Commitment: Past and Present  (Panel)

Comparative Literature / Cultural Studies and Media Studies

Thomas Nez (Longwood University)

Commitment—a concept which names the title of Theodor Adorno’s 1962 critique of a text’s thematic engagement with politics—entails a work’s capacity to mark a site of historical intervention. “When I am committed,” says Jean-Paul Sartre, “I reveal the situation by the very intention of changing it…I strike at its very heart, I transfix it, and I display it in full view…with every word that I utter, I involve myself a little more in the world." For scholars of the modernist documentary, commitment serves as a starting point for attempts to better understand the historical import of literary experiments in reportage. Even as critics recognize the central place of documentary in practices of literary activism, however, the form has largely given way to conceptual, fictional, and poetic explorations of social justice. The degree to which a text engages with the concrete dilemmas of its contemporary moment is no longer tethered to how extensively it investigates the details of empirical record. This panel asks how current concepts of political commitment shape the ways in which we think about the aesthetic mediation of the historical present. Papers might look to debates concerning "conceptual" and "political" poetry, approaches to literary activism in science fiction and graphic novels, the rise of "new-formalism," the place of biography in fiction and drama, or other methods in which writers make their politics explicit.

This panel looks to the ways in which writers have mobilized the affect of being historically situated. For Sartre, to feel situated is to encounter an impetus for writing's politicization. The panel specifically seeks to understand how current concepts of political commitment shape our various notions of a text's aesthetic mediation of the historical present.