Radical Elegy: Memorial Praxis for Precarious Life

deadline for submissions: 
September 20, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
David Sherman, Brandeis University

ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association), March 7-10, 2019, Georgetown University, Washington DC

Radical Elegy: Memorial Praxis for Precarious Life


This seminar addresses elegy as a performative repertoire in political extremity.  Elegy, at a radical pitch, occupies public space and public memory to resist forgetting, a second death.  How have expressive practices to and for the dead generated ideas of justice, bonds of solidarity, ethical responses to violence, and communities of contested memory?


Radical elegy is a symbolic and material practice for precarious life to affirm community with the precariously dead.  As memorialization, mortuary practice, and political tactic, at once, radical elegy asserts the value of the dead against the hostile symbolic systems presiding over vulnerable bodies.  How can we describe the forms and techniques—improvised, emergent, jagged, thrilling—that afford elegy its most charged political functions?  How is elegiac poetry in conversation with other political gestures and memorial acts?  What cultural translations, folk recuperations, and media innovations have empowered elegy as a political tactic?


This seminar considers elegiac practice in terms of mortuary politics, under the rubrics of social crisis, state violence, cultural domination, and struggle for recognition.  Papers can address any expressive practice to, for, or about the dead relevant to the seminar’s attempt to conceptualize radical elegy.


Possible topics:

  • the politics of apostrophe
  • corpses and representation
  • Ubi Sunt traditions in new contexts
  • grief, mourning, and public protest
  • names as memorial objects; emergent aesthetics for saying the names
  • elegy at the edge of poetry
  • contested burial grounds
  • imagining ancestors and political solidarity
  • elegy as discourse of justice
  • form and anguish; performance and despair; eloquence and anger
  • repatriation and cultural politics
  • elegy’s publics
  • elegy and the politics of time; anticipatory elegy; radical historicisms


Send proposals by September 20, 2018, to David Sherman at davidsherman@brandeis.edu.