Hard/Soft/Lost

Organizer: Sarah Wasserman (Associate Professor of English, University of Delaware)

In art, edges refer to the transition between two shapes of different colors. In this context, the edge is the line where an object or area begins or ends: a border. Although color and composition usually garner more attention when we discuss artwork, edges are responsible for the perception of mass and depth; without edges, no dimensionality. Without edges, no differentiation.

Artists refer to three different kinds of edges. Hard edges indicate an abrupt or sharp transition from one color or shape to another, soft edges indicate a gradual or smooth transition, and the wonderfully-named lost edges are so soft you cannot actually see them; we only know they are there based on other elements in the image.

In the interdisciplinary, border-crossing spirit of ASAP, this seminar borrows this language from art and art history and uses it to explore a range of objects and media. The roundtable asks its participants to identify an edge in a single contemporary work—a novel, a poem, a painting, a performance, a song, a book cover—to classify it as a hard, soft, or lost edge, and to explain how this edge shapes the work and our understanding of it.

The edge becomes a new focalizer here, a mandate to consider how transitions—so often overlooked in favor of more ‘central’ or ‘stable’ content—constitute our objects of study. In short presentations (8 minutes) that need not adhere to the conventional form of the scholarly talk, participants will convey the importance of the edge and, hopefully, invite audience members to participate in diagnosing other contemporary edges as hard, soft, or lost.

Participants represent a wide range of field, period of study, and professional rank. Taking seriously ASAP’s invitation to “play,” this panel will also entail edge play in its format. Each panelist will be given a line from the previous speaker’s presentation that they must incorporate into their own remarks. This will create playful cohesion among the talks and encourage reflection upon the edges we create and take inspiration from in critical and scholarly practice.

 

Participants and Topics in Brief (alphabetical order):

Sarah Dowling (Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Toronto): On soft edges in Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s novel Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies (2020)

Amy J. Elias (Chancellor's University Professor and Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Tennessee): On inappropriate edges in Beauford Delaney’s painting, “Untitled-1969”

Gloria Fisk (Associate Professor of English, CUNY Queens College): On lost edges in Imbolo Mbue’s novel How Beautiful We Were (2021)

David Hering (Senior Lecturer in English, University of Liverpool): On lost edges in Rachel Chu’s artwork “Skull”

Jessica Hurley (Assistant Professor of English, George Mason University): On lost edges in Nadine Gordimer’s novel Get a Life (2005)

Cara Lewis (Associate Professor of English, Indiana University Northwest.): On the soft edges of instagrammable book design

Grégory Pierrot (Associate Professor of English, UCONN): On the lost edges of Umar Rashid’s artwork, “Eat Shit and die…” (2021)

Olivia Stowell (Ph.D. student in Communication & Media, University of Michigan): On the hard edges of reality television confessionals

Mitch Therieau (PhD candidate in Modern Thought and Literature, Stanford University): On the hard edges of Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (1990)