(ACLA 2022) The Elemental and The Formless

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Oliver Aas (Cornell University)
contact email: 

This seminar departs from the idea that we need a clearer understanding of elemental forms—traditional and non-traditional—that are in different stages of becoming formless (loss, disappearance, transmutation etc.). On the one hand, we build up on the critical genealogy of the formless (l’informe), a concept once popularized by Bataille in the surrealist journal Documents (1929-30) and later taken up by Bataille’s readers, most famously by Rosalind Krauss & Yves-Alain Bois (1997) and Georges Didi-Huberman (1995). While, on the other hand, we also welcome proposals that conceptualize the formless through different disciplinary vantage points and bring it to bear on the question of elemental forms.

Despite the advent of objected oriented ontologies or new materialism(s) that often argue for the primacy of materiality, we should not forget the links between language, narration and the elemental (think about, pace John Durham Peters, the expansive and decidedly formless metaphor of the cloud in IT). Other recent studies on the elemental, in turn, have begun to demonstrate how forms are attributed to phenomena that do not have an immediately tangible form but instead verge on the transient. We can think of Derek McCormack’s take on “aerial envelopment”; Luce Irigaray’s meditations on breathing and air; and Eduardo Cadava’s thinking of the ocean as a graveyard, as some examples in which the elements are re-inscribed and re-formed. Yet much more work needs to be done to understand the stakes of the formless. What, for instance, does it mean to say something has no tangible form (i.e., the ocean or air) or that something exists in a disappearing and degraded form (i.e., glaciers)?

This seminar is particularly interested in investigating the continued linkage between the elements, language, and narration. Other questions of interests include: How do we make sense of formless elementality conceptually? What is the metaphysics of the formless? What are the forms of formlessness? What is the politics of the formless? Does the Bataillean lineage of the formless still have critical purchase today?

We welcome abstracts across disciplines, genres and periods.