CFP: [Cultural-Historical] Cool Writings: Theorizing Coolness in Twentieth-Century Literature. NEMLA (09/15/2008, 2/26/2009)

full name / name of organization: 
Alexander Moffett
contact email: 

        There have been a number of intersections between American literature and
“cool” 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
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.
Stearns’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 culture’s standpoint on matters of aesthetics and
politics. In other words, coolness is a certain kind of epistemological
posture; it is a performance of one’s relationship to knowledge. In this
aspect, the concept of coolness begins to intersect with Pierre Bourdieu’s
definition of habitus, a “system of durable, transposable dispositions,”
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 subject’s
cool attitude. Additionally, expressions of cool tend to rely on the
rhetorical device of irony, a strategy that aligns them with Linda
Hutcheon’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 “cool literature,”
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:

• coolness and postmodernism
• coolness as a mechanism of cultural assimilation
• the relationship between coolness and power
• Victorian “cool”
• coolness and the Harlem Renaissance
• coolness and irony.
• connections between coolness and poststructural literary theory
• trans-Atlantic or postcolonial coolness

Please send 250-500 word abstracts to Alex Moffett
( by September 15th.

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Received on Sat Sep 06 2008 - 15:51:16 EDT