Je est un author: (Re-)Appearances of the Authorial Subject in Literature and Theory (ACLA 2022, Taipei)
In Mithu Sanyal’s novel Identitti, shortlisted for the German Book Prize 2021, a fictional professor of Postcolonial Studies who identifies as a PoC causes a scandal when it turns out she is actually white. A recent American case eerily resembles the plot of the novel: an associate professor of history resigned in 2020 after admitting to having falsely presented herself as Black. Who is ‘behind’ a theory matters – but how?
These are two rather spectacular cases in literature and theory. But the question is pertinent beyond identity (and Identitti) fraud. Since French Theory killed off the author, the question of the subjective conditions of literature and theory has still been haunting the field. In recent years, a remarkable variety of strategies has been applied to address this tension, reflecting on embodiment of discourse, theorizing personal anecdote, and questioning social positionality without essentializing the speaking subject. Feminist, queer, and colored writers, artists, and theoreticians have argued against the pseudo-neutrality of textuality. Notions like “situated knowledge” (Donna Haraway), “auto-cobaye” (Paul B. Preciado), and the “oppositional gaze” (bell hooks) provided critical insights hinged on the specific contexts from which they emerged. In literature, the protagonists in autofiction can be regarded as ambiguous figures oscillating between the poles of correlating factual authors and fictional characters. Sanyal’s Identitti references a whole array of actual theoreticians while exploring the conundrum of identity and authorship in a literary tour-de-force.
Our seminar asks about the contemporary epistemological and political dimensions of authorship in theory as well as about the authorial aesthetics of literary texts: not only when it comes to explicitly reflecting on questions about an ‘identity’ behind a theory, as in Sanyal’s novel, does literature engage with the (unstable) roles of the authorial subject. It can also performatively add to the discussion by setting in motion an oscillation between reference and fiction, and such an aesthetics can have political stakes itself.
We do not conceive of literature and theory as opposites: the above-mentioned examples already hint at the manifold and complex ways in which the two are intertwined. We particularly encourage submissions that explore such relations, but we also welcome individual case studies of literature or theory – and from any cultural context.
Paper proposals should be submitted through the ACLA website by October 31. Don't hesitate to reach out to the seminar organizers should you have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com