Society for Novel Studies 2016 Conference: Tom McCarthy Keynote
By: Nick Huber
Tom McCarthy delivered a keynote speech entitled “Vanity’s Residue” to the 2016 Society for Novel Studies Biennial Conference held in Pittsburgh, PA on May 13th and 14th. As the author of four novels including Remainder (2005) and Satin Island (2015), a work of criticism revolving around Herge’s Tintin comics (Tintin and the Secret of Literature), and dozens of essays on contemporary aesthetic problems, McCarthy offered a welcome repositioning of the conference’s viewpoint from the scholar of the novelist to the novelist himself.
And yet McCarthy proved to be as intellectually nimble and canny as readers of his novels might have expected. Proposing we understand the work of the novelist as a series of distress signals or, more emphatically, of pings from a black box unrecovered from terra incognita, from the gap between world and map, McCarthy followed the smoke trails from Clytemnestra to Trevor Paglen in a provocative demonstration of the ricochet from content to form and the point at which the latter becomes the former. The talk’s speculative thesis—that the novelist’s prerogative is to get lost—was a familiar trope but McCarthy built a de-narrativized conceptualization of writing, marking, and transmission that consistently valorized negativity as a powerfully generative force, thereby dissolving any rote New Age pseudo-bildungsroman of self-discovery that often accompanies such a position. The state of being lost, for McCarthy, is not existential so much as material: “how do you put the world on paper?” In a move characteristically erudite and puckish in equal measures, McCarthy deflected easy answers to this question by offering his own in the form of a quotation from an early 20th century geographer (J. A. Steers) that resists settling anything: “As it is impossible to make a sheet of paper rest smoothly on a sphere, so it is impossible to make a correct map on a sheet of paper.” The impossibility of definitively mapping what is perceived, let alone interpreting that map with final confidence, arises out of the materials themselves, McCarthy argued, in the spatial breach between the markings and their referents.
It is in these terms—and in following Agamben—that McCarthy suggested that Melville’s “Bartleby, in not writing, becomes the writer par excellence, embodiment of the Arabic Qualam or Pen, angel of unfathomable potentiality.” Or take his next example, Francis Ponge’s rumination on the capacities of the sponge (which comes to McCarthy via Derrida) which figures writing as “a messy, always incomplete engagement with material surplus, dirty spillage.” These models seem to describe McCarthy’s work as a novelist as well as his work in the International Necronautical Society. McCarthy shared a few examples of the work produced under this heading, including Greenwich Degree Zero, an historical rewriting and filmed reenactment of the 1894 failed bombing of the Greenwich Observatory as the successful 1894 bombing of the Greenwich Observatory. McCarthy, before fielding questions from the audience, traced outward from this reenactment using Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life to consider the figure of “someone—anyone—who is dying” and suggested in conclusion and in agreement with de Certeau that the “dying man who tries to speak” might be, precisely, the writer.
Join the V21 Collective for festive libations in Pittsburgh!
Thursday 12 May
(basement room reserved)
212 Oakland Ave, a few blocks from the Wyndham
Details and more at:
For more information about SNS 2016: http://novel.trinity.duke.edu/sns/2016-conference
Are the novel and world literature mutually constitutive, at least in part, or fundamentally opposed in important ways? How have the disparate politics, economics, translation practices, cultural institutions, and more of a global modernity stretching across centuries shaped the novel? This conference brings together over 150 scholars and three distinguished keynote speakers in order to probe these and other questions. We look forward to welcoming you to Pittsburgh for SNS 2016.
Jonathan Arac and Gayle Rogers, co-organizers
Department of English, University of Pittsburgh
Tom McCarthy is a writer and artist whose work has been translated into more than twenty languages. His first novel, Remainder, which deals with questions of trauma and repetition, won the 2008 Believer Book Award and is currently being adapted for cinema. His third, C, which explores the relationship between melancholia and technological media, was a finalist in the 2010 Booker Prize. McCarthy is also author of the nonfiction book Tintin and the Secret of Literature; of the novel Men in Space, set in a Central Europe rapidly disintegrating after the collapse of communism; and of numerous essays that have appeared in publications such as The New York Times,The London Review of Books, Harper’s and Artforum. In addition, he is founder and General Secretary of the International Necronautical Society (INS), a semi-fictitious avant-garde network of writers, philosophers and artists. In 2013 he was awarded the inaugural Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction by Yale University. His latest novel,Satin Island, was published in February 2015.
Katie Trumpener is Emily Sanford Professor of Comparative Literature and English at Yale University. Her publications include Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire, The Cambridge Companion to Fiction of the Romantic Period (co-edited with Richard Maxwell), and many articles on literary and film history and visual culture (including on the European reception of the Arabian Nights, and Jane Austen reception among colonial New Woman novelists and British modernists). A forthcoming collection, The Viewing Platform: Perspectives on the Panorama, edited with Timothy Barringer, explores nineteenth and twentieth-century panoramic painting and film. She is finishing a book on twentieth-century German film culture, and working on a book on European modernism and memories of early childhood.
Jed Esty is the Vartan Gregorian Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton, 2004) and Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development (Oxford, 2012). With Joe Cleary and Colleen Lye, he co-edited a 2012 special issue of MLQ on “Peripheral Realisms;” with Ania Loomba, Suvir Kaul, Antoinette Burton, and Matti Bunzl, he co-edited Postcolonial Studies and Beyond (Duke 2005). He is currently working on a new project entitled Cold War Victorians: How the British Imagination Shaped American Power.
Call for Papers
The Novel in or against World Literature
SNS at Pitt 2016
The Society for Novel Studies (SNS) invites proposals for fifteen-minute papers to be given at its biennial conference held at the University of Pittsburgh, May 13-14, 2016. For more information, visit http://novel.trinity.duke.edu/sns/2016-conference
Proposals should not exceed 200 words and are due by September 7, 2015. They should be sent to individual panel organizers at the email addresses listed below. Once confirmed, all presenters must join the SNS and register for the conference.
Uneven Development and the Novel
Susan Andrade, University of Pittsburgh
Unevenness is a feature of all literary change. Uneven development seeks to name social and political difference in relation to literary change. For all its limits, The World Republic of Letters offers one example of how literary development is tied to social relations, particularly the literary and linguistic relations in Ireland and Latin America. This panel does not seek to challenge or extend Casanova -- except that we are not as teleological about form as Casanova is. It seeks to chart unevenness more precisely, more locally, and with as much attention to the Global South.
The New (Post-)Humanisms and the Problem of Genre
Elizabeth Anker, Cornell University
This panel attempts to think two seemingly unrelated debates in relation to one another: current debates about genre and about humanism in the aftermath of poststructuralism. In recent literature and theory, the status of genre is newly under negotiation. While some speak of the waning of genre, genre fiction is on the rise, as are experimental modes of writing that intentionally blur generic boundaries. At once, the mounting method wars within critical theory have, for some, entailed a return to or rethinking of humanism and its legacy. How are these two developments related?
African Writing, the “Global Novel,” and the Question of World Literature
Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra, Penn State University
This panel proposes to explore the relationship of the contemporary African novel to the category of World Literature. African literary studies has long grappled with varying scales of nation, region (within and beyond the nation), continent, and hemisphere, as well as with the international circulations of cultural production (flowing North to South and vice versa). The success of writers such as Teju Cole, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helon Habila, and NoViolet Bulawayo (to name a few)—African writers who do not work or live exclusively in Africa—has renewed the critical conversation about the definition of African literature and the specificity of its location. Aiming to addresses these questions, phrases such as “global African writer,” “post-national,” and “Afropolitan” have recently entered the critical lexicon. With this in mind, this panel will ask: what models of World Literature are possible when we take African literature as its starting case? To what extent should existing paradigms of national as well as World literature be revised? And, finally, what critical terminology is necessary to account for the complex circulations of these contemporary writers, their texts, and the novel form itself?
Assia Djebar in the World
Ben Baer, Princeton University
This panel attends to the literary works—in particular the novels—of the late Assia Djebar. A writer of the Mediterranean, of Africa and Europe, France and the Maghreb; a feminist and activist, Djebar in her writing challenges many of the identitarian or ethnocentrically cosmopolitan axioms of World Literature. The panel intends to consider the concrete detail of Djebar's fiction as a close engagement with colonial and postcolonial violence; the predicaments of women in the postcolonial state; histories of complicity; the difficulties of ethnocentrisms, identiarianisms, and fundamentalisms of many kinds; and the imagining of alliances across unpredictable lines. We ask how it is possible today to read Djebar as a global figure against prevailing globalizations (capitalist or Islamic); and what the place of the novel might be as the medium of such reflections.
The Novel in or against Neoliberalism
Timothy Bewes, Brown University
“Neoliberal rationality,” writes Wendy Brown, “disseminates the model of the market to all domains and activities ... and configures human beings exhaustively as market actors, always, only, and everywhere as homo oeconomicus.” As an extension or universalization of economic logic, neoliberalism functions in at least two modes, both of which are relevant to the study of the novel: as an ideology, and as a form of governance. In critical commentary on neoliberalism the difference between these two modes is often eclipsed or obscured. This panel considers the World Literature hypothesis in the light of the economizing logic of neoliberalism, and proposes a series of questions: To what extent are data-driven modes of analysis complicit with the depoliticizing economism of neoliberal logic? What is the future of the novel, or novel criticism, when all models of knowledge and experience seem reducible to algorithmic patterns of behavior (Vilém Flusser)? What would be the political significance of a literature whose origin, implications and effects were entirely programmable? What orders of significance can be said to survive the encroachment of biopolitics into our approaches and categories of reading? The substance of these questions may be summed up in a single formulation: Can any elements of novels, or the novel, be said to escape the economizing effects of neoliberalism?
The Optics of Novelization: Time, Geography, and Epistemology
Paul Bové, University of Pittsburgh
This panel will present papers that theorize the novel in relation to space and geography--national vs. world literatures; epistemology--new forms of information and the speed of their circulation as in finance; time--conditions of form that create or avoid anamorphosis in conditions of celerity. Careful considerations of how the novel functions now and how novels in their history name and embody a formal problem of perception and knowledge formation. Staging as well a contest over the priorities of space and time in novelization and novel as knowledge in relation to information. Speed and celerity inflect epistemologies, temporalities, and geographies of form.
Reading Contemporary Fiction: Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend
Amanda Claybaugh, Harvard University
This is one of a pair of "Reading Novels Together" panels, the other run by John Plotz and Deidre Lynch (one per day of the conference). Each novel (one in English, the other not, but both widely translated and circulating as “world novels”) to be presented by a pair of conveners to a pre-admitted seminar of up to 20 participants. Sign-up required; reading the whole novel required. No papers prepared in advance, though the two conveners will come equipped with talking points to get the discussion off the ground. No end product envisioned other than the pleasure of reading in concert with scholars from diverse fields.
The Novel across World-Literatures
César Domínguez, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela
The aim of this panel is to explore the case of novels that criss-cross "world-literatures"—meaning fragments of the literary world, “autonomous” sections of the planet that seem to provide their own resources and linkages for novelistic production—through the lens of translation, which mobilizes them across diverse fields that variously unite and further fragment them. Papers might consider novels that move across different comparative contexts, from one multilingual region of the world to another, so that the novel's beginning is comparative in a relatively local way before moving out to other regional contexts. How, then, do regions and micro-worlds mediate the single-scale distinction between nation and world?
Print Capitalism in the (Post)Colony
Nergis Erturk, Penn State University
This panel seeks papers examining the (post)colonial novel in the context of histories of what Anderson called “print-capitalism.” Possible topics may include: the novel form and serialization, vernacularization, translation, and/or philological revolutions of the 19th century; orality and print culture; the publics of the (post)colonial novel; Bildungsroman in a gendered context; authorial sovereignty and (dis)possession.
The Sea and Atopical space
Penny Fielding, University of Edinburgh
The sea allows the world to be imagined as a global entirety seemingly without borders or geographical demarcation. Yet oceans may be superscribed with the ideological markers of war, commerce, science, or sport. The panel would address questions of fictional representation when atopical space becomes ideologically charged and would trace worldwide journeys in the development of the novel.
The World of the Novel: Non-Eurocentric Visions of Cosmopolis in Twentieth and Twenty-first Century Novels
Ronald Judy, University of Pittsburgh
This panel explores how novels produced in periods and zones of disputed nationalism problematize dominant theorizations of the cosmopolitan world. Chief concerns are: the representation of space and time in relation to historical change (What is progress?), as well as the nature of the person articulated in the non-Eurocentric cosmopolis.
The Age of the “Anglophone” Novel: World Literature and Its Mediaries
Maryam Khan, Lahore University of Management Sciences, and Aamir Mufti, University of California, Los Angeles
To extend Jonathan Arac’s idea of "The Age of the Novel" further, perhaps we can think of the contemporary moment in the history of World Literature as "The Age of the ‘Anglophone’ Novel." If in the past three decades or so, the Anglophone novel has become a sign of World Literature itself, then what place do vernacular forms hold in this fraught formation? Is the Anglophone novel ever in conversation with non-Western literary and linguistic formations?
Catastrophe and American Literature
Caroline Levander, Rice University
This panel outlines an American cultural and literary history of catastrophe and explores the possibilities of such a history for our contemporary moment as well as for the future we hope to create and inhabit. Historians, anthropologists, geoscientists, scholars of “disaster sociology,” economists, and mathematicians have theorized catastrophe and elaborated its causes and effects, social dimensions, and relationship to history, culture, society, markets, and dynamical systems. As pioneered in the 1960s by René Thom, catastrophe theory has been applied with varying success to different phenomena, including prison riots. But American literary studies has yet to read catastrophe in a sustained and collective manner—despite a long-standing fascination with crisis in general, and despite the emergence of catastrophe as a foundational phenomenon of the modern world.
Please submit your proposal for this panel to Caroline Levander at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Literature of Capitalism: Latin America and the World-systems Novel
Joshua Lund, University of Pittsburgh
If we can understand, or at least theorize, capitalism as a world-historical social relation, then it is not extravagant to understand the novel as its quintessential narrative expression. Only the novel strives, without apology, to match form and content in the attempt at aestheticizing totality in a way that resonates with capitalism’s impulse toward a totalizing logic of accumulation. From El periquillo sarniento to Os sertões, from Cien años de soledad to 2666, Latin American novels have been some of the most ambitious practitioners and trenchant critics of the narrative production of totalizing world-systems. How do we reflect on this history of writing today? What is its future? This panel seeks papers that address aspects of this theme.
Beyond English: The Non-Anglophone “World Novel”
B. Venkat Mani, University of California, Davis
In the last two decades, non-Anglophone novelists such as Bolaño, Murakami, Pamuk, Petterson and others have re-imagined the novelistic form and content. With huge readerships in their homelands and abroad, their works have challenged the hegemony of the global Anglophone novel. Is there a “world novel” beyond English? How is the non-Anglophone novel reshaping our understanding of contemporary world literature? How do we evaluate the non-Anglophone novel beyond its reception and circulation in the English-speaking world? These questions are central to this panel, which seeks to shift focus from the global Anglophone novel as the only major genre of contemporary world literature, thinking about what constitutes technical, sociological, and interpretative knowledge in the study of global and world fiction.
Platforms of Global Fiction
John Marx, University of California, Davis, and Aarthi Vadde, Duke University
Recent interventions in world literature, sociologies of literature, and the digital humanities suggest we rethink what counts as the content, form, media, and context of global fiction. Yet those interventions are not typically thought together. One wonders: Is this because identifying and interpreting specific instances of world literature; investigating sociological aspects of novel production, circulation, and consumption; or asking what digital humanities contribute to our knowledge of fiction on a global scale involve fundamentally antagonistic methods or because we have lacked a way of bringing them into fruitful dialog? We bet that productive conversation is possible. Inspired by the MIT Press “Platform Studies” book series overseen by Ian Bogost and Nick Monfort, we suggest “Platforms” as an organizing rubric for bringing together these seemingly divergent approaches to studying and indeed constructing the category of world or global fiction.
In that book series, “platform studies” encourages digital media scholars to examine the role that technical systems (hardware and software platforms) play in the cultural processes of video game design and in the affective experiences of users (players). Among its virtues, platform studies encourages its contributors to think of themselves as collaborating on a collective analysis of content, form, media, and machine. While literary scholars are more than familiar with a range of analytic paradigms, we are less well practiced at assessing their cumulative impact. To address this lack, we invite papers that engage with the notion of literary platforms (a list might include: print and screen hardware, language, genre or form, paratext, etc.) via diverse methodological approaches. We hope this panel will provide new ways for thinking about what constitutes technical, sociological, and interpretative knowledge in the study of global and world fiction.
Dystopian Novels of the Twenty-first Century
Giuseppina Mecchia, University of Pittsburgh
As novelistic forms, dystopias have a long tradition in the literary world. Their ethical and political ambiguity, as well as their generic flexibility, make them a form of choice for several highly controversial authors in different national and linguistic contexts. Our panel is open to the inclusion of certain historical novels, which we will read as "dystopias of the past": in this particular form, historical events are re-written in various far-fetched ways, according to conspiratorial, reactionary or depressive modes of thinking. Ultimately, the panel wishes to re-examine the ethical and political import of the novel form in the 21st century through the careful examination of one of its most enduring and popular genres.
Populations and World Literature
Mario Ortiz-Robles, University of Wisconsin
The corpus we know as “world literature” is organized according to nations, languages, and genres. What would it be like to conceive of world literature as a function of populations? Attention to the categories used to describe populations might yield new configurations that transcend the way world literature gets historicized. Rubrics such as a “literature of the poor,” “the novel of orphanhood,” or the “crowd in fiction” would certainly overlap but also go beyond traditional disciplinary fields, languages, and national literatures. Furthermore, older categories, such as the novel of adultery and the Bildungsroman, could be revitalized when submitted to the conceptual pressure of biopolitics. The point is not to privilege the sorts of rationalizations that go into making biological life the object of political organization; it is to use these categories to make visible the structures that are already in place in the creation of a corpus we call “world literature.” This panel invites papers that address the concept of population in the novel from any methodological perspective. Some of the questions that could inform the panel include: What sorts of reading practices can be used to read the populations of world literature? What is the role of the novel in understanding the world as a set of populations? Are novelistic cycles and encyclopedic fictions uniquely suited to convey population dynamics or do shorter forms offer a better perspective on populations and world literature?
Reading Contemporary Fiction: Ali Smith's How to Be Both
John Plotz, Brandeis University
This is one of a pair of "Reading Novels Together" panels, the other run by Amanda Claybaugh and Caroline Levine (one per day of the conference). Each novel (one in English the other not, but both widely translated and circulating as “world novels”) to be presented by a pair of conveners to a pre-admitted seminar of up to 20 participants. Sign-up required; reading the whole novel required. No papers prepared in advance, though the two conveners will come equipped with talking points to get the discussion off the ground. No end product envisioned other than the pleasure of reading in concert with scholars from diverse fields.
Presentism and Pastism
Bruce Robbins, Columbia University
The manifesto of the V21 group states, among its other points, that "one outcome of post-historicist interpretation may be a new openness to presentism: an awareness that our interest in [past periods] is motivated by certain features of our own moment… Presentism is not a sin, but nor are all forms of presentism equally valuable. The variations of and alternatives to presentism as such have not yet been adequately described or theorized." There is also such a thing as pastism. It too is arguably not a sin. Its alternatives too need to be more adequately described and theorized. The aim of this panel is to apply these considerations to the novel.
The Problematic of Connection
Ellen Rooney, Brown University, and Khachig Tölölyan, Wesleyan University
World literature is a polemical field, in many respects still murky, ill-defined, and baggy, as is the form dubbed the global novel. The diverging models that focus on mobility, circulation, and exchange, or on the dissemination of the novel form, both offer critiques of the domination, inequality and neoliberal empire that characterize the field of world literature. Yet critics of both remain dissatisfied with their apparent reinscriptions of the logics of center and periphery, cosmopolitan and parochial.
A key component of ambient notions of world literature is a celebration of connection, which seems to be an inescapable element of the global novel. On this account, global novels are made possible by proliferating transnational, cross-border connections, by the migrant mobility of people, capital, and traveling theory, a mobility that leads to multiplicity and minority within national spaces and arguably to the global novel and its urgent ethics of connection. However, in the study of the global novel, ethics has been reduced to the problem of how to denounce and redress inequalities within a generally welcome system of new connections. Might we change the question? We invite papers that interrogate the problematic of connection in the global novel. Can novels that dissent from the current ethic of connection and express reservations, or even hostility, towards connection, count as world literature? Do novels that inscribe incommensurabilty and untranslatablity, that lament the costs, look away from, or are suspicious of connection, offer an alternative vision of the world and world literature? Can a diasporic novel reject hybridity? Is there a logic of the sedentary or misanthropy, solitude or isolation by which a global novel might project another world? What axiomatics of connection have to be rethought by our critical discourse to accommodate such texts?
Legacies and Limits of Said
Judy Suh, Duquesne University
This panel seeks to illuminate the legacies and limits of Edward Said’s groundbreaking critical works. Which of Said’s lines of thinking ought to be taken up and extended in discussions of contemporary and historical fiction? Which ought to be revised in light of new developments in literature, criticism, or history?
Genre Fiction and World Literature
Rebecca Walkowitz, Rutgers University
What is the relationship between genre fiction and world literature? Is genre fiction the quintessence of world literature? Or is it the opposite of world literature? How does the analysis of genre fiction change, refine, or recalibrate the concept of world literature? How does the analysis of world literature alter what genre fiction is and does? Where do the two histories intersect?
Generations and Contemporary Fiction
Jeffrey Williams, Carnegie Mellon University
Investigating the concept of generations and how it applies, and doesn't apply, to contemporary fiction. How does one's generational position shape identity and particular cultures? How does it show in literature? Is it primarily a national cultural distinction? or are there world generations?
Ethnohistory, the Novel, and World Literature
Yi Zheng, University of New South Wales
Novels about place, traveling between places or historical transformations of a place can be understood as ethnohistories in fictional form. This includes the roman fleuve, regional novels, native-soil fiction, travel novels and gazetteer-style historical fiction. These narratives about local worlds, changes of world in locality and traversing different worlds are place specific and location based. They delineate the minutiae of life and feelings or moments of great change of a particular place at a particular time, record with an ethnographic eye different customs, habits, and structure of feelings, or the routes, vessels and changing mind and body between locations. The session proposes to revisit these place-specific novels, and ask questions such as how might they work for or against the idea of a world literature, in particular how as specific stories of everyday world change and epic place history they contribute to or complicate the novel as a prototype in world literature. Or how might they compel redefinitions of the world and world literature in spatial-conceptual and formal terms.
Society for Novel Studies Biennial Conference
The Novel in or against World Literature
May 13-14, 2016
Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center
Hosted by the University of Pittsburgh
Co-organizers: Jonathan Arac and Gayle Rogers
Katie Trumpener, Professor of Comparative Literature and English, Yale University
Jed Esty, Vartan Gregorian Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
Tom McCarthy, author of Remainder and Satin Island
More details forthcoming, including CFP. Contact: email@example.com