Attention and the Humanities

Please join us for an afternoon symposium on “Attention and the Humanities,” organized by Alessandra Aloisi and Nicholas Gaskill. The event will consist of a roundtable, in which faculty at Oxford will discuss their current work on the topic of attention, and a keynote lecture by Lucy Alford (Wake Forest University) titled “Here and Gone: Poetic Attention and the Precarious Body.” This talk considers the act of attending to a beloved who is neither full present nor absent, a state of suspension between mourning and vigilance. Opening in the mode of personal essay, the lecture goes on to explore the forms time and the body make in the mundane, everyday space of waiting, tending to a body, continuing to wait for a change—for a sign of either life or of death. A series of ancient and contemporary poetic examples shed light on this attentional limbo, this waiting for signs of life: Penelope’s weaving and unweaving of Laertes’s funeral shroud while waiting for Odysseus’s return, to extend the suspended time of grief; Demeter’s cyclical grief vigil for Persephone when she is taken into the underworld; Mary Cornish’s writing on washing the body of her husband in Red Studio; and Rita Dove’s adaptation of the Demeter and Persephone myth in the sonnets of Mother Love.

Alessandra Aloisi, Carolin Duttlinger, Nicholas Gaskill, Carmen Guarino, Patrick McGuinness, Kathryn Murphy.

Professor Alford is the author of Forms of Poetic Attention (Columbia University Press, 2020)


2:00-2:15 Tea & Coffee

2:15-2:20 Opening Remarks by Alessandra Aloisi and Nicholas Gaskill

2:20-4:00 Roundtable: Alessandra Aloisi, Carolin Duttlinger, Nicholas Gaskill, Carmen Guarino, Patrick McGuinness

4:15-5:30 Keynote: Lucy Alford (Wake Forest University), “Here and Gone: Poetic Attention and the Precarious Body.”

5:30 Wine Reception

Lucy Alford is assistant professor of English at Wake Forest University, specializing in twentieth and twenty-first century American poetry and comparative poetics. Alford’s first book, Forms of Poetic Attention (Columbia UP, 2020), examines the forms of attention both required and produced in poetic language, bringing both philosophical and cognitive inquiry into conversation with the inner workings of specific poems. Her second scholarly project, Vital Signs, considers trans-historical elements of poetic form in terms of the human vital signs and vital needs amid contemporary conditions of political and environmental precarity. Alford’s essays have appeared in a range of edited volumes and scholarly journals, including Comparative Literature, Modern Language Notes, and Philosophy & Literature. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart and have appeared in such journals as Harpur Palate, Streetlight, Literary Matters, The Warwick Review, Action, Spectacle, Atelier (in Italian translation), and FENCE.