CFP: Panel on (Re)Presenting Realism

CFP: C19 Conference: RECONSTRUCTIONS (March 31-April 2, 2022) Coral Gables, Florida


Seeking individual papers for a panel of revisionist readings and/or fresh critical approaches to the study of classic texts of American literary realism published in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In particular, the panelists will focus on fictional narratives that feature literary representations of political upheaval, mob violence, revolutionary plots, acts of social injustice and legal corruption, class conflicts, workers’ conditions, reform movements, or other profound disruptions that are thought to unbalance the contemporary status quo. The main goal of the panel is to address whether or not the generic conventions, narrative strategies, and aesthetic dimensions of social realism have persisted as residual templates for comprehending and reconstructing narratives of social disorder in our own media-saturated time.

To lend coherence to the panel, the point of departure for these discussions should broadly reconsider the critical assumptions that have previously guided the study of American realism for the last thirty years or so. Amy Kaplan’s influential study The Social Construction of American Realism (1988), to take just one example, taught a new generation of literary critics to think about realist texts not merely as failed creative responses to social change, or as progressive interventions meant to expose the deleterious effects of industrial and consumer capitalism, but as ideologically embedded strategies “for imagining and managing the threats of social change—not just to assert a dominant power but often to assuage fears of powerlessness.” Kaplan’s readings of Dreiser, Wharton, and Howells were no doubt shaped by an academic and political atmosphere rather different from our own, a situational factor in her work that should make us critically conscious of our own current presuppositions and aims.

What follows are just a few of the many topics that may be addressed within the framework of the panel description:

  • How do literary texts negotiate the political efficacy of their work and the aesthetic requirements of the novel form?
  • Can there be an aesthetics of reconstruction or revolution both in the texts considered and in teaching those texts today?
  • Do the narrative strategies of social realism disable, contain, or unleash the energies of class consciousness, assimilation, social justice, political action, dissensus?

Please send a 250-word abstract of your proposed paper to Joseph A. Dimuro: [email protected] by August 31. Include your name, academic rank, and home institution, as well as the email address/phone number you can be reached.