Representations of Disaster

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Department of French and Italian at the University of Pittsburgh

On the occasion of the Year of the Global at the University of Pittsburgh
The Department of French & Italian Presents:

Representations of Disaster
Call for Papers
An Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference
March 8-9, 2019

Keynote Speaker:
Dr. Deborah Jenson
Professor of Romance Studies and Global Health
Duke University

Reading of Belle merveille by Poet and Novelist James Noël

This conference aims to converse with disaster narratives and representations in French/Francophone and Italian literatures and media. We seek to explore the aesthetics of representations and narratives of disasters in a variety of mediums as a means to critically engage and historicize the myriad of stories about and around these events. Environmental disasters from The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, the 1966 flood of the Arno in Florence, to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and man-made disasters such as the Holocaust, 9/11, and the November 2015 Paris attacks have long captured literary and creative expression. The influx of representations of disasters and their continuous development through artistic production guides us in coming face to face with the challenges of telling others’ stories or telling about one’s own experiences. The University of Pittsburgh’s Year of the Global provides an opportunity to reflect on the multiple ways and forms of cultural production that attempt to make sense of the increasingly global scale of disaster.

In thinking of the aesthetics and ethics of disaster representations, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are great points in history to explore modern reflections on catastrophic events. Other periods of time are just as plentiful in their portrayals of disaster as we move from pre-modern to more contemporary landscapes. Through the works of Deborah Jenson, Maurice Blanchot, Catherine Rigby, Richard Watts, Marco Folin, and Monica Preti, we are acquainted with both a denotation of disasters as well as the various ways in which these events are rendered.    

Deborah Jenson’s essay “The Writing of Disaster in Haiti” (2010) suggests that the 2010 earthquake in Haiti has been “tested and remapped by disaster, [but it is not], in itself, disaster.” This is in contrast to Michel Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster (1980) which theorizes affective responses, such as grief, anger, terror, to refer to how “the disaster ruins everything, all the while leaving everything intact.” The interplay between disasters, destruction and reconstruction prompts to consider the destabilizing and (re)ordering forces that operate in the event of disasters and find expression in the artistic forms that recuperate and revisit them. Reflecting on disaster representations and narratives transhistorically and through varied forms of artistic expression will provide a broader comparative framework to consider how the Humanities can engage with more recent ecocritical perspectives and environmental concerns in thinking about disasters in political, social, and aesthetic terms.  

Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Disaster fiction and narratives
  • History and disasters
  • Disasters, media, and film
  • The ethics of disasters
  • Apocalyptic imaginaries
  • Nationalism, transnationalism
  • Postcolonial ecocriticism
  • Anthropocene
  • Migration, exile
  • Slow violence
  • Globalization
  • Poverty, labor
  • Slavery, rebellion
  • Time and temporalities of disasters
  • Teaching about Disasters
  • Post-disaster recovery and healing

Presentations will be limited to a reading time of 20 minutes (8-10 pages). Please send abstracts of 200-250 words, including department/affiliation in a word document to by January 15, 2019. Papers can be in English, French or Italian. Please include “Submissions: FRIT Graduate Conference” in the subject line of your email.