Material Connections / Literary Articulations (ACLA conference, Washington DC, March 7 - 10, 2019)

Jocelyn Holland's picture
Call for Papers
September 19, 2018
United States
Subject Fields: 
German History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Literature, Philosophy, Humanities

Some list members might be interested in applying to this seminar for the American Comparative Litreature Association's annual meeting. Abstracts should be posted directly on the acla website ( The deadline for submission is September 19th.


Seminar: Material Connections / Literary Articulations

Organizer: Jocelyn Holland (California Institute of Technology / UC Santa Barbara)

The premise of this seminar is that material forms of connection and practices of connecting have, over time, left traces in a wide variety of discourses, whereby some traces are more visible than others. In English, one finds numerous metaphorical examples, such as the act of “dovetailing” or the state of being “riveted,” imported from joinery and metalworking. A central goal of the seminar is to understand to what degree the constraints of particular material connections not only influenced the development of tools and artisanal practices associated with them but also left their imprints on literary and philosophical thinking.
Another goal is to identify historical moments or intellectual trends that offer potential for engagement with the seminar topic. For the organizer, these questions have emerged during research into concepts of tools and technology in the European Enlightenment (such as Diderot’s and D’Alembert’s Encyclopèdie project, which offers a paradigmatic example for how to negotiate between materials and theoretical reflections). One could also take as inspiration Johann Beckmann’s assertion that the sciences at the end of the 18th century, as distinct as they might appear to the untrained eye, “resemble each other to the extent that the borders are difficult to recognize” such that a well-situated observer “believes to see that column of Phidias, upon which no joints were visible.” Embedded within that quote is an idea that emerges at different times, in different contexts, and with reference to various media: the perfection or completion of a particular work lies in the invisibility of its joints or connections. That such an aesthetic standard is not necessarily the norm is evident in contexts where the emphasis is instead on connection as “articulation,” a term which, at least since the Middle Ages, has endorsed a separate rhetoric of visibility, refusing to allow the perception of individual parts to be subsumed within that of the whole.
This seminar has not been constructed with a single theoretical perspective in mind and welcomes a diversity of approaches. The questions it raises can be addressed with traditional historicist methods as well as with recent work in new materialism and post-phenomenology. With regard to the latter, Peter-Paul Verbeek comes perhaps most readily to mind. This project is very sympathetic to his pursuit of a “philosophical analysis of the relation between human beings and material objects” in such a way as to integrate observations of materiality into theoretical reflections.
Submissions in any research area are encouraged, as long as the abstract expresses the intention to:

  • Work closely with at least one material example (not necessarily one mentioned above)
  • Provide at least one case study of “connection” that can be analyzed to help create a conceptual vocabulary general enough to be useful to other participants in the seminar.
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