ACLA: Unfinished : The Theory and Praxis of Incompletion

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
American Comparative Literature Association
contact email: 

Organizers: Madeleine Reddon (Loyola University Chicago) and Jeff Noh (Clark University)

This seminar examines theories of “unfinishedness” that pose the question of incompletion as a critical aspect of literary praxis as well as an interpretive gesture. In doing so, we seek to underscore the political and conceptual animus of abandoned works and to demonstrate the capaciousness of “incompletion” as an aesthetic strategy in response to uncertain and oppressive historical conditions. Framing this wide-ranging discussion will be a set of historical and interpretive questions that concentrate on the conditions that make a text finishable, as well as the subversive strategies that respond to those conditions. Some examples of unfinished or heavily editorialized works might include Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, Octavia Butler’s Earthseed cycle, Franz Kafka’s Das Schloss, Hum-ishu-ma’s Cogewea, Clarice Lispector’s Um Sopro de Vida, Bruno Shultz’s lost novel The Messiah, H.T. Tsiang's Shanghai-New York-Moscow, among others.

What alternative routes of circulation and consumption materialized for such incomplete projects and how do we understand these “outsides” to the conventional literary marketplace as an enabling condition for writing rather than limitation? How does colonial modernity seek to engender failure for racialized authors? How does “unfinishedness” intersect with issues of race, sex, gender, nation, spirituality within settler-colonial, postcolonial, and imperialist contexts? How might we understand unfinishedness as a strategy that circumvents counterinsurgent maneuvers of the state, such as censorship, economic precarity, and other substantive blocks? How do unfinished projects link to what Paul Gilroy, in writing about the Black Atlantic, described as the “instability and mutability of identities which are always unfinished, always being remade”?

We welcome submissions that explore instances of the endless draft, the divergent or intolerable ending, the chance impediment, the systemic barrier, and the creative impasse—in short, paper abstracts that explore how literature, film, and other media are engaged with questions of aesthetic failure and incompletion across a variety of political and historical contexts and aesthetic formations. Papers engaged with textual revisions or a writer’s (perceived) lack of success or critical attention due to incompletion are also welcome. We also welcome papers that consider scholarly impasses or blockages or methodological aporias, as well as individual or collective projects that were begun but never finished.


Topic include but are not limited to:

Unpublished, unfinished, or uncirculated texts, films, art projects

Aesthetic failure, collapse, dissolution, or disintegration

Re-publications of texts (i.e. substantive additions, subtractions, or changes to texts in reprinting)

“Unreadable” or “unwatchable” or “unlistenable” texts

Archival oddities, outlines, fragments

Scholarly genres of unfinishedness