Conference participants can register for one of seven seminar workshops through the NASSR conference registration page. Seminar sign-up is on a first come first served basis, and seminars are capped at 25 participants.

NASSR 2017 Seminar Workshops:

David Collings, Bowdoin College

“Blank Oblivion, Condemned Life: John Clare’s ‘Obscurity'”

John Clare is well known for his poems on animals or birds that evoke aspects of nonhuman creaturely life; often in his work he carefully explores aspects of a non-anthropocentric poetics. But in the sonnet “Obscurity,” written for The Midsummer Cushion in the early 1830s, and in a pair of nine-line fragments written in 1845, he decenters even this creature-oriented perspective, depicting a perpetual, nameless wind that effaces all creaturely temporalities through its indifferent flow. Yet the sonnet locates its creatures under the hospitality of this flow, as if to imagine a certain hospitality in disaster. Taking up the theme of oblivion, of wasted life, this seminar will explore how these poems promise to enlarge our understanding of the mutual engagements of romanticism, post-phenomenology, object-oriented ontology, and speculative realism; to do so it will engage a set of concerns that draw upon, but undo, key moments in Heidegger, Blanchot, Derrida, Lyotard, Agamben, and François, as well as Meillassoux, Brassier, Harmon, and Bennett.

Amanda Jo Goldstein, Cornell University


Much neo-materialist and neo-vitalist thinking looks to bodily life for its resistance to regimes of signification and structures of discursive power. Yet the discipline lately dubbed “biosemiotics” takes as its premise the fundamental interdependency of life and signs, re-enfolding human works on words within processes of signaling, transduction, codification, and transfiguration everywhere on evidence among not-just-human natures (on intracellular to ecosystemic scales). Though biosemiotics cohered as a discipline only in the 1980s, its non-Saussurean genealogy stretches back through Charles Saunders Peirce and Jakob von Uexküll to sources in Romantic literary life science that ecocriticism is just beginning to limn. Putting selections from Goethe, Novalis, Shelley, Blake and/or Clare into conversation with Jesper Hoffmeyer’s synthetic introduction to biosemiotics and criticism from Monique Allewaert, Cate Rigby, and Marjorie Levinson, this seminar poses, differently, some very Romantic questions about the natural history of meaning.

Kevis Goodman, University of California, Berkeley

“A Multitude of Causes” Pathology and Aesthetics

This seminar will present work in progress on the intimacy and overlapping concerns of later eighteenth-century medicine and aesthetic theory, considering both as sibling sciences that sought together to conceptualize and represent the precarious ecology and complex mediations between persons and their historical environments. Where most studies of the relationship between the histories of medicine and aesthetics accept, as a sufficient account, literature’s aspirations to medicine’s therapeutic function, its aim of accommodating men to their milieu, I want to think as well about the legacy to criticism – and, in particular, to accounts of reading – of a different yet central branch of medicine in the period: pathology. Also called “medical semiotics” because of its interest in the interpretation of symptoms and signs, pathology was the study of the causes and effects of disease, or the ways in which “a multitude of causes” (as Wordsworth put it in 1800) – internal and external, proximate and remote, predisposing and occasional – appear immanently in physical and mental life, including aesthetic experience.

I hope that this seminar will help us take up, from a new angle, a number of recurrent questions in the history of criticism, such as the workings of mediation, the complexity of determination, the effects of modernity in the body, the limits of description, and the so-called “symptomatic” reading – among others. More generally, I also hope that it will provide an occasion for participants to share their own approaches to studying the relationship between areas of knowledge (“sciences” in the original sense) that have not always stood apart.

Manuscript materials for the seminar are pre-circulated, and I will be encouraging those who attend to email me comments or questions about the readings in advance, so that I can (try to) be sure to address your interests (

Michelle Levy, Simon Fraser University

“Digital Romantic Manuscripts”

The literary manuscripts of Romantic authors have never been more accessible to researchers, students, and the general public. Open source digital projects, such as Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts, the William Blake Archive, the Harvard Keats Collection, and the Shelley-Godwin Archive, provide high-quality digital facsimiles, often combined with transcriptions and a wealth of metadata and other contextual material. These projects have led the way in the field of digital scholarship, introducing new editorial models and new opportunities for research, both of minute physical details and of larger scale investigations. Participants will be asked to select one of the digital collections, listed below, to report on their use of these materials, whether for research, teaching, or both. As a group, we will generate a set of use cases and best practices for working with digitized manuscript material, and identify any barriers to their full scholarly implementation. This seminar will raise methodological and theoretical questions about digital manuscripts, by turning our attention to the following primary questions:

What does the study of literary manuscripts bring to our understanding of Romantic authorship and literary culture?

How do digital resources enable, or limit, these avenues of investigation?

In what ways does the use of digital manuscripts differ from that of digitized print?

What material and affective features of manuscript study are lost in the translation of paper archives into digital media?

Major Digital Repositories/Editions of Romantic-period Literary Manuscripts:

Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts

The William Blake Archive

The Harvard Keats Collection

The Shelley-Godwin Archive

Romanticism: Life, Literature and Landscape

A short selection of theoretical readings will be provided to participants in advance of the workshop.

Devoney Looser, Arizona State University

“Jane Austen’s Legacy at 200”

In this seminar, participants will consider the status of Jane Austen in both scholarly and popular culture, past and present. We will discuss and investigate her place in each register, under the auspices of the conference theme, “Romantic Life.” What does Austen’s legacy look like in its aspects in scholarly life? How does it appear from pop culture vantage points? Where have these conversations and registers most often overlapped or found common ground, and where have they most been in conflict with–or even in ignorance of–each other? Whose lives and which lives have been transformed by Jane Austen over the course of the past 200 years? The seminar will also seek to expand our sense of what is at stake in scholarly engagement with (or participation in) so-called Janeite practices over time.

Daniel O’Quinn, University of Guelph

“Living Through Crisis:  Sir Joshua Reynolds, Decolonization and the Dialectical Image”

Sir Joshua Reynolds’s career was conspicuously tied to the prosecution of two global wars. Just as his time in Italy defined Reynolds’s style, the uncertainty and then triumphalism of the Seven Years’ War permeates his pictorial treatment of heroism. His portraits of Augustus Keppel and Robert Orme from the 1750s set the terms for much of his engagement with martial masculinity. These generative paintings were the prelude to the triumphant portraits of Augustus Hervey, John Manners, the Marquess of Granby and John Burgoyne in the 1760s, but they remained active in Reynolds’s repertoire when he came to deal with the reverses in America. In Reynolds’s work of the late 1770s and early 1780s we can begin to see what it means to be post-American. This paper to be circulated in this seminar argues that Reynolds’s martial portraiture from the closing year of the American War constitutes not only a complex diagnostic of cultural humiliation and social decay, but also an intrepid attempt to clear the ground for the emergence of representational paradigms suitable to the post-American era. In the wake of American decolonization, Britain had to re-assess and re-align many of its conceptions of the cultural patrimony. Portraiture, because it is so engaged with problems of subjectivity, provides a privileged site from which to observe this re-alignment, but it is the very status of these paintings as objects that opens them to a radical historiography. The failure of Britain’s martial efficacy forced Reynolds to engage with his own earlier paintings of heroic masculinity. By reckoning with his own and his nation’s past, Reynolds found himself inventing futures that would animate his late style. But more importantly I think that Reynolds’s paintings throw up an image of precisely that which was most difficult to narrate at the end of the war, a rupture “wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation”.[i] Following Walter Benjamin’s suggestion that such a dialectical image is only encountered in language, I am going to suggest that the deep citationality of these pictures allows us say the tired word “Atlantic” with the full connotations of historical crisis suddenly intact.

This essay is part of a new project on the 1780s called The Post-American Repertoire that ranges widely across painting, poetry, theatre, opera and social performance and it is my hope that our discussion will raise questions about the historical narratives, geopolitical fantasies and affective dispositions implied by the term Romanticism.

[i] Walter Benjamin, “Awakening” (Arcades, 462; N2a, 3)

Mark Salber Phillips, Carleton University

“Why All the Fuss About Fresco? The Fine Arts Commission and the Re-decoration of the Houses of Parliament”

Distance and its many mediations, I have argued, enter into every facet of historical representation. (On Historical Distance, Yale, 2013). A key chapter of my current book-in-progress focuses on debates about fresco as a new/old medium for redecorating the Houses of Parliament after the fire of 1834. Though fresco had long fallen from use in Britain, leading parliamentarians, artists, and historians met to debate its virtues, including its suitability to the British climate. Fueled by a desire for an artistic reformation (and jealous of what the Germans had accomplished), they minimised the difficulties of the medium in favor of pursuing its ancient promise. Temporal distance in this instance (though not always in others) seemed no barrier to creating new proximities; instead distance seemed an invitation to resurrect a lost ideal in material form. In examining this debate I will further my investigation of distance and re-distancing in the context of a major cultural crisis.