Making Sympathy Visible: Interdisciplinary Approaches
to Sentiment in American Women’s Writing
Panel Proposal for the Society for the Study of American Women Writers
This panel explores the multiple ways that American women writers have approached sympathy, focusing on an incommensurability between that term and the sentimental, with which it is often equated. Papers might address any of the following: Under what generic conditions have readers registered sympathy, not only through sentimentalism but also through other genres and modes? How can we identify sympathetic claims without sole reliance on literary terminology to do so? How is sympathy raced, gendered, classed, and sexualized, and how has the historically and ideologically specific embodiments of sympathy inflected the development of a (proto) feminist public sphere? How does studying sympathy help us better understand the relationship between literature written by women and feminism/ the Women’s Rights Movement?
In criticism on sympathy, we often have recourse to discourse such as "intimacy," "understanding," "reaching out," or "transcending difference," where sympathy takes the familiar form of a decorous and heartfelt gesture. Harriet Jacobs wishes not to offend the "tender ears" of her white readership or Maria Cummins wants to "touch" her readers' hearts with stories of the plight of an orphan. The tropes of sympathy are so common to the work of American women writers they can become conflated with the literary itself and slip by critical scrutiny. This panel will employ interdisciplinary approaches to women’s writing that make the production of sympathy visible. For example, what are the various visual and material productions of sympathy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and how do they intersect with and differ from its literary appearances? What are the relations between the literary and cognitive science when we talk about sympathy? How does sympathy align with the discourses of politics and ethics and what role does literature play in the production of the latter discourses?
Please send a one-page abstract and one-page cv to Naomi Greyser firstname.lastname@example.org and Kimberly Lamm email@example.com by December 22nd
English and Humanities
Pratt Institute Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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