19 May 2023 - 20 May 2023All dayFaculty of English

Description

Convenor

  • Rhona Jamieson, University of Cambridge

Co-convenors

  • Michael Rizq, University of Cambridge
  • Alexander Hobday, University of Cambridge
  • Tanya Kundu, University of Cambridge
  • Ally Louks, University of Cambridge

Speakers

  • Sarah Dillon, University of Cambridge
  • Rita Felski, University of Virginia
  • Constanze Güthenke, University of Oxford
  • Jonathan Kramnick, Yale University
  • Helen Small, University of Oxford

Summary

The urgency of scholarly analysis of trust, conspiracism, and the relationship between academy and state during the COVID-19 pandemic presents academics with an opportune moment in which to probe evolving and emergent considerations of the functions of criticism. Since Bruno Latour archly observed that critique has ‘run out of steam’, debate within the critical discussions that postcritique thinker Rita Felski has termed the ‘method wars’ have been sometimes fractious. This conference seeks to return, in a generous spirit of collaboration, to imperative questions regarding the humanities’ functions, methods, and contribution both within and beyond the academy.

Postcritique writing has productively reinvigorated assessments of the type of activity the humanities perform. But this growing body of work has also exposed the need for a widespread re-evaluation that both includes and ranges beyond affective philosophies of attachment and strategies of surface reading. Amongst recent interrogations of critical practices, posited solutions have ranged across actor-network theory, ordinary language philosophy, attention to cognitive approaches to texts, new modes of interdisciplinarity, sociological, digital, and quantitative methods, and a reconsideration of the public functions of academic research. There is a critical momentum building behind the question of what kind of activity ‘criticism’ is, and how best to describe and understand the activities of the humanities more broadly. Attending to this question requires both innovation and a rigorous interrogation of the disparities, synchronies, and intersections of critique and postcritique. As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick delicately articulated, a hermeneutics of suspicion can be ‘one kind of cognitive/affective theoretical practice among other, alternative kinds’. Is it possible that these various methods might offer each other mutual support, or coexist in a disciplinary structure that thrives upon critical variety? This conference seeks to explore the question: What are the assorted functions of our criticism?

Supported by:

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Programme

Call for papers

Call for papers

What are the assorted functions of our criticism? In the midst of concerns about the relation between the academy and the state, trust in authority, and conspiracism, questions regarding ‘use’ and ‘function’ in the humanities are ever more pressing. Since Bruno Latour archly observed that critique has ‘run out of steam’, the discussions that postcritique thinker Rita Felski has termed the ‘method wars’ have sometimes been fractious. This conference seeks to return, in a generous spirit of collaboration, to imperative questions regarding the humanities’ functions, methods, and contribution both within and beyond the academy.

Postcritique writing has productively reinvigorated assessments of the activities that the humanities perform. But this growing body of work has also exposed the need for a widespread re-evaluation that both includes and moves beyond affective philosophies of attachment and techniques of surface reading. Amongst recent interrogations of critical practice, innovative strategies have ranged across actor-network theory, ordinary language philosophy, cognitive approaches to texts, new modes of interdisciplinarity, sociological, digital, and quantitative methods, and a reconsideration of the public functions of academic research. There is momentum building – in different ways, and across fields – behind the question of how best to describe and understand ‘criticism’, and the activities of the humanities more broadly. As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick delicately articulated, a hermeneutics of suspicion can be ‘one kind of cognitive/affective theoretical practice among other, alternative kinds’. Is it possible that these various methods might offer each other mutual support, or coexist in an (inter)disciplinary structure that thrives upon critical variety?

Returning, with an additional emphasis upon plurality, to the question of ‘the function of criticism’ (Matthew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, Terry Eagleton), we invite papers of relevance to the subject of the conference, which might include considerations of:

  • What we mean by ‘use’, ‘function’ and ‘value’ in the humanities
  • The role of expertise both inside and outside the academy
  • The cognitive value of texts and modes of reading
  • The benefits and/or potential risks of thinking about functions
  • The usefulness and/or limitations of such terms as ‘criticism’, ‘hermeneutics’ and ‘humanistic inquiry’ to define the activities of academics in the humanities
  • Alternative metaphors for strategies of reading (beyond those of ‘surface’ and ‘depth’)
  • New rhetoric with which to describe scholars’ engagement with texts and sources
  • Practical examples of these strategies of reading
  • Pedagogical technique and its relationship to critical practice
  • The relations between ‘criticism’ and political power
  • The status of ‘truth’ in the humanities
  • The affective role of faith, conviction, or doubt in our ways of readin
  • Historical exemplars for ‘criticism’ or method in the humanities
  • The social and political operations of affects such as joy, desire, and paranoia in the reading of literary and non-literary texts
  • The public value of criticism
  • The role of the humanities after COVID-19

Confirmed Keynote speakers: Sarah Dillon (University of Cambridge), Rita Felski (University of Virginia) and Jonathan Kramnick (Yale University).

The conference will be in-person, at the University of Cambridge.

In one document please provide:

    • Proposals for 20 minute papers (300 words)
    • Paper title
    • Participant biography (100 words)

Please send proposals by email to rnj23@cam.ac.uk

Deadline for submissions: 10 December 2022

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