Reading Con(Text): Dynamics of Power and Subversion within Novels

deadline for submissions: 
November 1, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Language, Literature, and Interdisciplinary Studies (LLIDS)
contact email: 

Second half of twentieth century sees literary criticism interpreting the role of history, itself subject to interpretations bearing upon the kind of notion one has of history, as one of the dominant modes of creating ‘literature’ along with the persona of the artist. Oscar Wilde says that, “an artist is not an isolated fact, he is the resultant of a certain milieu and a certain entourage” – an assessment which is foregrounded in rise of the intellectual movements of Historicism, New Historicism, and Cultural Materialism during late 1970s USA and early 1980s Britain. Attempting to create a dialogue between literature and history these are at once a reaction against formalist disregard of historical contexts as well as a redefinition of the traditional Marxist base-and-superstructure strategy that could not produce a conspicuous metanarrative to explain particular art forms and the relative cultural and social practices involved in their production. Whereas New Historicism engaged itself with the visibility and operation of power in Elizabethan theatre along with an exploration of the elusive relations of domination and resistance within the socio-political and cultural contexts, Cultural Materialism conceives textual spaces, particularly novels, as constitutive of and contributing to the construction of popular beliefs and ideologies – an investigation that continues well into postmodern narratives – revolutionizing aesthetic forms and modes of expression as the representation of contemporary social conditions.

Despite significant overlapping with New Historicism that came around almost in the same period in America but from a different theoretical orientation (Foucault, Geertz, Derrida, et al), Cultural Materialism studies works of art as material expressions of human experience and ascribes the shift in literary trends to economic, political, social, and cultural conditions instead of the insights by an inspired genius. With this shift in the focus of humanist studies to cultural and political forces acting upon individual consciousness, the sociopolitical impact of literature on culture and vice-versa is investigated which culminates into a subversion of both idea and form. The “production of subversion,” writes Stephen Greenblatt, “is the very condition of power,” and here the texts, simultaneously both the products as well as components of socio-politico-cultural frameworks, become sites for engaging the binary of power and subversion to reveal ways in which power exerts itself surreptitiously through implicit ideological constructions within.  New possibilities of subversion are also created through dissident writings and critical readings thereby looking into the power struggles within the text and producing radical subcultures and oppositional groups of discussion which speak back to the dominant narratives of power. Critical readings of novels under the rubric of Cultural materialism regard them as alternate narratives within history, hitherto unnoticed or even silenced, which are revealed in/through specific historical conditions with their structures of production, consumption, and modes of reproduction.

Even as these movements’ ‘return to history’ attempts to bridge the gap between past and present by unmasking the ostensibly established standards of taste and literary sensibility, their fundamental interaction with ideological functions of texts paradoxically results in a compromise of the aesthetic potential of art. Under such intellectually mechanical forms of analyses literature becomes inclined to be reduced to deeply polarized political agendas. Moreover, while invoking the dominant ideological conceptions privileges a culturally authoritative text over the other marginal texts, it also provides an instance of contemporary power relations where the gap between canonical and marginal texts becomes more defined.

The Winter Issue of Volume 2 of LLIDS invites papers on reading novels through the critical purview of Historicism, New Historicism, and Cultural Materialism where the papers can focus on the following suggested themes with a complete freedom to go beyond:

  • Contribution of cultural materialism to Renaissance Studies
  • Textuality of history and the historicity of texts
  • Changing meaning of culture and art after cultural materialism
  • Cultural manipulation of literary texts
  • Impact of cultural materialism on the production of a text
  • Cultural materialism dealing with the issues of race, gender, class, etc.
  • Political v/s aesthetical considerations
  • Production of a text as a political strategy
  • Demystifying Literature as an industry
  • Subversion and Containment in/through genres of literature


Only complete papers will be considered for publication. The papers need to be submitted according to the latest guidelines of the MLA format. You are welcome to submit full papers (not less than 3500 words) along with a 150 words abstract, list of keywords, bio-note, and word count on or before 1st November, 2018. We appreciate authors sending us early submissions.

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