Textual Studies & the Nonhuman Turn: A Symposium

Textual Studies & the Nonhuman Turn: A Symposium

This symposium, supported by the Martin J. Svaglic Chair in Textual Studies, the Department of English, and the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities, opens a conversation about archives, the nonhuman, archiving the nonhuman, and nonhuman archives. 

While the symposium will hold special interest for scholars and students of the archive, textual studies, the lyric, 19th-century American literature and the environment, and the nonhuman turn, all are welcome to attend. Formal talks will be followed by questions and conversation. Light refreshments will be served. 

In “Walt Whitman’s Leaves” Matt Cohen (Professor of English, University of Nebraska) looks not only at Leaves of Grass, the work most insistently unfolding Whitman’s poetic identity, but also at the other leaves in Whitman’s books—leaves from trees, collected and pressed, given to Whitman by friends and would-be lovers—to wonder what they might tell us about the metaphor of leaves in his poetry and his purposeful linking of the world of print and the natural world. While the pressed leaves in his books and scrapbooks are sometimes discarded by libraries, removed by digital algorithms, and overlooked by critics, Whitman’s preservation of these leaves was at once an act of archiving and of messaging, of connecting with nature and of decontextualizing it. The leaves in the archive of books and documents Whitman left behind offer an opportunity to learn from the relationships among trees, books, people, and poems. 

In “Butterfly Tropics: Dickinson, the Archive and Aerial Poetics” Branka Arsić (Charles and Lynn Zhang Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University) investigates Dickinson’s obsession with transmutation and invisible continuities among discrete bodies promised by entomological life forms to raise the question of how such a preoccupation governs her understanding of the poetic form, as well as what it does for her manner of archiving poetry in fascicles, sets, envelopes, letters or, simply, boxes and chest drawers. In her talk she attends to the slow and porous emergence of Dickinson’s poem beginning “Two Butterflies went out at Noon -”, following its variant forms to reflect on what they tell us about Dickinson’s understanding of presence, memory and time.