New Literary History Conference

Interpretation and its Rivals

September 19-20, 2013

Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture | University of Virginia

Is interpretation a limited and historically specific practice that is now in decline? Or, at a time when the humanities are under attack, should we defend interpretation as lying at the very heart of what we do?

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Thursday, September 19

4:00–4:15 Welcome by Rita Felski

4:15–6:15 SESSION 1

Friday, September 20

9:45–11:15 SESSION 2

  • T. J. Clark, “Matisse’s Garden at Issy”
  • Zhang Longxi, “‘The pale cast of thought’: On the Dilemma of Thinking and Action”


11:30–1:00 SESSION 3

1:00–2:15 LUNCH (provided free to conference attendees)

2:15–4:15 SESSION 4



Co-sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities and Global Cultures and Johns Hopkins University Press

Speakers Bios

Linda Martín Alcoff is Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College and the Graduate School, C.U.N.Y. She is a past President of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. Her writings have focused on social identity and race, epistemology and politics, sexual violence, Foucault, Dussel, and Latino issues in philosophy. Her book, Visible Identities: Race, Gender and the Self (2006), won the Frantz Fanon Award for 2009. She is originally from Panama, but lives today happily in Brooklyn. For more info go to

Jeffrey Alexander is the Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology and a Director of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University. He works in the areas of theory, culture, politics, and aesthetics. Among his recent publications are: The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology (2003), The Civil Sphere (2006), The Performance of Politics: Obama's Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power (2010), Performative Revolution in Egypt: An Essay in Cultural Power (2011), Performance and Power (2011), Trauma: A Social Theory (2012), and The Dark Side of Modernity (2013). Obama Power (with Bernadette Jaworsky) will appear in 2014.

T. J. Clark was born in Bristol, England in 1943, took a B.A. in Modern History at Cambridge, and a Ph.D. in Art History at the Courtauld Institute, University of London. He taught at various places in England and the United States, and from 1988 onward at the University of California–Berkeley, where he is George C. and Helen N. Pardee Chair Emeritus. Clark is the author of a series of books on the social character and formal dynamics of modern art: The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France 1848-1851 (1973); Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (1973); The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers (1984); and Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (1999); as well as Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (written with “Retort,” 2005); The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing (2006); Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica (2013); and a book accompanying an exhibition at Tate Britain, coauthored with Anne M. Wagner, Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life (2013). A book-cum-pamphlet on current politics, Por uma esquerda sem futuro, was just published in Brazil.

Antoine Compagnon is a professor of French and Comparative Literature at Collège de France, Paris, and Columbia University, New York. He is the author of many books since La Seconde Main (1979).

Steven Connor is Grace 2 Professor of English in the University of Cambridge. He is a writer, critic, and broadcaster, who has published books on Dickens, Beckett, Joyce, and postmodernism, as well as on topics such as ventriloquism, skin, flies, and air. His most recent books are Paraphernalia: The Curious Lives of Magical Things (2011) and A Philosophy of Sport (2011). Beyond Words: Sobbing, Humming and Other Vocalizations and Beckett, Modernism and the Material Imagination are forthcoming. His website at includes lectures, broadcasts, unpublished work and work in progress.

N. Katherine Hayles, Professor of Literature at Duke University, teaches and writes on the relations of literature, science, and technology in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Her book, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (1999), won the Rene Wellek Prize for the Best Book in Literary Theory for 1998-99, and her book, Writing Machines (2002), won the Suzanne Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship.  Her most recent book is How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis (2012), and she is presently at work on a book on literary theory and finance capital.

Sharon Marcus specializes in nineteenth-century British and French literature and culture as well as gender and sexuality studies and literary theory.   She is the author of Apartment Stories: City and Home in Nineteenth-Century Paris and London (1999) and Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (2007).  With Stephen Best, she edited a special 2009 issue of Representations on “The Way We Read Now” and has recently published essays in PMLA, Victorian Studies, Social Research, Theatre Survey, The Blackwell Companion to Comparative Literature, and The Cambridge History of Victorian Literature.  

David Scott teaches at Columbia University where he is professor of anthropology. He is the author of a number of books and is the editor of the journal Small Axe. His new book, Omens of Adversity: Tragedy, Time, Memory, Justice will be published in early 2014.

Susan Stewart is a poet, critic and translator as well as the Avalon Foundation University Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University where she also directs the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts. Her most recent books are the poetry collections Red Rover (2008) and Columbarium (2003), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry, and the prose study The Poet's Freedom: A Notebook on Making (2011). A former MacArthur Fellow and Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she will be a Berlin Prize fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in Spring 2014.

Zhang Longxi is Chair Professor of Comparative Literature and Translation at the City University of Hong Kong and a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities. Among his books are The Tao and the Logos: Literary Hermeneutics, East and West (1992); Mighty Opposites: From Dichotomies to Differences in the Comparative Study of China (1998); Allegoresis: Reading Canonical Literature East and West (2005); Unexpected Affinities: Reading across Cultures (2007); and From Comparison to World Literature (forthcoming).