Scepticism and Doubt Across Cultures of Crisis: (ACLA panel) March 29 - April 1 2012

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American Comparative Literature Association Annual Conference
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Are unhappy ages, and their literary productions, less alike than happy ones? In Two Ages, Kierkegaard says that ‘In an era of negativity the authentic ironist is the hidden enthusiast’. For J Hillis Miller in The Disappearance of God, meanwhile, Victorian literature is animated by a more dynamic sense of doubt than that celebrated by the modernists who took God’s disappearance and other catastrophes for granted. Both these comparative examinations of pessimism suggest that every age has its own sense and its own rhetoric of crisis; and that crisis-born scepticism is interesting in proportion to its degree of doubt and uncertainty, to the contingency of its gestures towards a reclamation of faith.

But when our authors talk of doubt, pessimism, anomie, disbelief, scepticism, suspicion, contingency or indeterminacy—those recurring heuristics of the investigation of cultural crisis—do they mean the same things? If philosophers distinguish between a multitude of models of faith, for example, must there be a distinct model of doubt in opposition to each one? If the idea of disbelief is applied to the loss of faith in two different premises, meanwhile, in what ways can we say that the experience of disbelief is distinct in each case?

This seminar aims to ground such culturally comparative work by examining fine distinctions and connections among the literary forms of doubt and scepticism that emerge from different times and places in crisis.

As well as comparative analyses and contextual readings of literary works, it seeks papers that parse these conceptual relationships in such a way as to address questions like:

- Are cultural products of crisis ever free from a rhetoric of uncertainty?
- Are forms of doubt or rhetorics of crisis culturally translatable?
- Are negatory terms/strategies – disbelief, scepticism, nihilism - modulated by context in the same way as positive ones – faith, investment, belief?
- Why certain forms of literature as a response to certain forms of cultural pessimism?
- Does doubt provide a different ground for action in different contexts?


ACLA conference seminars seek 8 or 12 participants to meet together across 2 or 3 daily 2-hour sessions. Attendance of the full seminar is required of all presenters. Papers for this seminar will be selected to give as wide a coverage of eras, genres and geographies as possible.

Please submit paper-proposals of up to 250 words via the ACLA 2012 website, specifying ‘scepticism and doubt across cultures of crisis’ on the ‘seminar’ menu: . The overall conference deadline for paper submissions has been extended to Nov 15, and that of course applies to submissions for this seminar.

cfp categories: 
modernist studies