My Impossible Soul: The Metamodern Music of Sufjan Stevens

deadline for submissions: 
March 1, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Tom Drayton & Greg Dember
contact email: 

Proposal Submission Deadline: March 1st 2024

My Impossible Soul: The Metamodern Music of Sufjan Stevens

Edited by Dr Tom Drayton, Greg Dember, Dr Joshua Busman and Dr Maren Haynes Marchesini


My Impossible Soul will be the first academic volume dedicated to the work of multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. A staple of the indie/alternative music scene since 2000, Stevens’ work transcends genres – ranging from minimalist folk to maximalist electronica. His prolific discography blends “stories of his own life with ancient mythology and religious references” (McKinney 2015), interweaving themes of grief (Minton 2023), nostalgia, queer relationships (Postelli 2016; Glow 2021), Christianity, disease, problematic families, and the apocalypse with intricately produced compositions. While most of the public will recognize Stevens for his Oscar-nominated song “Mystery of Love” from the film Call Me by Your Name (2017), his ever-evolving, inexhaustible output, alongside his poetic lyrics, extravagant performances, and mysterious public persona have been captivating, intriguing, and confounding music fans for decades. Despite Stevens being “one of the most important artists of our generation” (Sadler 2015), there has been very little critical study on his output and impact across the relevant fields of musicology, literature, queer theory, performance studies, religious studies, and cultural studies.

This volume aims to provide the first international and interdisciplinary analysis of the music, lyrics, performance process and cultural impact of Sufjan Stevens, through the framework of metamodernism. Defined by Vermeulen and van den Akker (2010) as a cultural structure of feeling (Williams, 1961), metamodernism speaks to the episteme superseding the postmodern. Characterized by an oscillation between disparate (modern and postmodern) polarities, it encompasses art that can be simultaneously ironic and sincere, hopeful and hopeless, intimate and detached. Combining elements of the Quirky in film and New Sincerity in literature, metamodern artworks engage in re-constructive pastiche (in which the juxtaposition of different forms or genres is not conflicting or undermining but builds novel modes of expression), self-reflexivity, and an essential centering of the felt experience of both the artist and the audience within the form and content of the piece. Steven’s catalogue is “canonically” metamodern (Damico 2017; Dember 2017; McCampbell, 2021), oscillating between the intimate and the epic, between the human-centered and apocalyptic, between folk-based hymnals and electronic delirium – all while centering his (and the listener’s) “vulnerability, celebration, joy, sadness, pain and love” (Hilf 2020). Rather than arguing the case for a metamodern understanding of Stevens’ oeuvre, therefore, this volume takes metamodernity as a foundational underscore throughout its investigation.

Though a portion of the volume may be devoted to establishing a metamodern understanding of Stevens’ work, many chapters will start only with the premise that the “liminal emotional and intellectual space of metamodern art – especially the dialectal relationship between irony and sincerity – is an apt description of the complex lyricism” (McCampbell, 2021) of Stevens’ work. Therefore, these chapters may treat a wide range of areas of interest in Stevens’ work, without directly focusing on metamodernism as a framework.

We agree with Martindale’s (2014) assessment that, rather than simply being engaged in the business of song writing, Stevens creates and explores multi-disciplinary aesthetics. As such, we understand Stevens’ various outputs to be of interdisciplinary interest. We are looking for potential writers across the following fields to contribute to this exciting new volume:

  • Cultural studies
  • Literature
  • Musicology
  • Religious studies
  • Queer theory
  • Christian Theology
  • Popular Culture
  • Performing Arts
  • Critical theory


If you have an idea but are not sure whether it fits this call, please get in touch to discuss.

Submission Procedures & Important Dates

We invite researchers and doctoral candidates across any related discipline(s) to submit a chapter proposal of roughly 750 words on or before March 1st, 2024. This proposal should provide a clear description of the author/s’ thesis, an overview of the chapter’s structure, the main intended bibliography, and a separate 100-word biography of the author/s.

Proposals should be sent to Tom Drayton: with the Subject Heading ‘Sufjan Stevens Proposal’ followed by the author/s name/s.

Please note that submitted proposals/chapters should not have been previously published nor currently be under consideration for publication elsewhere. Final chapters will consist of between 6,000 – 8,000 words including notes and bibliography and will be written in English.

We will respond to authors by the end of March 2024. The book is currently under consideration with an interested editor at an academic press. We will use selected chapter proposals in a final proposal. The aim is for chapters to be drafted and reviewed by the authors between March and October 2024, with a final submission at the end of that year.

Inquiries can be forwarded to

Dr Tom Drayton:



Damico, Phillip. (2017) ‘An Introduction to Metamodernism’, Against Professional Philosophy, Available at: (Accessed 11 September 2023)

Dember, Greg. (2017) ‘Sufjan Stevens’, What Is Metamodern, Available at: (Accessed 11 September 2023)

Glow, R. (2021) Sufjan Stevens and How I Taught Myself to Cry, Cream City Review, 45 (2). pp.11-14.

Hilf, M. (2020) ‘Why Sufjan Stevens is Important’, grain of salt, 15 June. [Online] Available at: (Accessed 12 December 2023)

McCampbell, Mary. (2021) ‘New irony and old sincerity: How the metamodern and the post-secular meet in indie rock’, chapter in Kinane, Ian. (ed.) Isn't it Ironic? Irony in Contemporary Popular Culture, London: Routledge.

McKinney, K. (2015) ‘Sufjan Stevens deals with his mother's death in one of his best albums yet’, Vox, 24 March. [Online] Available at: (Accessed 12 December 2023)

Minton, M. (2023) ‘Sufjan Stevens handles grief and loss in a beautiful way in ‘Javelin’’ The Ithican, 17 October. [Online] Available at: (Accessed 12 December 2023)

Postelli, C. (2016) Why Sufjan Stevens Matters to Queer Folk [Online] Available at: (Accessed 12 December 2023)

Sadler, D. (2015) ‘Why Sufjan Stevens Is One Of The Most Important Artists Of Our Generation’, Tone Deaf, 20 May. [Online] Available at: (Accessed 12 December 2023)

Vermeulen, T. & van den Akker, R. (2010) ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 2(1). DOI: 10.3402/jac.v2i0.5677

Williams, Raymond. ([1961] 1969) Drama from Ibsen to Brecht. Oxford: Oxford University Press.