Foreign Bodies: Becoming Apart, Becoming a Part in Contemporary British Literature

deadline for submissions: 
June 30, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 - EMMA (EA741)


Foreign Bodies: Becoming Apart, Becoming a Part in Contemporary British Literature

12-13 0ctober, 2023

International conference EMMA (EA741)
Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier3 - Site Saint Charles

Organizers: Katia Marcellin and Carine Nibakure

Keynote speakers: Professor Catherine Bernard (Université Paris-Cité)and Harry Parker (author of Anatomy of a Soldier and Hybrid Humans)

The massive strikes that began in the NHS during the last weeks of 2022 were presented by some members of the UK government as posing a “threat” to the social order. Caregivers on strike were suddenly suspected of contravening the very essence of their jobs, that is, of not caring about the most vulnerable, leaving them without treatment in the name of better wages. Only a few months before, the nursing staff had been “the beating heart of this country” (B. Johnson), the small, brave and sacrificial part of the social body that would save the whole. All of a sudden, the vital organ had reneged on the body to become, according to some, a self-centred entity that had decided not only to amputate and remove itself from society but also to disrupt the good order of things by hindering the lives of “ordinary workers” (R. Sunak).  

These issues question the metonymic relations between individuals, or specific groups, and the rest of society. What is, indeed, the role played by the smaller or salient element that is supposed to stand in for something else, something bigger? How does the “part” relate to the “whole”? Does it belong to it, is it subjected to it, adjacent to it or is it excluded, set apart from it? Does it represent the whole from which it is extracted? And, more importantly, does it hold any kind of responsibility towards the whole it comes from?

Such tensions between belonging and exclusion, solidarity and independence, submission and emancipation are of burning relevance in contemporary society and these concerns are not only reverberated but also questioned through literature. They unfold on different scales, whether that of the social body—Brexit, immigration or social conflicts raise the question of belonging to something bigger or excluding oneself from it—, that of the organic (or non-organic) body and its interactions with its environment, or else that of the psyche through the issues of trauma and loss—which become unassimilable ‘foreign bodies’ or ‘voids’. Contemporary crises thus raise, on various levels, the issue of identity, but also of social, psychic and physical integrity. As Roberto Esposito explains, it can be the fear of being contaminated by a foreign body: “wherever you look, what is happening in the world today, from the individual body to the social one, from the technological body to the political one, you will find the question of immunity placed at their intersection” (60). But it may also be the fear of losing one’s agency—even partly—whether through global surveillance, material dispossession, disability, loss or trauma—when one doesn’t “belong to oneself” anymore. Eventually, it may also be the desire—or the need—to “find a way out”, to emancipate from oppressive frameworks by refusing belonging or representativeness.

Our contention, highlighted by the verb “becoming”, is precisely that there is no such thing as simply being (a) part of or standing apart from something and, furthermore, that these two notions are not mutually exclusive. Thus, we intend to show that one—individual or object—is always caught up in a process of being assimilated, digested or excluded, expelled and, indeed, that one can even be “a part (while) standing apart”. Far from being fixed categories, these notions interact with one another to produce a dynamic and shifting dialogue, questioning the norms and categories that organize the regimes of visibility, intelligibility and belonging.

This conference should allow us to question the ways in which contemporary crises are reflected through literature since, as Catherine Bernard explains, “[l]iterature and art are experiences, and this experience accounts for the way we think and experience our being in common, for the way we build a political body today” (18, translation ours). How do the phenomena of standing apart and representativeness relate to each other? Does social invisibilisation necessarily go hand in hand with marginalisation or, as Cynthia Fleury and Antoine Fenoglio suggest, is it not possible to “stealthily inhabit the world” (or what they call “vita furtivae” [21]), and thus to “be in it” without “being part of it”, and vice versa?

Above all, we would like to study the way in which these contemporary crises engage literary representation, whether through the breaking up, multiplication and fragmentation of forms and genres or by questioning and reconfiguring the notion of realism. We would therefore like to ask ourselves what a literary “foreign body” is, whether it manifests itself through intertextuality, the use of archives or the intrusive presence of a metaleptic narrator. In addition, the tension between “apart” and “a part” refers, specifically, to the aesthetics of the fragment and to the concise format of the short story, but also, more generally, to various processes of dislocation and disruption of hierarchies in narrative frameworks that no longer abide by the canonical requirements of the traditional novel. Finally, through the conceptual couple apart/a part, we may focus on the figure of metonymy and the way in which contemporary fiction has moved away from a certain kind of mimetic realism—and of representativeness—without refusing realism in itself. This would mean that the part of “the real” that is represented (and set apart) in a work of fiction is no longer meant to be representative of the whole from which it is extracted. On the contrary, we would like to explore how contemporary works question the real through its margins, through what escapes our perceptions, precisely by drawing its contours. 

The aim of this conference is to explore the political and representational experimentations of contemporary writers who question processes of belonging and exclusion. We will welcome papers focusing on (but not limited to) the ways in which contemporary literature addresses some of the following questions:

  • becoming a part of / apart from geopolitical entities (Brexit, migration, refugee crisis, wars in and outside of Europe).
  • being a part/apart in relation to borders 
  • belonging to / exclusion from the social body (social invisibility, material dispossession, norms of intelligibility)
  • forced belonging through surveillance
  • ethics and alterity
  • what becomes part of the body, what grows apart from it (disability, hybridity, monstrosity, enhanced bodies, posthumanism)
  • immunity and contamination
  • trauma as an “internal foreign body”
  • loss and mourning: accommodating absence and “apartness”
  • literary forms and formal experimentations: the aesthetics of the fragment
  • literary “foreign bodies” (intertextuality, archives…)
  • representation and representativeness: realism as a “slice” of reality
  • metonymy (metonymic, synecdochic and metaleptic relations)

Proposals of up to 300 words in English, together with a biographical note, should be sent to Katia Marcellin ( and Carine Nibakure ( by 30 June 2023. 


Indicative and selective bibliography

Abraham, Nicolas, and Maria Torok. L’écorce et le noyau. Paris: Flammarion, 1996. 

Alaimo, Stacy, Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. 

Alexander, Jeffrey C. et al. Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. 

Athanasiou, Athena, and Judith Butler. Dispossession: The Performative in the Political. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013. 

Bernard, Catherine. Matière à réflexion: du corps politique dans la littérature et les arts visuels britanniques contemporains. Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2018. 

Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013. 

Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? New York: Verso, 2009. 

Cardon, Peggy. Le corps accidenté: Bouleversements identitaires et reconstruction de soi. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2015.  

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience. Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. 

Depraz, Natalie. Attention et Vigilance : A la croisée de la phénoménologie et des sciences cognitives. Paris : Presses Universitaires de France, 2014. 

Eng, L. David, and David Kazanjian.Loss: The Politics of Mourning. California: University of California Press, 2003. 

Esposito, Roberto. Terms of the Political: Community, Immunity, Biopolitics. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013.

Fleury, Cynthia, and Antoine Fenoglio. Ce qui ne peut être volé: Charte du Verstohlen. Paris: Gallimard, 2022.

Freud, Sigmund. ‘Mourning and Melancholia’. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. James Strachey. XIV. London: Hogarth Press, 1971. 243–258. 

Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2008.

Held, Virginia. The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. 

Le Blanc, Guillaume. L’invisibilité sociale. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2009. 

Lévinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969.

Lodge, David. The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy, and the Typology of Modern Literature. London: Edward Arnold, 1977. 

Pelluchon, Corine. Éléments pour une éthique de la vulnérabilité, Les hommes, les animaux, la nature.  Paris: Cerf, 2001. 

Rancière, Jacques. Politique de la littérature. Paris: Galilée, 2007. 

Royle, Nicholas. Veering: A Theory of literature. Édimbourg : Edinburgh University Press, 2014. 

Shildrick, Margrit. Embodying the Monster: Encounters with the Vulnerable Self. London: SAGE, 2002.