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40th Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
Feb 26-Mar 1, 2009
Cool Writings: Theorizing Coolness in Twentieth-Century Literature
There have been a number of intersections between American literature and
â€œcoolâ€ subcultures in the latter half of the twentieth century. From the
Beats of the 1950s to the poetry slams of the 1980s and 1990s, literary
scenes have often developed symbiotically with countercultural artistic
communities. However, the deeper connections between twentieth-century
literature and the coevally developing American (and subsequently global)
attitude of coolness remain largely unexplored.
Social historian Peter Stearns crucially reconfigures the chronology of
American coolness by tracing its development to the 1910s and 20s.
Stearnsâ€™s analysis traces the origins of coolness in a reaction against a
Victorian social culture that encouraged exaggerated emotional response.
But coolness is more than an emotional valence. It is also both a metric
of approbation and a performative stance that positions a subject in
relation to a dominant cultureâ€™s standpoint on matters of aesthetics and
politics. In other words, coolness is a certain kind of epistemological
posture; it is a performance of oneâ€™s relationship to knowledge. In this
aspect, the concept of coolness begins to intersect with Pierre Bourdieuâ€™s
definition of habitus, a â€œsystem of durable, transposable dispositions,â€
that generates cultural practices.
Literature is an especially fruitful site for exploring this issue, since
coolness possesses such a significant textual dimension. For instance,
coolness tends to be marked by a tendency towards laconicism. It is often
characterized by a specialized argot, one that demonstrates the subjectâ€™s
cool attitude. Additionally, expressions of cool have often tended to rely
on the rhetorical device of irony, a strategy that aligns them with Linda
Hutcheonâ€™s definition of postmodern fiction.
This panel will seek to explore new directions in scholarship on the
representations or manifestations of coolness in literary texts. It will
eschew papers that concentrate solely on established â€œcool literature,â€
such as the Beat poetry, and it will also not be limited to American
literature specifically. Instead, the panel will examine coolness as a
global phenomenon by emphasizing theoretical or historical approaches to
development of this particular attitude.
Possible paper topics include:
â€¢ coolness as a mechanism of cultural assimilation
â€¢ theoretical connections between coolness and power
â€¢ coolness and postmodernism
â€¢ Victorian â€œcoolâ€
â€¢ coolness and the Harlem Renaissance
â€¢ coolness and irony
â€¢ connections between coolness and poststructural literary theory
â€¢ trans-Atlantic or postcolonial coolness
250-500 word abstracts to Alex Moffett (amoffett_at_providence.edu) by
September 15 2008.
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Received on Thu Jul 17 2008 - 20:27:57 EDT