A few of us from the Floating Academy are attending the Northeast Victorian Studies Association conference this weekend at Princeton University. It has been a very enjoyable conference so far and my brain is swimming with lots of new ideas about conflict, debate, and even pugilism (as the topic of the conference is “Fighting Victorians”).
One of the interesting issues to come out of this morning’s keynote panel, featuring Anna Clark, Elaine Hadley and Alex Woloch, was the question of what we, as critics, should do with our aesthetic responses to a text. Woloch’s talk, “Conflict and Criticism,” generally interrogated “the hermeneutics of suspicion,” discontinuities between generations of critics, and the tendency of contemporary Victorianist critics to efface their personal emotional responses to, and aesthetic judgments of, a text.
The papers on this panel, and the ensuing discussion, were fascinating and left me with a variety of questions: how can critics of Victorian literature talk about aesthetic valuations or personal affective responses in a productive way that neither reifies hegemonic ideas of what constitutes “good” literature nor devolves into the merely anecdotal? Secondly, I wonder how the aesthetic and the affective are related to each other (some slippage between the concepts seemed to emerge during the discussion). That is, where does affective response end and aesthetic judgment begin when reading and writing as a literary critic?