Past Events

2018-2019 Academic Year:

Professor Marlene Daut, “Caribbean Sovereignty in an Age of Independence” Thursday, April 4

Professor Nathan Hensley, “‘* * * * / * * * * / * * * *’: Alice, Tennyson, Collapse”
Thursday, January 25

Professor Josephine McDonagh, “‘Another Great Migration’: George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda and the Nineteenth-Century Literature of Migration”
Thursday, November 15

2017-2018 Academic Year:

Professor Sean Silver, “Jane Austen in the Information Age”
Thursday, January 25

This talk positions Jane Austen in the information age—not the relatively brief burst of interest in “information” of the last half-century or so, but the far longer transformation of information that began in the long eighteenth century.  We tend to treat facts as nugget-like and atomic; there is a habit of treating Austen’s prose as similarly discrete: two inches of ivory, or (in Charlotte Brontë’s memorable phrase) “a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden.”   But a closer look shows us that information named a variety of discourse before it named a type of content.  Placing Austen in her moment can help us recapture this historically richer, relational theory of knowledge.  It shows us a world in which interiors are regularly larger than their boundaries and wholes greater than their parts, in which decisions are made without intentions and effects occur without cause.  It means, in short, to offer an alternative history of the novel, not as a realist genre invested in facts and particulars, but an informational genre concerned with the irreducible interweaving of persons and things, the bewildering state of affairs which we have come to call “complex.”

Professor Silver is Associate Professor at the University of Michigan. His primary interests include British literature and culture from 1640 to 1800, cognitive studies, material culture, museum studies, historical aesthetics, and craft. His most recent book is The Mind is a Collection: Case Studies in Eighteenth-Century Thought (Penn, 2015) that approaches seventeenth- and eighteenth-century metaphors for the mind from a material point of view. The book is coupled with a virtual museum full of images and elaborations on eighteenth-century models of thought. He is currently working on a book titled Six Memos for the New Enlightenment: Art in the Information Age that traces the prehistory of six related concepts (information, irony, complexity, emergence, accident, and invention) as they underwent critical transformations in the literature and arts of the long eighteenth century.

Professor Alex Woloch, “Partial Representation in The Pickwick Papers
Thursday, November 2

Alex Woloch is currently serving as Chair of the English Department at Stanford University. He is the author of The One vs. The Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel (Princeton UP, 2003), which attempts to reestablish the centrality of characterization — the fictional representation of human beings — within narrative poetics. He is also the author of Or Orwell: Writing and Democratic Socialism (Harvard UP, 2016), which takes up the literature-and-politics question through a close reading of George Orwell’s generically experimental non-fiction prose. His talk is drawn from a book in progress, provisionally entitled Partial Representation, that considers the paradoxical ways in which form is at once necessary, and inimical, to representation. Woloch is also the co-editor, with Peter Brooks of Whose Freud?: The Place of Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture (Yale UP, 2000).

2016-2017 Academic Year:

Professor Romita Ray, “A British Exotic? Tea, Botany, and the Aesthetics of Surface”
Thursday, April 13

Two leaves and a bud, transformed into a botanical novelty and a prized beverage, would emerge as one of Britain’s most lucrative, albeit controversial, commodities by the end of the eighteenth century. My talk focuses on how this leafy commodity, cultivated in China and consumed in Britain and her growing empire in India, generated fresh sensory experiences and by extension, unique ornamental objects and ornamental bodies.

Romita Ray is Associate Professor of Art History at Syracuse University. Her most recent book, Under the Banyan Tree: Relocating the Picturesque in British India (2013), examines the development of the picturesque during the British Raj. Her current project considers the visual cultures of tea in colonial and modern India.

2015-2016 Academic Year:

Professor Deidre Shauna Lynch, “Paper Slips: The Nineteenth-Century Album and Other Misadventures in Book-keeping”
Thursday, April 7

Historians of the book have only recently come to acknowledge the extent to which in the nineteenth century the blank book –the book whose pages incite not reading, but writing (as well as, e.g., sketching, painting, decoupage, and embroidery)— helped to motor the print market.  In the early nineteenth century, thousands of Anglo-American amateurs of both sexes patronized that branch of the book trade when they took to compiling albums, as they were called.  Participating in this fashionable leisure activity, they cashed in one promise underwriting that retail sector’s profitability –the promise that it would possible for everyman and everywoman to become his or her own book maker.  My paper looks to their home-made books and the practices of archiving, excerpting, transcribing, clipping, and de- and re-contextualizing that found them in part to recovery the diversity of the book at just the moment when we tend to assume  its unity is assured, a moment which retroactively appears to us as the high-water mark in the long history of the emotional investments that the codex form has prompted.  I explore how often the creation of an album, though in some respects a bibliophilic practice, depended on an almost indecent readiness to demolish and remake books and to conceptualize text and image, poems and pictures as detachable and re-attachable slips and scraps . And I track the evident awareness amongst those who compiled such volumes that in their hands the book behaved badly  –was more mobile in its contents, more porous in its relationship to the world–than the book form was supposed to be.

If it is now a commonplace that (to quote William Paulson) “electronically stored and retrieved text, in comparison with its printed predecessor, is almost infinitely malleable and labile, existing in a process of seamless modification and recontextualization quite unlike the stasis of cold print,” the albums I’ve been discovering mouldering unopened in the archives trouble that before/after contrast between a print and a digital age.  They do by declaring so frankly their investment in the malleability and openness of all books, whether printed or manuscript, published or private. One locus where that declaration is made is the short-lived nineteenth-century genre of the album poem, the poem that in a double sense is on the album’s page. Paper, these verses tell us in imagining their own fates, slips.  Leaves, they tell us, are loosed and are lost.  These lines on lines and marks (“Lines written in an Album on pages between which several leaves had been cut out”; “Epitaph on a Gnat, found crushed on the Leaf of a Lady’s Album,” and so on)  will be central to my paper because they make visible the tension that animates the nineteenth-century album: between imagining it as an enduring record and—by remembering paper’s amenability to being snipped out and recycled  — imagining it otherwise, as a site of dispersal, recombination, and contingency.

Deidre Shauna Lynch is Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University. In 2015, her book, Loving Literature: A Cultural History was published by University of Chicago Press. Her earlier work includes co-editing The Romantic Period Volume D of The Norton Anthology of English Literature (2012) and editing Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees (2000). She has also written The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Cultural and the Business of Inner Meaning (1998).

Professor Elizabeth Miller, “Dendrography, Photography, and Ecological Realism in Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree
Tuesday, March 1

“Set in the decade that saw the birth of photography, and published at a moment when the definition of novelistic realism was under debate, Thomas Hardy’s 1872 novel Under the Greenwood Tree is a meditation on the very possibility of “realistic” representation of the natural world. The novel explores the extent to which ideation and materiality exist in productive tension within any realism, but in environmental realism in particular. Using the tree as a crucial figure for rootedness in and connection to a regional as well as global environment, Hardy is at pains to demonstrate how questions of realism and eco-representation are inexorably tied to questions of perception and mediation as well as ecological materiality.”

Elizabeth Miller is Professor of English at UC Davis. She is also an alum of our graduate program (PhD 2003)! Her research interests include nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British literature and culture, gender studies, film and visuality, print culture, media studies, eco-criticism, and radical politics. Miller is the author of Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture (Stanford UP, 2013) and Framed: The New Woman Criminal in British Culture at the Fin de Siècle (Michigan UP, 2008).

Professor Marjorie Levinson, “The Plain Sense of Things; or, Still Life Without References”
Friday, November 13

Marjorie Levinson is F. L. Huetwell Professor of English at the University of Michigan. Her research interests include Romanticism, poetry and poetics, and critical theory, especially materialist and formalist ideas and methods. Her recent publications include: “A Motion and a Spirit: Romancing Spinoza,” Studies in Romanticism 2007; “What is New Formalism,” PMLA 2007; “Of Being Numerous: Counting and Matching in Wordsworth’s Poetry,” Studies in Romanticism, 2011; “Notes and Queries on Names and Numbers,” Romantic Circles Praxis, 2013.

2014-2015 Academic Year:

Professor Steven Goldsmith, “Woods Decaying, or Schwitters in Ambleside”
Monday, April 6

Professor David Kurnick, “Eros and Quantification: The Application of Persuasion
Thursday, March 5

MadLit Conference Keynote: Professor Kathleen Lubey
Thursday, February 26

Is there a content within the pornographic text other than sex? Has it been outshone by the genital events that we believe define the genre? This talk restores to view the hybrid origins of early prose pornography–its abstractions and philosophical speculations, its feminist and scientific claims–then asks if a textually rich, discursively untidy history of pornography can tell us anything about the genre’s later forms. By re-animating eighteenth-century pornography’s philosophical claims, Lubey speculates–cautiously–that abstraction, selfconsciousness, and intellectual agility might underwrite the encounter with any pornographic text, including contemporary digital images. If textual history can reveal a discursively hybrid origin point for the genre, in other words, perhaps it can serve as a contemporary critical hermeneutic. Is there a philosophy in the pornographic image that we learned to forget to see?

Kathleen Lubey is Associate Professor at St. John’s University, where she works on the literature, philosophy, and culture of eighteenth-century Britain, sexuality and gender studies, feminist theory, the history of pornography, and theories of the novel and literary form. Her book, Excitable Imaginations: Eroticism and Reading in Britain, 1660-1760 (Bucknell University Press, 2012) offers a new history of pornography that looks to unexpected texts, such as moral fiction, nationalist poetry, and empirical philosophy, in order to explore the relationship between sexual representation and discourses on morality, aesthetics, and reading. Professor Lubey is currently at work on a new project that explores the unpublished record of early English feminism in marginalia, journals, and letters.

Professor Anna Kornbluh, “The Realist Blueprint: Architecture and Literary Ontology”
Monday, September 29

Anna Kornbluh, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, works at the intersections of Victorian literature and critical theory. She is the author of Realizing Capital: Financial and Psychic Economies in Victorian Form, which studies the emergent trope of “psychic economy” and economic aspects of pleasure in the period of financialization. Kornbluh argues that the trope of “psychic economy” – the unity between the economy and psychological subjectivity – is a key metaphor of modernity, emerging in the Victorian period as the new real estate of a disconcertingly unmoored financial universe. Kornbluh’s new book project, The Order of Forms, sketches the nineteenth-century advent of structuralism by zeroing in on the Victorian political novel’s surprising engagement with mathematical formalism, and then uses this sketch to ground an intervention into ongoing debates between psychoanalysis and biopolitical theory over law and sociality. Her work has been published in prestigious journals, including English Literary History, and will be of interest not only to scholars and students in English, but also to historians, philosophers, economists, and political scientists.

2013-2014 Academic Year:

Professor James Chandler, “The Melodramatic Imagination Revisited” Thursday, April 10

It has been almost forty years since Peter Brooks released his pathbreaking and influential book, The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, and the Mode of Excess (1975). Over these decades, and partly on account of Brooks’ important arguments, melodrama has not only undergone critical rehabilitation; it has also become perhaps the most important category for those who would link twentieth-century cinema with the century that came before them. But melodrama’s mode of excess has deep connections with a sentimental mode of moderation that features emotion mediated by reciprocal sympathy. The sentimental, it can be demonstrated, both set the conditions for melodrama’s emergence around the time of the French Revolution and continued to co-exist with melodrama through figures like Mary Shelley and Dickens and into the age of cinema. The kind of story Brooks wishes to tell, in short, becomes richer and more complex when melodrama’s manichaean extremes of character, gesture, and style are understood to evolve from, and with, the moderating effects of putting oneself in the place of the other.

Professor Anne-Lise François, “Profaning Nature: Enclosures, Occupations, Rights of Way”
Monday, March 24

Anne-Lise François is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She writes on 19th-century British, American and European fiction, poetry and thought, with some excursions into the 17th, 18th, and early 20th centuries, European “Green” Romanticism and aesthetic theory. Her first book, Open Secrets (Stanford 2008), seeks to identify alternatives to Enlightenment models of heroic action, productive activity, and accumulation, and to identify examples of the ethos of recessive fulfillment and non-actualization. She is at present working on a book length study of poetic form and environmental theory. Her current book project, “Provident Improvisers: Parables of Subsistence from Wordsworth to Benjamin,” focuses on figures of pastoral worldliness, provisionality, and commonness (with “common” understood in the double sense of the political antithesis to enclosure and of the ordinary, vernacular, or profane).

Professor David Brewer, “The Importance of Being Inhuman”
Thursday, March 6

This talk will explore the ways in which, in the eighteenth century, authors were routinely and widely treated as if they were something other than fully human, and how this treatment, far from being a moral outrage, was what enabled the literary world to function. I propose that these attempts to impute alternate forms of personhood to writers can serve as a sort of vernacular theory which lays bare the underlying presumptions, structures, and proclivities of eighteenth-century literary culture as a whole.

Professor Elsie Michie, “The Trollopes’ Serial Family Plots”
Thursday, November 14

This lecture argues that when read as a series Frances Trollope’s One Fault (1840) and Anthony Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right (1869) allow us to grasp key shifts in the conception of human relations and identity that took place in the middle decades of the nineteenth-century. Both novels depict the collapse of a marriage, where questions of dominance and submission fracture the possibility of harmonious relations between husband and wife. Both also reference Reform Acts, Frances’s that of 1832, Anthony’s that of 1864. If we read these novels serially, rather than through the more familiar model of influence, we see the terms that appear in one reflected and transformed in the other. As the titles of the two suggest, Frances’s novel makes visible the emphasis on faults in Anthony’s, and his makes visible the emphasis on rights in hers. Read as iterations of each other, the two allow us to trace the shifts that took place in legal thinking about matrimonial cruelty and psychological responsibility over the middle decades of the nineteenth century and to link that narrative about marriage, so central to the Victorian novel, to the evolving discourse about human rights associated with reform.