Fragments of Touch: Haptic Readings and the Limits of Sensation

deadline for submissions: 
January 31, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
English Graduate Student Society Université de Montréal

 18th Annual Université de Montréal English Graduate Conference March 26- 27, 2021

In Corpus, Jean-Luc Nancy writes, “I know the difference between writing and flowery prose, but I know of no writing that doesn’t touch. Because then it wouldn’t be writing, just reporting or summarizing. Writing in its essence touches upon the body” (11). Writers engaged with the tactile in literature often address the materiality of texts, their musicality and resonance in the physical world, as well as their capacity to move readers emotionally. Yet touch and the haptic dimensions of texts originate in multiple textual and physical bodies/registers. Nancy distinguishes between the affective dimensions of writing and textuality’s strictly representational mode, where affect allows for shared readerly experiences rather than merely informational “reporting.” Instances of the haptic, in the work of writers such as Hélène Cixous, Gertrude Stein, Erin Moure, and Charles Olson, for example, highlight the proprioceptive qualities of language and the interactive nature of sound—how soundwaves touch us, move atoms in our bodies, and provoke somatic experiences through patterns and rhythms. Imagining this conference as a haptic intervention in a pandemic era marked by the absence of touch and the policing and politicizing of physical contact, the organizers invite scholars to think about how literature (and other cultural productions) address the communicative and ethical nature of touch or its absence.

Our conference seeks to highlight the place that touch, tactility, and physical contact, as well as isolation, absence, and distance between bodies (figurative, literal, enforced, or voluntary) occupy in a variety of cultural imaginaries. To that end, we invite students to explore works of literature, film, or visual arts that reflect upon the following questions: What is the role of touch–in all its meanings–in literature and how does it contribute to our understanding of somatic and/or metaphysical existence? How are issues of non-contact addressed in literature and other cultural productions? How is the act of reading or the critical impulse itself an exercise in overcoming these sensory barriers, of engaging in haptic exchange? How can narratives involving the loss of touch inform ontological questions about being and becoming? Finally, what does it mean to interact with reality via touch and sensory operations (i.e. phenomenology) or for reality to become untouchable or abstract?

The English Graduate Student Society (EGSS) at the Université de Montréal invites graduate students working in English or French on the notion of touch, broadly construed, from various disciplinary perspectives to submit papers for presentation at our annual graduate conference. Papers can consider a multitude of topics, ranging from bodies, the tactile, phenomenology, gender politics, (dis)location, sensory experiences, and processes of othering, to specific historical periods, themes, and genres such as the Victorian era, kinetic writing, fictional depictions of touch, modernist fragmentation, procedural/experimental writing, etc.

Submissions can come from a range of disciplines including: supernatural studies, pop-culture studies, speculative fiction, sci-fi, realism, surrealism, poetics, period studies, disability studies, gender studies, indigenous studies, non-canonical genres (graphic novels, fanfiction, etc.), queer studies, literary and cultural theory, digital humanities, film and visual arts, as well as other disciplines relevant to the fields.

We are asking those interested in delivering 15 to 20-minute presentations to submit abstracts of no more than 250 words by January 31, 2021. Please submit your application through the survey at the following link: https://forms.gle/QKWacVvhJnvXmTME9. For any queries, please feel free to email the organization committee at egss.conferences@gmail.com for more information.