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Religion, Ethics, and the Secular in Literature: Intermediality, Intervention, or Conflict of the Faculties? Sponsored seminar by the ICLA Committee on Religion, Ethics, and Literature.

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Organizer: Kitty Millet

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In Midrash and Literature (1986), Hartman and Budick argue that literature, informed by a secular form of midrash or commentary, produces an “intermediary space” in which subjects inhabit “a whole universe of allusive textuality” (xi). Their argument freights literature as a world in flux, characterized by scripting and rescripting, a constant shift between aesthetic registers. If we extend Hartman and Budick’s literary “universe of allusive textuality,” literature represents a kind of “unboundedness” because it exists without a legislative principle structuring it. It is a transgressive antinomial space so to speak. This perspective suggests that literature does not necessarily reduce to a “conflict” between the faculties, that its recuperation, or its repositioning of religious signifiers, narratives, and principles, produces something necessary to the subject. Is it possible that literature might speak to subjective experience in a different key altogether so that the unlegislated produces multiple access points or registers for new modes of being? Does this “act of literature” suggest an ethical orientation? Sponsored by the ICLA Research Committee on Religion, Ethics, and Literature, this seminar examines literature’s “actions” in relation to religion and ethics in order to ask whether literary representation must be reducible to an adversarial instrument, antagonistically positioned against the “faculties,” or can its recuperation of other media, principles and concepts from these disciplines transform the ways we think about epistemologies in general? In other words, does literary space reject religion and/or ethics because it is necessary to prevent the overreach of these disciplines into the aesthetic? Or does literature’s use of discrete aspects of these disciplines redeem the relationship between them?   The seminar seeks comparative papers addressing the topic. Papers should focus on examples from at least two different linguistic traditions. We are especially interested in essays that examine literature as intermedial expression, and/or that focus on how literature synthesizes the signifiers, narratives, and principles from ethics and religion to produce new subject positions.

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