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 E C E
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
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
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.
The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Sean Franzel
Assistant Editor: Olaf Schmidt
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
Info available at: https://grs.missouri.edu/german/resources