CFP: Mistakes, Mistranslations and Mendacity: The Logic and Language of Cosmopolitanism (ACLA 2010)

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ACLA 2010
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American Comparative Literature Association, 2010 Annual Meeting

April 1-4, 2010 (New Orleans)

Title: Mistakes, Mistranslations and Mendacity: The Logic and Language of Cosmopolitanism

Seminar Leaders:

Julia Ng (Northwestern University), Markus Hardtmann (Northwestern University), Tülay Atak (Rhode Island School of Design)

Contact: Julia Ng (


According to Kant, truthfulness is a moral obligation: man cannot use himself as a mere means, or "language machine" (Sprachmaschine), because he is bound to the inner end of communicating his thoughts. Yet in one of the foundational texts for the post-Enlightenment understanding of cosmopolitanism, Towards Perpetual Peace, Kant writes that the sovereign signatories of a future and lasting peace will, despite themselves, establish the possibility of a cosmopolitan alternative to mutually assured destruction out of the sheer and formal possibility of their uttering "right" in a truthful and meaningful manner. Structuring the promise on language's automatic communication of truth—machines, as it were, cannot lie—Kant opens up the possibility that cosmopolitanism might rest on a certain form of non-intentional language that tests the limits of autonomy.

Departing from but not restricted to the problem posed by Kant, this panel investigates "other" uses of language—mistakes, mistranslations and mendacity, for instance—as the linguistic conditions for the possibility of cosmopolitanism broadly conceived. As such, we especially welcome theoretical reflections on any period or literature that bear upon the "logic" of a cosmopolitan idea and its peculiar interplay with "languages" both formal and local at its foundation. If a certain kind of rationalism is commonly aligned with an abstract humanism suggestive of European hegemony, yet cultural relativism, its counterweight, is associated with nationalisms of varying degrees, then how might one characterize the uneasy position occupied by cosmopolitanism in between them in terms of logical modality, linguistic strategy and literary structure? Possible topics include: modern philology in exile; modernization and linguistic reform; the politics of constructing languages; projects, programs, and other counterfactual narratives; grammar wars; writing and rewriting perpetual peace.

Please submit paper proposals of up to 250 words by November 13 via the "submit a paper proposal" button on the ACLA 2010 page of the website, designating the name of this panel from the drop-down menu.