William Gaddis Beyond the "Very Small Audience": Centenary, Archives, and Futures [Oct 20-22, 2022]
December 29th 2022 will be the 100th anniversary of William Gaddis’ birth. Washington University in St Louis, whose library holds Gaddis’ comprehensive archive, will commemorate this centenary two months earlier with exhibitions, art events, and performances, as well as an academic conference on the prospects for the next 100 years of studying Gaddis’s life and work. The celebration will be organized by Joel Minor (curator of the Modern Literature Collection, including Gaddis’ archive, at the university’s Olin Library), and Ali Chetwynd (author of multiple articles on Gaddis’ archive).
The three-day conference—William Gaddis Beyond the “Very Small Audience”: Centenary, Archive, and Futures—will feature two headline events: a keynote by Steven Moore on “New Directions for Gaddis Studies,” and an archive-driven roundtable with a variety of Gaddis scholars on “Gaddis’ Unpublished Creative Work.” Below is the open call for all other contributions.
The last decade has been good for Gaddis’ public profile. Three milestones—Joseph Tabbi’s biography, Steven Moore’s edition of Gaddis’ letters, and #Occupy Gaddis, 2012’s global social-media readthrough of J R—have seen Gaddis discussed across major US media, the letters and biography reviewed more widely (in an age of less literary reviewing) than much of Gaddis’ fiction was during his lifetime. As a result, Gaddis’ first two novels are now republished in the NYRB Classics series, giving them their best chance yet of finding that post-2010s boom audience.
Two sets of collected academic essays (Paper Empire: William Gaddis and the World System (2007) and William Gaddis: The Last of Something (2009)) paved the immediate way for his wider visibility in the 2010s. Our centenary conference will be the first such collection of work dedicated solely to Gaddis in the wake of that decade’s milestones of archival discovery, elucidation, publicity and re-publication.
Gaddis and his fiction were always self-conscious about the scope of their reception: the first two novels feature artist-characters concerned with being seen to compose for “a very small audience,” while a musician character’s epitaph is work “still spoken of, when it is noted, with high regard, though seldom played.” This (pessimistic, elite) self-conception has set the terms for much of Gaddis’ reception from both lay and academic readerships. But how might the next century of Gaddis look in the contrasting light of the last decade’s wider uptake?
We welcome proposals for presentations that might distinguish the next century of work on Gaddis from what has gone before. Such topics and approaches might include:
- - New archival discoveries that change how we understand Gaddis
- - Work on Gaddis’ less-studied later fiction or unpublished draftwork
- - Developments building on the biographical material already brought to light by Tabbi, Moore, Crystal Alberts, and others
- - Gaddis’ relationship to his literary influences, peers, and legatees
- - Studies of adaptations of or allusions to Gaddis and his work, including in non-literary media
- - Studies of Gaddis’ reception and its implications
- - Reassessments of what we think we know about the first 100 years of Gaddis
- - Challenges to or displacements of existing consensus on well-covered topics like Gaddis’ putative “difficulty,” The Recognitions’s approach to authenticity and modernity, or J R’s treatment of postmodern money
- - Gaddis in light of untapped literary theories and methodologies
- - Examinations of Gaddis’ interest and relevance for wider audiences he has not previously reached
- - Gaddis’ fiction’s distinctive relevance for life and culture in the 2020s and beyond
- - Anything else that casts light on what might distinguish the coming second century of Gaddis
Proposal deadline: March 31 2022.
By March 31, submit proposals of up to 300 words for 20-minute academic presentations to email@example.com. We also welcome proposals for full 90-minute panels (proposal up to 1000 words, with a list of participants and clearly defined contributions for each) and for presentations in unconventional formats (contact the organizers early with a basic description of the idea so we can discuss appropriate format for an official proposal).