CFP: Borders and areas of contact in Anglophone cultures, literatures, and art
University of Strasbourg
18-19 November 2016
Borders, standing as they do as markers of identity and high stakes of power, constitute a dominating issue in contemporary societies, as exemplified by Brexit, the Scottish referendum of 2014, the jungle at Calais or the Trump Wall. The conference sets out to look at the concept of border as a space of relations that involves lines of contact, lines of division and, overlapping these, an undetermined zone of non-contact or in-betweeness. Theoretical definitions and apprehensions of the border – philosophical, political and aesthetic – will be probed to examine how this concept is and has been embodied in different Anglophone contexts.
As the history of borders testifies, ‘bordering’ the world is conventionally seen as a way of attributing it sense and meaning. Whether one conceives the border as limit, margin, edge, boundary or frontier, it always enacts material, tangible or symbolic distinctions between inside and outside, sameness and otherness, the sacred and the secular.
From Roman times and the construction of Hadrian’s Wall to the English Middle Ages, fluctuating territorial divisions were established and challenged by trade and channels of communication. The constitution of centralized States in Europe during the Renaissance and the Early Modern period might suggest the emergence of more essentialist conceptions of borders, but these are today recurrently questioned, with their contingency being emphasized.
Contested borders are also central to the history of the British Empire and decolonization, in the process of which new territorial entities were defined, to remain, in some cases, significant sources of conflict to this day. The partition of Ireland in 1921 (which preceded other partitions in the English-speaking world) and the very vivid divides that still persist today in Northern Ireland between the nationalist/Catholic and unionist/Protestant communities are equally a prime example of such contestations. In the U.S.A., the “Frontier” was used as a conceptual tool to push an imperial project but a new history of the West has emerged as a reaction to F.J. Turner’s Frontier Thesis, showing that the border has been the object of rewritings, renegotiations and re-appropriations.
Today, the border is no longer conceived as a ‘natural’ entity but rather as the product of a series of cultural, economic, military and political relations.
In the history of Anglophone literature, the border, probably due to its elusiveness, has proven to be an essential concept. As book history shows, the notion of border is related to the codification of works, to the history of genres and to editorial processes. The border is also a central feature of different literary aesthetics. While implicitly part and parcel of the travel book tradition, borders abound in the realist novel and in domains as diverse as medieval literature and gothic fiction: borders, between madness and reason, body and mind, individual and society, are often the essential source and space of instability.
Postcolonialism is another relevant literary domain, a tradition in which migrant, diasporic, hybrid and ethnic writings address the question of liminality between cultures and the status of cartography as identity marker. Equally essential are the critical tensions one finds in postmodern literature between the border and the borderless, form and formlessness, flux and fixity.
In artistic practices, there have been many attempts at attributing specific set boundaries to art and to its space of representation (two examples of this being the hierarchy of genres established by academies of fine art and Clement Greenberg’s concept of ‘medium specificity’). Functioning as spatial and generic demarcations, such artistic “borders” can create a desire for transgression and hybridity. Such a desire opens up the frame and effaces the border or boundary between the work and its surrounding visible field (for instance Land Art and Street Art, as well as immersive spaces of representation).
The border is therefore a powerfully epistemological issue. We invite papers within the following critical frameworks:
1. Borders and their visibility
To reread borders is to question their actual visibility, their real existence as such and the form they take. It supposes studying the different ways borders are materially inscribed in space, whether they are mobile or immobile, flexible or inflexible. It will also consist of bringing to light ‘invisible’ borders, of uncovering tensions between the singular ‘real’ border that marks off a single territory and the multiplicity of other borders, be they invisible, imaginary, forgotten or precarious. Indeed, one may wonder the extent to which the phenomenon of globalization has effaced the existence of borders.
The question of visibility equally runs through literature, the arts and music, where form, genre and mode are major concerns. How does a text achieve or operate closure? Is it a question of aesthetics, structure, form, conceptuality or ideology? The political dimension of this question may also be reflected upon. This finds expression in and through the various modes of legitimation and valorization established by authorities and public bodies (institutions, education, publishers, criticism, the canon, anthologies).
2. The uses and experiences of the border
Exploring the uses and the experiences of the border implies taking to task approaches that privilege the unchangeable or ‘inviolable’ nature of territories and of cultural or political geography at large. It also involves challenging the notion that borders are tangible and formal, that they come with a simple cartography and can be ‘read’ unequivocally.
Seen as ‘process’, the border can be considered as being both the product of historical, social and political relations and the producer of a network of relations, representations and mental images. To analyze the discursive functioning of the border in literature and the arts (social borders included), focus will be placed on critical relations between interior and exterior, the known and the unknown, geography real and imaginary, form and formlessness, flux and fixity, absence and presence. Paradoxically, despite their ‘borderless’ appearance, aesthetic representations of margins, thresholds and separation might be read as a creative re-use of borders.
3. The border’s dualities and dynamics
The tensions inherent in the concept of the border that express both barrier and movement, separation and opposition, interdiction and transgression, the local and the planetary, incite one to rethink the border’s double function of either identification with or rejection of the other. Since the postnationalist era, where identities are being defined more in transnational or hybrid terms, the presumed ties between state borders and national identity seem to have lost their meaning.
As regards literature and the arts, the concept of border provides the opportunity to re-examine the duality inherent in human consciousness: good and evil, human and inhuman, body and mind, self and other …. The dynamics of the border also questions relations between text and para-text, a work and its material boundaries, the stage and the off-stage. Art often oversteps and transcends these oppositions, making simple maps complex.
Please send an abstract (max. 300 words) either in French or in English, and a short biographical note (max. 100 words) to both Ciaran Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Gwen Cressman (cressman@.fr) by June 15th, 2016.