Literary criticism in the twenty-first century has been characterized by a renewed interest in the discipline’s big questions, its foundational categories, and its basic methodological assumptions. How do we read? What counts as interpretation? What is literature? What can literature do? In the early 2000s, major journals in the field (such as PMLA and New Literary History) raced to formulate a “literary criticism for the twenty-first century” by asking how we read (now) or what literature is (now). As twenty-first century literary criticism becomes old enough to vote, it is time to take stock and ask: what are its politics? What does it stand for? What does it seek to accomplish? After initial attempts to give literary criticism a new life in and for our century, and after a teenage phase in which literary criticism focused largely on its definitive crises, shouting “You don't understand me! No one understands me!” at the world, its host institutions, and its disciplinary siblings as much as at its own bathroom mirror, it is time to ask if and how literary criticism of the twenty-first century, now almost two decades old, has matured. We believe that it is time to step back and critically examine and historicize the various conceptual and methodological movements that together make up the innovations in twenty-first century literary criticism. Rather than trying to determine which particular critical concept or which critical approach one should champion, we wish to examine the underlying, basic commitments that are bound up with the new ways in which literary criticism of the past two decades has tried to address itself to its foundational categories and concepts. Some of our questions are: how may we historicize the discussions surrounding the category of reading? What are underlying propositions and aims of the various attempts to revisit and re-define the foundational concepts, terms, and methods of literary studies in the new millennium? What, in turn, are their political possibilities—indeed, what is the valence of the “political” in criticism? Finally, when we ask what the possibility and the possibilities of literary criticism today might be, we aim not just to tease out the basic assumptions that underlie the recent “method wars,” but we also ask this with an eye on training a new generation of literary scholars. How do recent accounts of the value of literature and of the value of literary discipline add up to clear conceptions of the skills that studying literary criticism may provide our students—and how may we communicate these basic ideas and values better to students, beginning at the undergraduate level? In short, we will gather at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in May of 2019 in order to ask: how do we do what we do and why?


Dr. Timothy Bewes (Brown University)

Dr. Sarah Brouillette (Carleton University)

Dr. Nicholas Brown (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Dr. Sharae Deckard (University College Dublin)

Dr. Merve Emre (University of Oxford)

Dr. Rachel Greenwald Smith (Saint Louis University)

Dr. Matthew Hart (Columbia University)

Dr. Susan Hegeman (University of Florida)

Dr. Mitchum Huehls (UCLA)

Dr. Caren Irr (Brandeis University)

Dr. Anna Kornbluh (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Dr. Madhu Krishnan (University of Bristol)

Dr. Tim Lanzendörfer (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)

Dr. Carolyn Lesjak (Simon Fraser University)

Dr. Günter Leypoldt (Ruprecht-Karls University Heidelberg)

Dr. Matthew Mullins (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)

Dr. Mathias Nilges (St. Francis Xavier University)

Dr. Ellen Rooney (Brown University)

Dr. Emilio Sauri (University of Massachussetts, Boston)

Dr. Sascha Seiler (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)

Dr. Clemens Spahr (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)

Dr. Joshua Toth (MacEwan University)

Dr. Johannes Voelz (Goethe University Frankfurt)

Dr. Philip Wegner (University of Florida)

Dr. Russell West-Pavlov (Eberhard Karls University Tübingen)

Dr. Pia Wiegmink (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)

the conference will also include a special session featuring undergraduate students at stfx university

The following students will present their thoughts on the recent “method wars” in literary studies and run a session that puts the conference’s participants in the hot seat by asking them to clarify and define basic concepts, ideas, and approaches that are shaping literary critical debates today:

Jennifer Aftanas

Laura Blinn

Emma Hofland-Burry

Jessica Morrison