D U K E - S T A N F O R D
P H I L O S O P H Y & L I T E R A T U R E  G R A D U A T E  C O N F E R 
M A Y  8 - 9 , 2 0 2 0
S T A N F O R D  U N I V E R S I T Y
K E Y N O T E S P E A K E R S :
C A R O L I N E  L E V I N E ( C O R N E L L ) / J A N  Z W I C K Y ( V 
I C T O R I A )

I N  &  O U T  O F  C O N T E X T

In “What is New Formalism?,” a state-of-the-discipline essay published 
in PMLA in 2007, Marjorie Levinson retraces the decades-long debate 
between formalism and  historicism. Her overview presents a microcosm of 
literary studies by showing the  different methods, values, and aims 
that guide our ideas and practices. She cites  a diverse set of 
ambitions in the field: to defend the literary, to sustain our sense  of 
shared humanness, to awaken our somatic self awareness, to stimulate 
our  sense of wonder, to help us realize the non-centrality of the 
subject-position, to  reassert the artwork’s critical and self-critical 
agency, to unveil the text as a  projection of ideology, to denounce 
aesthetic mystification. To this list we could  add more, such as 
exploring the mechanisms of private and public memory and  redressing 
historical wrongs.

What all these programs for literary studies have in common is their 
reliance on a  certain interpretive use of context. The occasional 
virulence of the quarrel  between formalism and historicism suggests 
that there are words, on the one  hand; a non-verbal reality, on the 
other; and in-between, the scholar’s capacity to  tell them apart. In 
reality, the recent proliferation of literary methodologies (distant 
reading, surface reading, reparative reading, formative reading, the 
new  formalism at the center of Levinson’s piece...) shows that the 
parsing out of texts  and contexts, of the verbal and the non-verbal, of 
forms and history is informed, if  not dictated, by interpretive 
decisions from beginning to end. While this fact may  not entirely 
dissolve the oppositions mentioned above, it does require an  
acknowledgement. What we mean by context shapes the contours of our 
objects  of study, delineates what they can or cannot do, and what we 
can do with them as  scholars, teachers, private individuals, and 
citizens. Hence the ethical and political pressures to put contexts to 
good use or to ban them from our readings.

The epistemological centrality of context extends beyond literary 
disciplines. In  addition to designating the circumstances of production 
and reception of a textual  artifact, context also refers to a broader 
structure in terms of which the conditions  of meaning can be identified 
and understood. Jeff Speaks writes for the Stanford  Encyclopedia of 
Philosophy that “questions about context-sensitivity are  important, not 
just for semantics, but for many areas of philosophy. And that is  
because some of the terms thought to be context-sensitive are terms 
which play a  central role in describing the subject matter of other 
areas of philosophy.” Philosophers have appealed to context to supply 
the conditions of possibility of  meaningfulness, be it the 
meaningfulness of a word within a sentence (Frege), of  an intentional 
action embedded in the chain of thoughts and motion (Anscombe),  or of 
sensory stimulation within the habits of an organism (Merleau-Ponty). 
Now  more than ever, philosophers like Richard Moran, Robert Brandom, 
Michael Strevens, and Sally Haslanger demonstrate a turn towards context 
to understand  their objects of investigation such as knowledge, belief 
systems, scientific facts, responsibility, and emancipation.

Debates in literary studies and philosophy home in on the constructive 
power of  contexts. But literature and the arts have been exploiting the 
subversive and  critical power of their neutralization and replacement 
for over a century. From the artist’s perspective, contexts are as 
essential as they are fungible, dispensable.  Decontextualization and 
recontextualization have become creative acts in their  own right. 
Montage in film and literature, collage in the visual arts, sampling in  
music, and related forms such as palimpsests and pastiches all 
experiment with
the malleability of contexts. Once sampled in a rap track the sound of 
jazz may  not connote free expression, but the existence of an 
alternative cultural archive.  Ready-mades are unthinkable without the 
conviction that contexts can and should  be substituted.

This conference asks what can we do and what ought we to do with 
contexts in our disciplines, in art, and in life? We invite papers 
presenting methodological reflections on these issues, as well as 
interventions about cultural productions that engage formally or 
thematically with context and its many negations. The conference is open 
to graduate students in all literary, philosophical, and artistic 
disciplines. It also welcomes participants from media and cultural 
studies and from interdisciplinary programs. Possible fields of inquiry 
include, but are not limited to:

  * Writing, rewriting, adaptation, pastiche, and parody .
  * The role of context in the establishment of lingustic categories,
    such as meaning and reference.
  * How we understand the relation between form and context.
  * How the contexts of scholarship influence its outcomes.
  * How we understand the role of context in situations of performance,
  * Where we set the limit for ‘minimal’ context, and what the
    implications are of this choice.
  * The ethics of contextualization / decontextualization.

Please submit a 250-word abstract by February 10, 2020 to 
[log in to unmask] with a short bio, all in one Word 
document. Applicants will hear from the organizers by mid-February. 
Presentations are expected to last 20 minutes and be delivered in 
person. The conference will be held on May 8-9, 2020 at Stanford 
University. Limited funds are available to help presenters with their 
travel and lodging expenses. If you think  you need assistance, please 
state so on your application. This will not impact the evaluation of 
your application, nor is funding guaranteed should you be accepted.

Inquiries should be directed to [log in to unmask]

The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Sean Franzel
Assistant Editor: Olaf Schmidt
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
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