This is Nowhere: Local, Regional and Provincial Spaces in World Literature - 24 October 2009 (Deadline: June 1st 2009)

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UC Berkeley, Graduate Program in Comparative Literature
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For all their complexity, recent discussions of cosmopolitanism, comparativism, and world literature have tended to privilege the global over the local, the macro over the micro, and the city over the country. These discussions have prompted us to ask some of the following questions: what constitutes a small town, region, province, village, settlement, or other small-scale community? How have these and other terms historically been used by the cultural centers from which most discourse is generated? What does it mean to speak or write from a local or regional community within the context of the world republic of letters? How is this related to or different from writing for a small-scale community? To what extent are small towns, provinces, and other outlying communities constructed and deployed for ideological purposes, be they populist, romantic, reactionary, or utopian? How are these constructs shaped by and how do they continue to shape, or come into conflict with, the material, economic, and geographic realities of the places themselves?

This conference aims to explore how a critical focus on regional, provincial and other small-scale communities can alter our perspectives on literature, as well as literature’s relation to other disciplines. Acknowledging that most cultural discourse is generated from the “center,” we hope to examine how and with what aims small-scale communities are represented in and referred to from this cosmopolitan perspective, as well as which recourses are available for the provinces to include their experience in this discourse and/or safeguard it from appropriation and misrepresentation. We are interested in subjects ranging from the representation of the pastoral in ancient literary texts to the appeals made to “Main Street” throughout the most recent presidential campaign. While we are a literature department, we recognize that many of these issues are currently being addressed through the social sciences, and in this conference we intend to include papers from scholars working in a variety of disciplines. We are particularly interested in papers that address the benefits and limitations of examining these issues through the lens of literary studies.

The following is a far from exhaustive list of possible entry points into the exploration of this topic.

- The small town as the stable home of tradition and authenticity or, conversely, as a backwater cut off from or unconcerned with the larger world
- The positing of local or regional identity as the bedrock of national identity
- The intersection and/or conflict of a small-town identity with other identity categories (such as race, class, gender, religion, sexuality)
- Nostalgia and the imposition of temporal frameworks onto spatial ones when and where “provincial life” is depicted or “small town values” are invoked
- The destabilization or decentering of standardized discourses (literary, political or otherwise) through the use of dialect, patois, colloquialisms, and vernacular associated with specific small communities, whether geographical peripheries or subcultures existing within center itself
- Small-town, local, or regional identity as a rallying point of resistance to colonial or imperial domination
- The fine line between preserving and honoring local traditions and practices (such as crafts, music, dance, religious ceremonies, etc.) and reducing them to commodities or easily-exportable stereotypes
- Utopian communities: must they be small in scale and/or located at the periphery?
- The effects of geographic displacement on small communities: the diaspora, the nomad
- The material effects of small town life: are small communities sites of physical stagnation, waste and decay, or “closer to nature” and therefore salutary? How have current movements celebrating the virtues of “living locally” affected our views on world literature and culture?

Abstracts of no more than 300 words, along with full contact information, academic affiliation, and CV should be submitted by email to by June 1st, 2009. Successful candidates will be informed by June 20th, 2009.

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