deadline for submissions: 
June 14, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Graduate Center, CUNY

The MA/PhD Program in Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center, CUNY

invites applications for the annual Graduate Conference to be held on


Friday November 15th, 2024

At the CUNY Graduate Center

365 5th Avenue, New York, NY 


Illusion is purposeful deceit employed to manipulate perceptions of reality. It can foster mimesis for the novel’s reader, trick the eye of the painting’s viewer, and transport the play’s spectator. Deriving from the Latin illudere, mock, or ludere, play, illusion plays on the senses of its witnesses in order to portray the dreamlike. Yet veering too far into illusion, one risks succumbing to delusion. Plato’s cave dwellers mistakenly believe they experience reality. Huysmans’ Jean des Esseintes loses his humanity when he becomes obsessed with his aesthetic fantasies. Woolf’s Ramsays in To the Lighthouse convince themselves that time stands still. 

        Great illusions are often followed by profound disillusion. Political movements that once seemed revolutionary reveal themselves as reactionary or corrupt. Industrial cities promising wealth breed financial suffering and social duplicity. Utopian vision gives way to dystopian reality. The shock of seeing through an illusion can lead one to grim pragmatism, as when Baudelaire writes, “it is bitter knowledge that one learns from travel.”

        It is reductive, though, to understand illusion and disillusion as ordered pairs, in which illusion represents falsehood, innocence, and surface, while disillusion stands in for truth, experience, and depth. Illusion seduces, but it also generates. The Decameron’s narrators escape the plague through storytelling, Hamlet uses theater to “catch the conscience of the king,” and Plath transcends the limitations of her reality through a poetics of occult illusions. Disillusion is both loss and opportunity. The disillusion felt in the salons of French academy painting contributed to the birth of Impressionism, and the mass disillusion experienced after the First World War influenced the development of Modernism. Investigating the two terms does not necessitate the former giving way to the latter.

In this conference we will interrogate the tensions between illusion and disillusion. What is the creative potential of illusion and disillusion? Can illusion and disillusion be reconciled? Is disillusion inevitable, or can illusions sustain themselves? What do illusion and disillusion reveal or complicate about semiotics, ontology, and epistemology? In the context of contemporary academia, how can such inquiries be pursued in a precarious scholarly environment that invites such profound disillusionment?

This conference welcomes literary and artistic analyses, cultural and historical studies, and philosophical explorations of illusion, disillusion, and the relationship between the two concepts. Inquiry may address, but is not limited to, the following areas:

  • Illusions in aesthetics: artistic representation, mimesis, realism, romanticism, abstraction, the figure of the artist, artistic responses to disillusion, and the rise and fall of artistic movements.

  • Illusions in performance, theater, film, television, and music. Politics, censorship, radical experimentation, and popular culture in the performing arts.

  • Illusions of nation and national identity. Political idealism and/or disillusionment, either in the historical or contemporary sphere. The illusion of empire and disillusionment preceding/proceeding decolonization.

  • Illusions of subjectivity, including gender performance, posthumanism, transhumanism, humanism; identity and universality.

  • Illusions of place and temporality: illusions of nature and culture, the city and the country, utopias and dystopias, travel narratives.


Submissions to should include:

1.         200-300 word conference paper abstract

2.         Five keywords to situate your proposed topic

3.         100-word academic bio