Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Please join the American Studies Consortium for two events with

David Alworth (Harvard)

Public Lecture: "Henry James: Media Archaeologist"
Thursday, April 14 at 4pm, 3154 Angell Hall

Grad Seminar: Discussion of pre-circulated excerpt from
Alworth's Site Reading

Friday, April 15 at 3pm, 3184 Angell Hall 


Thursday's talk is adapted from Alworth's Art Novels book project. Prevailing accounts of the "art novel," the genre of literary fiction after James, define it as a repository of "cultural capital" and a bid for "distinction" in what Pierre Bourdieu calls "the game of culture." But this definition, however important and useful, actually sidesteps art––or more precisely, media relations: the technical and historical interplay between the visual arts (variously construed) and literature (particularly the novel). Focusing precisely on such relations, by contrast, Alworth seeks to reconceptualize the art novel as a feat of "media archaeology." An emerging subfield of media studies, media archaeology examines the interactions among different media, both new and old, as well as the material, technical, formal, historical, and social conditions of any given medium: from painting, sculpture, and photography to performance, installation, and digital design. Understanding the art novel in this sense not only allows us to see U.S. fiction as a vibrant component of modern art history; it also provides an apt critical language for analyzing the turn toward the arts in very recent novels by Tom McCarthy, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, and Ben Lerner, among others.

Friday's workshop will explore an excerpt from Alworth's first book, Site Reading.  Through an engagement with the sociologies of Bruno Latour and Erving Goffman, Site Reading offers a new method for interpreting narrative setting. Examining five sites (supermarkets, dumps, roads, ruins, and asylums) that have been crucial to American literature and visual art since the mid-twentieth century, Alworth demonstrates that setting is not merely a static background for narrative action and characterization. Instead, he argues, sites figure in novels as determinants of sociality that raise complex questions about the experience of collective life.

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