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Visual Culture in English Departments


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Date: Mon, 21 Feb 2000 16:26:53 -0500
From: James A. Knapp <jaknapp@ONLINE.EMICH.EDU>

Call for papers (for a proposed special session of the 2000 MLA convention):

Blindness or Insight? Studying Visual Culture in Departments of English

The recent increase in the study of visual culture by literary scholars may be attributed to cultural study's emphasis on interdisciplinarity, aimed at expanding the breadth of inquiry into cultural production. Not surprisingly, more and more literary specialists have begun to incorporate visual materials into the literature classroom, possibly in hopes of providing students with a bridge between the literary past and the society of the spectacle -- which Fredric Jameson has called a "social space ... completely saturated with the culture of the image." Despite the initial promise of this trend, literary scholars committed to the study of visual culture have cautioned that rather than expand the field of cultural analysis, the inclusion of visual material in literature courses risks reproducing a traditional subordination of visual to verbal representation. The increasing acceptance of visual materials raises some important questions for the kind of interdisciplinary study of culture that has been initiated in departments of literature. Specifically, it seems crucial to ask how a truly interdisciplinary study of culture can exist within the institutional framework of the modern university. Is it possible, in this context, to study visual and verbal cultural materials without simply sharpening the boundary between the literary and the visual arts?

Tentatively answering yes to this question, this session will consider the gains made in bringing the study of visual culture into debates over cultural theory begun in literature departments. I seek papers that examine the role of visual culture studies in a truly interdisciplinary academy. Rather than repeating the comparative analyses that inevitably valorize either visual or verbal material at the expense of the other, papers ought to address how an interdisciplinary approach to visual and verbal material can suggest new directions for the study of cultural texts, in both our scholarship and our teaching. Two important goals of the session are to assess the inroads that have been made in integrating visual and literary culture studies and to consider where we might go from here.

Send abstracts of up to 500 words and a brief CV by March 15th to either <>


James A. Knapp

Assistant Professor

Department of English Language and Literature

612 Pray-Harrold Hall

Eastern Michigan University

Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197

(734) 487-1310


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Last updated: February 27, 2000