Of Victorian Interest

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Of Victorian Interest

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CFP: MLA Division on the Victorian Period 2012 Panels: Evidence; Ethics and Literary Experience (3/15/2011; 1/5-8/2012)

MLA Division on the Victorian Period 2012 Panels

2012 MLA Conference
Seattle, 5-8 January

Although the etymology of the term suggests otherwise, the “evidence” we recruit to support our claims is seldom conspicuous: in the sciences, in the humanities, and in everyday life, evidence differs among (and is contested within) different disciplines, historical moments, and epistemologies. We seek papers that take up the question of evidence in the Victorian Period and that reflect upon our own evidentiary practices.

What counts in the nineteenth century as a demonstration of a claim in the fields of law, science, history, religion, literature, the arts, sociology, ethnography, medicine, psychology, and so forth? And what might count as a persuasive demonstration of the claims that we make in our scholarship on the period? By what technical and rhetorical means is evidence displayed to any given audience, and how is that audience--whether it be a jury, a religious group, a community of scholars or professionals, a body of citizens--meant to make its judgments? How does an object, image, number, a fragment of language, or a "fact" gain and lose its evidentiary status as it moves between places or between disciplines? To what material, formal, and social constraints is evidence subject? What happens when evidence physically decays? How do categories of evidence gain authority or fall under suspicion? Whose testimony matters? How do representational forms affect the persuasiveness of evidence? How do new kinds of evidence--photography, for example--change existing regimes of knowledge? And what is the history of the suspicion of evidence itself? Is there anxiety that exposure to evidence will entail unappealing or proscribed changes in beliefs?

Send 250-350 word proposals by 15 March 2011 to Eileen Gillooly (eg48@columbia.edu).

Ethics and Literary Experience
“the only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings, is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling erring human creatures”—George Eliot

Much of the writing produced by Victorians was explicitly aimed at evoking sympathy for others (fictional and non-fictional) and developing the moral imagination so as to produce more responsive readers and empathic political subjects. We seek papers that discuss, theorize, and critique the experience--the affective responses; identifications and resistances; imagined political, aesthetic, intellectual, and moral stakes, investments, and implications--of reading Victorian literature(s) ethically.

In what ways is our literary experience ethical? What roles do form, tone, and style play in making it so? By what means and methods do writers offer a compelling, if unrealizable, ideal of what it might mean to be morally wise and ethically responsive, even while representing the ways in which we fail to overcome what Eliot referred to as our “moral stupidity”? How is our own native egocentrism engaged and challenged by the reading experience? What are the ethics of empathic identification? Ought our understanding of a character’s distorting “center of consciousness”—an understanding acquired in the experience of reading--to provoke a recognition of our own similar fate? Does our sympathy for a character and our “knowledge” of that character’s internal life have repercussions beyond the reading experience: that is, can such responsiveness actually shape our interactions with others or help us to interpret them? Send 250-350 word proposals by 15 March to Eileen Gillooly (eg48@columbia.edu).

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