Proof — ACLA 2024

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Sierra Eckert and Moyang (Moya) Li
contact email: 

Proof  American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) Annual Conference in Montreal, March 14-17, 2024

What forms of proof surface in literary fiction? Colloquially, proof is often understood as incontrovertible evidence of a thing or event, as the strongest form of evidence. Yet in pure math it refers not to evidence at all. Rather, proof is a way of making evident or clear that something must be and is necessarily true. In other words, proof takes part in the discourses of the evident, rather than of evidence. Rather than the process of verifying that something is true, proof meant making the truth apprehensible to the human reader, developing it in a way that fits into a human mind. Does literary fiction partake in this form of proof? While we often think of the realist novel as preoccupied with number and counting, where number conveys reality and fact, could there be another genealogy of mathematics within the novel? What forms of the real emerge? What is our responsibility as scholars to certain methodologies for moving along discourses of the fact? Is there a distinction between fact and proof within literature or literary critique more broadly? What do we do with our standards of proof and evidence in fields that have undergone archival erasure? Does subalterity demand different forms of proof? 

This seminar will examine the question of proof as an epistemological problem and aesthetic provocation for literary works and for literary critics. We welcome submissions interested in the following possible topics:

    • Archival evidence or questions about number, within Black Studies, postcolonial studies, or world literary studies (McKittrick, Hartman, Appadurai, Spivak)
    • Truth claims, axiomatic assertions, and speculative epistemologies in works of fiction, including but not limited to the novel
    • Proof across disciplines, i.e. contributions from those working in literature and science 
    • Formal accounts of proof or evidence in literature, that relates to or engages with legal notions of proof/evidence or proof in sociological fields (Poovey, Daston)
    • Poetic or other literary forms that take up, interrogate or aestheticize evidence in museum, anthropological, legal, mathematical, or social-scientific contexts–––e.g. the “forensic” aesthetic that Sianne Ngai identifies in “conceptual art's fascination with things typically exhibited as scientific proof in legal contexts (receipts, data, blood samples, and invoices)” (813).
    • Alternative/subaltern knowledge practices
    • Theoretical reflections on the limits of empiricism, or a focus on empirical evidence, within literary-critical practice (Hartman)
    • The novel as a way of theorizing knowledge (Kornbluh, Jackson)


Submission Requirements: 

Please submit an abstract (1500 characters) and a short speaker bio (500 characters) to the following link by September 30, 2023: If you have any questions about interests or fit, please reach out to Moyang (Moya) Li ( or Sierra Eckert (