Material Culture Studies and American Literature


American/Diaspora / Cultural Studies and Media Studies

John Casey (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Objects are often shunned in the discussion of literature in favor of ideas. Yet many authors of fiction in the U.S. tradition have made “mere objects” focal points in their narratives. One prominent example is Theodore Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie where the narrative seems to deride the protagonist for her obsession with things but subconsciously shares her desires. This panel will consider fictional narratives in the United States that address the longstanding tension between objects and ideas. Papers are also sought that examine the material quality of fiction itself. Books, after all, are themselves objects that attempt to hide their physical presence through engaging the reader’s imagination. What can we learn from studying objects in American Literature and seeing American Literature as itself a series of objects demanding our attention?

Papers should cover the tension between objects and ideas in the body of work of a specific U.S. author or work of fiction. They may also examine the material presence of a specific work of fiction in the United States, examining its production and distribution to readers. Scholars in periodical studies are particularly encouraged to submit proposals to this session.