CFP: Problematic Sympathizing: The Globalectics of Connection through Literature (CACLALS; deadline: 7 Jan. 2019)

We invite paper abstracts for a proposed panel at the conference of the Canadian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (CACLALS), for Congress 2019 at UBC, 1-7 June 2018, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Panel title:
Problematic Sympathizing: The Globalectics of Connection through Literature

Deadline for Proposals:
7 January 2019

Panel Organizers:
Dr. Geoffrey MacDonald, Independent Scholar
Nasra Smith, PhD Student, York University

In On Sympathy (2008), Sophie Ratcliff challenges the idea that affective sympathy in readers presumes an automatic sense of affiliation. She chastises the conflation of a “triangulation of three separate ideas: the ideas of sympathy as an emotion, of understanding, and of knowledge” (15). Literature is often taught and touted as a pathway for emotional contact between peoples of disparate experience, but does every reader bridge the divide between themselves and the other on the page? Indigenous and diasporic literary works explore displacement, genocide, rape, prejudice, exploitation, and spiritual suppression, yet the heroes and villains in those stories are not always clear. The complexities of history, of social dynamics, and the configurations of oppression and privilege require that we problematize representations along a continuum of resonance and repellence in a way that values difficult texts that produce an array of reactions. We are seeking panellists that explore those lines of connection and incommensurability in literary representations and/or reading response. As Mike Marais (2011) points out, the linguistic choices of the author arouse sympathy, both semiotic and symbolic, but attempts by writers to limit sympathies are often subject to the unruly receptions of a diverse readership. We wish to encourage a discussion that questions the affective nature of sympathy, its delimitations, its relationship to the collectivity of symbolism or the pluriversality of signification.

The purpose of the panel will be to unpack the ways in which connections are made and disrupted through reading and representational praxis. How do writers and critics and teachers approach “difficult” material in complex ways? How, to use Marais’s phrasing, does literature disrupt the “ethical efficacy” of representation as much as it encourages it?

We are particularly interested in papers that focus on literary texts and scholarship from Africa, the Caribbean, Indigenous North America and the South Pacific, and South Asia (or their various diasporas) and those that examine work both within and across those geographic boundaries. We are cognizant of the role that translation plays in the construction of linguistic strategy within a text and welcome papers on non-Anglophone writers from the above regions with emphasis on acts of translation/interpretation. 

Topics include, but are not limited to:

  • (Im)Possibilities of Postcolonial Sympathy
  • Witnessing, Trauma, and Memory
  • (Symbolic) Violence and Limits of Sympathy
  • Indigeneity vs. Subalternity as In/Commensurable
  • The Ethics of Sympathy
  • Articulation/Speaking vs. Reception/Hearing of Sympathy
  • Sympathy and the Politics of Language
  • Postcolonial Genres – Digitization, Crime, Science Fiction
  • Human Migration, Mobility, and Displacement
  • Women, Gender, and Sexualities
  • Gender Identity and Expression
  • Race, Class, Empire

A 200-word abstract of your paper and a 50-word biography, both of which will be included in the submission to CACLALS if your paper is selected for our panel. Please send your submissions to by 7 January 2019 with a subject line that begins with CACLALS PANEL. Acceptance notifications will be sent within one week. Submission to CACLALS shall take place on 15 January 2019.

Nasra Smith

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