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2014-2015 – Older Talks

Thursday 4 December 2014 7–10pm

The Challenge of Aesthetic Skepticism and the Importance of Being Profound
Patrick Fessenbecker – Assistant Professor in CCI

The twenty-first century has seen the development and spread of a variety of new methodologies for literary study, from Franco Moretti’s “Distant Reading” to the “history of the book” approaches of Leah Price and others. Despite their diversity, these approaches share a certain refusal: they reject the notion of artistic value as a reason for and justification of literary criticism. In so doing, they represent a natural response to the widespread critique of the concept of aesthetic value as inevitably ideological that dominated cultural studies in the last decades of the twentieth century.

This paper will return to that critique and outline a strategy for responding to it, one borrowed from moral philosophy. In particular, it will argue that so-called “thick” concepts— concepts like “honesty and “honor,” which combine description and evaluation—have been under-utilized in literary aesthetics. Unlike traditional defenses of the literary canon, thick concepts avoid the circular logic of justification through sophisticated form alone. Moreover, they share with the ideological critiques of the aesthetic a rejection of the notion of aesthetic autonomy: to start from thick concepts is to commit oneself to aesthetic pluralism from the start.

Tuesday, 11 November 16.40 – G 160

“The true field and subject of imposture are things not known…. Whence it happens that nothing is more firmly believed than what we know the least….”

Montaigne, Essays, Book I, chapter 32.

From Global Connectivities to Alternative Citizenships: Jhumpa Lahiri’s “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine.”

 Dr. Jeneffer Reimer – American Culture and Literature

Jhumpa Lahiri’s fiction explores the lives of immigrants and U.S. Americans who cross borders both literal and metaphorical: border-crossings rendered elegantly by Lahiri’s well-crafted literary style. Yet because Lahiri has not publicly aligned herself with political or activist canons and traditions, her relationship to the ethnic American or Asian-American literary canon has gone largely unexplored in scholarship on her work. I argue that Lahiri’s work reflects richly on the racial identity and cultural politics of some of its characters, particularly the young protagonist, Lilia, from the short story, “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine.” Lahiri examines questions of identity and cultural politics by illuminating how Lilia navigates competing national narratives, official and unofficial, and envisions an alternative account of citizenship, allegiance, and belonging for second generation characters.

November 10, at 12.40 Swinburne

Dr. AYŞE ÇELİKKOL, Logos, and Deep Time
The Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “Hymn of Man” locates reason both inside and outside the human subject, thus questioning modern secular narratives of self-reliance. This paper focuses especially on Swinburne’s construal of “deep time,” a notion derived from the discovery that the Earth’s history extended far beyond the six thousand years postulated by readings of the Bible. It is especially in portrayals of deep time that Swinburne employs a Heraclitean notion of logos that exceeds the individual subject, positioning the poet outside mainstream discourses of the secular in the Victorian period.

Thursday, April 30, 2015: 12.40-14.00

Reading the Book of the World: What the Humanities Can Teach Us about Climate Change
Dr. Tobias Boes

Associate Professor of German Literature University of Notre Dame
Global climate change presents an unprecedented challenge to the survival of our species—not least because human beings have so far proven remarkably inept at developing the conceptual tools that would be necessary to truly imagine it. The temporal and spatial dimensions are too vast, the causal connections too complex. Everybody understands what weather is, but “climate” is an abstraction, and no effective movement for social change was ever founded on an abstraction. Many prominent theorists of our current ecological crisis have argued that to truly understand climate change will require us to shed our humanist baggage, and to become “post-human.” In my talk, I will take a more modest approach. By focusing on the history of a particular humanist metaphor, namely that of our world as a book that demands to be read, I will demonstrate both the difficulties of humanist thought in the face of catastrophic climate change and, I hope, gesture towards some solutions for our imaginative impasse.
Bilkent University Library Orientation Room: Sandwiches and Beverages Available

Thursday, March 19 12.40-14.00—Bilkent Library Orientation Room

Persevering unto Martyrdom: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and La Respuesta a Sor Filotea
Dr. Buffy Turner

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s repeated invocation of the figure of Phaëthon in her writing suggests a classical analog to her own catastrophic daring in the early modern world of colonial Mexico. Not unlike Phaëthon, whose reckless daring urges him to take over a god’s role, to drive the sun’s chariot, an undertaking which ultimately costs him his life, Sor Juana emerges as a woman writer and cloistered nun overstepping the confines appropriate to her gender and position in the larger ecclesiastical order. By continually inserting herself into a male-dominated literary tradition and taking up modes of discourse deemed morally treacherous, if not publically improper, Sor Juana demonstrates a competence and audacity that outrages Church superiors and initiates her demise. Looking specifically at La Respuesta (1691), I consider the strategies guiding Sor Juana’s rhetorical spearing and the ultimate resignation and silence ushered in by that spearing. But that final surrender and surcease of communication, I suggest, may have been re- conceptualized by Sor Juana as a sort of freedom, so that in practicing the heroism of Phaëthon and mapping her own martyrdom onto that of Jesus, Sor Juana emerges as both agent and victim, hero and martyr, of her own collapse.