CFP: [General] Servants, Service, and Servitude (11/30/07; collection)

full name / name of organization: 
Jennifer Lokash
contact email: 

Are You Being Served? Servants, Service, and Servitude in Fictionalized Worlds

Call for contributions for an edited essay collection (11/30/07).

>From Lucifer’s revolutionary and defiant declaration “non serviam” in Milton’s biblical epic, to
Stephen Dedalus’s provocative symbol for Irish art as “the cracked looking glass of a servant,” to
the morbid, pre-suicidal resolution of the protagonist in Villiers de l’Isle Adams’s symbolist
poem Axel, “As for living, our servants can do that for us,” the concept of and conditions for
servitude have changed from antiquity to the postmodern. Yet the basic relationship of service
remains archetypically entrenched in cultural production and the power dynamics that underpin
actual social relations. We invite original essay contributions that help to chart and explore the
evolution of the servant role and the role of servitude more generally, from the world of literary
and popular culture, to the often fraught relationship between poet and muse, to the concept of
writerly debt and other anxieties of influence. What does it mean to serve? Or to be served? As
the title of this proposed edited collection suggests, we are open to readings that engage a
broadly conceived notion of service and servitude from a variety of critical perspectives: literal
and figurative embodiments of service; psychological (symbolic) and material (bodily)
relationships of servitude; in any historical period and across all genres (and even disciplines).
For instance, the feudal concept of vassalage seems a far cry from the sexual servitude in sub-
dom relationships or the servant role Alice the maid plays in catering to the needs of The Brady
Bunch, yet we invite just such critically creative and far-reaching explorations of servants and
service: essays that will contribute original arguments to existing and ongoing scholarly
discussions about the fictional figuration of servitude in all of its forms.
 The tell-all publication of books by Princess Diana’s personal butler and a servant of the Queen
suggest that servant-employer confidentiality and loyalty has been compromised in our
contemporary climate of curiosity and the commercial market for insider gossip it generates. As
insiders, their stories become the rhetorical marketing of a more direct reality; unedited and
unscripted; what’s he like when he’s at home? The concept of servitude, however, dates back
through cultural and literary history. In fictionalized worlds servants have always been there to
bear witness to the actions and foibles of those they serve, as well as to reflect period-specific
ideological commitments. For instance, in Shakespeare servants not only fill a scene, but are also
enablers of star-crossed romance or act as comic go-betweens; in Gothic and Victorian novels
they are often the ones with the domestic resources and know all the hidden passageways; they
have become the clichéd patsies of the modern murder mystery genreâ€"“the butler did it”; it’s
always the butler; they observe through keyholes, overhear secrets from their positions in the
background, and chatter incessantly, serving the developments of plot; they provide buffers from
and access to the commonplace for the upper classes; they keep a house together, like a
narrative; as modern figures, servants (or their absence) often signal a change in social hierarchy,
especially as an efficiency-oriented modernity provides technological replacements for domestic
tasks; they form familial bonds of proletariat solidarity living full (other) lives in the privileged
postmodern spaces of servants’ quarters.

Please send 500-word proposals (or completed essays) and a brief c.v. to Bradley D. Clissold
( and Dr. Jennifer Lokash ( by 30 November 2007.

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Received on Tue Sep 25 2007 - 08:07:59 EDT