Chronicle of Higher Ed on “Surface Reading”

“The New Modesty in Literary Criticism”

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Jeffrey J. Williams’s recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in identifying a shift toward a new, more empirical, method of literary study, focuses significantly on “surface reading,” the subject of an influential special issue of Representations: “The Way We Read Now” (Fall 2009), edited by Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best.

According to Williams, “a good deal of contemporary criticism has performed ‘symptomatic reading,’ a term that conveys looking for the hidden meaning of a text, using, for example, Marxian, Freudian, or deconstructive interpretation…. Surface reading instead focuses on ‘what is evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts,’ as Best and Marcus put it. Thus the critic is no longer like a detective who doesn’t trust the suspect but more the social scientist who describes the manifest statements of a text.”

Indeed, as Marcus and Best point out in their introduction to “The Way We Read Now,” “The essays [included in the issue] remind us that as much as our objects of study may conceal the structures that give rise to them, they also wear them on their sleeves.”

Find “The Way We Read Now” online, or read pieces by other authors working in this vein (such as Margaret Cohen, Elaine Freedgood, Cannon Schmitt, Eric Bulson, and others) in more recent numbers of Representations, especially the special issue “Denotatively, Technically, Literally” (Winter 2014), edited by Freedgood and Schmitt.

Sarah Winter presents “ ‘Have-his-carcase’: Habeas Writs, (Human) Rights, and Pickwick”

WinterSarah Winter, Professor of English and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Connecticut, will present an upcoming talk at UC Berkeley entitled “’Have-his-carcase’: Habeas Writs, (Human) Rights, and Pickwick.”

The event will take place on Monday, December 8 at 5pm in 306 Wheeler Hall. The talk will focus on a pre-circulated paper (to obtain a copy, contact Wendy Xin at wendy.xin@berkeley.edu). The event is sponsored by the Nineteenth Century British Cultural Studies Townsend Center Working Group and the Florence Green Bixby Chair in English.

Sarah Winter’s essay, “Darwin’s Saussure: Biosemiotics and Race in Expressions,” winner of the North American Victorian Studies Association’s Donald Gray Prize for the best article in Victorian studies from 2009, is available in Representations 107 (Summer 2009).

Quirk Historicism

Quirk Historicism and the End(s) of Art History: A One-Day Symposium

Organized by Nicholas Mathew and Mary Ann Smart

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Saturday, Nov. 1, UC Berkeley
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, Townsend Center for the Humanities, UC Berkeley

In many humanities disciplines, the past twenty years or so have witnessed a dramatic expansion in the types of objects and ideas that can be meaningfully invoked in the course of historical study. One consequence of this has been a new reveling in the allure of objets trouvés or historical micronarratives – the conversion of the obscurity, strangeness, and distance of historical debris into a form of rhetoric, which frequently acts as a substitute for more conventional forms of argument or exposition. The emergence of this tendency, which we’re calling Quirk Historicism, is thus partly a story about how historical study has been turned into a kind of aesthetic experience.   

Participants include Nicholas Mathew, Mary Ann Smart, James Davies, Emily Dolan, Deirdre Loughridge, James Currie, Benjamin Piekut, Aoife Monks, Ellen Lockhart, Benjamin Walton, Thomas Laqueur, and Alan Tansman.

To find out more, visit the conference website at http://quirkhistoricism.wordpress.com.

 

“Poetry and the Price of Value”

Representations author Christopher Nealon in conversation

On Friday, October 17, the UC Berkeley English department colloquia on 20th/21st-Century Literature and Poetry and Poetics present a conversation with Christopher Nealon, professor of English at Johns Hopkins University. The conversation will be based around a pre-circulated paper, “Poetry and the Price of Value.” The event will take place at UC Berkeley in Wheeler Hall 300, at 2pm.

Poetry and the Price of Value (Christopher Nealon)

Christopher Nealon’s essay, “Reading on the Left,” is available in Representations 108 (Fall 2009).

 

“Designing Histories of Slavery for the Age of the Database”

Representations board member Stephen Best hosts event with Vincent Brown

Vincent Brown Lecture

On Friday, October 17, The Black Room and the Institute of International Studies will co-sponsor a talk by Vincent Brown, Charles Warren Professor of History and Professor of African & African-American Studies and the Director of the History Design Studio at Harvard University.

This presentation considers three graphic histories of slavery—a web-based animation of Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database, a cartographic narrative of the Jamaican slave revolt of 1760–61, and a web-based archive of enslaved family lineages in Jamaica and Virginia—that illustrate how the archive of slavery is more than the records bequeathed to us by the past; the archive also includes the tools we use to explore it, the vision that allows us to see its traces, and the design decisions that communicate our sense of history’s possibilities.

The event will take place at UC Berkeley in the Maude Fife Room (Wheeler Hall 315) at noon.

What Was African American Literature?

Representations’ Best, Lye, and Otter in conversation with Kenneth Warren

On Friday, September 12, UC Berkeley English department faculty and Representations board members Stephen Best, Colleen Lye, and Samuel Otter will join Kenneth Warren, Professor of English at the University of Chicago, for a roundtable on Warren’s book, What Was African American Literature? (Harvard University Press, 2011). The roundtable will take place at UC Berkeley in the Maud Fife Room, 315 Wheeler Hall, from 12-2 pm.

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On or About 1814

On or About 1814: A Symposium on Literature in History

September 20-21, 2014
300 WheelerHall, UC Berkeley

Convened by Representations editorial board member Ian Duncan.

on-or-about-1814-5On or About 1814 brings together a group of scholars to mark the bicentenary of Walter Scott’s Waverley, published in July 1814, and other literary events associated with “that fated year” (Robert Louis Stevenson).  Along with works published in Britain in 1814, participants explore a range of ways of thinking about historical dates and periods and what such data might mean for the study of literature. The format will feature short (15-20 minute) papers with plenty of time for discussion and a seminar-style workshop on Waverley and Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Speakers include James Chandler (Chicago), Adriana Craciun (UC Riverside), Claire Connolly (Cork), Simon During (Queensland), Penny Fielding (Edinburgh), Rae Greiner (Indiana), Sara Hackenberg (San Francisco State), Yoon Sun Lee (Wellesley College), Ian Duncan (UC Berkeley), Deidre Shauna Lynch (Harvard), Ann Rigney (Utrecht), and  Matthew Wickman (Brigham Young).

Full program and details to be announced shortly. Please address inquiries to Ian Duncan, iduncan@berkeley.edu.

Caravaggio’s Pitiful Relics

New from Representations editorial board member Todd Olson:

Caravaggio’s Pitiful Relics

Yale University Press, May 2014

Beginning with his early works, the Italian painter Caravaggio (1571–1610) was intensely engaged with the physical world. He not only interrogated appearances but also experimented with the paint’s material nature. Caravaggio’s Pitiful Relics explores how the artist’s commitment to materiality served and ultimately challenged the Counter- Reformation church’s interests. 9780300190137

In addition to Caravaggio’s Pitiful RelicsTodd Olson is the author of Poussin and France: Painting, Humanism and the Politics of Style (Yale University Press, 2002). Other recent publications include “Markers: Le Moyne de Morgues in Sixteenth-Century Florida,” in Seeing Across Cultures in the Early Modern Period, ed. Dana Leibsohn and Jeanette F. Peterson (Ashgate, 2012) and “Reproductive Horror: Sixteenth-Century Mexican Pictures in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Oxford Art Journal). He is Associate Professor in the History of Art Department at UC Berkeley.

Symposium: The Literary and Its Outsides

Denotatively, Technically, Literally
The Literary and Its Outsides
Tuesday, April 1, 5–7:00 pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall
Townsend Center for the Humanities
UC Berkeley

Presenters:

Margaret Cohen (Stanford University)
Ian Duncan (UC Berkeley)
Elaine Freedgood (New York University)
Cannon Schmitt (University of Toronto)

Discussants:

Stephen Best (UC Berkeley)
Kent Puckett (UC Berkeley)
Four contributors to the current special issue of Representations (No. 125, Winter 2014), co-edited by Elaine Freedgood and Cannon Schmitt, will offer reflections on language–denotative, technical, literal–conventionally excluded from critical reading and, thus, from “literature.” Discussants include Stephen Best (editorial board, Representations, co-editor of the special issue “Surface Reading,” No. 108, 2009) and Kent Puckett (co-chair, editorial board, Representations).

Co-sponsored by:

Representations
The Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, UCB
The Nineteenth Century and Beyond Working Group, UCB
The Florence Green Bixby Chair in English, UCB

Becoming America: A History for the 21st Century

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The way we once learned history is now history.

Representations editorial board members David Henkin and Rebecca McLennan have just published a new US history survey, Becoming America: A History for the 21st Century.

Developed for students and instructors of the twenty-first century, Becoming America excites learners by connecting history to their experience of contemporary life. You can’t travel back in time, but you can be transported, and Becoming America does so by expanding the traditional core of the US survey to include the most contemporary scholarship on cultural, technological, and environmental transformations. At the same time, the program transforms the student learning experience through innovative technology that is at the forefront of the digital revolution. As a result, the Becoming America program makes it easier for students to grasp both the distinctiveness and the familiarity of bygone eras, and to think in a historically focused way about the urgent questions of our times.