By Stephanie Edwards
Every day during this year’s conference, one or more NASSR grads will post a recap of the day’s events. Many delegates are livetweeting, so we’re also using Storify to capture each day’s highlights.
Stephanie Edwards’ Recap
As a NASSR conference newbie, my first day of this year’s conference was a haze of drinking coffee, attempting to subtly read nametags, and writing feverishly in my notebook. Above all, though, today provided me with an overwhelming amount of generative and invigorating scholarship and a chance to listen to the exciting new work being done by many Romantic critics who I have admired for a long time. From this morning’s panel, “Plant Love and Vital Sparks: Materialism, Vitalism, and Erasmus Darwin,” in which paper topics ranged from the ambiguity of electricity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the sexual politics of Blake’s amaryllis, to the panel that closed out my day, “Feeling/Less/Life,” where David Clark, Lubabah R. Chowdhury, and Jonathan C. Williams provided an absolutely fascinating discussion on the aesthetics of death, each panel I attended either increased my interest in an already-familiar branch of scholarship or alerted me to new areas and ideas that left me wanting to spend the night getting cozy with the MLA Bibliography.
However, my favourite panel of the day had to be Sara Landreth’s (who presented a wonderful paper on fidgeting earlier that morning) expertly curated roundtable: What Moves Romanticism? Or, What can 18th- and 19th-Century Studies Do with Affect, Emotion, Feeling, Passion, (In)Sensibility, Sentiment, Sympathy, &c.? Borne somewhat out of last year’s NASSR Berkeley seminar titled “Affect: Enough Already!,” Landreth’s roundtable focused on the role that affect theory plays in our methodological, pedagogical, and critical practices within Romanticism. Participants were asked to grapple with and respond to the chiasmic relationship between 18th– and 19th-century studies and affect theory, especially in regards to the ways that it inflects and inspires their own work in the field.
Gena Zuroski opened up the discussion with some audience participation, asking us whether or not we consider de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater to be a funny text. This question led into an inspiring dialogue about affect’s pedagogical potential where, although Zuroski and her students cannot know for certain what made writers and readers laugh in the 18th and 19th centuries, the funniness these texts evoke in 21st-century classrooms is undoubtedly meaningful as part of the learning process. Philosophy and literary criticism took centre stage next as Wendy Lee suggested that affect theory may provide new ways of linking the two often disparate disciplines. Lee wondered whether affect theory is not, in fact, actually a version of philosophical truth-seeking and how this reconsideration of affect theory can open up fresh approaches in branches like psychoanalysis and analytical philosophy. Miranda Burgess (whose work on feeling and mobility inspired much of my own MA thesis and who I was, admittedly, a little star struck to hear speak) detailed how a feeling-oriented approach to Romantic writing can generatively substitute affect for emotion as a major object of study. Continuing on, Burgess admits that she finds this substitution attractive due to its ability to place affect within conversations of flows and openness rather than restricting it to internality and expulsion. Alice den Otter then directly took up the question of what moves Romanticism, outlining the trajectory of scholarship on Anna Barbauld and concluding that affect, in relation to Romantic criticism in general, materializes itself through a widening of previously constrictive generic and gendered boxes into a more complex, holistic understanding of what Romantic authors can offer us today. To close out the roundtable, conference organizer extraordinaire Julie Murray brought us back to the affective trauma of her PhD dissertation, where her work on discourses of passion and emotion brought her to the consideration of whether Joanna Baille’s anachronistic affect was inherently modern or antiquated.
So what was my own affective response to this roundtable? One of the most exciting aspects about roundtables, for me, is the ways that each response to a prompt or theme can be so varied yet so interconnected at the same time. On this note, today’s discussions left me with a feeling of inspiration and encouragement to find the ways that affect theory, and the approaches outlined in this roundtable, can flow and inspire my own future forays into Romantic scholarship.
Caroline Winter’s Recap
NASSR 2017 is off to a wonderful start! This is my first time at NASSR, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but today was full of thought-provoking panels and inspiring discussion. I noticed over the course of the day that many of the sessions I attended touched upon the idea of intellectual community.
I started the day at the Friends and Neighbours Panel, which got me thinking about sociability and how the people and things surround us shape the way we understand and interact with the world. Each paper had a different take on the notion of neighbours: Natasha Duquette spoke about the Lunar Society, an organized social and intellectual group; Wayne C. Ripley spoke about the impromptu community of Blake’s neighbourhood; and Jacob Henry Leveton discussed the Albion Mill as an inanimate neighbour of Blake’s. Such discussion of community seems especially appropriate on the first day of the conference, when newcomers like me are surrounded by friends and colleagues who meet here every year, and whose work is shaped by our shared intellectual community.
Carrying on the theme of community, the next panel I attended was the Roundtable on Public Humanities. Two main ideas emerged out of our discussion: first, the humanities is changing; and second, collaboration is the way forward–collaboration with our students, with the public, and with scholars in other disciplines.
After lunch, I went to another roundtable: What Moves Romanticism? A key takeaway for me was an idea that came up in the Public Humanities session too: that empathy is, in our political moment, indispensable, and that Romantic studies is particularly attuned to its importance.
My own panel followed, and I’m grateful for the thoughtful questions and discussion that followed, as well as the technical support.
The notion of community seemed an appropriate theme for the day that ended with the welcome reception up in the penthouse, with its beautiful view of the city.
Now, on to day two!