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Types and Typicality

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Organizer: Dora Zhang

Co-Organizer: Yoon Sun Lee

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The great synthesis achieved by realism lies, according to Georg Lukács, in the depiction of “typical individuals in typical circumstances.” Typicality is, for him, the dialectical hinge between the single individual and the larger patterns of history, and thus the means through which the realist novel could grasp and make representable the truth of social relations that is otherwise obscured by immediate appearances. This dialectical unity gets lost in modernism’s emphasis on transcendent particularity and the subjective interiority of the solitary, alienated individual, severed from connection to the larger group. Has it been recovered in the realism of the present moment, or in the realism of the periphery?

This seminar seeks to revisit the notion of type, in and beyond Lukács and the novel. If realism refuses the existence of universal classes or categories, if it situates truth within individual experience, then why are types so prevalent in realist novels and what function do they perform? Can there be a realism that does not claim a certain typicality for its creations? How is aesthetic typicality related to the empirical average on the one hand, and to essentialism, on the other? What can focusing on types reveal about the history of realism more broadly? In our present neoliberal era, type is now more likely to be associated with the constricting misrepresentations of stereotype, from which the individual needs to be freed: what is the relationship between type and stereotype?  How might ideas of typicality illuminate the impasses of identity in contemporary literature, especially in light of recent diagnoses (e.g. by Jed Esty and Colleen Lye) of a “realist” turn after decades of the dominance of modernism and its offshoots? How might Lukács’s paradigm need to be modified for different genres, periods, or national literary traditions? What are the key types of the present? What is the relationship between type and related terms like “figure” (e.g. “the figure of the madman”) that also seek to link an individual to a larger set? Can thinking about typicality address the problematic of the common, or reenvision forms of collectivity?

We welcome papers on historical, social, racial, intersectional types in a variety of periods, genres, media (for example, the graphic novel), and national and minority traditions.

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