[Msa-discuss] CFP for ISSN session at MLA 2021

Melba Cuddy-Keane m.cuddy.keane at utoronto.ca
Sat Feb 8 15:33:02 EST 2020

Dear Colleagues,
Although the subject here is not historical modernism, you may be interested in the following CFP for MLA 2021.

Co-organizers Melba Cuddy-Keane (University of Toronto) and Brian Richardson (University of Maryland) invite paper proposals for the guaranteed ISSN panel at MLA 2021 in Toronto, Canada, from January 7th - 10th.

Narrative beyond Stories: Telling Life Differently
A guaranteed panel for the International Society for the Study of Narrative session at MLA 2021
Proposal Deadline: March 15, 2020

Despite the continuing hold on the critical imagination of Peter Brooks’s “reading for the plot,” a significant strand of narrative rejects, as its primary driver, the forward progressive impulsion of linear events. Modernist novelists in particular wrote against the Victorian plot, citing its disconnection from lived experience, the falsity of its Bildungsroman construction of achievement as stable identity, its masculinist assumptions about outward markers of success. Writers, in the early 20th century, experienced life differently.

The modernist over-riding of monologic linear plot has been well plumbed, as has its later postmodernist manifestations (Brian Richardson 2006; 2015); the present panel seeks to understand the more recent resistance, in contemporary fiction and film, to telling life through “stories.”  Has non-linearity seeped from modernist and postmodernist texts into mainstream 21st-century consciousness, and what new forms of meaning emerge in such “updating”? Has a feeling of being betrayed by action plots with their inscriptions of human agency occasioned a new determinism as when, in Joon-Ho Bong’s film Parasite (2019), Ki-taek says to his son, “You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. . . . Because life cannot be planned,” adding that once the chaotic chain of events takes over and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, you are not responsible. Or do we find instead what Brian Ott and Greg Dickinson identify as “rhetoric’s materiality,” focusing on sensations of “presence” rather than linguistic constructions of “meaning,” and shifting agency from the humanist subject to the physical world in ecological and post-humanist ways (“Redefining Rhetoric: Why Matter Matters,” 2019, and Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond (2015)? Or is skepticism about progressive plots shifting narrative from action to listening and conversation, adjusting our expectations of, and attitudes toward, human relationships (Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma (2018)?  Alternatively, what underlies mammoth efforts to “fit everything in,” as in in Olga Neuwirth’s trans-gender, trans-genre, “Mxd” media opera Orlando (2019)?  But can we truly escape the dialectic between storied and non-storied minds, encapsulated in Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy (2014; 2017; 2018) when the narrator’s interlocutor states, “I discovered that a life with no story was not, in the end, a life that I could live,” and the narrator responds, “I said that, on the contrary, I had come to believe more and more in the virtues of passivity, and of living a life as unmarked by self-will as possible.”

Papers are invited addressing any of the above questions, from any theoretical position, and analyzing narrative in any media. While we are interested in new forms such as weak narrativity (McHale 2001), we invoke the Proteus Principle (Sternberg 1982) that the same form can have different meanings in different contexts and times and so seek discussions relating form to such contemporary issues as:
·      Escalating challenges (economic and environmental) to a belief in possible futures
·      Refocusing of the human-centered to the ecologically informed
·      Feminist disillusionments with the popular “you can turn your life around” plot
·      Increasing complexity in digital platforms, global interactions, cognitive structures
We hope to stimulate audience discussion of the question: given the emphasis today on the value of constructing positive progressive narratives in everything from therapy to governing to marketing, why might we still have a need to tell life differently?

Please send 300-word abstracts plus short bio by Sunday, March 15, 2020, to Professors Cuddy-Keane and Richardson at <mailto:m.cuddy.keane at utoronto.ca> m.cuddy.keane at utoronto.ca<mailto:m.cuddy.keane at utoronto.ca> and <mailto:richb at umd.edu> richb at umd.edu<mailto:richb at umd.edu>.

All best,
Melba Cuddy-Keane
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