[ACLA 2018] The Rise of Autotheory, Inside and Outside the Academy

deadline for submissions: 
September 21, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Margeaux Feldman & Philip Sayers

“[E]ven the most abstract theories are, to varying degrees, informed by their subjective conditions of existence: by, that is, the inner psychic dynamics of the theorist” -- Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger

“[T]heory can do more the closer it gets to the skin.” -- Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life


In the quotations above, Stuart Hall and Sara Ahmed both make a case for attending to the ways in which the production of theoretical knowledge is tied up in the mind and body of the theorist. The past five years have seen an increasing number of published works that take up this same call to action, foregrounding theory’s basis in and connection to the lived experience of the theorist, and challenging the erasure of the personal within academic writing.

Maggie Nelson, following Paul B. Preciado, has referred to this emergent genre as “autotheory.” This seminar starts from the premise that autotheoretical writing does important work in shifting how we think about the relationships between the literary and the theoretical, between the personal and the political, and between the academic humanities and the wider world. This panel seeks critical engagements with autotheory that help trace these kinds of shifts. We are especially interested in:

  • Tracing autotheory’s aesthetic and political genealogy through the work of thinkers who preceded the birth of the genre as we know it today. This could include feminists of color (hooks, Lorde, Anzaldúa), French theory (Barthes, Deleuze and Guattari, Irigaray), Black Studies (Du Bois, C. L. R. James, Saidiya Hartman), New Narrative (Dodie Bellamy, Robert Glück, Kathy Acker), and other fields.

  • Locating autotheory in relation to other genres and modes: poetry, the novel, autofiction, memoir, confessional, film, visual art, performance, the essay.

  • Thinking through autotheory’s conditions of production in, beyond, and under the academy, as well as in relation to the increasing precarity of academic labor today.

  • Expanding the canon of contemporary autotheoretical writing. In addition to Nelson and Preciado, papers might consider the work of Barbara Browning, Christina Sharpe, Dionne Brand, Brian Blanchfield, Gail Scott, Wayne Koestenbaum, Claudia Rankine, Fred Moten, Chris Kraus, Sara Ahmed, Stuart Hall, and many others.

  • Understanding autotheory in a social context, as connected to particular academic fields (Black Studies, Queer Theory, Feminist Theory), particular networks and (using Fred Moten’s phrase) “study groups,” and particular publishers (Semiotext(e), Graywolf, Wave Books).

  • The challenges of writing and/or publishing autotheory for both creative writers and academics. How might a tenured professor’s production of autotheory differ from a graduate student’s engagement with the genre? Why might the division of “creative writing” versus “academic writing” be an outdated division?

  • Connecting autotheory to other related terms: what Maggie Nelson has called “wild theory,” or what McKenzie Wark refers to as “low theory,” for example.


For more details or to submit a paper proposal for this seminar, please visit: https://www.acla.org/seminar/rise-autotheory-inside-and-outside-academy