Formalism and Its Discontents, An Interdisciplinary Conference
Recent turns in the humanities, including affect theory, the digital humanities, and surface reading, have often been understood as moving past a “hermeneutics of suspicion.” If affect theory examines immediate, automatic, or emotional reactions to a text, it puts less stock in the analytic decoding of that text. Much of the digital humanities depends on that reading which computers can execute, and computers (the argument goes) compute rather than interpret. Surface reading seeks not to disclose hidden meaning, but to attend to evident meaning, examining that which is perceptible and apprehensible in the surface of the text. In music studies and art history, hermeneutical criticism and iconology have also given way to approaches that explore the various modes in which we visualize objects and experience performances. In rejecting the hermeneutic notion that meaning must be excavated, all of these methodologies assert that meaning in art and other cultural objects can manifest itself immediately. In other words, content lies on the outside, and form is no ideal abstraction but something easily within reach.