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Forms of Attention

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Organizer: Jennifer Reimer

Co-Organizer: Michael Subialka

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Recent scholarship has placed renewed, and updated, focus on the question of aesthetic form. Building on that focus, this panel asks: how can aesthetic form produce or enable modes of attention, and what consequences might fostering these new forms of attention might entail?

How literature’s formal attributes can foster new modes of aesthetic attention has been theorized variously by recent scholarship—as “empathy” by Nussbaum or “affect” by Jameson, or in terms of its “affordances” by Levine, for example.  Aesthetics, Samantha Pinto argues, “is not just a form but the form of politics” through which the difficult affective experience of reading can destabilize understandings of difference, reveal new perspectives and contest hierarchies, offering readers opportunities for solidarity across difference. We are particularly interested in projects that similarly engage the political function of aesthetics, linking formal analysis to the material contexts of history. In this light, we seek submissions that consider how form can reshape the modes in which the world becomes available to us and the way in which we engage it - our practices of attention and their outcomes. 

We thus invite proposals that engage literature’s form in comparative and transnational contexts, including but not limited to topics such as how form enables us to attend to:

the material realities of history

genre and periodization
politics of identity and difference (race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, citizenship status, etc., as well as intersections of difference)
literary transnationalism 
the political function of art
political movements and social protest (including global populist movements)
movement, flow, migration (of people, goods, capital, etc.)
transnational feminist theories
the historical dimensions of aesthetics as a practice

It is the very materiality of texts, the literary nature and formal qualities of certain texts, that impact readers and shape public knowledge. An expanded and politically-engaged focus on form calls attention to what is not yet incorporated into the status quo, prefiguring the possibility of historical change and pointing towards the new and the unknown, beyond current forms of social life.


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