Questions of Scale in Contemporary Literature and Criticism

Call for Papers • PhD Symposium, Ghent University • 23-25 March 2016

scale

The beginning of the twenty-first century can be characterized as an era of scalar instability. Climate change, globalization, and developments in the life sciences have made it necessary to envisage a scale beyond the human, disrupting the anthropocentrism of Western literary and critical frameworks (Ray Brassier). The concept of the Anthropocene, which marks the inscription of human activities onto the Earth’s ecosystem, requires us to “scale up our imagination of the human” as it blurs the distinction between human and natural history (Dipesh Chakrabarty). While impending ecological disaster challenges our customary experience of time and space, technological innovations in communication, transportation, and economics have significantly accelerated the pace of life and condensed spatial distances (David Harvey’s “time-space compression”). At the same time, advances in our understanding of genetics and neurobiology have changed our perception of the body and the brain as coherent, contained systems, prompting us to consider them instead in terms of interactions between microscopic cellular components (Nikolas Rose).


The fluctuations in scale prompted by a consideration of the “spatiotemporal vastness and numerousness of the nonhuman world” (Mark McGurl) have also marked contemporary literature and criticism. Take, for example, the current manifestation of the “finance novel,” which arose in response to the volatility of the globalized economy. Works such as Robert Harris’s The Fear Index dramatize how the acceleration of time and condensing of space that the high-frequency algorithms of the financial system facilitate leave humans radically exposed to the variations of the market (Arne De Boever). Moreover, “neuro-novels”—novels that engage explicitly with the intricacies of neurological conditions, such as Ian McEwan’s Saturday and Richard Powers’s The Echo Maker—are symptomatic of the ways in which the insights of modern medical science have shifted our understanding of the self away from history and society to a cellular level (Marco Roth). Furthermore, the extension of time scales in works such as Don DeLillo’s Point Omega, Bruno Latour’s Gaia, and Alice Oswald’s A Sleepwalk on the Severn is emblematic of a new consciousness of humankind as a geological agent. In their respective considerations of “the impact of nonhuman otherness on human life” (Pieter Vermeulen), these various works challenge the anthropocentrism of traditional literary forms.

Website: questionsofscale.weebly.com

Submissions

We invite paper proposals from PhD students that address questions of scale in contemporary literature and criticism. Possible questions for discussion include, but are not limited to:

  • In what ways has the scalar instability of the twenty-first century prompted new modes of artistic, theoretical, and philosophical inquiry (e.g., cli-fi, neuro-lit, the finance novel, posthumanism, object-oriented ontology, speculative realism, and vibrant materialism)?
  • How does it affect established critical methodologies that have tended to be oblivious to questions of scale and non-human agency, such as ecocriticism and trauma and memory studies?
  • Which narrative techniques and literary practices are most suited to exploring the impact of what Richard Grusin has dubbed the “nonhuman turn,” that is, the tendency towards a decentring of the human that unites a wide variety of contemporary theoretical and philosophical approaches?
  • How do extremities of scale disrupt notions of autonomous subjectivity that continue to dominate Western political and critical frameworks? How can a biopolitical perspective, which deconstructs the concept of the proprietary body, help us to examine this?
  • How can literature help us to explore the implications for human agency that the Anthropocene presents?
  • How can an engagement with questions of scale open a dialogue between science and literary scholarship?

Practical Information

Where

Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, 9000 Gent, Belgium

Fee

None (optional: symposium dinner €40)

Submit

A 300-word abstract for a 15-minute paper (including title, presenter’s name, institutional affiliation, and any technology requests), a description of your PhD research project (one paragraph), and a short CV (max. one page) as a single Word document to both Holly Brown (holly.brown@ugent.be) and Prof. Stef Craps (stef.craps@ugent.be).

Deadline for submission of applications:
11 December 2015

Notification of acceptance:
18 December 2015

Deadline for submission of paper drafts:
15 February 2016

Number of places:
Max. 18

Organizers

  • Holly Brown (holly.brown@ugent.be)
  • Prof. Stef Craps (stef.craps@ugent.be)
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