American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA), Annual Meeting 2018

Los Angeles March 29–April 1, 2018



The Labor of Reading – Configurations in Literature and Criticism


This seminar seeks to reexamine literary and theoretical configurations of reading as labor and work, including their medial, gender-related, and institutional framings. We like to inquire how historical and contemporary concepts of labor and work can be challenged by a closer look at the actuality of reading. We assume that reading and working are intrinsically connected and function as incommensurable practices, e.g. in terms of a never quite assurable ‘doing’, as bodily and transformative dynamics, or as elective affinities between ‘load’ and ‘lust’, profession and confession.

We claim that literature allows to make out interdependencies between work/labor, reading and its given economic frameworks, both structurally and as motive. How do literary texts then, by means of a problematization of (their) reading, reflect the economics and biopolitics of labor and its increasing immateriality? How do literary texts from early modern times to the contemporary ‘work’ on rewriting of what is understood as productiveness and its surplus value? How do they thereby examine and question fictions of labor (as uninterrupted continuum, vocation or fulfillment)? What do the numerous prominent scenes of reading in literature, as well as in theory, tell about shifting impossibilities of reading and working? Current theoretical positions also attempt to reflect reading in its relation to the digitalization of working and living environments (scalable, distant, surface, and non-reading). These efforts of inquiry about the relationship between labor and reading can then lead to a more general analysis of cultural techniques and devices of reading, hence also to a wide ranging present critique of labor.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

Scenes of reading in literature and in criticism as reworkings of the notion of labor
The relation of profession and confession in readings on work and labor
Shifts in the relation of labor and reading (techniques) with regard to places like the scriptorium or the laboratorium and their afterlives
The idea of ‘working time’ in view of the temporalities of reading, its modes of quantification (reading speeds, “Bücherflut”, big data, automatization...) and analytical deferral (rereading, reconstruction, cross referencing...).
Affinities and differences of reading and working–in view of an impossible and always unfinished task, or in terms of an immanent perpetual dynamic of the two
Political and ethical implications of an ‘undoing’ of reading and working in view of philosophical and sociological ideas, theological believes, and concepts of cultural studies
Modes of non-labor, play, or leisure as provocations to an ontology of work and its framework as a ‘humanizing activity’; reexamining the notion of “Lesesucht”/reading mania


Dr. Nils Plath, Assistant Professor, Comparative Literature, Universität Erfurt (University of Erfurt), Germany, [log in to unmask]

Alexander Waszynski, Universität Erfurt (University of Erfurt), Germany 

Dr. Julia Prager, Universität Innsbruck (University of Innsbruck), Austria


More infos: 

Deadline for submissions: Sept. 23, 2017.



Dr. Nils Plath

Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft

Universität Erfurt 

Nordhäuser Str. 63 

D-99089 Erfurt 


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