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Victorian Worlds: Form, System, Atmosphere

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Organizer: Robert Ryan

Co-Organizer: Rithika Ramamurthy

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We are living out a sort of afterlife of the nineteenth century. Climate catastrophe, mutant capital, planetary dispossession: these now too-familiar environs are but the late, baggy chapters to a story that began two hundred some odd years ago. The uneven and ungrounded world we all inhabit is still shaped and structured by the echoes of an epoch, an episteme, an empire. We remain, however modulated and differently shaded, in a Victorian World. 
Thinking in terms of the world has long been crucial to the nineteenth century, in both self-identity and its later historical study. Marx and Engels wrote that capitalism’s “need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe.” Georg Lukacs named the novel as “the epic of a world that has been abandoned by God.” In his grand tour of the Victorian period and its legacy, Said concluded “we are in a world being made and unmade more or less all the time.”
These theorizations speak to the surviving quality of Victorian forms, and our present need for better ideas of what we have not yet left behind. Because we have not thought through the presence and endurance of the Victorian world, we have not understood our own.
Recent work in literary studies (both proper to the Victorian period and elsewhere) has developed subtle and nuanced modes for comprehending and theorizing worldedness in its many valences. Eric Hayot points us toward “the ontology of composed works"; the environmental humanities invite us to think about what Jesse Oak Taylor has called the “signature of the Anthropocene in literary history”; and the enduring modes of postcolonial and imperial critique ask that we consider even our most canonical, seemingly conservative objects as brimming over with critical possibility.
We invite papers that think seriously in any form about the worldedness of literature and the malleable historicity of the nineteenth century. Our keywords indicate three possible paths, thought broadly. What forms enable or engender the Victorian world; how does form make a world? What are the systems of this world, and how have they endured or evolved since the nineteenth century? What is the atmosphere of the Victorian world, from its air to its sociality, its emancipatory porousness and strangling densities? What erstwhile ethers and affects animate and imbue our present?
Please contact the organizers if you have any questions.

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