Writing and dramatising the body : violence, discordance and reconfiguration in English-language literature and drama

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Université Charles de Gaulle - Lille 3 (Lille, France)

Should violence be considered as one of the experiences the body undergoes in literature or as an ordeal which elicits the very question of what this body is – a body which is mapped in language and speech. As a result of the violence that it undergoes, inflicts or self-inflicts, the body grapples with something which is not simply outside itself: it discovers its own foreignness, its own discordance. It rebelliously slips through the categories in which one attempts to contain it, but it also defies the biological body to which it cannot be reduced. What does a body do when, for no apparent reason, it breaks, splits, is pulled asunder, petrified? What happens when the part usurps the whole or the whole body is reduced to nothing, mere refuse? What occurs when the human body encounters the inhuman and becomes an animal, machine, automaton or doll? If an organism 'functions', the body on the other hand experiences suffering or jouissance, the two sometimes sharing a disturbing intimacy. Could the body also be essentially defined as that which holds together no matter what?
Clearly then the focus should move beyond the body as it is represented in the text to an understanding of how this affects the actual representation, and, more generally, writing and reading. What use are words for a body which cannot escape symbolisation but which nevertheless remains resistant and foreign to it? Is it possible that by endlessly imagining, inventing and reconfiguring, writing in turn violates the body or is writing, on the contrary, capable of accounting for the otherness which inhabits the body? As a site of difference, is not the text one entry to the enigma which the body constitutes? And as it is also a fabric, a canvas, a mesh, is not the text in a position, if need be, to stand in for a failing body threatened by dislocation and collapse? Some parts of the body are particularly solicited by the act of writing and that of reading: the hand, the eye, the ear. We could consider precisely how each of these elements shapes the text from the moment that one accepts to no longer reduce it to a semantic configuration. The body which is brought into play can do without a real stage, but it can also come into being by treading the boards. One might attempt to think (of) the body in terms of presence and absence and, when it comes to theatrical production, of the erasure or the assertion of the body in its own materiality. Aside from the specificities which might distinguish fiction, drama and poetry, the question of genre/gender comes to the fore in the emphasis laid on an eroticised, sexualised, gendered body, which violence prods with particular force: the political and aesthetic issues at stake in the construction and representation of the gendered body are therefore also of chief interest.
These angles of approach are, of course, non-exhaustive and we would welcome papers dealing with these and other issues. Proposals for papers (preferably in English) of 300-500 words should be sent, together with a short CV, to Alexandra Poulain (alexandra.poulain@univ-lille3.fr), Fiona McCann (fionamccann@univ-lille3.fr), Pascale Tollance (pascale.tollance@univ-lille3.fr) before 15 January 2012.