Discontinuous Compositions: Reading Fragments – CTL Biennial Graduate Student Conference 2024

Discontinuous Compositions: Reading Fragments – CTL Biennial Graduate Student Conference 2024

The Graduate Students of the Department of Comparative Thought and Literature at Johns Hopkins University are proud to announce our biennial conference on April 5 and 6, 2024. We are pleased to host keynote speakers Branka Arsić (Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University) and Thomas P. Kelly (Assistant Professor in East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University).

In his September 2, 1902 letter to Clara, Rilke describes the profundity of Rodin’s sculptural fragments, “Each of these pieces is of such an eminent, moving unity, so possible on its own, so not at all in need of completion, that one forgets that they are just parts…” Wonderstruck by the self-sufficiency of fragments, the force by which they stir consciousness, Rilke invites us to question a mode of scholarly attention—the one that aspires to grasp the body as a unity. In contrast, the artist arranges each fragment with vehemence, attention, and care. The fragment, the remnant, and the limb are paradoxically and movingly asserted as complete in themselves.Fragments in their particularity call upon scholars to rise to the occasion of artist. This conference aims to heed this call.

In her reading of Thoreau’s grief-stricken fragments, Arsić understands her task as a scholar to involve taking on the role of the collagist. “[As] if performing an obsessive ritual of mourning herself, she collects Thoreau’s “fragments into a provisional collage, so that, once gathered and juxtaposed, they are seen or heard to echo one another.” Avoiding the projection of a unity “tantamount to death,” Arsić’s approach is intentionally “discontinuous,” honoring the nature of fragments, the simultaneous disarticulation and renewal of grief, and Thoreau’s insistence on the pursuit of “the heterogeneity of ‘the transient’” as a revitalizing means of becoming.

In his study of Zhang Dai which focuses on early Qing inscribed objects, Kelly explores confrontations of the remnant in its materiality. Kelly interprets the act of inscription (ming), “the act of simply making a mark,” as signifying “a promise of rebirth within recalcitrant fragments of the recent past.” Amid the “charred ruins” of the fallen dynasty and the attendant yearnings to recover material memories of the dead and lost, inscription, in its essential terseness, serves to express “fraught sentiments of longing and dislocation.”

In light of these provoking interventions by Arsić and Kelly, we seek to explore a series of questions. What might be the affordances of textual fragmentation as an aesthetic form? What ethical disposition is demanded by fragmentary form or a fragmented world? What do we do with only fragmentary inheritance? What demands do fragments make of us as scholars? What realities can we construct out of fragments?

Some contributions might explore the following lines of investigation:
● Textual fragmentation as aesthetic form
● Scholarly investigation as a collage and assemblage
● Religious, political, and philosophical syncretism
● Incompleteness as poetics
● Fragments and materiality
● The epigrammatic
● Fragmentation of knowledge
● Social Fragmentation
● Fragmentation and unity
● The metaphysics of the finite/minute
● Loss and eros

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 literary studies, cultural studies, film and media studies, philosophy, religious studies, classical studies, history, art history, anthropology, sociology, political science, ethnomusicology, and any other relevant field in the humanities or social sciences that explore the topics of fragments and fragmentation.

Abstract submissions of 200-300 words should be sent to ctl-conference@jhu.edu by January 29, 2024.