CfP: Form and Its Discontents, a special issue of Qui Parle

deadline for submissions: 
September 1, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences (Duke University Press)

Call for Papers: Form and its Discontents, a special issue of Qui Parle


Thus formless is not only an adjective having a given meaning, but a term that serves to bring things down in the world, generally requiring that each thing have its form. What it designates has no rights in any sense and gets itself squashed everywhere, like a spider or an earthworm. 

— Georges Bataille, Informe (“Formless”), 1929


Formalism is experiencing a revival. Across the disciplines, thinking in public increasingly means attending closely to patterns and orders, to the “shape of a poem or tree” (cf. Sandra MacPherson), to capitalism’s aesthetic categories (cf. Sianne Ngai), to the elemental media that apparently structure life and the environment (cf. Stacy Alaimo), to complex computational models, shifting political formations, overlooked infrastructures, and so on. Form, within this broad conceptualization, describes both the shape of things and the forces or powers that give things shape. 


Writing at a time where formalism was just as de rigueur as it is now, in 1929, as the influence of fascism and Nazism grew across Europe, Georges Bataille published a short yet widely circulated text: Informe (“formless”). For Bataille, formless refers to that which is declassed and stripped of any rights, while the formed is endowed with historical force by the institutions that bestow norms upon things. Such a conception of form stages it as the marker of a metaphysical ordering of the world, as function rather than mere feature. From within this hegemony, formlessness signals the debased, declassed, and abject, unrecognized in form. The valence given here to form as norm and to the formless as that which has “no rights” implies that form and formlessness are dynamic, agentic categories: not simply describing shape, but rather lending it function and, as such, intervening in the world. 


What is formlessness today in a time of resurgent formalism? Depending on fields of inquiry and schools of thought, it may mean abstraction; the absence of shape, a dissolution of contours; the presence of shape but the absence of institutional recognition; the ungovernable; the abject; metamorphosis; anxiety and derealization; informal configurations; the not-yet-formed; a draft; that which cannot be grasped or studied… As much as form is a concept that bridges fields across all disciplines and areas of inquiry, formlessness, too, pervades our thinking implicitly or explicitly, and has drawn increasing, albeit semantically heterogeneous, attention.


With this context in mind, we ask: Why formalism now? What is the pendant to form that current refigurations of formalist methodologies have in mind? What is formlessness today, and how might it be deployed across the critical humanities and social sciences without, as Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss put it, “transforming the formless into a figure” or establishing it as a concept, and thus stabilizing it? And how might attending carefully to the formless, in all its restless ambiguity, impact our understanding of adjacent terms and concepts like performativity, informality, deformity, or conformity? What kind of antagonism between form and formlessness might be fruitful to current discussions of formalism as a method, and of the role of form in various fields? Is this antagonism oppositional—where form and formlessness stand opposed in a binary—or dynamic/adjacent—where form and formlessness are co-produced? In other words, can formalism theorize the formless, or does it say: everything is form? 


This special issue seeks to intervene in and carry forward ongoing conversations about form and formlessness that have played out recently in theinterdisciplinary humanities and social sciences and with implications for literary and cultural studies, film and media studies, environmental studies, geography, anthropology, studies of race, indigeneity, gender, class, disability, and so on.


We welcome submissions from any discipline. The following topics are of particular interest:


State, territory, nation, borders and formlessness

Social difference and formlessness

Shapes, patterns, and models and/as formless

Embodiment and formlessness

Plasticity, mutability, etc

Ontology, epistemology, axiology and formlessness

Politics of form/lessness

Fascist formations in the present

Dissolution/suspension of form

Temporality and formlessness

Formlessness and/as method

Speculation and formlessness

Blackness and form/lessness; black form

Form and metaphysics

Form and/as value

Aesthetics and formlessness

Formalism and ethics

AI and form/modeling


Submissions of 7,000-11,000 words, along with a brief author bio in a separate document, are due by September 1st, 2024 on our submission portal: We welcome pitches in advance of a submission; please email queries and/or pitches to