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Toward New Theories and Histories of Romance

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Organizer: Joel Childers

Co-Organizer: Jared Hickman

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For many scholars of the twentieth century, “romance” has proved an enticing genre by which to narrate the advent of (literary) modernity. In the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries, “romans” signified the emergence of a vernacular literary culture for a Middle Ages insisting on “its own modernity” (Copeland). In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, diverging from yet also paralleling the “biblical tradition,” “romance” gained in seriousness and popularity behind the changing winds of secularization (Frye). Within the regime of capitalism, “romance” is said to offer “imaginary solutions to real social contradictions” (Jameson); and with the onset of industrial capitalism, where Euro-imperial expansion meant that eradication was “the necessary fate of every primitive culture with which capitalism [came] into contact,” the perspectival nature of the historical romance illustrated not only that indigenous apocalypse has been so but also that it will be (Lukács).

In this seminar, we invite scholars to reflect on the theory and practice of “romance” with an eye to its critical malleability. Why has “romance” invited such diverse and careful attention? What is it about “romance” that has proved so amenable to what are often at core narratives of modernity? We likewise invite scholars to question the reach of this contrivance as methodological tool. How have accounts of “romance” been circumscribed by a tacit Euro-centrism? What other stories might “romance” let us tell that either refuse or shift the coordinates of these familiar narratives?  

 We welcome scholars from an array of fields and backgrounds. Potential topics might address, but need not be limited to:

Iterations of “romans” as a term and literary culture in the Middle Ages
The re-vitalization of “romance” in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Europe
Race, empire, and uneven development in "romance"
Gender and sexuality in "romance" (violence, identity, masochism, queerness)
Nature and the environment in "romance" (resources, animals, exploitation, apocalypse)
"Romance," world, and world literature
Genre theory
"Romance" and nationalism
"Romance" and Marxist literary theory

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