25th Annual Friends of English Southland Graduate Conference at UCLA

Reading Matters

May 30, 2014

Keynote Speakers:
Professor Alan Liu (UCSB)
Professor Helen Deutsch (UCLA)


“I love to cope him in these sullen fits,
For then he's full of matter.”
- Duke Senior, As You Like It

Modern literary criticism has inherited a tradition that privileges the metaphysical, transcendent, and intellectual above the physical, corporeal, and material—in short, mind over matter. But a series of related trends in criticism have prepared us to ask big questions about what we’ve neglected. Following the work of scholars such as Leah Price, Bill Brown, Levi Bryant, and Jane Bennett, “Reading Matters” considers issues of the material subject matter and form of literature. Book history revives questions about the material conditions of literary activity, and how forms of material production and circulation matter. Ecocriticism asks us to bracket our Cartesian prejudices to consider the bodies and matters that inhabit a text, while considering the environment that the text inhabits and the matrices of resources that produce a literature or a culture. Critical race, gender, imperial, sexuality, and disability studies have long asked us to consider not just the body of the text, but the bodies within the text as well. Historical and cultural materialists created a critical paradigm that reads culture as production – if so, what matters does our culture produce? Heideggerian thing theorists problematize the subject/object and object/thing distinctions, while Latour and the object-oriented critics wonder how to represent a parliament of things. What is at stake in these critical turns and trends?

We propose to collectively explore the material correlates of literary study in this year’s Friends of English Southland Conference, and we invite graduate students to engage with these important questions by submitting a proposal. Possible topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Book History and the Archive
  • Matter, Genre, Convention
  • Limitations of Materialist Thinking
  • Thing Theory, Object-Oriented Ontology
  • Historicizing Matter in Literature
  • The Materiality of Metaphors
  • Phenomenology, Ontology, Epistemology; or Material Being, Appearing, Thinking
  • Materialism and Idealism; Subjectivity and Objectivity
  • Ecocriticism, bios, and Literature in its Environment
  • Object Fetish, Trauma
  • Historical & Cultural Materialism
  • Geographical, Biological, and Material Determinism
  • Body Studies: Gendered, Queer, Deviant, and Virtual Bodies
  • The Feminine Forms; Matter and Maternity
  • Performativity, Performance Studies; Being & Embodiment
  • Consumer Culture, Mass Production, Standardization, Artisinal Economies, Material and Natural Resources
  • Physical Systems & Networks in Literature
  • Materialism and Nationalism; Transnationalism, Postnationalism, Globalization, Virtual Cosmopolitanisms
  • Teaching Matters

We are accepting individual proposals for traditional 15-minute papers, complete panels (three people with 15-minute papers on a topic), and complete roundtable panels (three to five people with five minute papers on a topic). Please send a 250-word abstract for individual submissions and a 500-word abstract for group submissions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it by March 1st.