Polygraph 29 "Narrative and Crisis"

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Polygraph Journal
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Call for Papers

Polygraph 29 “Narrative and Crisis”

A range of scholarship has begun to investigate the relationship between cultural form and the internal limits of capitalist reproduction. Whether drawing on bourgeois economists’ theories of “secular stagnation” or Marxist accounts of the falling rate of profit, the question of capitalist crisis has set the agenda for much recent literary theory and criticism. Specific to these contributions is an understanding of crisis not as a singular, cataclysmic event, but rather a prolonged experience of impasse or slow decomposition. Deploying the “long downturn” of the global economy since 1973 as a periodizing framework, this work has examined how the limits to accumulation have meaningfully shaped a variety of aesthetic forms. Sianne Ngai’s Theory of the Gimmick, for instance, reads its titular aesthetic category as encoding the “the limits to accumulation and expanded reproduction that expose capitalism to crisis.”  Joshua Clover has argued for the importance of poetics (rather than narrative) for grasping the spatialized dynamics of late capitalism. And Leigh Claire La Berge and Annie McClanahan have each recently analyzed cultural phenomena from “socially engaged art” to the televisual genre of the “tipwork picaresque” in relation to the ongoing diminishment of the formal wage since the early 1970s.  

Building on the questions raised by this recent scholarship, the 29th issue of Polygraph explores the relationship between narrative and economic crisis. In the context of this efflorescence of Marxist cultural criticism, which often focuses on non-narrative objects and forms, this issue will explore questions of narrative in a period often described as non-developmental, stagnant, or permanently crisis-ridden. If some allege that narrative is no longer adequate to the contemporary moment, how does narrative form internalize or negotiate its own supposed waning? How does the ongoing crisis of capitalism pose anew the question of narrative’s relationship to literary categories like genre, character, and style? In what ways have recent experiments in narrative form—from the rise of autofiction to the “network aesthetics” of serial TV—grappled with global economic crisis? If the current period is apprehended in terms of “crisis,” how is it being emplotted vis-à-vis an earlier moment of capitalism?

Possible topics may include:

  • The relationship between narrative closure and protracted crisis
  • Melodrama and romance after the family wage
  • Wage stagnation and narrative development
  • Figures of exhaustion, surplus, and non-productivity
  • Narrative’s relationship to historical consciousness and periodization
  • Genre and history
  • “The long downturn” as a periodizing framework vs. more canonical periodizations of contemporary literature and art (postmodernism, financialization, etc.)
  • Technological stagnation and science-fiction 
  • Narratives of automation and unemployment
  • Representations of service work and gig work
  • The material conditions of contemporary literary production 
  • The adequacy of narrative form to the present
  • Comparative considerations of historical crises of accumulation and their cultural expressions

Abstracts between 300 and 500 words are due by January 15, 2022 to polygraphduke@gmail.com. Upon acceptance, full papers due September 2022. Include your name, affiliation, and contact information. Please send other inquiries to the editors via the following email addresses: benjamin.crais@duke.edu, veronica.l.davis@duke.edu and carson.welch@duke.edu

Polygraph is an annual interdisciplinary journal affiliated with the Literature Program at Duke University. It is edited and produced by a collective of humanities graduate students. Visit our website at https://polygraphjournal.com