The Literary Ordinary: normality, banality, and the cultural production of the everyday

deadline for submissions: 
March 11, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Carleton University's English Graduate Student Society

“The ordinary is a shifting assemblage of practices and practical knowledges, a scene of both liveness and exhaustion, a dream of escape or of the simple life.” - Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects

Carleton University’s English Graduate Student Society invites paper and presentation proposals which interrogate the extraordinary inherent in the ordinary. This conference will consider what constitutes the category of the ordinary both historically and contemporarily. The focus on the concept of the ordinary is not to prescribe a specific mode of thinking across disciplines or to elide cultural, racial, and gendered distinctions that these categories rely upon. Instead, this conference will identify common features in the construction and representation of the ordinary in order to determine how ordinariness has been and continues to be reproduced. Thinkers such as Michel de Certeau, Lauren Berlant, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Walter Benjamin all theorize the relationship of the ordinary to the human condition. Michel de Certeau argues that everyday practices should not “appear as merely the obscure background of social activity,” but rather, as a set “of theoretical questions, methods, categories, and perspectives” that make meaning possible. As such, this conference is the stage upon which this interrogation can be performed.

If, as Elizabeth S. Goodstein says, we live “in a world where nothing stays put,” how does the ordinary come to be? How do social conditions, political upsets, or health crises affect our individual and collective responses to the ordinary? How do narratives of the extraordinary reaffirm ordinariness? The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that our relationship to the ordinary is constantly in flux. If our perception of what is or is not normal can change so drastically, what is the impact of narrating the commonplace in literature? How do scenes, marked not with excitement but rather familiarity, track the shifting nature of ordinariness? 

Potential topics can include, but are not limited to: 

  • Modernity and the human condition
  • Work and the worker/capitalism
  • The “Everyman” and “nobody”
  • Individual relations to crowds/gatherings
  • Walking as exercise, pleasure, and transportation
  • Infrastructure/urban planning
  • Public sex/exhibitionism (Delany)
  • Ordinary affects
  • Ordinary Language
  • Naming and normalizing desire
  • Maintaining and breaking routines 
  • The (un)familiar
  • Modernism and the epiphany (Woolf, Joyce) 
  • Boredom, existentialism, and ennui
  • Minutia and the mundane
  • Hobbies and crafting
  • Challenging the ordinary
  • Food/cooking/recipes (Wah, Ekwuyasi, Cho)

Please submit proposals of 250-350 words along with a brief (~150 words) bio to by March 11th, 2022. Since our conference this year will be conducted virtually, in your proposal please include one of the following statements: 1) I would prefer my presentation be presented asynchronously as a video or audio presentation posted to the website; 2) I would prefer my presentation be presented synchronously to a live audience; or 3) I have no preference as to whether my presentation is asynchronous or synchronous. We will notify applicants by March 18th, 2022.