Theory and the Novel (ACLA 2022)

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Athanassia Williamson (NYU) and Christina Gilligan (Brown)
contact email: 

What does a novel do? Recent theoretical work on the novel has tended to emphasize the novel’s facility for world-making—for the organization of all its different elements within a global whole (Cheah / Hayot / Woloch). Figured as a composite of relations, the novel is ascribed a constructive conceptuality (Levine / Kornbluh). The novel makes a world. Perhaps some of the strongest, recent theorizations of the novel along these lines, in literary criticism, have come from within new formalism—a formalist movement with roots in both New Criticism and Marxist literary criticism. Others, however, have been more reluctant to assign a constructiveness to the novel, and there are strong traditions figuring the novel as a critical and not an affirmative category (Schlegel / Kierkegaard). Does the novel, either in its critical or constructive capacity, have a special claim to elucidating modernity (Ong / Lukács / Bakhtin) or facilitating democratic imaginaries (I. Armstrong / Rancière / Mazzoni)? Perhaps a tendency to refer to “the novel” as a stable category often conceals a logic of exemplarity—to novels, we sometimes export a certain idea of the novel.

What, then, is the relationship of theory and the novel—or, how best to put them in relation? While contributors from all sides of the reading debates (Best and Marcus, Felski, Rooney) have rejected the application of theoretical themes as “master codes” for uncovering novelistic meaning, the proper relation between theoretical texts and novels remains contested. Might novels themselves, as Anna Kornbluh argues, be read and regarded as works of theory? And what is to be gained or lost by a perspective which takes the novel as a species of theory or philosophy? Could we, as Alicia Christoff argues, read novels and theories ‘relationally,’ connecting (rather than assimilating) novels to theoretical formations that are separate but co-present? Or has “theory” dominated novel studies for long enough, as some post-critical scholarship contends, detracting from thinking the novel’s affective dimensions? Does a theoretical perspective necessarily occlude such critical attention?

Drawing energy from an agonistic terrain of argument, of revamped novel theory and formalisms, this seminar invites papers that consider theory and the novel anew, and which consider the many ways that novels and theories attract and yet resist one another. We welcome papers that focus on “the novel” and “theory” more broadly / abstractively or on particular novels and/or theories. We are also interested in work that wishes to theorize particular novelistic genres, including—but not limited to—realism and speculative fiction.

Possible topics (non-prescriptive):

  • philosophy and the novel;
  • novel as a critical category;
  • novel as an affirmative category;
  • novel as a species of theory;
  • novel in relation to theory;
  • sociality / dialogicality of the novel;
  • novel and modernity / modernism;
  • politics and the novel;
  • genre and the novel

The annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association will take place at National Taiwan University, in Taipei, between June 15–18, 2022. Please submit your proposal (up to 300 words) via the online ACLA portal by October 31, 2021.

We welcome any queries. Please contact the co-organizers Christina Gilligan ( and Athanassia Williamson (

Link to the seminar description:

Link to the portal: