Nationalism and Apocalypse, Now and Then

deadline for submissions: 
December 15, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
University of Wisconsin-Madison English Graduate Student Association
contact email: 

Madison Graduate Conference on English Language & Literature 2018

Nationalism and Apocalypse, Now and Then


February 23-24, 2018


The University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison, WI


Keynote Speaker: Prof. Colin Dayan, Vanderbilt University



Scholars have more or less univocally rejected nationalism as a viable political program in the global north. The return of hardline nationalist political projects to the mainstream of political discourse suggests that, though we may be done with nationalism, it is not yet done with us. The Bush era in the United States saw a resurgence of American exceptionalism in response to September 11th. This is not to say that Americans ever stopped believing in their own national exceptionality, only that it rose to the status of a racialized, rhetorical wedge by which domestic and foreign policy could be effectively justified. The global financial crisis of 2008 brought nationalism back to center-stage in Europe, where the nation-state acted as the medium by which the “dead weight” of struggling members of the European Union were cut off, and blood-and-soil nationalism has returned to these places in kind. In more recent years we have also seen a proliferation of popular secessionist movements in places as diverse as the British Isles, Catalonia, Sudan, Kosovo, Myanmar and Rojava. How can humanistic scholarship help us to parse these recent developments and their effects? What, in short, is the relationship between political nationalism and cultural production, and how has the history of this relationship led us to this moment?

Implicated in all of this, meanwhile, is the renewal of an apocalyptic atmosphere not seen since the height of the Cold War. This has taken the classic form of a tacit and daily anxiety about outright nuclear conflict but also manifests in other ways: radar images of three large and voracious hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean cannot help but suggest that we have passed a tipping point for the maintenance of a habitable planet. In other sectors, certain Marxists read the rising degrees of automation and financialization in the world economy, the increasing inability of the labor market to accommodate the population of the globe, and the oppressive “solutions” to this problem in the form of mass incarceration and refugee crises as harbingers of the imminent collapse of capitalism. Is the simultaneous development of these eschatological worldviews a coincidence, or might there be an underlying reason for their rise? Are there ways of imagining the future that see in it a beginning rather than an end?

While they may be unique, the problems that confront us today are in no way new. The concepts and practices of nationalism and apocalypse have a long and troubled history about which much remains to be said. : how does this history contribute to the present and the way in which we understand it? How, conversely, does the history of the nation and of eschatology look in light of the developments we have sketched above?

For the 14th installment of MadLit, we seek to bring together graduate students from diverse fields to reckon with these urgent social problems. Our contention is that these are not only technical issues having to do with better or worse statecraft, better or worse governance---they also have deep implications for the study of culture. We take as this as our fundamental question: what happens when we think cultural production alongside nationalism and/or apocalypse? How does each term respond to and modify the others? We especially welcome papers that address the following topics:

  • The relationship of nationalism and/or apocalypse to aesthetic production
  • The role of the university in anti-nationalist political projects in the global north
  • The viability or desirability of nationalist political projects in the global south
  • The role of race, gender, and sexuality in the nationalist or apocalyptic imaginary
  • The history of the apocalyptic imagination in cultural production
  • Ways of imagining the future that depend on neither the apocalyptic nor the nationalistic, whether posthuman, communist, or liberal-democratic
  • Whether and how national categories persist in theories of world, transnational, or planetary literature
  • Legal discourses that grapple with the relationship of the nation to mass migration and diaspora
  • The role of ecology and the environment in eschatological imaginaries

Graduate students from any and all disciplines with research on these topics are encouraged to submit abstracts for:

  • Individual panel presentations of 15-20 minutes. Abstracts should include a title and a summary of your argument, and be no more than 250 words.
  • Self-organized panels comprising three presentations of 15-20 minutes. Abstracts should describe each presentation individually (as above), and describe the cohesion of the panel as a whole. No more than 850 words.

Please also include your name and institutional affiliation. Email abstracts as an attachment to by December 15, 2017.

We also invite submissions for the following special, semi-structured roundtable on the recent work of keynote speaker Colin Dayan:


Roundtable on Colin Dayan's With Dogs at the Edge of Life

A roundtable discussion on an excerpt from Dayan's With Dogs at the Edge of Life (Columbia UP 2015) and responding to her conference keynote. We will discuss how Dayan asks us to reconsider the 'human' in humanism, global politics, genres of writing, and the entanglements between animals and humans. Those interested in participating should submit 100-200 word proposals explaining how their research is relevant to the roundtable and outlining a few questions for the roundtable to consider. For questions or more details, contact Laura Perry