Poetics of Infrastructure (Part 1) (Panel)


Comparative Literature / American/Diaspora

Michael Shea (University of Pennsylvania)

Marty Cain (Cornell University)

If the infrastructural turn in literary studies has found its privileged object in the novel (realist or otherwise), the history of poetic representations of infrastructure—from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry'' or The Bridge to the trans-Atlantic networks implicated in Zong!—suggests the possibility for a different infrastructuralist archive. This panel thus seeks to literalize the “poetics'' invoked in its title to investigate how the form of the poem attends to, represents, and reimagines infrastructure as both problem and solution. What happens when we read infrastructure—and its lack, neglect, or privation—through poetic forms, rather than novelistic ones? How can what Christopher Nealon refers to as poetry’s “nimbleness around scale-shifting” be deployed to think about the dizzying complexity of modern infrastructural projects, their simultaneous existence as unrepresentable, globe-spanning networks (undersea fiber optic cables) and objects or fields of ubiquitous presence (tap water, electrical sockets, wifi)? If the collapse of infrastructure is rendered as jaw-dropping spectacle—from Hollywood films to the viral event of the stuck Evergreen container ship—can poetic forms construct alternate spatio-temporal modelings of infrastructural crisis? How does poetry imagine the infrastructure of the future, or complicate its utopian promise—what Bruce Robbins has described as the (unequally distributed) distraction from our bodily necessities?


As infrastructure is inherently transnational, we’re interested in abstracts on writers from any linguistic tradition whose work explores the convergence between poetry and infrastructural studies. Topics include but are not limited to:

Ecopoetics, infrastructure, and environmental justice
Translation, transnationalism, and borders as infrastructural projects.
Poetic community and infrastructure, including academia
Poetic representations of the violence or afterlives of colonial or plantation infrastructures.
Poetry, social media, and new media technologies
Infrastructures of publication and cultural production
Poetry and the fantasy of infrastructure, or what Perry Miller calls the “technological sublime”


Please direct any questions to poeticsofinfrastructure@gmail.com
If the “infrastructural turn” has largely oriented itself around the novel, how does our understanding of infrastructure shift when considered through the form of the poem? How do poems and poets attend to, register, and reimagine infrastructure, using the specific formal capacities of poetry to capture infrastructure’s vexed existence as both a form of state control and a utopian promise, at once inherently transnational and radically local, complex and concrete, problem and solution?