Special Issue of Comparative Literature Studies on Complicity in Post-1945 Literature

deadline for submissions: 
August 10, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Will Norman
contact email: 


Special Issue of Comparative Literature Studies: “Complicity in Post-1945 Literature: Theory, Aesthetics, Politics”

We are soliciting article proposals for a commissioned special issue of Comparative Literature Studies that will explore the relationship between post-1945 literature and the problem of complicity. Complicity, derived from the Latin complicare - to fold together - is a state of entanglement with harmful acts over which one has little or no direct control. We take as our starting point the proposition that complicity became a distinctive historical problem in postwar societies and remains so today. It has significant implications for the practice of ethics, politics and law, as well as literary and aesthetic production. Works of literature represent relationships of complicity, but they also risk enacting or entering into complicit relationships themselves.

Public debate about complicity arose in the immediate postwar in response to questions of holocaust guilt, wartime collaboration, totalitarianism and mass society. As Hannah Arendt argued in her 1945 essay, “Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility,” the postwar subject faced a historically unprecedented dilemma: “if all are guilty, nobody in the last analysis can be judged.” In the following period, anxieties about complicity in large-scale systematic harms were manifest in numerous contexts, from the global decolonization movement and establishment of universal human rights law, to the international uprisings and countercultures of the late 1960s. In more recent times, complicity has become a key concern in critiques of neoliberal capitalism, as well as in responses to the “war on terror,” global warming and environmental catastrophe.

We welcome papers that address how works of postwar literature and literary criticism have entered into dialogue with these concerns. One important area for consideration will be the ways in which the analysis of historical instances of complicity impacts our thinking about the autonomy of the work of art. How are we to respond now to the impasse of cultural complicity with historical barbarism that Adorno and the Frankfurt School articulated in the 1940s and 50s? We are also interested in papers that investigate how works of literature might help us to reconceptualize complicity. While in the disciplines of law and philosophy much scholarship has addressed itself to defining complicity in terms of degrees and categories of culpability, works of literature have the potential to frame different approaches to complicity, for instance by articulating forms of modern subjectivity, or by using narrative to represent networks of responsibility across communities. How have particular literary works gone about this work and with what effects? How do particular literary forms, from novels and poems to essays, journalism and memoirs, address complicity distinctively? Do the Cold War, neoliberal economic policy, or environmental crises produce distinctive aesthetics of complicity, and if so, what do they look like?

Please send 500 word abstracts by email to the editors, Will Norman and Adam Kelly, at w.norman@kent.ac.uk and adam.kelly@york.ac.uk by 10 August 2018.