[UPDATE] Friendship as Praxis: Towards Community (Cultural and Otherwise)

full name / name of organization: 
English Graduate Caucus of Simon Fraser University
contact email: 

21-23 June 2012, in Vancouver, British Columbia

If there is 'no friend', then how could I call you my friends, my friends? By what right? How could you take me seriously? If I call you my friends, my friends, if I call you, my friends, how dare I add, to you, that there is no friend?

- Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship (1994)

From this day forth, I would like you all to report to me your findings on the magic of friendship when, and only when, you happen to discover them.

- Princess Celestia, My Little Pony (2011)

Is there any kind of conceptual friendship to be found between Derrida's meditation on friendship and the recent reboot of My Little Pony, which takes friendship as the series' organizing principle, unlikely allies though they may seem? Has friendship, or community conceived more broadly, changed in the intervening years between 1994 and 2011? This period of time, bookmarked by NAFTA and the National Defense Authorization Act, has seen tremendous transitions in the ways in which protest, alliance, solidarity and community are both articulated and embodied. Within the frameworks of international trade and national security, activism and apathy, the end of irony and the rebirth of pathos, what does it mean to call someone "friend?" In comparison to past protests, with their catchy, mass media-driven nicknames (the Battle in Seattle, for example, or the Riot at the Hyatt), their sound bites and their smoke bombs, the recent spate of Occupy protests around the world, beginning on Wall Street, have unveiled a tension built into narratives of resistance: while media reports have looked for the demands made by the protesters, effectively setting up a narrative predicated on antagonism, those occupying have instead parlayed their antagonism into a narrative of community and consensus-building; this exemplifies and embodies what we are calling "optimistic collaboration." But does this optimism hinder other possible alliances when we forget, for example, that many "Occupy" protests take place on always-already occupied indigenous land? The radical inclusiveness advocated by those on the ground⏤holding space under whatever shelter they can muster, symbolically building community based on the exclusion of only the richest 1% of the population⏤may be neither as radical nor as inclusive as we would like it to be. Despite these obvious problematics, it seems that the energy of the Occupy movement comes out of a decision to finally learn to live together, or, in the parlance of My Little Pony, to discover the ways that friendship can be magic.

The 2012 SFU English graduate conference is looking for work that teases out the cultural implications of this nascent turn toward community, consensus, and, yes, friendship. Can we articulate this ethos in contemporary culture without seeming hopelessly naive? Is it possible for naivete to be hopeful or even transformative? How does cultural and literary work fit into this equation, this building of community or articulating antagonism (or doing both)? What is its historical context? In keeping with our theme, we invite contributions from across disciplinary communities: presentations may range from historical and theoretical explorations (e.g. formal academic papers and/or presentations) to creative interpretations (e.g. poetry, short stories, and/or artistic representations).

Possible topics may include (but aren't limited to):

  • Friendship as a trope in literature and art
  • The creation of literary communities or movements
  • Relational and participatory art and writing
  • The creation of public spheres and spaces
  • Friendship in and across periods
  • Coalition, identity and ideology
  • Community, communication, communitas, communism
  • Antagonism and consensus-building
  • Literature, politics and social networking/"friending"
  • Kinship in/as performance
  • Please submit 300-400 word abstracts for academic papers; or, for creative projects, a 100-200 word artist's statement plus a sampling of your work (via e-mail; no hard copies, please).

    Submission deadline: 1 March 2012. Email to gradconf@sfu.ca for all submissions.