ACLA: Breaking Languages, Broken Subjects (New Orleans 1-4 April 2010; abstract by 11/21)

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American Comparative Literature Association
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The "breakage" of language, and the breakdown of communication that may ensue from this breakage, marks the borderlines between personal, social and cultural difference, but the defamiliarization and fragmentation of the self that this breakage may effect can also produce new visions of the self/other relationship and new communicative possibilities. The poet John Hollander begins a poem with the line, "nothing makes something happen." Language's failures and silences have been used as a starting place for epistemological possibility and recovery in literature from pre- to post-modernity, and are a main emphasis of writers as diverse as George Herbert, Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, Dionne Brand, and Judith Butler. While the failures of language are indicative of a loss of sanity in Woolf's work, Butler uses discursive failure as a starting point to establish a community based on a shared precariousness and vulnerability. Each of these writers is concerned with the relationship between subjectivity and language and with the breaking of language in order to render it useful to a project of producing a new subject position. Do hybridizations, creolizations, disruptions, interruptions and breakages of language enable new articulations of subjectivity? Or does the breakdown of language lead to a loss of identity and selfhood? What are the necessary linguistic reformations of the self that come with such a breakage? Should we consider the breakage of language as a fatality of which we are mere passive victims or as an empowering act to effect new articulations of the self? This panel aims to explore the connection between a poetic desire to break language in the interest of understanding the relationship between the interior and exterior of both language and subjectivity.


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