Content Stinks!

This September symposium now has a webpage, with programme details and registration link here:

Content Stinks! The Forms, Materials, and Institutions of American Periodicals

University of Nottingham, Friday 21st September 2018

This symposium seeks to challenge the narrow content-orientation of much existing periodicals scholarship by engaging with new, deeper and more complex contextualizations of these unique textual objects. In particular, it will showcase work that offers considerations of the American periodical from the perspective not of its content-providers but the perspective of the multiple human and nonhuman actors responsible for assembling and distributing what in the aggregate is a mass of literary material simply too large and various for conventional interpretive approaches.
Taken up as a mantra by various literary critics concerned with overturning the tendency to critique texts as ideological objects, Bruno Latour’s recent assertion that “Context stinks! It’s a way of stopping the description when you are too tired or lazy to go on,” has underpinned a constellation of recent approaches to literature that show a renewed attention to aesthetics, close reading, or genre. Although primarily concerned to date with the traditional literary foci of novels, poems and plays, the rejection of New Historicist modes of contextualization under the rubric of what Rita Felski has called “postcritical reading” has much to offer scholars working on periodical culture. But at the same time, if any single hermeneutic strategy can be said to have retarded the progress of periodical studies it is the field’s consistent privileging of content over context. Students of the periodical have typically borrowed their means of analysing them from the study of other forms. Texts – often by already canonical writers – are prised from the wealth of matter published in magazines and newspapers and subjected to detailed descriptive readings that abstract them entirely from their broader periodical environment. The problem for periodical studies is not necessarily that it has been too obsessed with context (though its default interpretive lens has tended to be that of ideology) but that it hasn’t engaged imaginatively enough with the range and diversity of possible periodical contexts. This symposium brings together a range of international scholars who offer new ways to begin to apprehend such contexts.

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