Experimental Narrative in Nonfiction

deadline for submissions: 
September 25, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
International Society for the Study of Narrative, Montreal, QC, April 19-22, 2018

Unnatural and otherwise strange narrative devices tend to be associated with experimental fiction, yet they are often used in nonfiction, including (auto)biography, documentary film, journalism, history and science. A few examples: Claude Lanzmann’s documentary Shoah eschews chronological telling in order to repudiate notions of historical causality and inevitability; Richard Dawkins’ history of life on earth, The Ancestor’s Tale,uses similar manoeuvers, if for very different reasons. Edna O’Brien’s memoir Mother Ireland deploys a dizzying range of tenses while shifting between first, second and third person narration; Jamaica Kincaid’s essay A Small Place addresses a tourist directly, implicating the reader in Antigua’s legacy of colonialism. Emmanuel Carrère’s true crime narrative L’adversaire toys with the conventions of the unreliable narrator, arguably in order better to understand the mind of a mass murderer; similar effects are achieved in Sarah Polley’s autobiographic documentary Stories We Tell, whichuses anachrony, multiperspectivism and carefully orchestrated reversals to question truth in life.

This proposed panel will explore how and why nonfiction uses “experimental or unnatural devices,” and the differences that obtain when these devices are used in nonfiction versus fiction. A wide range of nonfictional texts and genres will be considered; the ideal composition of the panel will be three or four papers focusing on different forms (for example, auto/biography, government reports, history, journalism, medicine, narrative essays, science, thought experiments, travel writing…). The panel is especially interested in papers that focus on a single narrative device (or a cluster of interrelated devices) and its function, formal properties, rhetorical effects, and relations to the fiction/nonfiction divide. However, any proposal investigating experimental devices in any form of nonfiction is welcome. Proposals from people beyond the humanities are also encouraged (so feel free to forward this CFP to scientists, policymakers, speechwriters, etc)...

The selected papers will be gathered as a panel proposal for the 2018 conference of the International Society for the Study of Narrative in Montréal, Canada (April 19–22, 2018). Please submit a proposal outlining your paper (250 words) and short biographical note to Daniel Aureliano Newman (McGill University, daniel.newman2@mail.mcgill.ca) by September 25, 2017.