Afterlives of Historical Violence in American Literature and Activism
Per William Faulkner’s famous phrase, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This is to say that the forms of social inequality that characterize contemporary life and drive contemporary activism are rooted in long histories of violence. Yet over time, as these histories extend not only throughout individual lives but also across generations, they can become so naturalized that they run the risk of being functionally invisible.
This session takes up the creative representation of the extended afterlives of violence as a crucial project for American social activism as well as protest literature. We invite presentations on subjects such as: the literary and artistic representation of raced, gendered, and classed trauma as it extends through time; the aesthetics of sites memorializing historical violence, especially in the U.S. South; and artistic/activist efforts to connect contemporary injustices to longer legacies of violence. We are especially interested in proposals that link particular textual, aesthetic, and rhetorical analyses to larger questions of activism and social justice. The session as a whole will explore how American writers, artists, and activists contribute to social movements by making difficult-to-represent forms of durational violence come alive—to readers, to audiences, and to the broader public.