CfP NeMLA 18: Keeping it Real in the Age of Post-postmodernism (Roundtable)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
NorthEast MLA
contact email: 

Postmodernism is clearly dead—its death and what follows it have been theorized in a myriad of different ways, most recently perhaps by the special edition of Twentieth Century Literature entitled Postmodern/Postwar—And After in the spring of 2016. The advancements of digital technology and the pressing need to look beyond the human and onto a planetary scale of existence are frequent explanations for recent shifts in literary and cultural production. But what explains the resurgence of novels written in the realist mode? Realism, the aesthetic project to achieve “realness” or “authenticity,” seems to stand in stark contrast with the ostensibly surreal or “science fictional” condition which characterizes life in the Anthropocene or the era of (very) late capitalism. Yet, fiction writing as well as other forms of (commercial) cultural production exhibit a renewed tendency to engage with “authentic experience” or the “reality” of material conditions. Indeed, many well-received recent works of literature, such as Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? A Novel from Life (2010) or Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle (2009-2011), explicitly address the question of how to achieve a status of realness or immediacy that is uninhibited by the language games or ontological indeterminacy that characterizes postmodernism. Similarly, popular cultural artifacts—ranging from commercials for beer to fashion trends in clothing, cars or bicycles—celebrate the simple, local and unadorned; popular culture too seems to follow a dictum, and demand of consumers, to “Keep it real.”

What are the determinants of the current social desire to “keep it real”? How do we explain the acute emergence in the 21st century of the phenomenon that David Shields has famously described as “reality hunger”?  This roundtable seeks to address these questions as they relate to literature and popular culture in the US and beyond. 

Thank you in advance for submitting your paper to this session! This is a roundtable, meaning that presentations should be brief (approximately 10 minutes) and the focus is on discussion. Abstracts of up to 300 words may be submitted until September 30th through NeMLA’s online system ( ). Decision e-mails will be sent by October 15th. NeMLA asks that accepted and confirmed panelists pay their membership/registration fees by by December 1, 2017 in order to present at the 2018 convention.