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A Symposium: Globalizing the Novel

On March 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., in Duke University's FHI Garage, The Novel Project at Duke presents:

A symposium: Globalizing the Novel


Jeanne-Marie Jackson (Johns Hopkins): The Global Novel of Non-Ideas: The African Death of Philosophical Suicide."

Anna Bernard (Kings College London): 'Hebrew, Arabic, and Death': Palestine/Israel and the Global Novel

Mariano Siskind (Harvard): "Post-global and after-cosmopolitan: contemporary literary dislocations of the non-world"

Preliminary schedule:

10 a.m. Talk: Anna Bernard 

11:30 a.m. Talk: Jeanne-Marie Jackson

1 – 2 p.m. Lunch

2 p.m. Talk: Mariano Siskind

3:30 – 5 p.m. Roundtable

For more information, please see the poster below.

Jane Elliott Visit to Duke Recap

Jane Elliott Lecture and Graduate Student Seminar Recap

By: Kevin Gallin 

Novel: A Forum on Fiction, and the Novel Project at Duke, along with the Duke English Department enthusiastically welcomed back Jane Elliott, senior lecturer of post-’45 Literary and Cultural Studies at King’s College in London, to give a talk and lead a graduate student seminar consecutively on October 27 and 28. Recently, Elliott has investigated the evolution and recombination of politics, aesthetics, and theory in the wake of fading post-modernism, a line she traces through her recent articles and edited collections, Theory After Theory, Genres of Neo-Liberalism, and Suffering Agency. Her lecture on Thursday, entitled “Binary Life,” built on this trajectory, specifically focusing on “life-interest,” a feature of the narrative form that she has defined as the ‘microeconomic mode.”

Elliott gave a compelling reading of Michael Punke’s The Revenant, the novel on which the recent Academy Award winning film was based. The novel places the protagonist’s struggle in the context of settler colonialism that pushes every participant to the very limits of his or her survival.  In doing so, the novel mobilizes what Elliott calls “the microeconomic mode,” a narrative form that crosses genres and media by creating conditions under which “life necessarily exists at the expense of other life.” Played out in discrete exchanges between individuals who must pursue their own “life interest,” these encounters require kill-or-be-killed choices. These games of survival force a shift in the concept of the individual from “a liberal individual with a right to life” to a “a subject with an interest in life” who cannot choose not to choose even though that choice inevitably comes at the cost of another person’s death.  This reduction of the individual subject to their life-interest authorizes a logic of “fractal subtraction” in which every step forward results in even more human death and suffering. Elliott’s reading of The Revenant undermines the film version’s apparent argument for “good colonialism.” Rather than exemplifying the good man doing his best to survive in a corrupt and violent system, Hugh Glass is the avatar of an economic system that grinds each of its constituents down to “life interest.”

Nancy Armstrong’s introduction to the talk called attention to Elliott’s ability to allow theory to emerge from the text as its own self-theoretical dimension, and to “slide across various theoretical discourses that support and give affective heft to the text on which she focuses.” Elliott indeed opened up her reading of The Revenant to address everything from The Hunger Games to Life of Pi, The Road to Zootopia, with occasional pit stops in New Orleans and the Saw film franchise. The lecture sparked a lively discussion afterwards, in which a clearly enthusiastic audience probed some of the limits of the microeconomic mode – when did it start, where did it come from, is there such a thing as a macroeconomic mode? – and Elliott provided answers that drew clearer lines around the scope of her project as a specific form in a particular political and sociocultural moment, which allowed for both compelling readings in her own work and the potential for broad applications beyond it.

These questions were also taken up in the graduate seminar the following afternoon. Elliot started by laying out her writing process for her manuscript, and detailed how after months of research, a great deal of structuring and outlining, and about 20,000 words, she found herself at a loss of how to proceed. She threw out most of that work, but reiterated that she “had to do that work to know that I needed to throw it out.” This acknowledgement of the iterative process of writing was a daunting but ultimately reassuring thing for graduate students to hear as they move toward and through their dissertations. This process also prompted students to ask about the relationship between the works she chose and the arguments she made, and how they influenced one another. To this, she reaffirmed the importance of revision and rethinking, advising that archive and argument constantly reform each other in novel and unexpected ways. Ultimately, though, she challenged the students to trust their own arguments when they think they’re on to something: “No way you can do it unless you believe in it.”

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Upcoming Event: Jane Elliott Visits Duke University

NOVEL is excited to announce that Jane Elliott from King's College London will be visiting Duke University October 27-28.

Elliott will give a talk titled "Sovereign Capture" on October 27 from 5-7 p.m. in 314 Allen Building.

Elliott will also participate in a seminar with graduate students on noon the 28th. 

Elliott is a senior lecturer of post-'45 Literary and Cultural Studies at King's College London. Elliott's current research concerns the combined aesthetic, political, and theoretical developments to emerge with the waning of post-modernism, as suggested by her recent articles and edited collections, Theory After Theory, Genres of Neo-liberalism, and Suffering Agency.

The event is sponosored by Novel: A Forum on Fiction, The Novel Project at Duke, and the Duke English Department.

For more information, view the flyer below:

Upcoming Event: Aamir Mufti Talk at Duke University

On Thursday, September 15, Duke University Middle East Studies Center, the Novel Project, the Franklin Humanities Institute, and the Program in Literature will sponsor a talk by Aamir Mufti titled “Strangers in Europa: Migrants, Terrorists, Refugees.” The event will take place in the Thomas Room of Lilly Library on East Campus and begins at 6 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public.

Aamir Mufti, Professor of Comparative Literature at UCLA, is the author of Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Enlightenment Culture.

For more information about the event, please see the flyer below.

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An Evening with Colson Whitehead Recap

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An Evening with Colson Whitehead

By: Justin Mitchell

On April 19th the Novel Project at Duke in collaboration with Novel: A Forum on Fiction, the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts, the English Department, the Center for International Studies/Global Cities, and the Department of African-American Studies hosted author Colson Whithead at Duke University's Nasher Auditorium. Whitehead, whose celebrated works include the zombie novel Zone One and the essay collection The Colossus of New York, spoke at length about his origins as a writer before reading a passage from his forthcoming book The Underground Railroad, a work of speculative fiction that envisions the slaves’ legendary road to freedom in the antebellum south as an actual network of underground tunnels. Afterward, Whitehead engaged in a stimulating conversation with two professors from the English department— Popular Culture scholar Mark Anthony Neal and novel theorist Nancy Armstrong—and responded to a broad range of questions from the audience.

Whitehead explained how he grew up reading novels by Stephen King and initially aspired to write books like The Shining and Salem’s Lot from a black perspective. “Basically if you put ‘the black’ in front of [the title of] every Stephen King novel, that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. As an undergraduate at Harvard he also found inspiration in modernist literature, partly because it shared genre writing’s preoccupation with the “the fantastic.” Initially, however, Whitehead lacked the discipline to achieve his literary ambitions. “I considered myself a writer in college,” he said, “but I didn’t actually write anything. Apparently that’s part of the process. I wore plaid and smoked cigarettes, but I didn’t actually sit down and write.” He tried twice to enroll in one of Harvard’s creative writing seminars but was rejected both times. 

After college Whitehead landed a job at The Village Voice, a newspaper that nurtured writers who felt equally drawn to highbrow and popular cultures. He eventually convinced an editor to let him review television shows. His work as a television critic inspired his first novel, which he described as a “very theoretical” work of “Gen-X fiction.” The book got him an agent, but failed to find a publisher. Whitehead offered a droll account of how he dealt with all the rejections and finally resolved to start writing fiction again: “As I sat in my dirty studio apartment, watching Jerry Springer, I realized that I was a recipient of all that sit-on-your-ass-and-muse-about-crap-all-day DNA. And it didn’t matter if no one liked what I was doing. I had no choice. So I got back to work and it went better the next time with The Inuitionist.”

During the Q&A with an enthusiastic audience of faculty and students, Whitehead described the writing process (which included regular TV watching and listening to music), his many literary influences, his engagement with critical theory, and his current fascination with pop culture. Although Whitehead remains culturally omnivorous, he only feels at home writing novels and essays. “I didn’t ever figure out how to write a short story,” he said. “I’ve written, like, two in the last twenty-five years. I’ll have a simple idea, and it gets bigger and bigger and becomes novel size.” Not surprisingly, he has received offers to work in other media, but, at least up to this point, he has not felt compelled to pursue them. He prefers the independence and solitude of fiction writing over working in television and film. “All those sort of non-fiction, non-novel things always seems attractive—‘oh, a piece of money’—but then I always get like ‘I’ll just write a novel,’” he said. “It’s so much easier than working with people.” 

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An Evening with Colson Whitehead: April 19

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The Novel Project at Duke in collaboration with the journal Novel: A Forum on Fiction, the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts, the English Department, the Center for International Studies/Global Cities, and the Department of African-American Studies would like to invite you to “An Evening with Colson Whitehead.” Please join us on April 19th at the Nasher Museum Auditorium, where award-winning novelist Colson Whitehead will speak about his latest work and the craft of fiction. Whitehead’s talk will begin at 5:30 PM to be followed by a Q&A with Duke Professors Mark Anthony Neal, Nancy Armstrong, and members of the audience.

The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, Whitehead is the author of seven books: The Intuitionist, nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award; John Henry Days, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Colossus of New York, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN/Oakland Award; Sag Harbor, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award; Zone One, a New York Times bestseller; The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death; and the forthcoming novel The Underground Railroad.

For more information about this event, please view the poster below.

Bruce Robbins: Atrocity and the Novel

NOVEL and The Novel Project are excited to announce that Bruce Robbins from Columbia will be visiting Duke on March 3-4. 

On Thursday, March 3rd at 5:30, he will give a talk titled “Atrocity and the Novel” in Allen 314.

On Friday, March 4th, 12:00-1:30, he will lead a seminar with graduate students in Allen 314. In advance, Robbins will provide new or in-progress work to discuss. Lunch will be provided, and participants will be capped at 20. Please email to secure a space, a lunch, and copies of Robbins’s work. (Please let us know of any dietary requirements.)

Robbins’s work ranges from the Victorian to the contemporary periods, covering topics such as cosmopolitanism, inequality, violence, and the welfare state. His newest book is the forthcoming The Beneficiary: Cosmopolitanism from the Viewpoint of Inequality, a follow-up to Perpetual War: Cosmopolitanism from the Viewpoint of Violence (2012). His other books include Upward Mobility and the Common Good: Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State, Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress, and The Servant’s Hand: English Fiction from Below.

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Khaled Khalifa: Duke University, Feb. 10-12

The Mellon Foundation Humanities Writ Large and Duke University Middle East Studies Center will host award-winning Syrian novelist, screenwriter, and poet Khaled Khalifa at Duke University from Feb. 10-12, 2016. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, see the schedule and/or flyer below for more information.

Feb. 10-Writing Fiction When Your Country Is Falling Apart

5:00 p.m., Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall, Franklin Center 240

Feb. 11-In Praise of Hatred: A Conversation With Khaled Khalifa

5:30 p.m., Breedlove Room, Rubenstein Library Floor 3 — West Campus

Feb. 12-Death Is Hard Work: Arabic Session

6:00 p.m., Thomas Room, Lilly Library — East Campus 

This event is sponosored by AMES FastTRack; Duke University Middle East Studies Center; Mellon Foundation Humanities Writ Large; and The Novel Project at Duke.

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In Memoriam: Assia Djebar (1936-2015)

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    • Left to Right: Réda Bensmaïa, Professor of French Studies and Comparative Literature at Brown University; Nancy Armstrong, Gilbert, Louis, and Edward Lehrman Professor of English; and Rey Chow, Anne Firor Scott Professor of Literature.

On Thursday, September 3, Duke University Middle East Studies Center, the Novel Project, the Franklin Humanities Institute, and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies sponsored the event “In Memoriam: Assia Djebar,” known for bringing a feminist perspective to the Arabic novel.  Professor Ranjana Khanna (Duke University) was the featured speaker and Professor Bensmaia delivered the keynote.

For more information about the day's events, please see the flyer below.