UPDATE: [International] The construction of the subject (updated)

full name / name of organization: 
Anne Besnault-Levita
contact email: 

From: Anne Levita <annelev_at_sas.upenn.edu>
Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2007 03:26:12 -0500 (EST)
Université de Rouen, Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines
1 rue Thomas Becket, 76821 MONT-SAINT-AIGNAN CEDEX

The construction of the subject
International and interdisciplinary conference

Call for papers

This conference aims at investigating possible interrelationships involving the fields of modern
and ancient languages (German, English, Spanish, French, Greek and Latin), the current
theoretical practice found in Linguistics, together with the critical thinking stemming from
Philosophy, Literature and History. The topic is both central and very large, an evidence of our
modernity’s concern with the quest for the reappropriation of our history: the construction of the
What is the share of language in the formation of our subjectivity? Are we primarily speaking
beings, to the point where language seems to be obviously “ granted ” to the subject, or does the
subject possess some intrinsic capacity to “create” itself as such, by exploiting the resources of
social, historical and cultural life, with language, in that case, figuring as only one constitutive
element among others in its creation? Only historicized researches and inquiries can provide
ways of addressing these issues.

In the field of linguistics, the use of the metaterm construction instead of structure reintroduces
the notion of the subject, set aside by structural and functional approaches (apart from its
morphosyntactic meaning of combining linguistic units). On an intralinguistic level, it makes it
possible to revive the epistemic tradition influenced by informational dialectics and logic, as the
notion of the subject is central to enunciative linguistics as well as pragmatics, socio- and
psycholinguistics, which give a theoretical status to the speakers as conceptualizing origins of
utterance and interpretation in given linguistic and extralinguistic contexts. As far as the linguist
is concerned, the aim of this international multidisciplinary conference is to trace back the
building-up of the notions of subjectivity and subjecthood, and to question the relevance of
dealing with the subject (as speaker/utterer, hearer/co-utterer, syntactic subject, subjective
source or target, etc.) in terms of theoretical construct on the one hand, and of intersubjectivity
(when dealing with discourse interaction) on the other hand. Thus each term of the conference’s
topic â€" the construction of the subject â€" should be analysed critically in the papers.

Ideas have a history, and how has the subject constituted itself through history? In the 17th
century the subject, yet seen as an abstraction, consciousness, became the enabling condition of
all experience and knowledge. Even the existence of God depended upon the primary evidence of
the cogito. Nothing could be (whether an idea or a worldly material object) without being present
within consciousness, indeed, without being fashioned by it. But the Je pense (I think) does not
bound what is regarded today as a subject from the point view, among others, of psychology,
sociology, or even civic identity. Not until the 18th century was “ individualism ” really
“ invented ”, along with the rights of man and of a citizen. In a way still closer to our habits of
thought, that age located in the singularity and the particularity an inexhaustible productivity,
dynamism and intentionality. Similarly, it assigned at once to literature and literary analysis, to
psychology and the human sciences, the central - and infinite - task of “ discovering new
mechanisms in the unfathomable functioning of the soul ” (Schiller). Hence the subject as
individuality was considered as an inexhaustible “ interiority ”, a dynamic in and unto itself, an
experience forever to be enacted. Now, does our contemporary subject remain defined by that
philosophy and that ideology of the individual or transcendental subject set up at the time of our
nascent modernity ? Or, should we not ask today, inverting the perspective, how the analysis of
social and political phenomena throws into doubt the very notion of subject?

In literature, the focus might be upon the theoretical and critical history of the relation of
literature to the subject (were the acts of writing and reading, at all times, seen as essential
experiences for the subject?). Another question might be the manner in which literature stages
the process of constructing subjects: authors, characters or narrators, and readers as subjects.
The exercise will then involve questioning the nature of such constructions, the identity of such
subjects (collective or singular, psychological, social, anthropological...) and, lastly, the way in
which literature creates a truly intersubjective space, not to be reduced to a juxtaposition of
subjectivities, a turning inward verging on self-recognition.


Please email proposals (150-300 words) before 20 th January 2007 to:

Natalie Depraz, Dpt de philosophie, natalie.depraz-at-univ-rouen.fr
Anne Besnault-Levita, Dpt d’Anglais, annelev_at_club-internet.fr

Notification of acceptation : early March 2008

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Received on Sat Dec 29 2007 - 12:24:57 EST