MFS Special Issue: "Anglophone Literature, Its Critics, and the Left"

deadline for submissions: 
July 1, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Modern Fiction Studies
contact email: 

Anglophone Literature, Its Critics, and the Left  

Guest Editor: Peter Kalliney, University of Kentucky
Deadline for Submissions: 1 July 2020

The relationship between the political left, global literature in English, and its criticism has been fractious throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In “Writers and Leviathan,” George Orwell argues that writers should never lend their talents to political causes. A few years later, Doris Lessing writes in “The Small Personal Voice” that writers of fiction must cultivate an inner aesthetic conscience that recognizes how truth always seem to crisscross ideological lines. A few decades on, Salman Rushdie, who viciously satirized Margaret Thatcher in The Satanic Verses, revised his stance, quipping, “I think better of the Tories for this trivial reason: They saved my life.” Writers with progressive politics in one context are prone to complication, equivocation, retraction, and revision as circumstances change.

Critics, like writers of fiction, are rarely in agreement about how literary criticism might serve the left. The questions have changed over time as feminist and socialist approaches to writing have confronted coalitional politics of the new social movements: anticolonialism, antinuclearism, antiracism, environmentalism, LBGTQ concerns, and animal rights gradually became mainstream progressive causes. In literary studies, many of the most influential methodological approaches of the second half of the twentieth century—cultural studies, feminism, queer studies, psychoanalysis, structuralism and especially poststructuralism, New Historicism, several variants of Marxism, and postcolonialism—all had significant investments in what might be conceived, broadly, as a politics of the left.

The tenor of these critical debates has shifted in the last two decades or so. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick was among the first to call for change by asking for “reparative” against “paranoid” reading. In Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue that global capitalism has outflanked progressive strategies of representation. A few years later, Bruno Latour also noted this shift in a somewhat different register in “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” in which he wonders if critiques of Enlightenment principles of scientific reason make sense now. Variants of these positions are now fairly widespread among progressive critics of literature. Amanda Anderson, Lauren Berlant, Rita Felski, Bruce Robbins, and Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best are among the prominent voices who argue that progressive literary critics have been slow to refashion their methods to meet the challenges of a new century. If liberalism is best when it is bleak, if optimism survives because it is cruel, or if reading is most nimble when it works along the seams of textual surfaces instead of picking them apart, then what is there to be rescued from the scrapheap of critical methods once associated with the left?

This special issue asks contributors to consider the relationship among texts, critics, and progressive politics. Does it make sense any longer to ask if anglophone writers are allied with, neutral toward, or skeptical of a politics of the left, as I do earlier in this call for papers? What does the history of twentieth-century fiction teach us about the development of literature at the present time? Are there political problems that fiction understands particularly well or others that it is prone to misrepresent? How do texts represent newer political debates, such as environmental activism and the rights of migrants, alongside more established causes, such as class redress, gender parity, and racial equity? Should progressive critics read fiction with or against the grain?

Essays should be 7,000-9,000 words, including all quotations and bibliographic references, and should follow the MLA Handbook (8th edition) for internal citation and Works Cited. Please submit your essay via the online submission form at the following web address:

Queries should be directed to Peter Kalliney (