries and destinations in the many travels of the so-called “Byronic Hero” and Wordsworthian “I”?
Roundtable: Public Romanticism: Scholarship and Advocacy
Organized by the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus
full name / name of organization:
NASSR Graduate Student Caucus
NASSR 2015: Romanticism and Rights
January 17th deadline
Public Romanticism: Scholarship and Advocacy
Faculty scholars and graduate students are invited to submit a short (five-minute) presentation for a high-octane roundtable discussion on how Romantic scholarship at all levels might interface with advocacy in the public sphere, in keeping with the NASSR 2015 conference theme of “Romanticism and Rights.” This opportunity is sponsored and will be convened by the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus.
Please see https://nassr2015.wordpress.com/ for the full conference description.
Please submit a title and one-page abstract of your proposed five-minute talk to the NGSC Co-Conveners, Arden Hegele (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Jacob Leveton (email@example.com), by January 17th, 2015.