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CFP Ends or Ending? Experimental Writing in a Globalizing World 2‐3 July 2012, Brunel University


Keynote Address by Diana Brydon
Writers Talking: Matt Thorne, Thomas Glave and Bernardine Evaristo

Deadline for Abstracts: May 25, 2012

Research Context

In recent years, experimental writing has been the subject of some controversy, prompting the question: are we witnessing the end of experimental fiction or the renewal of a longstanding literary form in the context of a changing world order? The untimely deaths of Roberto Bolaño (2003) and David Foster Wallace (2008) have been taken by some to herald the demise of literary experimentation. In 2008, Zadie Smith observed that experimental writing was in decline, “relegated to a safe corner of literary history,” dismissed as a “fascinating failure” (“Two Paths for the Novel,” The New York Review of Books, November 20 2008). While Smith found her way out this creative impasse by embracing lyrical realism, the heady and compelling mixture of revolutionary politics and aesthetics, described in Renato Poggioli’s The Theory of the Avant‐garde (1974), seems to have largely served its potential for social transformation after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of colonialism, and the achievements of feminism in the twentieth century.

Nonetheless, emerging scholarly work indicates that the need to critique the ends of experimental writing remains urgent and compelling. Theorists such as Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière continue to engage with the history of experimental writing as the basis for new approaches to understanding the work of art and literature in the contemporary world. Likewise recent scholarly debates about experimental and avant‐garde fiction (such as a special issue on the avant‐garde in New Literary History 41.4, 2010, The Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature [forthcoming], and emerging debates about global modernism) indicate a renewed and ongoing interest concerning the definition, role, and purposes of experimental literature. Moreover, protests against global capitalism – such as Occupy Wall Street – indicate a need for new modes of worldly inscription.

We propose to address the somewhat paradoxical tendencies and ongoing debates about the end(s) of experimental fiction from a new critical perspective. Although experimental writing has long been seen as a response to crisis in the world, especially in the context of capitalism, patriarchy, and empire, less attention has been given to the impact of globalization. The proposed research seminars and related outputs aim to address the outstanding need for a new literary history and analysis of experimental fiction in the context of a world characterized by time‐space compression (David Harvey), fluid and yet disjunctive spatial relations (Arjun Appadurai), and distant proximities (James Rosenau).

We aim to map the emergence and development of experimental writing across borders, taking into account issues such as textual circulation, authors’ shifting relations to place and space, the role of conceived, lived, and perceived spaces (Edward Soja), and the representation of changing, often disjunctive, spatial relations. In so doing, this research will go beyond the prevailing emphasis on temporality as well as depart from the tendency to view literary experimentation as distanced from realist modes of writing. We will take into account the ways in which experimental writing engages with the long history of globalization: how this mode of literature is both shaped by and shapes our understanding of a global order.

Key Areas of Investigation

As a starting point, we have identified four main areas of investigation, but we welcome others.

1. Radical Spaces of Experimental Fiction: The End(s) of Counter‐Hegemonic Globalization?

Globalization refers to “the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole” (Roland Robertson, Globalization, 1992: 8). Yet, studies of peripheral modernisms, ecological movements, the decline of empire, liberation movements, and other forms of social transformation would indicate that globalization has been and remains highly contested so that the intensified awareness of the world as a whole is also perhaps fragmented and uneven. How might experimental fiction represent, challenge, and potentially reconstruct hegemonic globalization? What possibilities are there for experimental fiction under global capitalism?

2. Experimental Writing & Transnational Sites of Trauma/Terror/Desire

The events of 9/11 sparked narratives considering sites of terror and trauma as well as desires for new ways of conceptualising space/place in the global order (Jean Baudrillard, Philip Tew, E. Ann Kaplan, Slavoj Zizek). Concerns about such sites and experimental responses might also be traced through imperial violence, world wars, and state terror as well as through intimate spaces and the representation of the body as a site of desire, terror, and trauma. This symposium will consider the relation between the body, the text, and place as spaces and sites of affective potential in shifting global contexts. Traumatic spatial memories and relational/oppositional identities elicited through global terror will also be interrogated.

3. Cosmopolitanism, World Literary Circulations, and Experimental Writing

In recent years, cosmopolitanism (Kwame Antony Appiah, Homi Bhabha, David Held, Bruce Robbins, and Paul Gilroy) and world literary circulations (Franco Moretti, David Damrosch, Wai Chee Dimock, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak) have been at the heart of new discussions about global citizenship and the globalization of literary studies. How might experimental literature be seen as a way of rooting/routing the subject and the text in the world? Speakers might consider discussions of sexual citizenship, the global city, the relational role of the text in fostering global consciousness, and other facets of world literary flows.

4. Going Global? Writing for the 21st Century

What is the role of experimental writing in the 21st century? Are we seeing the ending or a proliferation of the ends of this mode of writing? What is the relationship between realism and experimentation? How might literary production be linked to the global? Scholars, creative writers, and the wider community will consider experimental literature’s relation to the flows of globalization, especially as described in the work of Arjun Appadurai’s notion of “‐scapes” (ethnoscapes, financescapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, and ideoscapes), which are both fluid and disjunctive.

Research Questions

  • An indicative but by no means exhaustive set of questions is outlined below:
  • How do we describe and analyze the poetics of literary experimentation in a globalizing world? To what extent are the practices, aims, themes, formal techniques, and circulations of experimental fiction shaped by a changing world order? Does the study of literary experimentation shed light on a long history of globalization?
  • In the context of a globalizing world, does experimental fiction, as certain critics and writers claim, represent an alienated and escapist mode of literature that eludes ‘reality’?
  • Do concerns about terrorism, traumatic world events, and global citizenship lead to literary experimentation? What are the possibilities, if any, for social critique and transformation? What is the relationship between literary realism and experimentation in a globalizing world?
  • What are the horizons for experimental writing in the 21st century? Is experimentation at an end or are we seeing the emergence of new forms of experimentation? How do we gauge the impact of globalization on literary experimentation? Here we might consider the impact of globalization on writing in terms of culture, media, technology, the economy, ideas, migration, the environment, and so forth.
  • Traditionally, literary experimentation has been studied as a response to changing times (Victorian, modernist, postmodern, and post‐postmodern). What new critical perspectives do we gain by considering experimental writing in the context of changing spatial relations? Do such readings challenge our understanding of literary history?

More Information, please contact Wendy Knepper at

Location: Antonin Artaud Performance Centre

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