THE FORMS, MATERIALS, AND INSTITUTIONS OF AMERICAN PERIODICALS
A one day symposium of the Network of American Periodical Studies
University of Nottingham – Friday 21st September 2018
“Context stinks! It’s a way of stopping the description when you are too tired or lazy to go on,” Bruno Latour declares in Reassembling the Social (2005), a consciously polemical effort to counter the fixity of prevailing socio-political models of interpretation with the processual fluidity enabled by actor-network theory. Taken up as a mantra by various literary critics concerned with overturning the tendency to critique texts as ideological objects, the idea that “context stinks” particularly underpins a constellation of recent approaches to literature that take “description” as their guide, whether through a renewed attention to aesthetics, close reading, or genre.
Although primarily concerned to date with the traditional literary foci of novels, poems and plays, the rejection of New Historicist modes of contextualization under the rubric of what Rita Felski has called “postcritical reading” has much to offer scholars working on periodical culture. But at the same time, if any single hermeneutic strategy can be said to have retarded the progress of periodical studies it is the field’s consistent privileging of content over context. Students of the periodical have typically borrowed their means of analysing them from the study of other forms. Texts – often by already canonical writers – are prised from the wealth of matter published in magazines and newspapers and subjected to detailed descriptive readings that abstract them entirely from their broader periodical environment. The problem for periodical studies is not necessarily that it has been too obsessed with context (though its default interpretive lens has tended to be that of ideology) but that it hasn’t engaged imaginatively enough with the range and diversity of possible periodical contexts.
This symposium thus seeks papers that challenge the narrow content-orientation of much existing periodicals scholarship by engaging with new, deeper and more complex contextualizations of these unique textual objects. In particular, we are interested in work that offers considerations of the American periodical from the perspective not of its content-providers but the perspective of the multiple human and nonhuman actors responsible for assembling and distributing what in the aggregate is a mass of literary material simply too large and various for conventional interpretive approaches. Possible topics might include but are not limited to:
- The material constitution of periodicals (paper, illustration, etc.)
- Transportation and the geography of periodicals
- Technologies of periodical production
- The business and commerce of periodicals
- Periodical editors, managers, and owners
- Periodicals and manual labour
- Legal structures and the periodical (copyright, censorship, etc.)
- Seriality and the temporalities of periodical culture
- The role of genre in periodical culture
- The periodical archive and its challenges and limitations
- The digitization of periodicals and its consequences for textual interpretation
- The periodical and distant reading
- The periodical and network theory
Please send 300 word abstracts and accompanying one-page CVs to the symposium organizers, Dr Matthew Pethers (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr Graham Thompson (email@example.com), by Monday April 16th 2018.