Ways of Reading: Beyond, Beneath, and Beside Theory

The Graduate Students of the Department of Comparative Thought and Literature at Johns Hopkins University are proud to announce their bi-annual conference on February 22 and 23, 2019. We are pleased to host keynote speakers Heather Love (Associate Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania) and Bernie Rhie (Associate Professor of English, Williams College).

Among the countless motivations to humanistic study is the feeling that something we care about in a text, film, play, political speech, piece of music, work of art, or everyday experience is being missed, or distorted, or otherwise neglected. In the 20th century, theoretical approaches inspired by Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud produced ideology critique and its concomitant “hermeneutics of suspicion” as a preeminent mode for expressing the humanist’s disenchantment with culture, alongside its popular and scholarly reception. Unmasking implicit assumptions, revealing hidden meanings, demystifying oppressive structures, and penetrating beneath the surfaces became the dominant metaphors used to characterize the practice of interpretation. Over the past 25 years however, interventions by Sedgwick, Latour, Best and Marcus, Moretti, Felski, Love, Moi and others have sought to make available other ways of reading, many of which do not set themselves against the dominant theoretical mood, but instead aim to move beyond or beside it. Reparative reading, surface reading, just reading, distant reading, thin description, and reading as a practice of acknowledgement, among others, have emerged as interrelated and overlapping vocabularies for articulating what may be missed by reading in a purely “symptomatic” mode.

The expansion of hermeneutic styles has been accompanied by a revolution in the corporeality and materiality of reading, with some suggesting that we have entered a new “post-literary” reality. Traditional reading media have been diversified through the advancement of digital technologies that not only eliminate paper, celluloid, and other matter, but also enable customized ways of engaging with the material at hand beyond the presence of libraries, theaters, and concert halls. Meanwhile, scholars across the humanities are searching for ways to “read” an ever-expanding range of artifacts, from musical scores and illustrated children’s literature to fMRI scans and big data. The political stakes of these intellectual and material shifts in our ways of reading are being fiercely contested, as we continue to grapple with the challenges of comparative methods, the limits of translatability, and the moral responsibilities of readers in the world today.

In the interdisciplinary spirit of the Department of Comparative Thought and Literature, we would like to invite papers from graduate students in the fields of theory and criticism, comparative literature, English and other national literatures, cultural studies, film and media studies, philosophy, religious studies, classical studies, history, art history, anthropology, sociology, political science, education, ethnomusicology, and any other relevant field in the humanities or social sciences that takes up the question of the changing ways we read.

Abstract submissions of 250-300 words should be sent to waysofreading2019@gmail.com by November 16, 2018.