Spring 2016 NOVEL Symposium at Duke: Pre-Neo-Liberalisms and the Novel

Pre-Neo-Liberalisms and the Novel

The fourth annual symposium of NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction

Friday, April 8

Franklin Humanities Institute (Smith Warehouse, 114 S. Buchanan Blvd., Bay 4)

Our goal in planning this symposium was to convene a discussion among graduate students and faculty at Duke with invited speakers and roundtable participants from other universities in which consider how the novel takes and/or resists the turn from liberalism to neoliberalism. In the process, we hope to unearth an alternative genealogy of neoliberalism.  Does the novel, in this respect, challenge established literary and political theoretical models that identify neo-liberalism as a late twentieth-century event? When does the novel register a shift from liberalism to neoliberalism? How if at all does the novel display tropes that prefigure neoliberalism?  Where does neoliberalism take shape in the history of the novel? In what tangible ways are earlier liberalisms already contemporary? When read as a descriptive theory of liberalism, does the novel provide an alternate genealogy of neoliberalism?

The problem of liberalism is also the problem of empire: how democratic or exclusive can it be and still retain the characteristics of liberalism? To put it another way, in expanding its domain to incorporate new populations, at what point does liberalism “turn” and become something else?  How do novels explain this tipping point and the emergence of some alternative form of community?  We know that empire can exist without liberalism, but can liberalism exist without empire? How far back in history would one have to go to address this question, and how would doing so alter current histories of “the novel”?

The problem of liberalism, this suggests, is also the problem of nationalism. Contrary to canonical accounts that tie the rise of the novel with that of the nation, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities being only the best, we want to consider whether the community thus imagined has ever been only national. Or, does the novel ask us to think of the nation in terms of specific junction points or relay stations in what actually operates within the novel as much larger movements of people, goods, labor, services, and information on which “the nation” depends for its vitality?  Is the nation better understood as a dynamic network than as a territorially bound population, culture, or economy?

As for what we mean by neoliberalism itself—a much overused term these days—can the novel help us to think our way through—and hopefully beyond—neoliberal models? Or is the novel too bound to the principle that the answer to the problem of liberalism is more or better liberalism?  Did the novel always have an alternative community in mind, even when it seems most committed to the model of European liberalism?


Zarena Aslami, Associate Professor of English, Michigan State University

Vaughn Rasberry, Assistant Professor of English, Stanford University

Dierdra Reber, Assistant Professor of Spanish, Emory University


9:30-10:00 Coffee and breakfast snacks

10:00-10:15 Introduction: Armstrong/Kellish

10:15-11:30 Zarena Aslami, “‘Submerged Under the Desert Sands of Capitalist Prose’: History, Neoliberalism, and Thackeray’s Novel of Things”

11:45-1:00 Vaughn Rasberry, “History’s Happy Ending”

1:00-2:00 Buffet lunch (FHI)

2:00-3:15 Dierdra Reber, “Hands off, and off with their heads! Toward an Epistemological Anatomy of Capitalism from Laissez-Faire to Neoliberalism”

3:15-3:30 Wine and snacks

3:30-5:00 Roundtable: Nancy Armstrong (Chair)

Anne Garreta (Duke)

Wahneema Lubiano (Duke)

John Marx (UC Davis)

Ellen Rooney (Brown)

Richard Rosa (Duke)

6:30 Buffet/Reception

2240 Cranford Road

Durham 27705

For more information, please see the poster attached below.