Ethics and Literature

Call for Papers

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"What kind of a turn is the turn to ethics? A Right turn? A Left turn? A wrong turn? A U-turn? Whose turn? Whose turn is it to turn to ethics? And why? Why now?"
-- Marjorie Garber, Beatrice Hanssen and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, 2000.

To engage literature with ethics across and outside the canon is at once to place the text in dialogue with the moral imperatives and limitations of its times, but also to challenge our contemporary ethos. Ethics seek to consider the rules of savoir-vivre in the largest sense, i.e., how are we to live? They constitute a perpetual questioning, a moral hygiene of sorts. If we accept that a work of literature can be understood as a signifying system, it follows that each system has its own moral codes, which can be mapped out by the reader. Furthermore, outside the text, each writer operates according to her own ethics, and each literary movement evolves in keeping or in dissent with its particular aims.

For this conference, we would like to reconsider the question that was posed to Sartre fifty years ago: “Que peut la littérature?” The question of ethics does not exclude that of the subversion of morals, or even the study of morality in the “extra-moral sense,” to borrow Nietzsche’s phrase, as “illusions of which we have forgotten they are illusions.” We would welcome papers that attempt to relate ethics and aesthetics, as well as more theoretical projects that examine the tools available for analyzing literature from an ethical perspective. From what subject positions do we as scholars in the twenty-first century analyze and judge the morality and ethics of literary works and literature in general? We ask, finally, what can be learnt from the act itself of reading and interpreting? Thoughtful engagement of these questions is timely, as current discussions of the so-called decline of the humanities compel us to ask what literature stands to offer us today.

We welcome submissions from graduate students of individual, unpublished papers and presentations about literature and film from France, Québec and Canada, Africa, the Caribbean, as well as all other French-speaking regions. Topics can be related, but need not be limited to:

Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to YaleFrenchGradConference @ by November 15, 2011. Each abstract should clearly state your project's relevance to the conference theme. It should also include your paper title, name, email, and institutional/departmental affiliation. Presentations should last 15 minutes.

There is no conference fee, but participants are responsible for their own travel and lodging. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the conference organizing committee.