American Literature Association
Call for Papers – Three Panels
29th Annual Conference
May 24-27, 2018
San Francisco - Hyatt Regency
Panel 1: Herman Melville and the Emergence of Trumpism
In 2011, both Seth Meyers and President Obama made several jokes about Donald Trump during the White House Correspondents Dinner. From his involvement in the Miss USA pageant and reality television to his fragile relationship with communities of color, no area from Trump's brash and ostentatious lifestyle was, for several minutes that evening, off limits. However, by November 8, 2016, the very areas that the former president and Meyers poked fun at, in part, were the very areas that aided Trump in becoming the next president of the United States.
Trumpism is a term coined to capture the emergence of the radical branch of Republicanism responsible for Trump's unorthodox journey to the White House. Given the relevance of American political values in Herman Melville's major works, this panel seeks papers that undertake the ways that Melville's publications address some of the enduring issues that have fueled Trump's presidency. What can Melville's art add to discussions in our historical moment relating to America's political landscape and president? Topics may include but are not restricted to gender; traditionalism; classism; race; mass-immigration; surveillance; white nationalism; monument removal; the rise of the alt-right; sexism; birtherism; fake news.
Panel 2: Melville in the Anthropocene (sponsored by the Melville Society and ASLE)
Kathryn Yusoff’s recent work on anthropogenesis and Timothy Clark’s Ecocriticism on the Edge exemplify two critical tendencies, two senses of the idea of the Anthropocene. Clark argues that the Anthropocene “names a newly recognized context that entails a chastening recognition of the limits of cultural representation as a force of change in human affairs, as compared to the numerous economic, meteorological, geographical and microbiological factors and population dynamics, as well as scale effects” (Ecocriticism 21). This scalar gap is, for Clark, “crucial to defining the eventhood of the Anthropocene as a threshold concept. The predatory supremacy of global neoliberal capitalism would represent a further, exploitative intensification of this scalar disjunctiveness …as a way of gaining power over human and nonhuman others” (Ecocriticism 151).
Yusoff draws on the work of Donna Haraway and Elizabeth Grosz to account for what is problematic in the idea of the Anthropocene itself as a means to critique the exploitative intensification it identifies. It contains “a form of Anthropogenesis a new origin story and ontics for man that radically rewrites material modes of differentiation and concepts of life, from predominantly biopolitical notions of life toward an understanding of life’s geophysical origination” suggesting “a more nuanced notion of ‘geological life’” (3) but also a reinscription of human as Man and Man as world-maker, obfuscating “climate racism, social injustice in fossil fuels, and differentiated histories of responsibility through homogenization in a ‘we’ of the Anthropocene” (7). Ultimately, Yusoff suggests we “stay with the ‘promise’ of the Anthropocene as the configuring of an epochal moment of planetary thought, despite, and possibly because of all the explicit problems that make … [it]… an easy target and malleable term” (8).
This panel welcomes papers that engage with any sense of the "malleable term" that the Anthropocene has become. Here we welcome theoretical work that engages with Melville's texts or readings of Melville that respond to the wide range of topics that are linked to the anthropocene: from climate, ecology, energy, geology, and meteorology to posthumanism, materialism, and broader questions of scale.
Panel 3: Bartleby Now
High-spectrum; Refusenik; Divinity. This panel proposes to think about “Bartleby Now,” taking up what continental philosophers and American literary critics alike have long grappled with as the limit-case of the human. We are particularly interested in how cognitive approaches to literature shape our return to this text and figure. In light of Amit Pinchevski’s 2011 assessment of “Bartleby’s Autism” and Agamben’s still resonant reading of Melville’s scrivener as a subject of “pure, absolute potentiality,” what does a critical and, indeed, popular attachment to Bartleby mean today? We ask that panelists take more of a roundtable approach by hazarding some broadly philosophical conjectures about what Bartleby is or might still be. An interdisciplinary angle is welcome in theorizing and defining what our Bartleby Problem is now.