CfP: The Genres of Genre: A Conference on Form, Format, and Cultural Formations (SANAS)

Swiss Association for North American Studies (SANAS) Biannual Conference, Nov. 2 and 3, 2018, Lausanne

North American Studies have always had an intense but ambivalent relationship to genre, as these narrative patterns have participated in nationalist processes as well as in narratives of resistance. Emerging at the beginning of the twentieth century from concerns about naturalism and realism, American literary scholarship after WWII avoided the politicized post-war atmosphere by making the ‘romance’ the quintessential American novel genre, while cinematic genres such as the musical or the Western contributed to amplifying the mythic dimension of American self-definition. Since then, American Studies scholars have pioneered influential work on melodrama, the American Gothic, the jeremiad and other genres. Concurrently, Canadian literature’s prominent nation-building narratives were framed as documentary tales of regionalism, historical novels and social realism before evolving into dystopian and postmodern fiction, most famously by Margaret Atwood. Thus, among the recurring questions posed by genre is the conflicted relationship between literature/art and ist social, historical, and cultural context. Terms such as ‘the political unconscious’ (Jameson), ‘cultural work’ (Tompkins), ‘narrative mode’ (Williams) and ‘performative’ (Austin, Turner) have been centrally determining, over the years, to help us understand how genres work and what they do. This conference therefore seeks to explore what roles genre plays in American and Canadian nation-building and counter-narratives, and how it evolves nowadays.

While the cultural concept of genre has been crucial in creating North American national literatures and identities, it shows equal potential for resistance, subversion and transformation of these constructed national characters. Thus, how does genre reconcile this seemingly contradictory potential for creating narratives of nationbuilding as well as counter-culture? How do feminist, queer, Indigenous, Latino/a, African-American/Canadian and Asian-American/Canadian writers use, appropriate, and subvert specific genres to resist and protest social injustices. How do they use genre to imagine alternative models or redeem social injustice? With Prof. Linda Williams (UC Berkeley) and Prof. Ronald Schleifer (University of Oklahoma), both experts on the role of genre in North American studies as our keynote speakers, this conference proposes to be a space for a renewed discussion about what genre has meant for North American studies as well as American and Canadian culture, and what its future might be.

See the full Call for Papers here.

Deadline for proposals: April 30, 2018.

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