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Poetry and Mass Collectivity

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Organizer: Andrew Gorin

Co-Organizer: Gerónimo Sarmiento Cruz

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In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson describes how the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier broadens the reach of the public it configures precisely by evacuating its act of memorialization of specific content. In this respect, the cenotaph recapitulates historical deployments of an abstract and universal subject position—such as that of the citizen—as a means of constituting a reciprocally abstract and universal mass collective. Recent works of poetry and scholarship have illuminated the relation between the neutralizing function of such collectivizing gestures and the similarly normative nature of certain modes of poetry and poetic address. They have also articulated the ways poems might offer alternative configurations of subjectivity and collectivity in the mass context.



This panel invites discussion on how poets have negotiated the construction of publics and counterpublics in our loosely defined contemporary moment. While writers have long been interested in the genre’s ability to foment and critique the production of virtual and actual modes of togetherness, we aim to address poetry’s engagements with collectivity after the rise of mass media and consumer culture and the opening up of political and aesthetic representation to diverse audiences and electorates that defined the postwar period in the United States. What kinds of social bodies can texts and politics produce in this realm? What does the study of poetry reveal about historical shifts in the ways collectivity gets experienced and conceptualized? How have authors talked back to normative configurations of readerly and spectatorial audiences? And how, finally, might contemplating poetry’s relation to the changing norms of discourse in the highly visual and aural mass public sphere help us to reframe certain debates about categories such as lyric, liberalism, nationalism, and democracy, and to consider the ways these categories take on new meanings or lead complex afterlives in the mass-mediated arenas of the late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries?



Though mainly concerned with contemporary cases, we welcome proposals that address earlier interactions between poetry and the conditions of collectivity, especially as they lay the groundwork for subsequent revisions and elaborations. We will also consider papers that expand beyond the borders of the United States, provided that they contribute to a discussion of topics relevant to the North-American situation. We particularly encourage discussions that focus on the construction or critique of publics around issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, nationality, affect, digital culture, and the climate crisis. 


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