NeMLA 2022--Kurt Vonnegut Society Session: Vonnegut, Vulnerability, and Interdependence

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Kurt Vonnegut Society

This panel session will be part of the Northeast Modern Language Association convention in Baltimore, MD, from March 10-13, 2022. All submissions must go through NeMLA's submission portal: Submit an Abstract (

In Giving an Account of Oneself, this year’s keynote speaker, Judith Butler, argues that our understanding of ourselves is fundamentally reliant upon others and our interactions with them. We are acted upon by others and in turn act upon them, regardless of our will. Throughout the text, she maintains that a person can only see themselves subjectively (as an “I”) in relation to others (a “you”), and that this primary interdependence elicits an ethical demand.

Kurt Vonnegut is not one for high theory, necessarily, but he declares himself a humanist throughout his oeuvre. In A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut describes humanists as those who “try to behave as decently, as fairly, and as honorably as we can without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife.” “We humanists,” he continues, “serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community.”

This panel asks presenters to consider the ways that Vonnegut’s work, both in print and in public appearances, speaks to the convention theme of “care”--“the practice of interdependency, admitting our vulnerabilities as humans, animals, and other living organisms of the anthropocene”--and the ethical demand Butler suggests is constitutive of our relationships to others. We are open to broad and varying interpretations of this prompt, but talks might address:

- Vonnegut’s multiple attempts to give an account of himself via metafictional techniques

- Vonnegut’s attempt to navigate mental anguish through various imagined communities (e.g. Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions, Bluebeard)

- Issues of nationhood, globalization, and other granfalloonery in Vonnegut’s work

- Friendship, friendliness, and clambakes (Sirens of Titan, Breakfast of Champions, Timequake)

- What Vonnegut calls ethical birth control (pills) and/or ethical suicide (parlor/service/studio)

- Vonnegut’s conception of extended family

- Vonnegut’s treatment of human influence on the planet and other living organisms inhabiting it

- Unwavering bands of light and telepathic butterflies

- Bokononism, wampeters, and karasses

- Tralfamadorians and the Universal Will to Become

- Vonnegut’s antiwar philosophy as it appears in any text or public appearance

Please submit 250- to 300-word abstracts for 15 minute presentations through NeMLA's submission portal here: Submit an Abstract (