Bare lives: dispossession and exposure in 20th and 21st Centuries British Literature and Visual Arts
21-22 october 2016
Keynote speaker: Stephen Ross (University of Victoria, BC, Canada)
In the wake of the 2014 autumn conference of the SEAC (“State of Britain”) and building up on the findings of the 2015 LOL conference and particularly its developments on satire, we aim to extend our reflections on British modernist and contemporary literature and arts, addressing their aesthetics, ethics and politics.
Interrogating bare lives in terms of dispossession and exposure is a way to position our debate at the crossroads of various critical and theoretical approaches. “Bare lives” may well be taken as referring to Giorgio Agamben’s concept of bare life and can orientate our research towards modes of presentation and representation of biopolitics in contemporary production, as apparent in the works of such artists as Jeremy Deller and Mark Wallinger or such novelists as Jon McGregor. The theme of the conference can also be understood as an invitation to think about topics recently brought to the fore by precarity or precariousness studies, illustrated by Judith Butler or, on this side of the Atlantic, by philosopher Guillaume Le Blanc, among others. This might lead us to envisage the shift from precarity, poverty or other forms of exclusion (or blindness to exclusion) once depicted from an insider’s point of view by George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London, towards various other forms of dispossession, notoriously defined by Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou and at work in many contemporary productions.
Bare lives, in so far as they may send us back to various forms of exposure—anthropological, social, cultural or economic—may direct the reader’s or spectator’s attention to how norms of visibility are shaped, assigned and implemented, and point to how invisible, voiceless, marginal groups and people, whose very lives are ignored or nearly so, are retrieved from invisibility. This is what British narratives of the 20th and 21st centuries have been doing, from Joyce’s Dubliners, Arnold Bennett’s last novels or Rebecca West’s first ones to Philip Larkin’s poems; from Forster’s Howards End to The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, from Samuel Beckett or Harold Pinter to Sarah Kane or Martin Crimp, not to mention the Angry Young Men, whose work stands in need of reappraisal. Cinema, for example the free cinema of the late 1950s and early 1960s and a great part of the documentary tradition, visual arts and literature engage with “small lives” (Le Blanc), interrogate humble genres and forms, such as life narratives or (auto)biographies, bare style, modes of writing that may resort, in their drive for sincerity, to the baring devices defined by the Russian formalists and implemented in metafictional production. Unless dispossession and exposure favour excess and other modes of outrage, or the collaboration of minimalism and excess.
Organising committee: A. Arniac, S. Belluc, I. Brasme, J-M. Ganteau, A. Haffen, L. Haghshenas, L. Petit, A. Privat, C. Reynier, T. Terradillos.
Proposals in English of about 300 words should be sent to Jean-Michel Ganteau (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Christine Reynier (email@example.com) by June 25, 2016.
A selection of the contributions will be published in the peer-reviewed online journal Etudes britanniques contemporaines