ACLA 2012 :: The Corpse and Catastrophe

full name / name of organization: 
Karen Elizabeth Bishop (Rutgers) & David Sherman (Brandeis)

Call for Papers: The Corpse and Catastrophe
ACLA 2011: Collapse/Catastrophe/Change
Providence, RI | 29 March-1 April 2012

Seminar Organizers: Karen Elizabeth Bishop (Rutgers University) and David Sherman (Brandeis University)

This seminar will examine the corpses in and of literature, including the catastrophic meaning of corpses. Papers with aesthetic, ethical, political, and historical dimensions are welcome, and might address a range of questions:

• How does literature investigate the ethics of caring for the dead? How is the unburied corpse a site of ethical, as well as discursive, crisis? If catastrophe is a reversal of what is expected, but also a turning away from, a downturn, then what does the corpse turn us away from, and what turns us away from the corpses in our care?

• How might the literary corpse function simultaneously as a marker of the legible, the visible, the manifest and as a marker of absence, the disappeared, the missing? What's at stake in this polyvalence? How does it inform how we read both text and context?

• How has the desire to represent corpses affected literary style and form, and what do these literary techniques reveal about this desire? How do corpses pose representational problems for particular genres, movements, schools, traditions, media? What tensions between aesthetics and ethics does the corpse reveal? What is the relation between writing and tending to a dead body?

• How has literature responded to the modernization and postmodernization of deathways? How are the dead a flashpoint for cultural tensions in colonial and postcolonial situations? How has the state—in its various techniques of regulation, ideological formation, and violence—complicated the politics of dead bodies?

• How—by what catastrophes—do forms of literary production die, what are their remains, and how do we tend to them? What correlations can we trace between the circulation of corpses and the circulation of texts?

Drafts of papers (2,500 words) for this seminar will be pre-circulated to workshop participants as well as posted via a panel website for audience participants. The seminar organizers will ask that invited members of the panel read their colleagues' papers in advance of the conference in order to facilitate an intimate and productive conversation about each work. During the seminar, each member will be afforded ten minutes in which to give a brief overview of his or her paper or to read aloud an excerpt of the paper; the remaining ten minutes of each presentation will be reserved for feedback and questions. A longer period for more open discussion will follow the presentations. Please note that ACLA seminars take place over 2-3 days with 8-12 participants; members are expected to attend all seminar sessions.

Please submit abstracts of 300-500 words to Karen Bishop ( and David Sherman ( by 15 September 2012. Feel free to contact the organizers with any questions you may have.