“American Stuff”: American Literature Graduate Symposium, 14 May 2016, Faculty of English

american stuff
Image credit: Vestie Davis (1903-1978) Nathan’s Coney Island, 1971 Paint on canvas 18 x 24 in. (45.72 x 60.96 cm) Milwaukee Art Museum

American Literature Graduate Symposium: “American Stuff

Saturday 14 May, 2016

GR06/7, Faculty of English, 9 West Road, Cambridge

Keynotes: David Brauner (Reading), Pamela Thurschwell (Sussex)

Defending his unadorned, realist style, William Dean Howells remarked in a 1903 letter to Charles Norton: ‘I am not sorry for having wrought in common, crude material so much; that is the right American stuff.’ Bringing together graduate students and faculty from the University of Cambridge and beyond, this one-day symposium examines the kinds of ‘stuff’ that constitute American life, asking what role ‘common, crude material’ might play in literary and cultural history. ‘“Stuff”, notes the anthropologist Danny Miller, ‘has a quite remarkable capacity for fading from view’. Stuff names the unnoticed, forgotten, and taken for granted; those aspects of everyday life that Miller argues ‘frame our behaviour’. To focus on stuff might mean to attend to material culture, and to the texture of ordinary objects, tracing what Sherwood Anderson once called ‘the feel of things’. Stuff happens, too, at a textual level, in the form of marginalia and punctuation, and in those incidental details that Franco Moretti describes as ‘fillers’: trivial moments that take place ‘between one narrative turning point and the next’. Thinking about stuff might also involve recovering neglected perspectives; reconsidering ‘the American scene’, to quote the foreword to a 1937 anthology titled American Stuff, ‘as it appears from the roadside ditch, the poverty-stricken tenement or shack, the relief station’. Taking such overlooked details as its focus, this year’s American Literature Symposium aims to rethink the standards by which we deem some things worthy of literary study in the first place, and others, by contrast, just ‘plain old stuff’.

Twitter: @AmericanLitCam / #camamstuff

Registration is free, but places are limited. To register, please email als.cam.2016@gmail.com.