Contemporary American Fiction in the Age of Innovation
Call for papers
CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN FICTION IN THE AGE OF TECHNICAL INNOVATION
International conference in Paris · January 24-25, 2020
Universities Sorbonne Nouvelle & Vincennes Saint-Denis
Paul Virilio In Memoriam
“The novel in the embrace of new technologies will be the novel that writes itself.”
“Will advancing technology revitalize human consciousness or drown it forever?”
Don DeLillo (Peter Boxall, personal correspondence)
Based on the title of a recent book by Xavier Pavie, "Innovation in the Challenge of Philosophy," this conference aims to examine the relationship between American fiction and the innovations that have marked the first decades of the 21st century: the Internet, social media, smart devices and environments, artificial intelligence, nanotechnologies, genetic engineering and other biotechnologies, as well as transhumanism. These technological innovations have redefined the way we live in and conceive of the world, as well as the way we interact with each other and understand human beings in their ever closer relationships to machines – human beings are no longer, cared for or patched up, they are now enhanced or simply replaced. What about our artistic and cultural practices in such context? Have language and literature been transformed by these recent advances? In order to explore these questions, we will investigate the reciprocal bond between technological progress and 21st century fiction: how is fiction informed by technological progress (in its topics, in its structures, in its style, in its relationship to readers) and conversely, what representations of progress can it oppose to such transformations? In other words, to what extent does technological innovation renew the literary, and subsequently, in relation to which writing standards, or even protocols (Alexander Galloway)? In a world that "has been turned into numbers" (Olivier Rey) and seems to have restored, after God's death, a new transcendence that has taken the form of technology, how does literature apprehend a humanity no longer generated and conceived in the image of God, but which, ridden with the "Promethean shame" (Günther Anders) of having been born according to a blind and hazardous process, can now be manufactured and owe its existence to algorithms? If human sciences or philosophy probe the ethical dimensions of current technological manipulations (genetics, cloning, continuing life after brain death), what about fiction? If irony once constituted "the freedom of the writer in his relationship to God, the transcendental condition of the objectivity of form-giving” (Lukacs, Theory of the Novel), can it still unfold in an era characterized by artificial transcendence or by the technological sublime that marks a fanatic return of metaphysics?
In addition to the ontological changes made possible by technology, can fiction offer a critique of the new media and of the upheavals they precipitate? How does the temporality of literature respond to a technical time subjected to the imperatives of efficiency (Huxley, The History of Tension), when the present is slave to the future (Bataille, The Sovereign)? Can fiction contest the productivist and consumerist telos that orients our lives, and rests on unquenchable desires that generate a uniform and restless time (Jonathan Crary, 24/7 Late Capitalism and the End of Sleep)? Is it doomed to the paradoxical mimesis of a "transparent society" - without obstacles - as defined by German philosopher Byung-Chul Han ("a society of positive, exposure, evidence, pornography, acceleration, intimacy, information, revelation and control”)? Do virtual worlds challenge the primacy of literary fiction as a privileged mode of escape from daily life? In a context where artworks can be generated through computation, can the advent of a poetic event still resist algorithmic logics (Bruno Bachimont, Le sens de la technique : Le numérique et le calcul)? What becomes of the body (that of the character, reader, author) in a world in which its technical extensions (Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech) increase the externalization of its cognitive functions in media artifacts and digital networks (McLuhan, Understanding Media – The Extension of Man), and in which our natural habitat is progressively replaced by a quickly evolving "technical milieu" (Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society)? Does so called "augmented literature" limit the unfolding of our imagination or does it open up new vistas for the literary? What about transmedia logics that prompt authors to explore and invest new writing scenes and devices? Bearing in mind that writing is always already technical to what extent can we speak of a technologization” of writing specific to contemporary literature?
Contemporary American fiction has been engaging with such questions. Jonathan Franzen, after re-publishing essays by Karl Kraus to substantiate his criticism of digital media, composed a tragic novel on the written press and the threats it faces as the Internet becomes the primary mode of communication, and as such figures as that of the whistleblower take on roles traditionally played by journalists (Purity). Some writers have experimented with live fiction writing, like Joshua Cohen, whose PCKWCK – a reference to Dickens's Pickwick Papers – deals with the acceleration of communication in the digital age. In The Circle, Dave Eggers imagined a panoptic society where consumers willingly integrate surveillance technology in their daily lives. Other writers take advantage of new media configurations to remodel narrative form: by, for instance reinventing the epistolary novel and transpositing it onto collaborative platforms (such as Booking.com) in Rick Moody's Hotels of North America; or through the emergence of "twitter fiction" (with Jennifer Egan tweeting her short story "Black Box" for the New Yorker). 2043, a speculative work by Kim Stanley Robinson (2012), allows us to envision human life after an ecological catastrophe, the rise to power of artificial intelligence and the colonization of the solar system through terraforming. Richard Powers, in Overstory (2018), muses upon our relationship with trees, as our environment is becoming more technical. In Jeff VanderMeer's "eco-horror" novel Annihilation (2014), the border separating humans and nonhumans is disrupted by innovations in biotechnology. Each of these literary endeavors traces a different trajectory across the technological terrain we now inhabit. To what extent are these trajectories informed by the great founding myths of America, the traditional land of innovation, and notably of military-scientific innovation (Donna Haraway, The Cyborg Manifesto)?
This conference will give us an opportunity to share and discuss the visions articulated by contemporary American writers as technical systems have come to regulate large parts of our existence. How does literature help us to live within, without, or beside these systems? What can contemporary American fiction teach us about the technical making and remaking of the world?
Presentations may be in French or English and touch upon:
Trans- and posthumanism in fiction
Literary approaches to the ethics of medical technology
Narrative faced with biotechnologies
Literature and responsibility
Writers' Twitter accounts
Fiction against/for new media
Technology and capital, neoliberalism
Forms of life and management techniques
The press and whistleblowers
Internet and totalitarianism
The face (Facebook)
Acceleration, hyper speed and narrative temporality
Mimesis and the transparency society
Addition/algorithms in narration
Reading as connection compulsion
Cybernetics and technical systems in literature
Literary and digital languages (code across media)
Writing, pornography, and the regimes of the contactless
Ecological catastrophe and technology
250-500 words proposals accompanied by a short bio. should be sent to:
Submission deadline is July 15, 2019.
Proposals will be subjected to blind peer-review by the scientific committee. Authors will be informed of the results of their submission before July 30th 2019.
Arnaud Regnauld (University Vincennes Saint-Denis Paris 8)
Béatrice Pire (University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3)
Pierre-Louis Patoine (University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3)
This conference is a joint initiative of Paris 8 University (EA 1569 – TransCrit) and Sorbonne Nouvelle University (EA 4398 PRISME – Groupe 19-21 Modernités critiques).