CFP Race and Metaphor, MLA Special Session (January 5-8, 2012, Seattle)

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MLA Special Session

As Toni Morrison observes in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1993), "Race has become metaphorical—a way of referring to and disguising forces, events, classes, and expressions of social decay and economic division far more threatening to the body politic than biological 'race' ever was. [...] It seems that it has a utility far beyond economy, beyond the sequestering of classes from one another, and has assumed a metaphorical life so completely embedded in daily discourse that it is perhaps more necessary and more on display than ever before" (63).

Morrison was not the first author to note the relationship between race and metaphor; Ralph Ellison's examination of white insecurity in "What America Would Be Like Without Blacks" (1970) highlights the historic validation that whites found in subordinating blacks: "Since the beginning of the nation, white Americans have suffered from a deep inner uncertainty as to who they really are. One of the ways that has been used to simplify the answer has been to seize upon the presence of black Americans and use them as a marker, a symbol of limits, a metaphor for the 'outsider'" (110-1).

In both Morrison and Ellison, the connection between race and metaphor becomes the means to demarcate the boundaries of inclusion and citizenship; the "utility" that Morrison connects to the metaphorical use of race refers to the implied assumptions within language that participate in maintaining the dominant ideology. In Ellison's case, the observation that African Americans exist as a "metaphor for the 'outsider'" points to the connections developed in language that accrue social and political power over time, all the more so as they move from conscious to unconscious application.

This panel is interested in investigating the connections between metaphor and race, examining the ways that language and cognition influence the interactions between different racial and cultural groups. It is open to papers focusing on the function of metaphor and race in individual works (poetry, prose, drama, film, etc.), papers addressing connections between race and metaphor from a theoretical perspective, as well as papers that engage both simultaneously. How, for example, do individual authors dismantle racial metaphors in their work, or unconsciously (or consciously) make use of racial metaphors to structure ideas across individual or collective works? Are there different strategies employed by different groups of authors in addressing the negative ways in which racial metaphors silently supplement texts as well as the larger national discourse surrounding race? Similarly, how can George Lakoff's and Mark Johnson's ideas concerning the mapping of the source and target of conceptual metaphors be applied to the metaphorical performance and function of race?

Please send abstracts and 1-page CV by March 1, 2011 to Thomas Morgan (

Race and Metaphor
MLA Special Session
January 5-8, 2012, Seattle, WA
Abstract Deadline: March 1, 2011