Contagion: 2016 Meeting of the Society for Comparative Literature and the Arts October 13th-15th 2016 Columbia SC

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Society for Comparative Literature and the Arts
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"It is as reasonable to represent one kind of imprisonment by another, as it is to represent anything that really exists by that which exists not." (Daniel Defoe, epigraph to Camus, La Peste)
Contagion has emerged as a dominant metaphor to describe the process of ideological transmission, a metaphor that has its own complicated history, extending back as far as Thucydides' account of plague in fifth-century Athens. Contagion elicits fears—fears of infection, quarantine, and death. Yet the concept of contagion, derived from the Latin verb contingo, indicating "touch" and "contact," also materializes social interactions in ways that can define communities ("affecting and upsetting collectivities" in equal measure, as Artaud famously observed). Extending beyond the realm of human interactions, contagion, as a phenomenon of exchange, describes contact between signifiers, texts, ideas, and cultures that frequently demonstrates the permeability of borders. The 2016 SCLA conference investigates what is at stake in defining something as "contagious": what can narratives of microbial transmission tell us about the cultures that produce them? What is to be gained by tracking processes of generic or ideological transmission? What are the dynamics of power at play in coding contagions as negative (Defoe's "imprisonment") or positive?

Can contagions empower communities in ways that counter the stigmatizing and marginalizing rhetoric surrounding infectious disease?

What can we learn by examining the transmission of discourse between genres as a process of contagion?

How can recognizing contagion of self (and other) destabilize our very notion of the border?

Individual paper or panel topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

theoretical contagions
modes of transmission
plague in literature and media
collectivity and crowd behavior
pedagogical contagions
"going viral"
gendering disorder
gender instability in the context of a pandemic
plague, status leveling, and democracy
pathologizing sexualities
political contagions
intertextuality as contagion
pestlilence and dystopia/utopia
endemic vs. epidemic disease


Panel and paper proposals related to the conference theme are especially encouraged, but all topics are welcome. Please submit panel proposals (500 words) and individual abstracts (250 words) by May 15th, 2016 to Please include in the body of the email your name, academic affiliation, status (grad student, faculty, etc.) and mailing address. For panel proposals, include the names, addresses, and affiliations of all participants.

Graduate students submitting a paper proposal may also apply for an SCLA Travel Scholarship.

Direct inquiries by email to Hunter Gardner at