Contestations: Literature & Aesthetics

Regent’s University London

11 – 12 July 2018

Keynote speakers: Prof Peter Lamarque, University of York, UK
Dr Jukka Mikkonen, University of Tampere, Finland


That literature is an art form is scarcely a matter of debate. How it generates an aesthetic response as an art form is a different matter and surprisingly this is not a prominent one in modern literary studies. In fact, there is a marked reluctance by literary critics and philosophers to accept that aesthetics is pertinent to literary criticism (Lamarque 2007: 27). The rejection of aesthetics in favour of a critically theoretical approach include its ‘collusions with the discourses of power’ (Kermode quoted in Lamarque 2007: 28); and its investment in ideas of universality and sensibility which are shown to be embedded deeply into a Western institutionalised mode of valuing literature. We suggest that the limitations of that discussion among scholars and students leads to a slippage into multifarious congruent issues around literature (such as structure and style, genre, or semantic and syntactic forms) that, while frequently important and significant in themselves and in other discourses, fill in for an absence of a core aesthetic debate. Of course, critics discuss and highlight aesthetic features of various textual forms all the time but, arguably, in the service of local or congruent phenomenon rather than consciously and deliberatively as part of a debate over the aesthetic features and functions of literature.

The goal of this conference is to reconsider the significance of the aesthetic dimension of literature in critical discourse, in public discussion, and in the classroom to bring out ‘contestations’ rather than restate a fundamental contest.

Themes that the conference will hope to cover, but will not be limited to, include:

  • What are the ‘politics of aesthetics’ (Rancière) in literary studies?
  • Affect theory and the literary aesthetic.
  • Literature, aesthetic pleasure and judgement.
  • Aesthetics and canon formation.
  • Literature within the ‘philosophy of art’.
  • The distinctiveness of literature as an art form.
  • What are literary works and for what are they valued?
  • What merits aesthetic attention in literary appreciation?
  • Imbrications of critical theory and aesthetic appreciation.

Please send abstracts of 250 words to and including institutional affiliation, contact details and a short bio (150 words).

Deadline for abstracts: Thursday 29 March 2018