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Critical Ethnic Literary Studies

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Organizer: Sunny Xiang

Co-Organizer: Chris A. Eng

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US ethnic literary studies occupy a peculiar disciplinary space between Critical Ethnic Studies and (English) literary criticism. Namely, it has been deemed too dematerialized for the former and too empirical for the latter. We believe that this intermediary position can offer a valuable vantage point for examining how criticism, critique, criticality, and “postcritique” function in studies of “ethnicity” and studies of “literature.” How do these divergent analytical objects impact how readers approach them? What stances, methodologies, politics, values, and histories are implied by the ideal of the “critical” honed in disciplinary homes? We are particularly interested in two seemingly irreconcilable trends in Critical Ethnic Studies (CES) and English literary studies. In CES, a critical attitude has informed challenges to the field’s incorporation into the neoliberal university as well as into liberal multiculturalist ideologies. While CES scholars tend to harbor a deep suspicion toward transparency and recognition, certain proponents of postcritique have branded a “hermeneutics of suspicion” as a kind of instrumentalist ideological critique. How might CES’s abiding skepticism toward forms of institutionalization and its concerted push for more utopian political projects be brought into conversation with the methodological recourse to forms of “weakness” in literary studies—especially among feminist and queer scholars and specifically in the revaluation of thin description, surface reading, behavioral observation, and postcritique? What insights might be gained if we treat literary and aesthetic works not as the objects of scholarly critique but as themselves the sources of dynamic critical visions? On what grounds and toward what futures might “literariness” and “criticality” be brought together?  

We believe that the specific location, or dislocation, of ethnic literary studies might be especially useful for working out the wide-ranging meanings and ends of contemporary critique. We welcome “critical” thinkers, with or without disciplinary attachments, who are keen to reflect on method, reading, archives, praxis, and bad objects, particularly with respect to US ethnic literature to submit an abstract for this proposed seminar that contemplates the provocation for “Critical Ethnic Literary Studies.” Please send a 200-250 word abstract to the ACLA paper submission website by Sept. 20.

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