The Ends of History: Lauren M. E. Goodlad's Opening Remarks

Monday, February 13, 2012

[On February 10, 2012, the Unit for Criticism partnered with the Trowbridge Office on American Literature, Culture, & Society for a symposium, The Ends of History. Published below are the symposium's opening remarks from Lauren M. E. Goodlad, Director of the Unit for Criticism.]

Welcome everyone to this February 2011 Winter symposium, a product of the Unit for Criticism’s ongoing partnership with Gordon Hutner, American Literary History, and the Trowbridge Office on American Literature, Culture, & Society. For their invaluable support, I also want to thank the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, the Department of English, and the School of Literatures, Cultures, & Linguistics; I want to thank J. B. Capino, the Unit’s Nicholson Associate Director, for all of his support and the Unit’s Research Assistants, Mike Black and mc Anderson for their indispensable contribution to the organizing and publicizing of this event. I also thank the distinguished scholars who have gathered here today from campuses as far as UC Berkeley and as near as University of Illinois, Chicago; and the Illinois moderators and closing roundtablers who will be participating today. Not least of all I thank this wonderful audience for joining us this morning.

The last time I had the pleasure of convening a co-organized winter symposium with Gordon it was two years ago and the topic was serial television: in particular AMC’s Mad Men. Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style and the 1960s, the collection of essays that grew out of that event is now in production with Duke University Press. It may seem to be a very different kind of topic, except of course that Mad Men is a show about history: American history, the history of the 60s, global history, feminist history, civil rights, and above all—as my co-editors Lilya Kaganovksy, Rob Rushing, and I argue in the introduction to the volume—the history of the present-day neoliberalism which we continue to inhabit today. Mad Men is also a formally interesting television text: highly aestheticist, and demonstrably—indeed, for some, addictively—serial. Whatever their particular engagements with past and present, when audiences engage serial forms, following storylines that develop slowly over time, part of what they experience is a kind of formal allegory of the actuality of living in history.

This is to say that forms and formalism are not, as has sometimes been postulated, antithetical to history and historicism. Rather, since form and history stand in relation to one another, formalist and historicist standpoints should occasion dialogue. In the months leading up to the organizing of this conference Gordon and I observed a number of critical questions pressing us to consider the relation of form and history: for example, Franco Moretti’s work on digital archives; Bruno Latour’s question of why critique has run out of steam; mounting interest in formal structures such as the web, matrix, network, or tree; Rita Felski’s ongoing critiques of the hermeneutics of suspicion, and Sharon Marcus’s and Stephen Best’s wonderfully stimulating special issue of Representations, "The Way We Read Now." The result was this symposium and the occasion to invite this veritable dream team of speakers all of whom are working at the cutting edge of this topic. I am really excited about this event.

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