Monday, June 30, 2008

Glossing is a Glorious Thing -- Call for Papers

Glossing is a Glorious Thing: The Past, Present, and Future of Commentary

The Graduate Center, City University of New York
April 9-10, 2009

Keynote Event
The Future of Commentary, a roundtable discussion with:
David Greetham (CUNY)
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford)
Jesús Rodríguez Velasco (Columbia)
Et al.

Sponsored by:
The Graduate Center and the Ph.D. Program in English, CUNY
Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary


Il y a plus affaire à interpreter les interpretations qu'à interpreter les choses, et plus de livres sur les livres que sur autre subject: nous ne faisons que nous entregloser. Tout fourmille de commentaires; d'auteurs, il en est grand cherté—Montaigne

[There is more to-do interpreting interpretations than interpreting things, more books on books than on any other subject: we do nothing except gloss each other. Everything swarms with commentaries; of authors there is a great lack].

Montaigne’s critique, which does not exclude his own Essais, is emblematic of the ambivalent status of commentary in modernity. Commentary is both an outmoded form of textual production tied to premodern constructions of authority and an indispensable dimension of scholarly work. This ambivalence is most conspicuous within the humanities where the commentary genre, like a popolo minuto of the academic city-state, holds an explicitly subordinate position beneath the monograph, the article, and the essay, however much, and maybe all the more so when, work of these kinds is constituted by commentarial procedures.

But there are clear signs, both intellectual and technological, of return to and reinvention of commentary. Several humanistic auctores of the last century have worked innovatively within the genre: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, Martin Heidegger’s lectures on Hölderlin’s “Der Ister,” Roland Barthes’s S/Z, Jacques Derrida’s Glas, Luce Irigaray’s An Ethics of Sexual Difference, J.H. Prynne’s They That Haue Powre to Hurt; A Specimen of a Commentary on Shake-speares Sonnets, 94, and Giorgio Agamben’s The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, et al. In The Powers of Philology, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht has described the material situation in which commentary may become ascendant: “The vision of the empty chip constitutes a threat, a veritable horror vacui not only for the electronic media industry but also, I suppose, for our intellectual and cultural self-appreciation. It might promote, once again, a reappreciation of the principle and substance of copia. And it might bring about a situation in which we will no longer be embarrassed to admit that filling up margins is what commentaries mostly do—and what they do best” (53).

This conference proposes a dialogue about the past, present, and future of commentary, not only as an object of intellectual and theoretical inquiry, but also with regard to commentary’s practical potentialities, to its place within the evolution and becoming of academic labor in the lived present. The prospect of a “return” to commentary, whatever forms it may take, renders conspicuous and questionable some of the most hallowed and taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature of scholarly practice, for instance: the distinction between primary and secondary text; the primacy of noesis over poesis, or thinking over making; the synthetic, thesis-driven, and polemical character of understanding; and so forth. Presentations that engage with such implications are particularly welcome. Please submit 250-word abstracts by October 1, 2008 to Word attachments preferred.

Organizers: Nicola Masciandaro (, Karl Steel (, Ryan Dobran (