The Fine Art of Commenting on Books that Don’t Exist: A Borgesian Experiment

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
NeMLA - Baltimore, MD, March 23-26 2017
contact email: 

Borges once cheekily wrote, “Writing long books is a laborious and impoverishing act of foolishness…A better procedure is to pretend that those books already exist and to offer …a commentary.” Indeed authors as varied as Borges, Lovecraft, Dick, Apollinaire, Lew, and Asimov placed completely fictional books at the center of their own literary universes. That would make a fascinating panel, but that is not this panel. Rather, what this panel seeks are academic-style works of literary theory and criticism which take as their primary texts completely fictional novels, stories, movements, authors, and films. This panel is interested in the lost Arthurian play of Shakespeare, the Downtown scene of 1970s Akron punk, the epic American poetry of Enoch Campion, and the 1975 Afro-futurist Blaxploitation biblical film Akhenaton, all of which I made up. For this panel I’d ask you to make up your own completely fictional literary texts, and to write analysis and commentary as if they were real. This will not be done as part of a tired parody of academic discourse (at least not on its own), but rather with the abiding belief that criticism and theory are their own branch of creative writing, and never is this more clear, pure, or true than when the texts under consideration are themselves completely made up. Papers focusing on any nationality or time period (real or imagined, past or future) are welcome, as on any genre or form (again, real or imagined). This is an admittedly strange exercise, but one, which I hope, will demonstrate that the purest literary criticism can focus on literature that isn’t even real. Please submit 300 word abstracts to Ed Simon of Lehigh University, at, and to the Northeastern Modern Language Association’s online submission form by September 30, 2016.