Liquidity: "Unpathed Waters, Undreamed Shores"

deadline for submissions: 
March 13, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
SFU English Graduate
contact email: 

Simon Fraser University English Graduate Conference 2017 - Liquidity: “Unpathed Waters, Undreamed Shores”

Location: Vancouver, BC / Conference date: July 7-8


From this perspective, water is no longer a singular, external object, but rather a material that animates us, and that we in turn animate. [...] water is no longer just something out there, but is very much the majority of what is in here, perpetually moving in a temporal flux.     - Rita Wong, “Waters as Potential Paths to Peace”

Water, water, everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink.     - Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Be water, my friend.    - Bruce Lee, A Warrior’s Journey


Exploring water as a dialectic, SFU English’s 2017 graduate conference asks: how does water’s material power relate to its conceptual power? In many Indigenous ontologies, the two are inextricable as water constitutes the material means of thinking and feeling our way through our inter-relationships with others and the Earth. As stressed by voices from the ongoing #NoDAPL movement, water is under continual threat of capitalist and colonial destruction, and if it disappears or is contaminated, we lose not only a life-sustaining material, but a method of thought and a source of being. In the local context of British Columbia, this idea bears a particular urgency expressed through the poetics, protest movements and Indigenous truth speaking that have surrounded recent events such as the construction of the Site C Dam and the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain expansion project.

Yet, in opposition to Indigenous ontologies of water, does there exist an increasing separation between the conceptual and material aspects of water in the discourse of late capitalism? If so, what are the consequences? Hito Steyerl’s 2016 installation Liquidity, Inc. at the Vancouver Art Gallery positioned water’s dynamic linking of people and things together against its continued reappropriation into the vacuity of neoliberal rhetoric, where assets are more valuable, markets more powerful and workers more flexible if they can embody liquidity. As Steyerl’s project suggests, not only is water suffering from material exploitation, but also from discursive instrumentalization, as its patterns of being are incorporated as emptied-out jargon in various fields of discourse.

If there is a current distillation of the material and conceptual properties of water, how do we trace this separation within literary, cultural and historical trajectories? In the medieval and religious literature of the Western canon, to force a distinction between the material and the conceptual would be anachronistic, e.g. the wine and blood of Christ were one and the same. Through subsequent literary periods, water persists as a symbol with an unwieldy agency, from its noncompliance in washing the blood from Lady Macbeth’s hands to its simultaneous cruel and enlivening restoral of dull roots in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland to its position as a central image in contemporary ecocritical poetics. Along these lines, this conference looks to place water’s current material precarity in discussion with the multiplicity of its cultural, historical and rhetorical positionings, while bearing in mind the fundamental differences between these positionings. Is there a method by which to borrow from water's conceptual repertoire in a way that retains traces of its material power?

We invite work from all literary genres that follows any actual and/or metaphorical traces of water. Some ideas for topics might include (but are definitely not limited to):

- shores, margins, and fluidities between genres, disciplines, and discourses

- textual fluidity and variance (both historically and in new media, Digital Humanities)

- the contemporary discursivity of water and water-dominated aesthetics (eg. Vapourwave and Seapunk)

- fluid identities (in regards to class, gender, etc.)

- the role of water in certain Indigenous storytelling and rethinking territorial struggle

- migrancy and reconfigurations of the nation along trans-oceanic flows of people

- (post)colonialism, and the ocean’s role in imperialism, trade, and colonialism

- Critical Race theory (e.g. tidalectics, the Black Atlantic, transpacific diasporas)

- ecocriticism, the anthropocene, and petrocultures

- Digital Age metaphors (The Cloud, streaming, websites being flooded with waves of hits, etc.)

- religious allusions to water

- bodily fluidity in early modern medicine and scientific thought (such as humoural theory)

- perceptions of water through the Romantic lens

- psychoanalysis and the stain

- waterfronts, sewage, and other water systems in urban centres

- economic liquidity and capitalist crises (“disaster capitalism”)

- Canada’s 150th: “Sea to shining sea”

- and wherever the water may lead...


Proposals should be no more than 250 words and presentations limited to 15-20 minutes. Submit a proposal and short biography to by the deadline of March 13, along with a note if you require AV setup. We encourage any queries about the CFP or conference, including the suitability of paper ideas.

In addition to academic papers, we are also seeking creative works for a creative night following the conference. Please submit a short description of the piece(s) or performance (100 words maximum), along with the title and genre of the work to by the same deadline.