NeMLA 2024: Narrative Surplus, Literary Specificity, and the Modernist Novel

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Jack Quirk / Brown University
contact email: 


Narrative Surplus, Literary Specificity, and the Modernist Novel at NeMLA, March 7-10, 2024 Boston, MA Host: Tufts University, School of Arts and Sciences.

What would it mean to think of a novel’s depiction of thoughts, ideas, or emotions as surplus to its plot? What details—historical, social, political—are lost if we think of narrative information as mere details and therefore surplus to literary meaning? Once we extract all essential facts, what is left for the critic to make sense of?

This panel focuses on the question of narrative form in the early twentieth-century modernist novel. It examines those very moments that appear at first blush superfluous or excess to narrative storytelling, and proceeds under the assumption that such moments tell us at least as much about the novel’s meaning as the events that comprise it. For it is precisely these moments of surplus in which the novel does its political work. By sketching the contours of political subjectivity and creating the social and historical worlds that allow the critic to make sense of the narrative action. Moreover, a strong case can be made that narrative surplus distinguishes the novel from other discursive forms of non-literary storytelling, such as history or law.

This panel therefore seeks to trouble the hegemony of exterior events the critic Erich Auerbach so powerfully recognized in Virginia Woolf’s novels. It invites contributions that think through the Anglophone modernist novel as an experiment in narrative or representative surplus. It also welcomes interdisciplinary contributions that compare the narrative specificity of the novel to other disciplinary discursive formations, including law, history, and political theory.

Abstracts may be submitted here until September 30, 2023:

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