Skip to content

CFP: The Poetics and Politics of Reading: Studies in Honour of University Professors Linda Hutcheon and J. Edward Chamberlin

The Poetics and Politics of Reading: Studies in Honour of University Professors Linda Hutcheon and J. Edward Chamberlin

March 19-21, 2009 at The Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto

Keynote Addresses: Professor Sander L. Gilman (Emory University) and Professor Emeritus Mario J. Valdés (University of Toronto)

As 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, the 20th Annual International Graduate Colloquium will celebrate its longstanding place as a nexus of provocative thinkers on and influential theories of reading: its nature, its significance, its politics. Beginning with the watershed work of its founder, Northrop Frye, the Centre for Comparative Literature has been the birthplace of some of the most important contributions to the field of literary and cultural studies, particularly regarding the status of readers (who can read?), their place in the culture around them (by what terms can they read?), their relationships to texts (what can be read and how?) and their relationships to one another (how can they read the signs of another/an Other?). Over the years, these contributions have included now-classic works, such as Wolfgang Iser’s The Act of Reading, Paul Ricoeur’s The Rule of Metaphor and Fredric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious, all delivered as lecture series at the Centre.

For the past 25 years, the Centre for Comparative Literature has been home to two outstanding and highly-regarded scholars pursuing, in different ways, the same questions that have characterized the Centre from its inception. University Professors Linda Hutcheon and J. Edward Chamberlin have challenged scholars in all areas of the humanities to re-think the conditions, processes, functions and implications of reading and have articulated original and groundbreaking theories of its power in individual and cultural life. In order to honour the work of Professors Chamberlin and Hutcheon as they retire from full-time teaching, to initiate a dialogue concerning the place of their ideas in the larger context of critical theories of reading, and to establish a firm theoretical base at the Centre for Comparative Literature from which to continue our proud tradition of both asking and addressing the most pressing new questions within the humanities and social sciences, we present the 2009 Conference:The Poetics and Politics of Reading.

Consider some of the following questions:

• What is the difference between a subject-agent and a reader? Is there a difference? How must a subject-agent both fashion and position him- or herself in order to become a reader?  (See Chamberlin’s Living Language and Dead Reckoning: Navigating Oral and Written Traditions, or If This is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?)
• What is a text and how does a reader approach it? What are the limits on what can be read? Must a text be recorded or written down in some way, or can it be a finite thing (such as an oral narrative), or an unstable and changing thing (such as a performance or another person)? Can anything with semiotic properties (such as a home, a horse, or a series of cultural artifacts) be read, or is there something unique in the process of reading written literature?
(See Chamberlin’s Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations and If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?)
• What does reading do for the reader? Is there some sort of fundamental human need to read? What might it be? Does reading stabilize the Self, or destabilize the Self, or does the Self only emerge in the first place as a consequence of reading? Can reading in new ways contribute to new self-understanding and new understanding of others? How?
(See Hutcheon’s Irony’s EdgeA Theory of Parody.)
• To what extent is it possible to read a text that is foreign to one’s own experience, e.g., a text rooted in the experience of another time, another place, another gender, another sexuality, another class, etc.? What roles do power relations and social antagonism play in reading this kind of text? Does this kind of reading concretize or destabilize power relations and social antagonisms, or does it do something else? What are the ethics of reading another’s text?
(See Hutcheon’s Politics of PostmodernismPoetics of Postmodernism; or Chamberlin’s If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? or Come Back to Me My Language: Poetry and the West Indies)
• What is the distinction between observing and respecting alternative reading practices and orientalizing or exoticizing them? Can one learn to read the way readers in other cultures or socio-economic groups do?
(See Chamberlin’s Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped CivilizationsLiving Language and Dead Reckoning: Navigating Oral and Written Traditions)
• What is the relationship of reading practices to economic and cultural life? Does the former change as a consequence of the latter, or vice versa? Or is there a dialectical relationship, and what might that look like?
(See Hutcheon’s Theory of Adaptation.)
• How can the study of aesthetic form connect to a larger picture of history and cultural life? How able is a reader to approach the study of form from a position of objectivity? Is this even desirable?
(See Hutcheon’s Poetics of Postmodernism, especially on ‘historiographic metafiction’.)

Preference will be given to papers that explore these questions, and others related to them, while commenting on the contributions Professors Chamberlin and Hutcheon have made to scholarship in this area. Mention of their work is not required; however, we recommend reading their works, to get a sense of the framework for the Conference and as an excellent guide to critical theories of reading and possible directions for future research and writing. Detailed bibliographies and biographies of Professors Chamberlin and Hutcheon are available at

Please submit 250-350 word abstracts to by September 15, 2008.

Include with your abstract:

Name and Affiliation

Email Address and Postal Address

Telephone Number

A/V Requirements



%d bloggers like this: