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Organizer: John Brenkman

Co-Organizer: Sorin Radu Cucu

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We seek papers that address literary and artistic works that interrogate or contest the aesthetic even as they seek to create new artistic forms and new modes of aesthetic responsiveness. The antagonism of aesthetic and anti-aesthetic runs, for example, throughout the history of the modern novel, as novelistic narratives incorporate other narrative genres—such as romance, melodrama, fairy tale, myth, idyll, pastoral—thwarting the genre's aesthetic expectations and ironizing its aesthetic pleasures. The relation of art and reality is often the stake in the anti-aesthetic gesture. Readymades, found objects, and conceptual art pursue the anti-aesthetic aesthetic in multiple ways. Are there processes and intentions at work here that do not easily go back to the benchmark of Duchamp's urinal? Repudiating Ibsen's realism as an aesthetically gratifying illusion of reality, Artaud imagined a theater in which the real would break through all theatrical artifice, while Brecht sought to enhance the artifice in a way that displaced the audience's ingrained perception of social reality. Art in which the real interrupts the aesthetic vs. an art in which the aesthetic opens new horizons on reality—how do such competing projects continue to manifest themselves in modern and contemporary literature and art? Poets and artists have long gone against the grain of the 18th-century equation of the aesthetic with beauty and beauty with well-formedness, to the point of rethinking form as shape, "which is a faltering where it suddenly ceases / to falter" (Jorie Graham) or the finished work as the interruption of "the process of permanent transformation, which in my case never ends" (Anselm Kiefer). These various angles on the aesthetic/anti-aesthetic not only tend to historicize, or relativize, what is meant by aesthetic but therefore also challenge aesthetic theory to seek not fixed definitions but an account of the movements and countermovements, tendencies and countertendencies that animate artistic creativity and receptivity.

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