CFP: “Automation,” Seminar for ACLA 2018 in Los Angeles

deadline for submissions: 
September 21, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
ACLA 2018; March 29 – April 1
contact email: 

2018 Annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association

University of California, Los Angeles

March 29 – April 1

Seminar: “Automation”

Abstracts due September 21, 9am EST; submit through the ACLA online portal.


Organizer: Jap-Nanak Makkar, University of Virginia (

According to psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch, an automaton incites a feeling of intellectual uncertainty in the beholder—“doubt as to whether an apparently animate object really is alive,” doubt that, for Sigmund Freud, amounted to an experience of das Unheimliche/Heimlich. If uncanny automatons raised questions about the role of science and progressive mechanization in early-twentieth-century continental Europe, then they perform a different role in the contemporary global world. Today, automatons, and their conceptual cousin, automation, sink beneath the domain of the visible. Far from being typified by an encounter with a nearly-animate object, automation generates parts of our material experience—as when algorithms trade on the global market, or programs connect soldiers in Nevada to a target in Pakistan.

This seminar invites participants to reflect on automation, in term of its long history and in terms of its contemporary instances. How does contemporary automation differ from the mechanical figures and wind-up dolls of the late nineteenth century? How does culture, literature and art respond to the imperatives to automate? How do distinct aesthetic modes—the Romantic, the Modernist, the Realist forms—fare against automation and contemporary scientism? How can “literature,” as a domain of experience, coexist alongside widespread technologization?

Papers may pursue the following lines of inquiry:

  • How does automation and technologization affect the humanities (panelists may address theoretical issues of of digitization, “informatization,” big data, and DH)?
  • What theoretical models are most helpful in the study of automation or computer culture (historicism, cultural studies, digital humanities, post-critique)?
  • What historical landmarks are critical for the study of automation?
  • How do particular political ideologies (liberalism, neoliberalism, etc.) contribute to a culture of rapid automation and technologization?
  • How can the comparative study of literature illuminate international approaches to technologies or science?
  • What phenomenal modes are operative in relation to historical or contemporary automation?

Please submit abstracts through the ACLA online portal, which opens Thursday, August 31st at 12pm EST and closes at 9am EST on Thursday, September 21st.  Submitters are advised, also, to familiarize themselves with the unique structure of the ACLA conference by visiting Please contact the seminar organizer with questions or concerns.