By: Caroline Levine
The theme for the 2018 biennial SNS conference at Cornell was Novel Theory. We asked: what is the theory of the novel in the 21st century? how do novels theorize? The conference itself offered a number of formats—conventional panels and keynote lectures, keyword seminars with short papers and time for discussion, and seminars on non-Anglophone novels from different periods. Keywords included contemporary, BLACK, data, interiority, infrastructure, empiricism, plot, totality, memory, scale, limit, detail, Lukacs, length, affect, and space. The novel seminars: Deidre Lynch and Katie Trumpener on Madame de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Cleves, Julia Chang and David Kurnick on Benito Pérez Galdós’s Tristana, Ulka Anjaria and Aarthi Vadde on Vivek Shanbhag’s Ghachar Ghochar, and Rebecca Walkowitz and Martin Puchner, on Yoko Tawada, Memoirs of a Polar Bear.
The keynote by Ursula Heise was entitled “Scale and the Novel in the Anthropocene.” We invited Helena Maria Viramontes, contemporary novelist, to speak. We also convened a plenary panel on “Theories of the Novel Now,” with Nicholas Dames, Debjani Ganguly, Kate Marshall, Ignacio Sanchez Prado, and Jordan Stein. Two seminar discussions took place on walks, one organized by John Plotz on speculative fiction, and the other organized by Penny Fielding on the “Uses of Genre.” There was a closing panel with Sianne Ngai presenting on her newest work in progress. We had 200 attendees. Registration included an experiment in progressive pricing, with the highest costs to faculty with sufficient research funds to cover the full cost to graduate students and independent scholars and contingent faculty without research funding.