Critique: Studies in Contemporary Literature
Call for Papers for Special Issue: Insurgent Infrastructures
Edited by Gabriella Friedman, Henry Ivry and Harriet Stilley
Infrastructure conceptually came of age during the golden era of liberalism yoked to grand scale and monolithic notions of progress and public works. But now, as the unified imaginary that gave birth to the grandiose promises of infrastructure crumbles, infrastructure has taken center stage, albeit at vastly different scales. On the one hand, there has been resurgent investment in infrastructure from states, whether that is China and Canada setting up Infrastructure Investment Banks or the Biden administration's trillion dollar plan. These large-scale nationalistic plans amount to what we might describe as an infrastructure arms race while reproducing the environmentally and racially violent infrastructures of the 20th century that have brought us to a moment of racial and climatic crisis (Cowen).
But, on the other hand, infrastructure in the 21st century looks much different, moving into the ether of big data and Web3 and the shale cracked by fracking, leading to a complex and capacious understanding of where, who, and what is building and sustaining new infrastructures. These divergent scales have only been amplified by the material and critical weight of the Anthropocene epoch; with a growing understanding of the need for politics to include nonhuman beings and the increased precarity of human life revealing infrastructures as "sites of conceptual and scalar trouble" (Anand, Gupta, and Apel).
The contemporary, in short, has become defined by the theoretical and material weight and fissures of existing and future infrastructures. As Kregg Hetherington argues, in a contemporary where "material infrastructures fold in on themselves, it becomes all the more clear that infrastructure itself was always also an interpretive tactic." In this Special Issue of Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, we endeavor to use contemporary literature to think through this "interpretative tactic," particularly as infrastructure is marked by hierarchized histories of colonialism and race, but has also been imagined as a politically salutary site of racial and environmental justice. Jessica Hurley and Jeffrey Insko have recently argued that contemporary infrastructures occupy a complex place, at once causes, causalities, and solutions. Indeed, whether it is pipeline protests, collapsed global supply chains, or fights for equitable housing, the invisible infrastructures that underpin our lives but which we are otherwise inclined to overlook, have gained an increasing vitality and presence as both bogeyman and rainmakers. More than just an increased visibility of the physical and ethereal infrastructures that compose our world, then, infrastructure itself, for all intents and purposes, has critically been weaponized over the past decade. From the insidious harvesting of digital data to the Polish/Belarusian border, the ostensibly benign and "boring" infrastructure (Rubenstein, Robbins, Beal) has, therefore, become something entirely different altogether, at once agentive and inevitable.
In this Special Issue, however, we seek to move beyond the impasse of hostile infrastructures to think about how contemporary literature can help us think through the contradictions inherent in infrastructures. Infrastructures, that is, not only reproduce the violent relations of colonialism and neoliberalism but can also be reclaimed as "a means of transformation" (Cowen). We invite submissions situated at this axis of visibility and violence, thinking about how artistic, political, and social forms mediate infrastructure. In particular, we invite submissions that look at how contemporary literature produces what we are calling insurgent infrastructures.
These infrastructures of insurgency both work from within and outside dominant forms – material, political, and/or aesthetic – to reclaim and/or build new infrastructures and new infrastructural relationalities. We especially encouraging submissions to consider contemporary literature that turns to real-world activism such as topplings of racist statues by BLM activists, the Stop Asian Hate series of demonstrations and rallies in response to COVID-related Sinophobia, protests against the border wall, and/or the Wet'suwet'en pipeline protests through a critical lens. Some potential examples might include: oil pipelines in Helon Habila's Oil on Water; the gutters in Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go; hot air balloons in Esi Edugyan's Washington Black; the power grid in Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead; ‘the directorate/the counties’ in Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea; Hollywood and the movie production industry in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer; or the seismic capacity of the orogenes in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, to name a few.
We welcome submissions that ask questions including (but not limited to):
● To what extent do contemporary literary forms evolve in dialogue with modern infrastructural forms?
● How might oppressive sociopolitical structures such as antiblackness, settler colonialism, carcerality, racial capitalism, misogyny, and/or heteronormativity themselves function as infrastructures?
● Is infrastructure a useful conceptual framework for thinking about social and political structures through the literary?
● What happens when we think about and read the political, social, and environmental through and/or as infrastructures?
● How might the term ‘insurgent infrastructures’ offer a unique frame for discussing state and counterstate formations in literature?
● How might the term furthermore offer novel ways of conceptualizing alternatives and/or more just social and environmental forms and ecologies?
● Specifically, in what ways might this nascent literary-critical concept of insurgent infrastructures disrupt overdetermination by existing geopolitical realities and/or historically constituted discursive (infra)structures?
● How do literary authors utilize infrastructures of insurgency to envision a materialist version of the politics of human rights/the possibility for more inclusive political formations rooted in particularities of embodiment?
● And can an insurgent infrastructure begin developing a new vocabulary outside the liberal politics that have historically underpinned our infrastructural imaginaries?
Please send abstracts of up to 350 words together with a short author biography to email@example.com by Friday August 5th. Full articles of 6,000 - 8,000 words will be due by Friday, November 18th and will be submitted through Critique's Manuscript Central portal.