Making Sense of (and With) Difficult Texts

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
contact email: 


ACLA Annual Meeting: Montréal, March 14-17 2024


The act of literary reading implies a commitment to the text, which means making ourselves available and open to its potential and consequences. Indeed, many texts require us to devote careful attention to them and to adopt a ‘vulnerable reading’ stance even though they escape our horizon of meaning. What are difficult texts and how can they be felt as such?

Cognitive difficulty concerns the very concept of readability. It implies the presence of formal or semantic obstacles undermining intelligibility, comprehension or interpretation. This relative unreadability can be understood  as a “productive textual quality” (Bektha, 2018) which can enrich reading experience. A cognitively difficult text therefore asks for an epistemological willingness to let go of one's referential spaces. This is particularly the case with certain types of speculative fiction which require the reader to understand that the text can distort their expectations (Delany, 2009). 

Affective or ethical difficulty, on the other hand, will engage an uneasy reception, because of the way it depicts certain subjects which can be experienced as violent and/or traumatizing, often espousing narrative viewpoints which eschew moralistic shortcuts, to a degree where it might prove difficult to substantiate the text’s artistic and ethical legitimacy. Affective difficulty arising from contact with certain texts can set the scene for issues (colonial, economical, ecological, gender-related, etc.) that expose readers to their own discomfort and unchecked dominant postures. 

Literary reading as an effortful activity (Gervais & Bouvet [dir.], 2007) is an eminently contemporary issue, as is the circulation and recognition of difficult texts in public spaces. Reading has never been more widespread than today, but technological advancements provided companies with tools to mine attention for profit (Citton, 2014), forcing us into a collective state of “continuous partial attention” (Rose, 2010). In this highly fragmented context, one can wonder if there is still time and energy to be spent in the literary mode of reading which difficult texts are calling for. How can such texts help us, and in the most practical sense, howwhen, and by whom can they be read?

The aim of this panel is to provide a space for discussion and a variety of insights on the implications of difficult texts and their multiple interpretations, the vulnerable spaces they create in us and what this can change in the way we “make-world” (Ferdinand, 2019) and relate to others, both living and non-living. 

Topics may include, but are not limited to :

-attention economics -vulnerable and affective hermeneutics -decolonial and postcolonial reading strategies -cognitive and affective obstacles/strategies to/of reading -historically marginalized communities and storytelling -ecocriticism and dehumanist readings/texts -feminist and queer rereading of difficult texts


Organizers : Miriam Sbih and Antoine Dussault

Please send us your papers at : 

*Please note that we are open to French and English propositions*