THE BOOK TO COME
The 13th biannual conference of the Nordic Association for Comparative Literature, Gothenburg, August 20–22, 2015
The aim of NorLit 2015 is both to focus on ”the book” in a historical perspective and to examine the variety of medial, aesthetic, political and social dimensions which to a large extent conditions contemporary literature. The conference would like to address the question of the book to come in all its aspects, and thus also of the book that is and was. We would like to encourage inquires into the function and role of the book, from both contemporary and historical perspectives. In what ways have its function and material properties transformed? What kinds of renegotiations is literature, in the form of the book, subject to, and what does it entail for artistic and literary practice? What do the contemporary challenges of the book as object mean for our conception of the history of the book (and vice versa)?
NorLit 2015 wants to offer a platform where different research fields and disciplines, focusing on the medial and material conditions of literature, can congregate. As much as one can speak of a general “material turn” in humanities, there is a need for a forum that brings together the manifold manifestations of the current interests in literature’s material and medial conditions, a cross-disciplinary event beyond such specialized interdisciplinary captions such as intermedia, digital humanities or book history.
KEY NOTE SPEAKERS
Professor Johanna Drucker (UCLA)
Professor Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford University)
Cia Rinne (Poet, Berlin)
Jonas (J) Magnusson (Writer, Editor OEI Magazine, Stockholm)
THE BOOK TO COME
When Maurice Blanchot’s Le livre à venir (”The book to come”) was published in 1959, it addressed a contemporary situation described in terms that seem peculiarly accurate today as well. Modern culture seemed to leave literature behind, while literature’s self-critical and redefining power appeared to wane. Facing this gradual disappearance of literature, a future “book to come” represented a possibility – a last expedient for vanquishing a late modernist aesthetic of muteness (or an equally mute overproduction of signs in the name of cultural industry). To Blanchot, “Literature”, as a tradition, appeared at odds with the demands put on art by contemporary culture, whereas the “the book”, the material object, the collecting principle, the gravity of writing, is what was left after all genres, categories and conventional aesthetic conditions had been done away with. Hence, “the book to come”.
The current circumstances are of course radically different, but perhaps not the essence of the problem that Blanchot identifies (a problem identified through the historical example of Mallarmé’s late typographic poetry). Digital technology once again made the question of the relation between literature and the book acute – and over the last three decades we have instead witnessed what at first glance could look like a disappearance of the book in favor of a reorganization of literature’s medial surfaces. Today, the book to come sometimes seems to promise little more than variants of essentially skeumorphic (imitative) interfaces, nostalgia of the analogue, or a reorganization of consumption patterns (what we buy, our tools for reading how we consume and assimilate literature).
On the other hand, assuming the perspective of aesthetic practice in general, the book seems to be as important as ever – perhaps even more so outside of a traditional literary institution. The physical commodity, the conceptual aspects of literature’s material conditions, have become all the more significant, at the same time as media-centric strands of literary history have attracted increased attention by scholars. This situation is directly or indirectly addressed by many of the more recognized research fields of the last decades, such as: media history; digital humanities; book history; visual and performance studies; writing studies; focus on materiality, the medium and aesthetic cross-over phenomena, and new ‘embodied’ ways of analyzing textual significance.
These questions are evidently children of the digital age – and for this very reason they must go hand in hand with a historical perspective. Addressing them demands an inventory of how the object, as well as the reading and writing practices that have defined literature for centuries are still at work – and how the function and meaning of these kinds of objects and practices have changed. The challenge of the book in our times might be as much a question of studying ‘the book as we already know it’, as translating or adapting reading and writing practices to digital equivalences.
The conference will be hosted by the Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion, University of Gothenburg, and will take place 20–22/8 2015. All scholars, from any country, with interests converging with that of the conference theme are welcome to propose panels, sessions and papers. The official conference language is English, while sessions will be partially open to papers presented in Scandinavian languages; some sessions might also accept papers in German and French.
Proposals for papers or panels should take the form of a 300 word abstract. The deadline for submission of abstracts is February 19 2015. Please send to conference organizer, Nils Olsson: .
“The book as aesthetic object”
Artist books. Graphic/critical design, and extended typography.
“Book as Medium”
Various functions as mediator: intermediary, interface, archive, container.
”Book vs. Work vs. Text”
Genre and paratextuality. Which genres demand the book and which do not? What are the obejcts of contemporary literary studies?
”Book as symbol”
The function of the book as a topos, motif or thematic function in fiction
”The digital book”
The ontology of the book object in the digital age.
“History of the book”
Early modern and pre-modern books, genealogy of contemporary reading and writing practices
“The book as conceptual object”
The book in relation to conceptual writing, text based art
“The future of the book”
New reading, writing and analysing practices. Prospects of the contemporary book market.
“The phenomenology of the book”
On the experience of the book. What senses are involved and in what ways do they matter?
“The illustrated book”
The book and the image, the book without words
“Politics of the book”
The book in relation to power and ideology
The construction of the book, philology and publishing. Questions of authenticity and ownership
“Market and commodity”
The book as commercial object.