Je est un author: (Re-)Appearances of the Authorial Subject in Literature and Theory (ACLA Seminar)

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Sebastian Brass
contact email: 

We are welcoming submissions for the seminar Je est un author: (Re-)Appearances of the Authorial Subject in Literature and Theorywhich we are planning for the annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association in Taipei, Taiwan, June 15-18, 2022.

In Mithu Sanyal’s novel Identitti, shortlisted for the German Book Prize 2021, a fictional professor of Postcolonial Studies who identifies as a PoC causes a scandal when it turns out she is actually white – a premise resembling a recent case in American academia. Who is ‘behind’ a theory matters – but how?

The question is pertinent beyond identity (and Identitti) fraud. Since French Theory killed off the author, the question of the subjective conditions of literature and theory has still been haunting the field. In recent years, a remarkable variety of strategies has been applied to address this tension, reflecting on embodiment of discourse, theorizing personal anecdote, and questioning social positionality without essentializing the speaking subject. Feminist and queer writers, artists, and theoreticians, as well as writers, artists, and theoriticians of color, have argued against the pseudo-neutrality of textuality. Notions like “situated knowledge” (Donna Haraway), “auto-cobaye” (Paul B. Preciado), and the “oppositional gaze” (bell hooks) provided critical insights hinged on the specific contexts from which they emerged. In literature, the protagonists in autofiction can be regarded as ambiguous figures oscillating between the poles of correlating factual authors and fictional characters. Sanyal’s Identitti references a whole array of actual theoreticians while exploring the conundrum of identity and authorship in a literary tour-de-force.

Our seminar asks about the contemporary epistemological and political dimensions of authorship in theory as well as about the authorial aesthetics of literary texts: not only when it comes to explicitly reflecting on questions about an ‘identity’ behind a theory, as in Sanyal’s novel, does literature engage with the (unstable) roles of the authorial subject. It can also performatively add to the discussion by setting in motion an oscillation between reference and fiction, and such an aesthetics can have political stakes itself. In digital spaces, AI adds even more complications to an already challenging question.

We do not conceive of literature and theory as opposites: the above-mentioned examples already hint at the manifold and complex ways in which the two are intertwined. We particularly encourage submissions that explore such relations, but we also welcome individual case studies of literature or theory ­– and from any cultural context.

Paper proposals should be submitted through the ACLA website by October 31: https://www.acla.org/node/add/paper

Don't hesitate to reach out to the seminar organizers should you have any questions:
sbrass@g.harvard.edulevesquejalbert@g.harvard.edu