The productivity of ‘negative emotions’ in postcolonial literatures

deadline for submissions: 
December 1, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Isabelle Wentworth / University of New South Wales

Emotions, affect, and moods do not happen to us. Rather, we are our emotions: they configure our manner of relating to, and existing within the world. Ontologies of emotion—in their embodied and symbolic dimensions—alter our perceptions, experiences, and predictions of ourselves and our environment in ways which problematize inside/outside and mind/body dualities. This is also true of the so-called ‘negative emotions’. Studies of negative affect abound in the humanities, from Aristotle’s fear and pity, Heidegger’s angst, and Robert Burton’s melancholy, to Sartre’s nausea, Germaine Greer’s rage, Kristeva’s disgust, and, more recently, Sianne Ngai’s “ugly feelings.”

Postcolonial poetics and aesthetics have just started to explore the instrumentalisation of emotions with a view to “creating new heuristic constellations” (Elleke Boehmer). Literary theorists are sharpening their focus on “negative” emotions in seminal studies such as Sue Kim’s work on anger, Bede Scott’s on affective disorders and Jinah Kim’s on grief, all of which have tapped into the productivity of negative affect. The latter can create new phenomenological and existential possibilities—new modes of being in and experiencing the world. In both lived and literary narratives, it can also have ethical and epistemic functions, creating new forms of knowledge and understanding.

Though an age-old topic, new paradigms within cognitive science—the enactive and embodied turn—have reinvigorated the investigation into negative emotions, and as we presently rethink the relationship between mind, body, and world, studies of affect offer a crucial link between phenomenal experience and the surrounding environment: a connection between our physical, psychological, and social selves. For this volume, we are seeking submissions which explore the possibilities and potentialities of “negative” affect in literature and literary theory. We are interested in negative affect in all its types and dimensions: analyses of the structures of feeling created by socio-political forces; assemblages and alliances produced by negative emotion; enactive interrelationships of emotion and environment; or the ethical implications of emotional response, to name a few.

We encourage multi-work or corpus studies submissions and comparative perspectives in the following areas: postcolonial studies, First Nations studies, cognitive cultural studies, health and medical humanities, cognitive historicism, reader response theory, postcolonial feminist studies, ecological studies, trauma studies, and philosophy of moral emotions.


Jean-François Vernay’s latest contribution to the field of cognitive literary studies is Neurocognitive Interpretations of Australian Literature: Criticism in the Age of Neuroawareness, (Routledge, 2021).

Donald R. Wehrs, Hargis Professor of English Literature, is co-editor of Cultural Memory: From the Sciences to the Humanities (Routledge) and The Palgrave Handbook of Affect Studies and Textual Criticism (2017).

Isabelle Wentworth teaches at the University of NSW. Her recent work in cognitive literary criticism has been published in Poetics Today, Textual Practice, and Cognitive Systems Research.

Detailed proposals (up to 1,000 words) for full essays (6,000 words), as well as a short biography (max. 100 words) should be sent to the editors by 01 DECEMBER 2022.

Essays should be completed by 31 March 2023.