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Mixed Messages from Projects of (Personal) Discovery

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Organizer: Travis Landry

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This seminar examines the place of personal discovery in today's scholarship. Shadowed by the pandemic and concerned about an assault on the humanities, the field of literary studies nevertheless holds fast to intended audience, clear argumentation, and well-supported claims. That may be a good thing. Yet, something about the landscape beyond feels different, for being less certain and increasingly more fragile. Many have set out on new paths that are refreshingly gratifying, but equally inchoate. What happens when one’s own journey muddies the expected ending? What do we make of mixed messages from findings inseparable from individual aspirations for deeper meaning about ourselves in relation to literature, the arts, and teaching? How do we salvage and, even, promote research whose purpose roots in something other than a developed thesis? If the takeaway becomes the telling, the self can appear an impediment to concrete returns. If the contribution signals more about “me” than the material, that is an issue. A common lament is that guiding principles within the academy want for real-world relevance. How is what we do “when writing for our colleagues” applicable to day-to-day living? Should it be? Where am I, for example, in the case I construct about a “little-known” text or an “unread” author? Is what matters my position for or against some other voice out there in the ocean (or pond) of the published? Why might the personal feel like a watered-down play for a wider public, while that which is most abstruse wins the day by carrying credibility for a small readership of specialists? Growth, new ways of seeing, renewed spirit, the search for intimate understanding... these are lofty ideals too easily sidelined by the pragmatism of placing an article or manuscript with scrupulous readers in the equation. Submissions for this seminar, therefore, should describe past or present projects that blur the boundaries related to how literary research is broadly understood and practiced in these respects. Examples can anchor in travels, unexpected encounters, strange twists of circumstance, or any number of other ways we come to live through or inhabit our professional projects. Encouraged are reflections on lessons learned from “self-indulgent” risks and adventures, alongside insights about balance. Successful abstracts might endorse, reject, or simply puzzle over the virtues of the vocation, once that vocation proves more personal in its reach and, as consequence, seemingly at odds with established conventions.

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