Critical Anachronisms


Panel organizer: Emily García, Northeastern Illinois University


The charge of "anachronism" has long troubled early Americanist scholarship, which retains a firm grounding in history and historiography. And yet, how are early Americanists engaging what this panel calls "critical anachronism," employing anachronism as a purposeful, creative and critical stance?

This debate over the virtue of anachronism is crucial to scholars of ethnicity and of sexuality.  Among sexual historians, voices that caution against projecting present understandings of the past contend with queer theorists, such as Jonathan Goldberg and Madhavi Menon, who advocate an approach they call "unhistoricism," which opposes “a historicism that proposes to know the definitive difference between the past and the present."  More recently, Valerie Rohy (Anachronism and its Others, 2009) and Heather Love (Feeling Backwards, 2007), retheorize the value of "backwardness" by linking the history of sexuality and theories of the temporal.

Our panelists would each present examples of and reflections upon critical anachronism in order to weigh its critical benefits and possibilities.  Questions include:  How might critical anachronism reshape literary and cultural historiography? How might critical anachronisms intervene in the various and variously reported “deaths” of queer and ethnic studies, not by resuscitating early terms but by imagining new ways of thinking about the past and the future?  How do we as scholars navigate the paradoxes of serving presumably competing allegiances to historicity and to contemporary theory? 

This is a partly formed roundtable; we are interested in a few more participants. Please email your 250-word abstract and CV to Emily García at by Friday, September 7, 2012, and use the subject line “Critical Anachronisms.”