The Essay and Singularity
An International Conference of the Slovenian Comparative Literature Association
Ljubljana, 22-23 October 2009
The essay evades genre classifications and falls outside the typologies of the three literary genres that were inherited from Romanticism, but was nonetheless recognized as an independent genre in twentieth-century literary studies. One characteristic of this genre is that it transcends the boundaries of literature and hybridizes its discourse with that of another art, philosophy, science, religion, or politics. The essay is the genre that, alongside the novel, perhaps best responds to modernity: from Montaigne and Bacon through Benjamin and Adorno to today, it is distinguished by experiential and exploratory creation of knowledge, questioning of established systems of learning and disciplinary divisions, as well as showing doubt about traditional authorities and general laws or rules. The essay intervenes in given cultural sources with poetic writing, primarily authorized by the singularity of an individual’s existence, its enunciatory position, personalized experience, and perspective that continually enable the essayist writing to open up new, sometimes barely anticipated associations between words, things, concepts, disciplines, and experiences. The examining creativity of the essay, its significance in the dynamics of thought and cognition, and also its hybridity or borderline quality (characterized at a loss as “semi-literary quality”) should also be considered and defined outside the comfortable formulas of the essay as a subjective, at first glance literary practice and representation of knowledge. The conceptual framework that could prove to be productive in this endeavour implies singularity, an issue that has recently been much discussed in philosophy (Jean-Luc Nancy) and literary studies (Samuel Weber, Timothy Clark, and Derek Attridge). Singularity – to which art itself unavoidably adheres in its essence – opens new perspectives on the known structural nature of the essay, such as subjectivity, mixing of genres, reflexivity and self-reflexivity, first-person narrative, autobiography, rhetoric and poetics, narrativity and intertextuality, open form, etc. The conference will raise the following questions: What is the connection between singularity and pluralism of ethics, policies, and truths in the essay, which is the presumed emblem of postmodernity? How much and how does essayistic writing overstep the genre boundaries of the essay and shapes novels, poetry, plays, and the performing arts? How does it transform itself in the language of modern print and electronic media? Does an essayistic pop culture also exist? How is the essay used and misused in education? Furthermore, in a society in which the criteria of knowledge are shaken, is the essay not often also a pretense or alibi? Does the rhetoric of essayism not in many cases conceal argumentative deficiencies, logical errors, scholarly lack of expertise, hidden political agendas, and ideologies? Or perhaps transgressive thinking, such as is recorded in essay writing, is only an unavoidable and inherent segment of the cognitive understanding of new realities?
Organizing Committee: Dr Marko Juvan (Scientific Research Centre and University of Ljubljana), Dr Darja Pavlič (University of Maribor), Dr Ivo Pospíšil (University of Brno), Jola Škulj (Scientific Research Centre, Ljubljana).
Please send the title of a 20-minute paper and a short synopsis (300 characters) in English before 1 June 2009 to Dr Darja Pavlič, e-mail: email@example.com
The participants whose abstracts have been accepted will be sent an official invitation by the Slovenian Comparative Literature Association in June 2009. They will be asked to send a longer abstract (2000 characters) before 20 September 2009 in order to publish it in a booklet before the conference.
A selection of papers will be considered for publication in Primerjalna književnost journal in June 2010.
There is no conference fee. It is expected that the participants will cover their travel and accommodation costs by themselves. The organizers will provide the information on accommodation in Ljubljana.
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