Institute of Modern Languages Research
Proposal Deadline: 31 May 2021
Online Symposium: 1-2 October 2021
Keynote Speakers: Natalie Edwards (Adelaide), Christopher Hogarth (South Australia) and Shirley Jordan (Newcastle)
Organisers: Françoise Campbell (IMLR) and Beth Kearney (Queensland)
Postgraduate and ECR Symposium at the IMLR
The symposium will focus on “Narratives of Selfhood and Ambivalence” in contemporary works of literature, film, visual art and hybrid media (artist books, photo-texts, bande dessinée, internet-based media, etc.), from 1980 to the present. This online event is aimed at an international audience, welcoming presentations from postgraduate students and early career researchers (ECRs) working across the Modern Languages.
In an age when social media and populism are on the rise and subjective truths shape reality, questions of self-expression and identity formation are paramount. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this period has seen a dramatic rise in narratives of selfhood and subjectivity, which has grown exponentially since the 1980s (Smith & Watson 2016). These narratives consistently throw the notion of self into question and portray it as a site of instability, fragmentation and ambivalence. Furthermore, they increasingly take on hybrid forms, media and genres, a feature that amplifies the ambivalent nature of self-representation in such works.
This symposium considers ambivalence as a lens through which to explore contemporary narratives of selfhood and the evolving practices of self-representation. Typically defined as the experience of conflicting feelings or opinions on a given matter (Bleuler cited in Merton 1976, 3), ambivalence lends itself to both positive and negative interpretations, as a platform for new creative possibilities (Razinsky 2016) and equally a threat to productivity (Davidson 1980). The notion of ambivalence may be examined as a theme in a given work or as a formal aspect that governs a person’s experience of and attitude toward a work. We invite papers that focus on how identity and selfhood are constructed as entities of uncertainty, tension, paradox and, in particular, ambivalence, in works of literature, film, visual art and hybrid media, from 1980 to the present. By bringing together papers from across the Modern Languages, we hope to generate cross-cultural dialogues on ambivalent selves in our contemporary context, thereby reframing restrictive notions of selfhood and self-representation.
These investigations may focus on how the self is often portrayed as an entity fragmented across different kinds of borders: a self may be divided across geographies or languages (Edwards 2019), fractured by the shifting boundaries between different media (Poletti 2020; Edwards et al. 2011) or complicated by the interpersonal borders that divide self and other. Likewise, ambivalence may be expressed through the range of representational practices used to recount individual experiences. The autofictional genre, for example, draws attention to the limitations of both self-knowledge and representation through the use of reflexivity, metanarratives or psychoanalytical tropes (Jordan 2012; Smith & Watson 2016). The ambivalence that emerges from such portrayals resonates with alternate forms of identity destabilisation, whereby traumatic events such as bodily trauma, forced exile or personal loss can introduce paradox and contradiction to understandings of self.
We additionally seek to explore the role that agency plays in narratives of selfhood and ambivalence. In what ways might ambivalence act as a means of escaping, resisting or challenging societal prescriptions? How can ambivalence work toward transgressing norms or taboos? Does ambivalence create or foreclose power and agency? In this vein, would ambivalence represent a form of resistance and innovation, or is it a posture that points to indifference and resignation?
Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:
●Postcolonial narratives of exile and identity fragmentation
●Multilingualism and identification through language
●Representations of gender-fluid experiences
●Transgressive portrayals of the self or resistance to normative notions of identity (in relation to culture, class, sex, gender)
●Corporeal alienation (triggered by traumatic experiences and/or memories, sexual violence, etc.)
●Self-representation through hybrid media and/or genre
●Autofictions and/as formal ambivalence
●Authorial posturing and rhetorical ambivalence
●Ambivalence as a trope in character development
●Resistance to hermeneutic stability and resolution in genre or narrative
For individual proposals of 15 minutes, please send a 250-word abstract prior to 31 May, with a short author bio, to Françoise Campbell and Beth Kearney. For panel proposals of 45 minutes (three speakers), please send a 500-word summary outlining all papers.
The event will take place over two half-days, commencing at the following times:
●London (BST): 8:00 am-11:30 am
●Sydney/Melbourne/Canberra/Brisbane (Aust.): 5:00 pm-8:30 pm
Donald Davidson, Essays on actions and events. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.
Natalie Edwards, Translingual Selves: Multilingual Life Writing by French and Francophone Women. London: Routledge, 2019.
Natalie Edwards, Amy L. Hubbell, and Ann Miller (eds.), Textual and Visual Selves: Photography, Film, and Comic Art in French Autobiography. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011.
Shirley Jordan, ‘État présent. Autofiction in the Feminine’. French Studies, Vol. LXVII (1), (2012): 76 – 84.
Robert King Merton, Sociological Ambivalence and other essays. New York: Macmillan ‘The Free Press’, 1976.
Anna Poletti, Stories of the Self: Life Writing after the Book. New York: New York University Press, 2020.
Hili Razinsky, Ambivalence: A Philosophical Exploration. London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016.
Sidonie Smith and Julie Watson, Life Writing in the Long Run. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, 2016.