Atesede Makonnen is the winner of the 2017 NASSR Graduate Student Paper Prize. She is starting her second year as an English PhD student at Johns Hopkins University (MA in Shakespeare Studies, King’s College London, BA, Dartmouth College). Her research examines performance and race. Her winning paper will be published in the conference issue of European Romantic Review.
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.
The dawn of another academic year always comes with a slew of first year Teaching Assistants. Graduate students must now stand up in front of the classroom and, if any of them are like me, spend more time reflecting on their own learning processes than ever before in their academic life. Like so many gradate TAs I don’t have the option to choose which courses or syllabus to teach, but rather am assigned courses that vary between English Composition 100 and Intro to Literature. I’m not complaining as each opportunity provides the space to learn a new topic that otherwise might have slipped my academic history.
The debate about the role of social media in academia that took over my Twitter feed a few weeks ago (read about it in The Guardian and in Forbes) has prompted me to think about the role of blogging as well, particularly for graduate students, who are perhaps especially concerned about being seen as “serious academics.”
Saturday at NASSR was a marathon day for me, starting with an 8:30 am seminar run by the brilliant Mary Favret. Cheekily titled “Affect: Enough Already!” the seminar examined the role affect studies has played in the field. Among other questions, Favret asked: What has a focus on affect taught us to see? What has it taught us not to see? What are the historical conditions (academic, political, socioeconomic) that have promoted the study of affect, and to what ends?
Over the course of the two-hour seminar, we grappled with the always difficult question of how different affect authorities (eg: Baruch Spinoza, Sylvan Tompkins, or Adam Smith) shape our understanding of what “affect” even means. Among other topics, we discussed the relationship of affect to excess, and the possibility of recycling or recuperating affective excesses. We also pondered the sometimes problematic ways affect gets attached to questions of freedom – freedom of individual feeling in particular – and the tacit assumption that affect has positive connotations, while “ideas” tend to be viewed negatively. And we addressed the way affect’s mobility can (sometimes troublingly) erase distinctions, as well as affect’s tendency to take material or embodied form, even as we often insist on its immateriality. We also asked how and why affect gets deployed, both in the literature we study, and in our own literary analysis.
As Arden mentioned in her Farewell Editorial, she will soon defend her dissertation and is therefore stepping down as Managing Editor of the NGSC Blog. It has been my pleasure to write for the blog for the past year or so, and I must thank Arden for the opportunity to do that and to follow in her footsteps as the blog’s editor.
We’ll continue to publish posts throughout the summer, and a call for bloggers for the upcoming academic year will be posted shortly. In the meantime, feel free to contact me winterc[at]uvic[dot]ca with any queries or ideas about the blog.
It has been a tremendous pleasure to serve as the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus Blog editor since the Autumn of 2014. I have been privileged to read the work of many wonderful writers, who have each lent their distinctive approach to the study of Romanticism. We have been lucky to have had a Poet and an Artist in Residence, an art historian with a specialization in ecological criticism, Keatsians, Goths, Austen experts, literary scholars from graduate programs across the United States, Canada, and Europe, and many fabulous guest writers who work in nineteenth-century studies. To each of you, thank you for your contributions. I hope you will continue writing for the NGSC in future, and I look forward to seeing many of you at NASSR in Berkeley this summer.
After an arduous year one of grad school I have come out alive. In anxious preparation for year two a few good friends and myself set quite the task this summer to read Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit that haunted us all year. Given the complexity and reputation of the great man himself I find our “Adventures in Hegel” will entertain readers on how we successfully managed reading his “Preface” to the book. What follows is the affective and intellectual journey myself and friends Katy and Liz have embarked upon.
In lieu of actually trying to explain Hegelian thought or even relay my precise thoughts on the preface I provide some useful tactics we employed to “mastering”, well, getting through difficult texts such as Hegel. Now at the end of year one of graduate studies I can attest the most common nerve-racking question from new grad students to be “How do I read X?” Whether long novels, poetry, images, and of course theory/philosophy everyone has that one form they consider impenetrable to decipher. My fellow book club interlocutors agreed our reading of Hegel to be extremely enlightening and cleared up many conceptual gaps. It does help we’re all good friends but we actually had a great afternoon discussing Hegel? It was fun, and not soul-crushingly dark and intimidating? But how?! Our satisfaction shows such texts are indeed very approachable with just the right attitude.
One option out of a wide array of graduate seminars to choose for this current Spring semester ranging from the theory heavy to the literature heavy, and usual contenders (i.e. my much beloved courses on Modernism and the 18th c. novel) stood out among the rest in sheer ambiguity: the public humanities. The seminar is an interdisciplinary course that includes graduate students from various departments. Continue reading The Romantic Reply to the that Terrible Question: Valuing the Humanities→
In Edmund Burke’s attack on the “metaphysic rights” (152) of men that inspired the French Revolution, he urged Britons to look to their “breasts” rather than their “inventions” for the source of liberty. Burke deployed the language of sensibility to naturalize a political system organized around the idea of heredity. The argument goes that inheritance binds English citizens to their constitution with the instinctive force of a bond of kinship. But Burke has to admit that the awe-inspiring aspects of the state –its “pedigree and illustrating ancestors” (121)—are just so many “pleasing illusions” that make “power gentle, and obedience liberal” (171). Psychologically, however, Britons need these institutions because they have so thoroughly internalized the principles that they represent that those principles have become second nature. What keeps property and political representation in the hands of the few is what ties Britons to a shared past and future. Burke’s logic would be like Foucault’s if Foucault had wanted to celebrate the panopticon. Continue reading Ancient Pedigrees, Old Trees and Numinous Rocks→