The Ethics of Narrative: Appropriation and Reinvention in Stories of Injustice (NeMLA 2021)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
NeMLA (Northeast Modern Language Association)
contact email: 

This CFP is for a seminar session at the 2021 NeMLA Convention.

Literature and film that bear witness to injustice can create space for voices that have been silenced. They can lead to the recognition of people subjected to human rights violations and produce shared national and transnational identities. They can draw readers’ attention back onto the politics and power of reading audiences. 

At the same time, witnessing texts, even with the best of intentions, can appropriate stories. Genre conventions can yoke complex and multifaceted experiences into pre-established narrative frameworks. The pressures of global cultural economies can also restrict the production and reception of these stories, as some kinds of narrative--such as narrative arcs that lead to rescue, redemption, or happy endings–circulate more easily than others.

This seminar examines the roles played by genres, narrative conventions, and traditional and innovative literary forms in bearing witness to suffering and human rights violations. In this way it explores the power of the humanities to help us understand one another’s lives and worlds and the ethical calls they make to us. 

This seminar seeks to engage some of the following questions: 

  • Is it possible to depict injustice in ways sensitive to the singularity of individual lives while remaining inside distinct genre boundaries? 

  •  Can genre conventions be separated from the power structures under which they are produced?

  • Does the marketing of these texts change their reception? Is there a way out of the commodification of literature that does not further disenfranchise authors and stories? 

  •  To what extent can audiences resist appropriating stories? To what extent can authors help audiences to resist appropriating stories? 

  • Does appropriation by audiences take the same forms as appropriation by authors/artists?

We welcome papers on all genres and media. Please submit 200-word abstract and a brief bio to Kelly Minerva and Lisa Propst through the NeMLA website, https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/.