The Desert and the USA
Université Bretagne Sud in Lorient, South Brittany, France, 21-23 November 2019
Deadline for proposals: 10 February 2019
A conference organissd by The Université Bretagne Sud and the Université Bretagne Occidentale joint research group HCTI (“Héritages et Constructions dans le Texte et l’Image,” EA 4249) in collaboration with the Université Bordeaux-Montaigne and its research group CLIMAS (“Cultures et Littératures du Monde Anglophone,” EA 4196).
We seek papers investigating the link between the USA and its deserts but also with deserts outside American borders.
400-word abstracts as well as brief bio-bibliographies should be sent to the organizing board by February 10th, 2019
20-minute papers will be followed by a ten-minute discussion period. Papers may be delivered in either English or French.
- Karim Daanoune: firstname.lastname@example.org
- François Gavillon: email@example.com
- Lionel Larré: firstname.lastname@example.org
Confirmed Keynote: Catrin Gersdorf, University of Würzburg, Germany.
– February 10th, 2019: proposals
– April 1st, 2019: notifications
– July 1st – November 20th, 2019: conference registration (fee: 100€; 50€ for graduate students)
Call for Papers
I was crossing the desert. Smooth. Wind rippling at the window.There was no road, only the alkaline plain. There was no reason for me to be steering; I let go of the wheel. There was no reason to sit where I was; I moved to the opposite seat. I stared at the empty driver’s seat. I could see the sheen where I’d sat for years. We continued to move acros the desert.
Barry Holstun Lopez, Desert Notes: Reflections in the Eye of a Raven, 1976
Let’s just say the desert is an impulse.
Don DeLillo, Underworld, 1997
The desert is a fascinating locus that encompasses contradictory notions and extremes that seem, at first sight, incompatible. It is a place that one would readily call a non-place which may equally be indicative of an end or of a beginning. The desert may feature remains, traces of ruins, of a destruction, or even, of an annihilation that has just occurred. That is the reason why it may adequately depict “an ecstatic critique of culture, an ecstatic form of disappearance” (Baudrillard, Amérique 18) and it befits the apocalyptic event. Conversely, and owing to the same signs granting it its annihilating value, it stands as a form of nothingness out of which something is to be born, a virgin space from which beginning and being born are, in equal measure, just as implicit as dying and disappearing.
The desert also denotes that unformed background enabling all beings and all things to obtain a form of salience and a more singularized existence, highlighted, so to speak, by the surrounding void. In that sense, it can be argued that the desert operates the way a photographic developer does as it increases both being and the relationship to the other as if to single out what matters. It accommodates a form of life that cannot be seen, an ecosystem which is implicit. In that respect, the desert summons our attention and forces us to adjust our eyes to the level of the grain of sand. It explains why other modes of reading are required, as for instance, those of the Native Americans who, inhabiting in the full sense of the word the “Great Desert” that 19th century Euro-American explorers thought they had discovered, refuted de facto the latter’s perception of the American West as an empty, unfriendly and uninhabited place where the Natives had, supposedly, left no traces on the environment. It is interesting to note that for the newcomers reaching those great spaces, “desert” and “wilderness” have in common the fact that they are devoid of any human beings, a convenient definition to dehumanize peoples, appropriate their lands and colonize their homes/habitats. Roderick Nash reminds us that another link exists between the desert and the wilderness: in the 14th century, John Wycliffe “used wilderness to designate the uninhabited, arid land of the Near East in which so much of the action of the Testaments occurred […] Through this Biblical usage the concept of a treeless wasteland became so closely associated with wilderness that Samuel Johnson defined it in 1755 in his Dictionary of the English Language as ‘a desert; a tract of solitude and savageness.’ Johnson’s definition remained standard for many years in America as well as in England” (Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind 2-3). But, this “Great American Desert” was in fact inhabited and marked, that is to say replete with signs and meanings, including sacred ones.
What is usually called “desert” is no common place. Whether located in plains, mountains, barren lands, thick forests or desert islands, deserts are idiosyncratically other. To what processes of (re)semiotization may those different places be subjected when they are approached by artists, or by geographers, botanists, zoologists, sociologists or ethnologists? Do human beings living in such places fare differently from plants and animals that would probably perish in less extreme environments or milieus? Besides, since the first slave and maroon rebellions, US history has shown how space and resistance intricately interconnect, how politics and geography often merge. Are historians, in the wake of Thoreau, led to consider those unpopulated areas as sanctuaries, places of resistance, repositories of freedom and wildness? The desert suggests a “topographical manifestation of difference” (Gersdorf, The Poetics and Politics of the Desert 14) that starkly contrasts with a view of America as a land of plenty or as the Garden of Eden. Attempting to address the desert requires that one be ready to abandon the restricting aesthetic dictatorship of greenness (“get over the color green” Wallace Stegner). Envisaging the desert through an ecocritical lens will enable us to assess it in contradistinction to other ecosystems (ocean, mountain, prairie…) and other places that have become sanctuaries (national parks…) and to no longer consider it as a place defined by lack or deprivation, but as a place governed by satiety and balance, a place where “[t]here is no shortage of water […] but exactly the right amount, a perfect ratio of water to rock, water to sand” (Abbey, Desert Solitaire 126).
These “arid United States” (Teague, The Southwest ix) also bring to mind the motif of an original tabula rasa whence all forms of experiments may be attempted, all civilization imagined. As the place of “desemiotization” (Bouvet, Pages de sable 15-16) par excellence, the desert calls for the advent of a new world, a new subjectivity, or a new spirituality. Yet, those transformations may sometimes function as utopias or simulacra, for the desert is often perceived as the place where mirages and hallucinations occur. It is indeed “a land of illusions” (Van Dyke, The Desert 2), a locus where sensorial and psychical fabrication facilitate the projection and transference of desires. It is almost in those terms that the yearly event known as “Burning Man” may be interpreted: created in 1986 and taking place in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, “Burning Man” is a sort of pagan summer festival during which a transitory city and its ephemeral community are built only to then vanish without leaving a trace as if everything about it was but a mirage. The desert is also the ideal place to pursue the American dream of the space conquest. A case in point is the Mars Desert Research Station located in Utah which aims at reproducing the extreme living conditions encountered on Mars. The desert thus features both the ruins of our world and the experimental means of anticipating a post-Earth world.
The desert is not only concerned with space, it also evokes time. As it has always been connected to the impossibility of life or the idea of survival, it is intimately linked to death insofar as the horizon of destitution it suggests tends to endow it with a sense of utter and irremediable annihilation. As it presents itself as a place deprived of life, as a “blank spot on the map” (Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge 244), it welcomes all sorts of deadly projections and turns into an ideal terrain for simulations of death and destruction. The Nevada Desert was for a long time used to test the nuclear bomb and is now going to be the site of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. It is also a battlefield where the American army simulates war scenarios. Fort Irwin National Training Center (FINTC), California, for instance, accommodates fake Arab villages and replicates the type of topography GIs and Marines will encounter in the Middle-East.
This conference also provides an opportunity to turn our attention to some of the artistic renditions of the Gulf Wars. In DeLillo’s novel Point Omega, which takes place “somewhere south of nowhere in the Sonoran Desert” (Point Omega 20), the US Mojave Desert is superimposed on the Iraqi desert, the latter being a sort of traumatic and spectral residual trace that the protagonist attempts to repress. Also relevant are the works of the new generation of artists who experienced the war as journalists like Evan Wright or David Abrams, or like former soldiers Phil Klay or Kevin Powers for whom the desert “stretched out on all sides like an ocean of twice burned ash” (Powers, The Yellow Birds 183). The graphic novel (Uriarte’s The White Donkey), television series (Generation Kill, The Long Road Home…) but also the numerous movies dealing with the Iraq wars enable us to study the desert not only as a theatre of operations but also as a place interrogating the concepts of national territories and boundaries.
Proposals from the Early Modern period to the 21st century may address, but are not limited to, the following topics:
- Desert and wilderness
- Desert, war, armament
- Desert and the West
- Desert and city (Las Vegas, ghost towns…)
- Desert and no-go zone, no man’s land, wasteland, outlaw
- Desert, retreat, banishment, exile
- Desert as refuge, resistance, liberty, radical reform (wildness, Thoreau)
- Desert and the frontier
- Desert and the Bible, sacredness, asceticism
- Desert, orient and orientalism
- Desert and biodiversity
- Desert and ecocriticism (Mary Hunter Austin, Barry Lopez, Charles Bowden…)
- Desert and desertification
- Desert and visual arts: photography (Ansel Adams, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Robert Adams…); performance; land art; art installation (Wafaa Bilal, Danae Stratou, Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Michael Heizer, James Turrell, Walter de Maria, Leonard Knight…); painting (Georgia O’Keeffe, Frederic Sackrider Remington…)
- Desert and literature: Native American Literature, Southwestern Literature, Arab American Literature, Chicano-a literature…
- Desert in films and series: road movies, western, sci-fi, utopias, dystopias, war…
(posted 7 December 2018)
Performativity and Creativity in Modern Cultures: an Interdisciplinary Conference
Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, 22-24 November 2019
Deadline for proposals: 1 Mach 2019
Performativity and creativity have often been used vaguely in a number of discourses in cultural studies, economics, political ideologies or advertising. The purpose of this conference is to explore the force of these concepts in pragmatic approaches to cultures and closely related industrial production (“creative industries”), in technological developments connected with performing arts and cultural communication, as well as in commercial entertainment.
In recent approaches, the understanding of performativity has transcended its original linguistic dimensions (Austin, Searle) and their deconstructionist critique (Derrida, Hillis Miller). In our view, it can be better described by studying notions like “fiction”, “play” (Iser), “gender” (Butler), “technology” (Foucault) or “social roles” (Goffman, Ross and Nisbett).
Similarly, creativity is no longer linked with the evolution of closed autopoietic systems (Niklas Luhmann). The conference offers to re-assess the existing notions of autopoiesis in view of the concepts of the virtual/actual (Deleuze, Buci-Glucksman), interface/interfaciality (Latour), media technologies and mediation (in broadest terms, including conflict resolution). It also invites interdisciplinary approaches inspired by the psychology of creativity (Csikszentmihályi), the philosophy, history, as well as the psychological and anthropological aspects of play (Huizinga, Sutton-Smith, Caillois and others).
Performativity and creativity will not be discussed separately, but as two interdependent faculties and agencies. The conference will explore them in diverse theoretical contexts, as well as historically – in the main phases of modernity, including the Early Modern period, Romanticism and its aftermaths, Modernism and avant-garde movements and the present time. Apart from developing and interconnecting the theories of fiction, play, media, political and aesthetic ideologies, as well as the notions of avant-garde and the post-modern, the conference aims to contribute to the exploration of recent socio-economic phenomena, such as the “creative industries”, and trace their historical dimensions. The conference is closely linked to the research in the European Regional Development Fund Project “Creativity and Adaptability as Conditions of the Success of Europe in an Interrelated World” (No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000734).
300 word abstracts of individual papers (including keywords and a bio-note of 100 words) or panel proposals (including 300 word description of the panel, keywords, bio-note(s) of the convenors, paper topics and university affiliations of all speakers) addressing one or more above issues should be submitted by 1 March 2019 to the following e-mail address: email@example.com. The notices of paper or panel acceptance will be e-mailed and further information about the venue, registration, accommodation and logistics will be publicized by 1 June 2019.
Professor Martin Procházka, Charles University, Prague
Professor Pavel Drábek, University of Hull
Proposed Paper or Panel Topics
1. Theoretical Aspects
a) Fictions in/and Culture
– Fiction and Play
– Fiction as Performance/Performative
– Fiction as Interface
b) Fiction, Creativity and Technology
– Virtual Nature of Fiction
– Fiction and “Political Technologies of Individuals” (Foucault)
– Imagining Communities: Revisiting Benedict Anderson
c) Performance of Presence
– Performing the Self and the Body
– Performing a Social Role
– Being in a Social Field
d) Propositional Performativity
– The Possible, the Aleatory, the Future
– Modelling the Worlds through Play
– Performance as Negation of Status Quo (carnival, heterotopia, subversion)
2. Performativity and Creativity in Different Periods of Modernity:
Aesthetics, Cultural Theory and History
a) The Early Modern Formation of the Self and the Public Sphere
– Enacting the Social Strata
– Mimetic Desire (Girard)
– Performance as Mediation/Bridging of the Cultural Other (intraculturally, interculturally)
b) Performing One’s World: Performance as Exteriorisation and Interiorisation
c) Autonomy of Artworks from the Renaissance to Romanticism. The Notion of “Heterocosm” and its Development through the Modernity
d) Romantic Aesthetic Ideologies
– in Art and Culture
– in Relation to Radical Political and National Emancipation
– Avant-garde and (Post)Modern Approaches to Performativity and Creativity
e) Performativity and Creativity in Modern Technology and Media Cultures
– the shifting sensorium (Ong): from script and book print, through early modern experiments, to modern VR and AR media
– the “battlefields” of creativity; performativity in the novel territories
3. “Creative Industries”: a Reassessment
– (Early) Modern Theatre and Entertainment Industry
– Film and Popular Entertainment
– Revisiting Guy Debord – The Society of Spectacle
– Changing Functions of Mass Entertainment: From Bear-Baiting to Reality Show
– Virtual Spaces, Second Lives, Games, Avatars and Media Surrogates
b) New Media: Creativity and Entertainment
– Political, Social, Aesthetic and Ethical Aspects
– A SWOT analysis of present-day media culture
(posted 12 November 2018)
Addressing Readers: The Pragmatics of Communication from the First Printed Novels in English to 20th-and 21st-Century Digital Fiction
University Paul-Valéry Montpellier III, France, 28-29 November 2018
Deadline for proposals: 20 May 2019
Research lab: EMMA, Etudes Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone (https://emma.www.univ-montp3.fr/fr/evenements/addressing-readers-pragmatics-communication-first-printed-novels-english)
Conveners: Virginie Iché & Sandrine Sorlin
This conference intends to focus on the specific relationship authors and/or narrators entertain with their readers in fictional works from the first novels written in English in the 18th century to 21st-century digital fictions. It is predicated on the idea that fiction is a form of communicative act in the vein of Roger Sell’s works in literary pragmatics (Sell 1991, 2000, 2011) or James Phelan’s (2011: 56, 2017) conception of literature as a “communicative event,” that is “a rhetorical action in which an author addresses an audience for some purpose(s).”
The first English ‘novel’ forms of the 18th century seem to have adopted the conversational mode, with recurrent direct addresses to the readers, meant to lead them through the narrative, to convince them of the (in)authenticity of the stories or to coax them into sharing the authors’/ narrators’ ethical judgment. 19th-century novels still feature many instances of intervening narrators directly addressing the reader, Brontë’s Jane Eyre’s cue “Reader, I married him” being the most famous of the narrator’s felt necessity to confide in the reader at key points of the novel. But as Warhol (1989) indicates, other British and American woman writers (such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Harriet Beecher Stowe, or George Eliot) longed to engage their readers’ sympathy for the cause of American slaves, working-class poor in Manchester, or middle-class rural folk in England, directly urging them to identify with the real-life characters they were describing. The attempt at persuading can go the other way round with readers trying to deter the authors of serial narratives (such as Dickens or Thackeray) from killing a character for instance (sparing little Nell is a famous plea addressed to the author of The Old Curiosity Shop). In the 20th century, the conversational mode with the reader for whom the piece of work is designed seems to have been dropped, or at least to have persisted in much more concealed ways, as modernist works do not much feature intrusive narrators guiding readers through the narratives.
The primary research questions this conference aims to tackle are the following: is what appears as a progressive disappearance of the explicit communicative framework a reality from the 18th to the 20th century in fiction (written in English)? If so, how to account for the phenomenon? Are there aesthetic and stylistic reasons? Different tastes and approaches to the novel? Have the more and more sophisticated techniques of thought (re)presentation that have been used to reflect characters’ deeply intimate thoughts in (post)modernist fiction for instance, inevitably eclipsed the need to communicate with the reader through a direct channel? Has the reader been at some point (like the author) “refined out of existence” to favour immersion in the story-world and to bring language and/or characters to the front scene? Yet, even in the most language-oriented novel, addresses to the reader are not absent: in Finnegans Wake, Joyce seems to have been keen on leaving the channel of communication open with his readers (Cahalan 1995). Is, as Warhol (1986) intimates, the disapproved “sentimentalism” of the 19th-century “engaging” (rather than “distancing” narrator responsible for its disappearance in literature? Or does it simply reflect one specific historical and ideological moment, direct address in fiction being then the only public forum possible for women to speak “directly, personally, and influentially”?
However, from the 1970s onwards, addressed fiction of old seems to have re-emerged under the guise of second-person narratives (Fludernik 1993, 1994) that make the situation of address “insistent” again. This morphologically explicit address (“you”) seems to become even more “reader-engaging” in 20th– and 21st-century digital fiction that requires some form of participation from the readers (through clicking on hyperlinks or direct input) if they want the story to go on at all (Bell 2014, 2016, Bell & Ensslin 2011, Bell et al, 2010, 2014). Examining second-person addresses in digital fiction may then shed a new light on the type of participation hoped for or required by direct addresses in earlier print fiction. Do print fiction and digital fiction use direct addresses in radically different ways? Do direct addresses in digital fiction signal to the 21st-century reader, already attuned to the many potentialities of digital material, that s/he can have an active role in co-constructing the story or exploiting the glitches of the digital narrative (Angello 2016) or is this type of reader participation only superficially active?
In both print and digital fictions, the reference of this “you” is purposefully confused and confusing (see Bell & Ensslin 2011, Clarkson 2005; DelConte 2003; Gibbons & Macrae 2018; Fludernik 1993, 1994, 1996; Hantzis 1988; Herman 1994; Hopkins & Perkins 1981; Kacandes 1993; Margolin 1986, 1990; Morrissette 1965; Prince 1985, 1987; Richardson 1991, 2006; Sorlin 2014, 2015, 2017) – a far cry from the clear-cut I/you dyad relationship of Henry Fielding’s novels for instance. But can’t we see in the emerging narrative form of “Twitterfiction” (Thomas 2014) for instance a return to a closer writer/reader relationship in the passionate manner of Victorian times, with the 21st-century digital reader becoming an active and indispensable participant in the writing/reading process? Yet, tweeting does allow for immediate replies to the author to a stronger, faster degree, thereby destabilising the author-reader power relationship to an unprecedented level.
These new trends in both print and digital fiction have called for new narratological models of analysis to account for this specific place allotted to addressees in fiction (Fludernik’s “homo- and heterocommunicative” categories in lieu of Genette’s homodiegetic and heterodiegetic narratives for instance or DelConte’s 2003 focus on who is listening rather than who is speaking or seeing have been instrumental in this perspective). Yet, reader-centered theories seem to have sometimes lost sight of the other partner in the communication process, the author and/or narrator. Although authorship/narratorship seems more “diffuse” in odd-pronominal narratives (especially first-person plural novels) or in cybernarration, the relationship should be thought as a joint process. In this respect, fictional interactions could be pragmatically analysed (from the more traditional to the more recent pragmatic trends, namely (im)politeness theories based on face-work in interactions for instance). Few studies have indeed convened (im)politeness to account for communication in fiction (Jucker 2016, Kizelbach 2014, 2017, McIntyre & Bousfield 2017, Simpson 1989 being exceptions) even though the author/narrator does use different speech acts to court the reader, to confide in him/her and establish an intimate bond with him/her or, on the other hand, to castigate or tease him/her (think of John Barth’s famous address in Lost in the Funhouse (1968): “The reader! You, dogged, uninsultable, print-oriented bastard, it’s you I’m addressing, who else, from inside this monstrous fiction”), which implies specific conception, consideration and negotiation of face needs and wants in the communication framework at stake in a particular fiction.
Contributions adopting a pragmatic perspective in the study of the modes of interpellation and ways of engaging the reader in fiction (both print and digital) will thus be most welcome. The following topics and questions may be approached, the list not being exhaustive:
- a diachronic approach: (R)evolution of the participation framework across centuries?
- correspondences between 19th-century novels in instalments and early forms of digital fiction?
- the reader’s actual ‘freedom’ in what seems to be ‘author-controlled’ early fictions and ‘reader-centered’ late-20th– and 21st-century interactive fictions?
- odd-pronominal narratives blurring the notion of authorship/narratorship (we/they narratives) and readership (you narratives) and/or crossing the frontiers between the actual and the virtual world
- direct address and gender
- (author/narrator’s and reader’s) co-construction of faces
- (im)politeness and the pragmatics of communication in fiction
- the “interpellated” (Lecercle 1999) or the “positioned” (Stockwell 2013) reader: two different things?
- (authorial/narratorial) intervention and readers’ immersion in the plot: two opposed modes?
- addresses in paratexts
- engaging narrators and readers’ responses to them in different genres (fiction for children or young adults, detective novel, ‘bad guy’ first-person narratives/crime fiction, etc.)
- the evolution of novel reading (Birke 2016)
- translation of forms of address
Deadline for submission: May 20 2019
Notification of acceptance: June 20 2019
Proposals of around 300 words to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Language of the conference: English
Selected papers will be considered for publication
Registration fees : 60€, free for students.
Prof. Alice Bell (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
Prof. Jean-Jacques Lecercle (Nanterre University, France)
Prof Roger Sell (Åbo Akademi University, Finland)
(posted 27 October 2018)