CFP: [American] Architecture and the Unhomely in American Fiction (9/15/07; NEMLA, 4/10/08-4/13/08)

full name / name of organization: 
Jennifer D. Ryan
contact email: 

Call for Papers

39th Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 10-13, 2008
Buffalo, New York

(Un)Safe as Houses: Architecture and the Unhomely in American Fiction

Literary representations of architectural spaceâ€"the house, in
particularâ€"serve as an important means by which American authors explore
contemporary social anxieties. While the house as a literary device may be
more familiar to us from popular horror fiction such as Jay Anson’s The
Amityville Horror, Stephen King and Peter Straub’s Black House, and Anne
Rivers Siddons’s The House Next Door, it also helps to structure texts as
diverse as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, Laura
Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie series, and Edgar Allan
Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” These examples highlight, however,
the house’s primarily domestic functions, positioning it as a repository
for or reflection of human misdeeds. Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw
and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House introduce a new stage in
the evolution of this trope by attributing sentience and agency to the
physical structure itself. Drawing on Freud’s notion of the unheimlich, or
“unhomely” (i.e., not friendly, familiar, secure, or domesticated), Anthony
Vidler identifies certain buildings’ resistance to domesticity as an
inhospitality intrinsic to modernity. Brian McHale’s theorization of “the
world next door” acknowledges the pervasiveness of this architectural theme
in twentieth-century fiction, proposing that an unhomely house articulates
a kind of dual ontological paradigm featuring “on one side our world of the
normal and everyday, on the other side the next-door world of the
paranormal or supernatural” (73). The title edifice of Mark Z.
Danielewski’s 2000 novel House of Leaves, for example, embodies both
meanings of Freud’s term in its need to expose characters’ private secrets
(in the less common sense of the word, heimlich also signifies “private,
concealed, and withheld”) even as it manifests an overt hostility toward
their everyday domestic pursuits.

This panel explores the ways in which fictional houses raise key
ontological questions about literature’s historical and cultural functions.
 Theorists like Fredric Jameson have linked late-twentieth-century
developments in architecture specifically to postmodernist concerns;
earlier appearances of literary houses signal similar engagements with
contemporary society and culture. Fictional architecture has also become a
central topic in literary studies. Paper proposals should address the
house in twentieth-century American literature with attention to relevant
historical contexts, cultural concerns, and/or literary movements. Special
consideration will be given to proposals that examine the intersections of
identity factors such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality and
a house’s particular signs of the unhomely, undomestic, or unfamiliar.

Please include a 300- to 500-word abstract in the body of an email message
to: Jennifer Ryan, English Department, Buffalo State College
<>. Please include with your abstract: name and
affiliation, postal address, email address, telephone number, and A/V
requirements (if any).

Deadline: September 15, 2007. The complete Call for Papers for the 2008
Convention will be posted in June:

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Received on Fri Aug 10 2007 - 18:17:09 EDT