Immoderation in literature, University of Tours, France, 11/27-28/2009, deadline 08/31/2009
Reading great philosophical texts too hastily might induce one to consider moderation to be an ideal of life—while Protagoras maintains that "man is the measure of all things," Epictetus stresses that "once beyond the measure there is no limit," and in his Thoughts Pascal asserts that "to leave the mean is to abandon humanity." Yet, as early as Kant, the excess inherent in immoderation became the necessary condition of beauty—"That is sublime which even to be able to think of demonstrates a faculty of the mind that surpasses every measure of the senses." The imagination thus overtakes the sense, which might partly explain why literature is drawn to immoderation. Could one not consider that this is specifically the very basis of all literary consideration of the world and what precisely makes literature a site of subjectivity? If measure is equivalent to objectivity, immoderation represents what enables the literary text to exceed mere discursiveness and formalist conventions by opening up the real to hesitation, affect and inconclusiveness.
One may assess that literary writing finds its reason and its raison d'être in its perpetually going beyond models and, more simply, its own means of implementation. "A novel is a novel so long as it shows an intention of being more than a novel, to such an extent that it exhausts the reader," Tiphaine Samoyault maintains. One may thus inquire into the way writers, through whatever textual infringement they generate, can be led to reconcile excess, disproportion, deformity and disharmony. In this context, form is to be considered an "instrument of knowledge" (Samoyault) by which each writer may wonder "how a formless form can be formalised" (Samoyault). The answer may be found halfway between philosophy and literature, in the Camusian paradox according to which "[t]he real madness of excess dies or creates its own moderation."
Taking the immoderate into consideration offers an opportunity to think about the relationship between quantity and quality. Why is "surplus [in literature] […] not numerical" (Derrida)? Literary excess is a phenomenon that also implies that the role of temporality in the text should be taken into account. How does the text integrate in its poetic economy continuity, incompletion, digression, transition and suspension? How does the literary text inevitably go beyond the formal, generic, representational and/or thematic territory already mapped out by its predecessors? What are the signifiers, syntactic markers and figures of speech proper to the immoderate? All the answers to these non-restrictive questions should enable one to question, or perhaps even go beyond, Calvino's maxim according to which "literature cannot live unless it is set an excessive, even unattainable, goal."
Groupe de recherche anglo-américaine de Tours (GRAAT)