Center Theme

2020-2021: Antiracism: Research • Teaching • Public Engagement

The Center for Literary and Comparative Studies is sponsoring a year-long linked series of events, "Antiracism: Research • Teaching • Public Engagement," that support and act upon the statements of solidarity for Black Lives Matter issued by the Department, College, and University.

Drawing upon the flexibility of the virtual environment—all of our programming in AY 20-21 will be virtual—we are committed to supporting the work of emerging, early-, and mid-career scholars and teachers, with a particular emphasis on welcoming BIPOC and BAME scholars and teachers in the US and abroad. We envisage that these events will draw audiences from the University of Maryland and beyond. Our intention is to contribute to the development of antiracist scholarship and pedagogy, and to offer public engagement with our various communities beyond campus in the service of promoting antiracism in all its forms.

In addition, our vision for the Center—particularly this year of COVID—is to cultivate and support our intellectual community with funded and unfunded programming.

To that end, we will feature programming on Antiracism developed in consultation and collaboration with our various constituencies, including undergraduate students, graduate students, staff, and faculty, both PTK and TTK. 

Our established events series will receive funding to support the myriad activities that advance their intellectual, pedagogical, and public engagement goals; as newer initiatives, the African American events series and BookLab will receive slightly higher funding.

In our communication with the conveners of events series, we will recommend (though not require) that groups develop programming in support of the Center’s Antiracism focus and, given the precarity of our current moment, support the work of early- and mid-career scholars and teachers. We also strongly urge everyone involved—in all facets of our work together—to attend to the racial diversity of invited guests, topics of discussion, and sponsored events.

Unfunded programming to support our community will include book launches, works in progress sessions, zoom writing groups, among other things.



2018-2020: Resistance

In 2018-2020, our theme of “Resistance” explores the multifaceted forms of resistance and meaningful action that have shaped our world and found expression in cultural practice, modes of thought, types of media, and aesthetic, rhetorical, and linguistic experimentations.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines resistance as the “action of resisting, opposing, or withstanding someone or something.” It can describe large-scale organized opposition to an “invading, occupying, or ruling power” as well as the “power or capacity to resist something.” Numerous philosophers and critics have sought to theorize the concept of resistance. Perhaps no word has been more central to the modern political and cultural imagination than “Resistance.” Our theme also reflects the current political moment and draws critical energy from the mass protests and movements that have begun to reshape our contemporary understanding of resistance. From Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the March for Science and March for Our Lives to the spontaneous outpouring of demonstrators at international airports opposing the executive orders on immigration and refugees, we have witnessed the unprecedented mobilization of people united in an effort to effect positive societal change.

We seize upon this moment to ask: What is resistance? How might we identify and define forms of resistance? What is the scale of resistance? How do theories of resistance translate to practices of resistance? What is the role of art, aesthetics, and cultural production in resistance movements? Or, is resistance futile, to quote a popular science fiction trope? Together, we will investigate the complex and evolving meanings, forms, and theories of resistance.

2016-2017 and 2017-2018: Migrations

Literature and culture are not static entities but instead the result of vast, intersecting networks of migration, circulation, and transit.  In 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 we will explore the event and idea of migration: of peoples, things, commodities, discourses, and of knowledge itself.

How does literature reflect, represent, and construct the diaspora of peoples and cultures?  How is the interaction between literature and other discourses (law, science, philosophy, and medicine) registered by histories of migration?  Who or what is the migrating subject?  How does that subject relate to the queer, racialized, gendered, or post-human subject?   What role does migration play in the rise of such entities like the nation-state, empire, the corporation, and the university?  How much do concepts like art, citizenship, property, and labor depend upon, regulate, or erase migration?

How do images and texts migrate?  How does a poem, a book, or a meme?  What are the affects and feelings of migration?  What does it mean to consider the migration of thought itself?

What bodies does migration create?  What is the scale of migration?  Is migration a symptom of or point of resistance to neo-liberal, administered life?

2015-2016: Play

In 2015-16 we consider “Play,” broadly conceived as, though certainly not limited to, performance; cultural practice (both oppositional and ideological); aesthetic, linguistic and philosophical experimentation; affect; and mode of thought.

How do notions of games and gaming cut across different media and genres? How do different ways of role-playing structure the literary, cultural, and social world? How does play appear in video, film, theater, novels, poetry, theory, and philosophy? How much is play a part of critical thought and artistic expression? How much is play about the experimental, the technological, and the avant-garde? Is play normalizing or improvisational? About chance and contingency or rules and patterns? What are the ideologies behind play? What is its affect? When is play frivolous and when is it serious? When is it harmless and when is it subversive? When is it recreation and when is it work?

Is play best when it’s safe or dangerous? How much does play define the mind and how much the body? How much do issues of race, gender, class, and sexual identity inform play?

What is play? What, when, and how do we play? And, perhaps most importantly, who (or what) gets to play?

2014-2015: Subjects and Objects

Dividing the world into subjects and objects, perceivers and the perceived, or knowers and the known, has been a mainstay of our modern understanding of literature, aesthetics, and philosophy.  This division has been the starting point for some of the most important and adventurous inquires into those categories, as well as questions about ethics, politics, culture, and ideology.  It has also been a major problem that many have sought to overcome.  Destabilizing the idea of an essential subject or unsettling the notion of a pre-existing subjective consciousness has been part of a number of critical and theoretical genealogies in the humanities.  Since then, however, figures such as Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou have in different ways called for a return of the subject.  Even more recently, movements such as object-oriented ontology and speculative realism have argued for the inescapable fact of the object world with scholars and critics seeing how various literary and cultural works reflect that condition.

The aim of this theme is to invite people to think about how their critical and scholarly interests might speak to this topic and a number of questions related to it.  A variety of angles can approach this theme; they include queer theory, gender studies, environmental studies, post-colonial and race studies, new media, rhetoric and linguistics, literature and science, law studies, poetics, and animal studies. 

What constitutes a knowing or acting subject?  Is a subject possible?  What does it mean to know something without a subject?  Are objects real?  How does a world work with only objects in it?  How do the literary and cultural works of various periods tackle these questions? 

What does it mean to call a text an object?  How is a text like a subject?  How are people like objects?  How are subjects objects?

What is the politics of objects?  Are there inanimate subjects?  Animate objects?

Does literature bridge the gap between subjects and objects?  Or does it do away this division altogether?  What kinds of subjects and objects exist in a text?
How do different discourses and histories create different subjects and objects?  Do objects exist before language?  Do subjects?

2013-2014: Sound, Sight, Text:  Aural & Visual Cultures and the Practice of Literature 

A text, as an object of study, is commonly understood as an optical matter associated with words or images inscribed on a page, a screen, a canvas, a slide, film, a body. Recent scholarship in sound studies has invited scholars to re-direct attention to the voice, to performance, and especially to listening practices that impact how we understand cultures, contexts, and objects previously analyzed through approaches that privileged the eye. Sound studies, then, intersects with literary, rhetorical, and composition studies, media studies, science and technology studies, art and cultural studies, architecture, philosophy, political economy, and the practice of politics.

This shift has methodological as well as thematic implications, suggesting that literary scholars not only analyze the ways in which literature textualizes sound and silence and makes them meaningful but also how listening practices and sound technologies mediate and impact various modes of reading and writing.
This theme is designed to complement, link, and extend ongoing departmental conversations in Science and Literature, Law and Race, Digital Humanities, Affect Theory, Ethnography, Post Humanism, Queer and Disability Studies, Visual Studies, and Complexity.

Some questions to be considered:

  • How are our objects of study constituted through sound and listening practices?
  • How has sound production and perception changed throughout history and how does this impact analysis of literary and cultural texts?
  • How do listening practices, in concert with other sensory modalities, articulate value, aesthetics, and ethics?
  • What are the theoretical frameworks and academic terminologies for dealing with sound in literary and cultural studies?
  • How are sound, including noise, and silence figured in writing and visual culture and toward what ends?
  • What do the specific aesthetic aspects of sound achieve in contrast or in relation to visuality in writing and visual culture?

2012-2013: Circuits and Circulation

The advances of the Information Age have led many to proclaim that we live in an age of unprecedented contact and interaction among the diverse array of peoples and cultures in the world. Is the world, however, so much smaller now than it ever has been? Are the ways in which we connect with each other, as well as create networks and affinities, so fundamentally different now as opposed to the past?

We invite applicants to think about how ideas, bodies, and texts have traveled through time and space and shaped the categories though which we make sense of the world we inhabit—and have inhabited.   If we think of circulation as the “what” of these movements and circuits as the “how,” what accidents and necessities have brought us into contact with—or distanced us from—one another and how have they been represented?  What roadblocks have stood in the way?  How did our predecessors turn uncertainty into opportunity, the barely thinkable into the ordinary? How did the remarkable become the predictable and vice versa? What recombinations of ideas, bodies, and texts are possible to discern at the intersection of the human and the technological? What does the study of literature and culture contribute to the exploration of these questions?

Some examples of possible topics:

  • Migration and Diaspora
  • Food Studies
  • Technology and Literature
  • History of the Book
  • Rhetoric of Difference
  • Paradigms of Human Rights
  • Biopolitics
  • Transnational Perspectives on Environmental Transformation
  • International Film
  • Complexity
  • Mapping 
  • Cross-disciplinary perspectives on disability

This list is not exhaustive. This theme was developed to engage the broad range of interests of undergraduate and graduate students, lecturers, faculty, and staff; to be meaningful for the various area groups within the department; and to be adaptable to pedagogical and programmatic aims.

2009-2012: Reading: Histories, Practices, Futures

The theme, "Reading: Histories, Pracitices, Futures," provides thematic integration to the department's public seminars, conferences, lectures, panel discussions, and other public programs.