A note from Bernie: a goodbye and a welcome…

Dear readers,

It was on June 7, 2009, when I published the very first post on OLP & Literary Studies Online. When I did, I could not have imagined that the blog would still be going strong (or even going at all, for that matter) over three years later… It’s been a wonderful trip: educational, fun, and heartening in more ways than I can count. One of the things I’m most grateful for are the many good people I’ve had a reason to be in contact with because of the blog, from my terrific fellow blog editors (Byron Davies, Yi-Ping Ong, Magdalena Ostas, and Corina Stan: thank you guys!) to the devoted readers who now regularly visit us from all around the world (some of whom have kindly taken the time to say hello in our guestbook; and below is a map that shows where some of our visitors have come from during the past year).

(click on map to enlarge)

In short, it’s been great. But over the past few months, I’ve had to recognize that I no longer have the time or energy (because of a growing number of competing commitments, both professional and personal) to run the site as I would like to. Yet I want to see the blog continue on, and even grow. So, after a great deal of thought, I’ve decided to hand the virtual reins on to a new person who would take over management of the blog.

I’m thrilled to announce that Carly Lane, a PhD student in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, has generously agreed to take my place as site administrator. Thank you, Carly! She will introduce herself to all of you soon, in an upcoming post. I trust her, and I’m eager to see what new directions she decides to take the site, as I move from the role of an editor to one of the blog’s regular readers.

From now on, if you have any content (announcements about publications, events, CFP’s, etc.) that you’d like to suggest for the site, please email Carly at: carlylane@uchicago.edu. I’m sure she’d be delighted to hear from you, as I’ve been happy to hear from the many, many people who’ve kindly written to me with news and announcements over the past few years.

For your interest and support over these past three-and-a-half years, I want to give you all my deepest thanks. I’ve enjoyed doing this work immensely, and of course I’m a bit sad to let it go, but it’s time.

Take care, all! And all good wishes,


Aletta J. Norval: “‘Writing a Name in the Sky’: Rancière, Cavell, and the Possibility of Egalitarian Inscription”

PSRThe latest issue of the American Political Science Review contains an article that discusses Cavell in relationship to the ideas of Jacques Rancière. I thought some of our readers would find this discussion of interest. The article, entitled “‘Writing a Name in the Sky’: Rancière, Cavell, and the Possibility of Egalitarian Inscription,” was written by Aletta J. Norval (Political Theory, Department of Government, University of Essex), and can be found online here. The article’s abstract is reproduced below. (Thanks to my friend and colleague Neil Roberts for letting me know of this piece!)

Abstract: Democratic theory is often portrayed as torn between two moments: that of disruption of rule, and the ordinary, ongoing institutionalization of politics. This dualism also marks contemporary democratic theory. In Jacques Rancière’s theory of politics it takes the form of an emphasis on the ruptural qualities of the staging of novel democratic demands and the reconfiguration of the space of political argument. The reconfiguration of existing political imaginaries depends upon a moment of inscription, which remains underdeveloped in Rancière’s work. Arguing that the possibility of inscription is indeed thematized in Rancière’s more historical writings, but is often ignored by commentators, this article seeks to draw out the implications of a focus on inscription for democratic theory and practice. To flesh out this account, the article draws on Cavell’s writings on exemplarity and the role of exemplars in fostering both critical reflection and the imagination of alternatives. The focus on such exemplars and an aversive, nonconformist ethos together facilitate a better understanding of what is required for such novel demands to be acknowledged and inscribed into democratic life.

New book: “Estimating Emerson: An Anthology of Criticism from Carlyle to Cavell” (ed. David LaRocca)

A new anthology of writings on Emerson, edited by David LaRocca, has just been published by Bloomsbury, and we wanted to be sure our readers knew of it. Below is some information about the book. For much more, visit the editor’s webpage for the collection by clicking on the cover image to the left.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is internationally renowned as helping to define American identity as we know it. What is less known is the degree to which he has inspired and influenced generations of other internationally celebrated writers and thinkers.

Estimating Emerson is the most comprehensive collection yet assembled of the finest minds writing on one of America’s finest minds. It serves as both a resource for easily accessing the abundant and profound commentary on Emerson’s work and as a compendium of exceptional prose to inspire further thought about his contribution to our thinking.

As ‘America’s Plato,’ it is perhaps not surprising that Emerson has drawn a great deal of critical (in both senses of the word) attention. What is surprising, however, is the fact that so much of the attention was given by writers and thinkers as varied as Thomas Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, the James brothers, Walt Whitman, D. H. Lawrence, George Santayana, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, John Updike, and William Gass. Estimating Emerson collects for the first time the writing of these and many other notable writers as they consider the impact of Emerson on their life and work.

Other Contributors include:

  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Charles Dickens
  • Margaret Fuller
  • Herman Melville
  • Walter Savage Landor
  • Herman Grimm
  • Charles Baudelaire
  • John Greenleaf Whittier
  • James Russell Lowell
  • Horace Greeley
  • John Ruskin
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • Matthew Arnold
  • John Jay Chapman
  • Charles Sanders Peirce
  • Josiah Royce
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • John Dewey
  • Hugo Münsterberg
  • Robert Musil
  • Maurice Maeterlinck
  • H. L. Mencken
  • Charles Ives
  • Lewis Mumford
  • F. O. Matthiessen
  • Perry Miller
  • Robert Frost
  • Lionel Trilling
  • Robert Penn Warren
  • Jorge Luis Borges
  • Harold Bloom
  • Richard Rorty
  • Richard Poirier
  • Alfred Kazin
  • Cornel West
  • Charles Bernstein
  • Leslie Fiedler
  • P. Adams Sitney
  • … and Stanley Cavell

MLA 2013: Panels of interest?


So, the 2013 MLA is almost upon us… and the conference program is available online here. As we’ve done in past years, we invite our readers to point out panels and talks that they think might be of interest to others who frequent OLP & Literary Studies Online. And please don’t hesitate to promote panels you yourselves will be on! Information about panels and events can be left in the comments to this post.

Karen Zumhagen-Yekplé: “The Everyday’s Fabulous Beyond: Nonsense, Parable, and the Ethics of the Literary in Kafka and Wittgenstein”

We are delighted to announce the publication of a new essay by Karen Zumhagen-Yekplé (Harvard College Fellow, Comparative Literature, Harvard University). The essay — entitled “The Everyday’s Fabulous Beyond: Nonsense, Parable, and the Ethics of the Literary in Kafka and Wittgenstein” — can be found in the new issue of the journal Comparative Literature. Anyone unable to access the paper through the CL website is invited to email Prof. Zumhagen-Yekplé (at zumhagenyekple@fas.harvard.edu) for a copy.

Here is the paper’s abstract:

This essay takes up the significance of Wittgenstein’s philosophy for our understanding of literature (and vice versa) through a comparative reading of the stakes and aims of Kafka’s and Wittgenstein’s respective circa 1922 puzzle texts “Von den Gleichnissen” (“On Parables”) and the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The essay builds upon the so-called resolute program of Wittgenstein interpretation developed by Cora Diamond, James Conant, and others, bringing its insights to bear on Kafka’s perplexing work. The essay explores the ethical weight of these two writers’ investment in the philosophical depth of riddles, irony, and parabolic and nonsensical expression as unorthodox modes of indirect instruction about ordinary language and world, the yearning for transcendence, and the failure to achieve it. Both demanding works deal with the ethical difference between “getting” the philosophical import of a story or joke and not getting it in the context of an examination of the relationship (or lack thereof) between the activities and difficulties of everyday life, on the one hand, and those of literary expression and/or spiritual or philosophical teaching, on the other. Both strive to open readers to experience — as revealed through everyday language — by leading us beyond the dichotomy of facticity and transcendence, away from the urge to transcend the limits of language, and toward a recognition of the possibility of seeing our ordinary dealing with things as presenting a face of significance that is at once linguistically meaningful and ethically valuable. The central aim of this discussion of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and “Lecture on Ethics” alongside Kafka’s parable is to examine the ways in which Wittgenstein’s philosophical outlook, writing, and method (shaped by his general attraction to the Book and book writing as well as by his reading of certain works of literature) are deeply relevant to literary studies, and particularly to our understanding of literary modernism.

CFP: “The Return of the Text: A Conference on the Cultural Value of Close Reading” (Le Moyne, Sept. 2013)

We are delighted to post the following conference CFP, which comes to us from Jennifer Gurley (Department of English, Le Moyne College). Queries and paper proposals can be emailed to Prof. Gurley at gurleyja@lemoyne.edu.

Conference flyer (click on each page to enlarge):



Conference CFP: “Making it Work: US Thought and Culture between Practice and Paralysis” (U. Michigan, April 2013)

We are very pleased to post a CFP recently sent to us by Ali Chetwynd, a Ph.D. Candidate in English at the University of Michigan and one of the co-coordinators of Michigan’s U.S. Literatures and Cultures Consortium. Ali asks that our readers forward this CFP to any students or colleagues they think would be interested in this event.

(Call for Papers web-page: http://sitemaker.umich.edu/usists/conference_2013)

Call for Papers 

‘Making it Work: US Thought and Culture between Practice and Paralysis’

April 5th-6th 2013

University of Michigan US Literatures and Cultures Consortium

Deadline for Proposals – January 8th 2013 (Notifications of acceptance by February 1st)

Email: usistconference2013@gmail.com


Paul Taylor (Philosophy / African American and Diaspora Studies, Penn State): author of Race: A Philosophical Introduction

Lisi Schoenbach (English, University of Tennessee Knoxville): author of Pragmatic Modernism

Are there distinctively American attitudes toward objectivity and truth, judgment and action?  Two of the most enduring cliches about US culture are, first, that its thought characteristically refuses universal grounds, and second, that it privileges material practicality over theoretical or metaphysical abstraction.  Yet without universal grounds, how can we be convinced that anything is worth doing?  Let’s grant that it is; such a groundless granting may initially let us act with a sense of freedom and unlimited potential, but justifying or revising that action requires us to establish provisional grounds that can themselves be hedged, negotiated, interrogated to the paralyzing point of infinity.  Which side of this tension to prioritize—whether to elide contingencies and reduce deliberative friction or to recuperate the experience of hesitancy and dwell in possibility—is a governing question for distinctively American thinkers from Jonathan Edwards to Audre Lorde, Emily Dickinson to Sidney Hook, Jane Addams to Timothy Leary.

With this interdisciplinary graduate conference, we, the US Literatures and Cultures Consortium at the University of Michigan, hope to foster cross-departmental discussion of questions like the following…

How have objectivity, truth, rationality, and agency been represented and conceptualized in US thought and culture?  How have these models permitted or circumscribed action?  How have they informed individual and communal practices: from action planned or spontaneous, to decision-making public or private, to governance local and federal?  What universalist appeals do make their way into US culture?  How are shared belief and/or knowledge constructed, articulated, perpetuated, scrutinized and revised without universalist guarantees?  How have such modes of understanding interacted and conflicted? How, essentially, have US philosophers, artists, politicians and citizens forged justifications for acting and judging in a world without universal grounds?  And how and why have some of them found greater value in resisting just this rush to action?
Such questions might be addressed in relation to topics like, but not limited to, the following:

  • the US-ness of US thought
  • living with contingency
  • specific artworks, historical and cultural events
  • pragmatism, neo-pragmatism and other anti-foundationalisms
  • metaphysics and materialisms
  • epistemology and situated knowledge
  • processes of investigation and discovery
  • concrete realities and social imaginaries
  • agency, deliberation and decision
  • methods of social representation
  • models of the public realm
  • modes of belief, religious and secular
  • individual and communal obligations
  • art and social change
  • educational methodology

Abstracts of up to 300 words for papers that will cast new light on these questions should be submitted by email to usistconference2013@gmail.com by January 8th 2013.  We seek submissions from fellow graduate students in any discipline, who work in any period of, and who take any approach to, US Culture.

Accepted presenters will be notified by February 1st.