Unthinking Literacies (MLA 2022)

deadline for submissions: 
March 10, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Eunice Ying Ci Lim
contact email: 

In line with the 2022 Modern Language Association conference (6-9 January) theme of “Multilingualism”, this proposed special session invites papers that unthink literacies as they are represented in contemporary literature and culture, interrogates the enumerative approach towards languages that is seemingly implied in multi-lingualism, and the treatment of languages as discrete and distinct formations.

Borrowing from Julietta Singh’s generative call to unthink mastery (2017) as part of a larger decolonial movement, this session invites papers that foreground literacy as a legitimizing device and its implications on how literary merit and legibility are conceived. This call to unthink literacies also draws inspiration from Rebecca L. Walkowitz’s work on “born translations” (2015). Citing Catherine Porter’s 2009 MLA Presidential Address in which Porter argues for an intricate knowledge of languages that “involves knowing more – and also knowing less”, Walkowitz suggests an unknowing of languages that puts pressure on how knowledge is produced, while also suggesting at a form of uncountable multiplicity.

What is gained when we think about literature in terms of switching between languages and switching within languages, and what is lost? Is a text ever strictly monolingual or are texts always linguistic palimpsests – amalgamations haunted by the presence of other languages? How does literature not merely cross, but transcend linguistic borders, and what kind of language milieus and linguistic imaginaries arise when we interrogate unthinking literacies while also unthinking the convergent and divergent ways in which literatures and literacies are managed?

Potential topics on unthinking literacies include but are not limited to:

- language policy and education

- digital literacy; visual literacy; sound studies

- decolonial languages and literatures

- multilinguistic nationalism

- cartographic languages, linguistic cartographies

- glossolalia; fictional languages; language as fiction

Please send comments, queries, and/or 250-300 word abstracts, and 200-word bios by 10 March 2021 to Eunice Lim (exl435@psu.edu). All accepted speakers must be members of the MLA by April 1, 2021.