[NeMLA 2020 Panel] "Narrative Hysterics: Feeling and Form in Women's Experimental Fiction"

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Courtney Jacobs/ NeMLA
contact email: 

CFP: "Narrative Hysterics: Feeling and Form in Women's Experimental Fiction"

In a 2000 article for The New Republic, James Wood levied a now infamous critique against Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, calling it “hysterical” realism: a genre of novel whose exaggerated, self-conscious attention to formal strategy—an “excess of storytelling” (par. 11)—belies a lack of human depth and relatability. “Hysterical” novels, constituted as they are by various types of formal experimentation, require hours of careful attention and analysis and yet, according to Wood, neglect to affect, or move, their readers in return. Wood’s commentary on insincere and “unfeeling” experimental fiction from the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries coincides with the affective turn, a growing critical interest in how emotion, affect, and feeling are represented in and enacted through narrative. His critique invites a closer investigation of how emotion can function in postmodern and contemporary fiction that denies, as Ellen Berry puts it, “the familiar pleasures” (Women’s Experimental Fiction 5) of realist narrative strategies. And, in referring to complex narrative experimentation that lacks realistic depth as “hysterics,” Wood’s claim also warrants an interrogation of how the cultural politics of gender and sexuality shape and are shaped by narrative form. This panel, therefore, is interested in, specifically, exploring how formal experimentation (or “hysteria”) in fiction can invite a variety of engagements with feeling, affect, and/or emotion in contemporary Anglophone literature written by women.

This panel will be part of NeMLA 2020, the 51st Annual Convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association which will be held March 5-8, 2020, in Boston, Massachusetts. It invites papers that explore how affect, feeling, and emotion function in “hysterical,” or experimental Anglophone novels written by women from 1970 onward. Of particular interest are papers that investigate the gender, class, racial, and/or sexual politics of cognitive and/or affective approaches to reading emotion in literature.

Feel free to contact ccjacobs@ou.edu with questions or inquiries.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 250 words by September 30, 2019, using the NeMLA link: https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/login