January 24-25 2020, Universities Sorbonne Nouvelle & Vincennes Saint-Denis, Paris
CFP (by 14 July 2019)
Paul Virilio In Memoriam
“The novel in the embrace of new technologies will be the novel that writes itself.”
“Will advancing technology revitalize human consciousness or drown it forever?”
Don DeLillo (Peter Boxall, personal correspondence)
Based on the title of a recent book by Xavier Pavie, "Innovation Challenged by Philosophy", this conference aims to examine the relationship between American fiction and innovations that marked the first decades of the 21st century: the Internet, social media, smart objects and environments, artificial intelligence, nanotechnologies, genetic engineering and other biotechnologies, transhumanism. These technological innovations redefine the way we live in and imagine our world, interact with each other and understand the human being in his ever closer relationship to the machine – a human being no longer, as in the past, cared for or repaired, but now enhanced or replaced. What about our artistic and cultural practices? Are these recent advances changing language and literature? It is in order to explore these questions that we will investigate the reciprocal link between technological progress and 21st century fiction: how is fiction transformed by technological progress (in its subjects, in its structures, in its style, in its relationship to readers) and conversely, what representations of progress can it oppose ? In other words, to what extent does technological innovation renew what is literary, and in which case, in relation to which writing standards, or even in relation to which protocols (Alexander Galloway)? In a world that "has become number" (Olivier Rey) and seems to have restored, after God's death, a new transcendence under the face of technology, how does literature apprehend a humanity no longer generated and conceived in the image of God, but which, crossed by the "Promethean shame" (Günther Anders) of having been born according to a blind and hazardous process, can now owe its existence to algorithms and be manufactured? If human sciences or philosophy probe the ethical dimensions of current technological manipulations (genetics, cloning, life after brain death), what about fiction? If irony once constituted "the freedom of the writer towards God" (Lukacs, Theory of the Novel), can it still unfold in an era characterized by artificial transcendence or the technological sublime that marks a frantic return of metaphysics?
In addition to the ontological changes made possible by technology and its growing intervention on human origins and ends, can fiction offer a critique of the new media and the upheavals they precipitate? How does the temporality of literature respond to a technical time subjected to the imperative of efficiency (Huxley, The History of Tension), where the present is a slave to the future (Bataille, The Sovereign)? Can fiction contest the productivist and consumerist telos that orients our lives, and rests on unquenchable desires that generates a uniform and restless time (Jonathan Crary, 24/7 Late Capitalism and the End of Sleep)? Is it condemned to the paradoxical mimesis of a "transparent society" - without obstacles - as defined by the German philosopher Byung-Chul Han ("a society of positive, exposure, evidence, pornography, acceleration, intimacy, information, revelation and control”)? Do virtual worlds challenge the primacy of literary fiction as a privileged mode of escape from daily life? In a context where software can generate literary works, can the force of poetical advent still oppose algorithmic logics (Bruno Bachimont, Le sens de la technique : Le numérique et le calcul)? What becomes of the body (that of the character, reader, author) in a world in which its technical extensions (Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech) increase the externalization of its cognitive functions in media artifacts and digital networks (McLuhan, Understanding Media – The Extension of Man), and in which our natural habitat is progressively replaced by a quickly evolving "technical milieu" (Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society)? What is gained, and what is lost in so called "augmented literature"? How are the borders of literature redefined by transmedia logics pushing authors to explore and settle in new writing modalities and spaces? As writing is – in and of itself – a technique, can we talk of a "becoming-technical" that would be specific to contemporary literature?
Contemporary American fiction engages with these questions. Jonathan Franzen, after having re-published essays by Karl Kraus to substantiate his criticism of digital media, composed a tragic novel on the written press and the threats it faces as the Internet becomes the primary mode of communication, and as figures such whistleblowers take on roles traditionally played by journalists (Purity). Some writers have experimented with live fiction writing, like Joshua Cohen, whose PCKWCK – a reference to Dickens's Pickwick Papers – deals with the acceleration of communication in the digital age. In The Circle, Dave Eggers has imagined a panoptic society where consumers willingly integrate surveillance technology in their daily life. Other writers take advantage of new media configurations to remodel narrative form: reinvention of the epistolary novel, transposed on collaborative platforms (such as Booking.com) in Rick Moody's Hotels of North America; emergence of "twitter fiction" (with Jennifer Egan tweeting her short story "Black Box" for the New Yorker). 2043, a speculative work by Kim Stanley Robinson (2012), allows us to envision human life after the ecological catastrophe, the rise to power of artificial intelligence and the colonization of the solar system through terraforming. Richard Powers, in his Overstory (2018), muses upon our relationship with trees, as our environment is becoming more technical. In Jeff VanderMeer's "eco-horror" novel Annihilation (2014), the border separating humans and nonhumans is disrupted by innovations in biotechnology. Each of these literary endeavors traces a different trajectory across the technological terrain we now inhabit. To what extent are these trajectories informed by the great founding myths of America, the traditional land of innovation, and notably of military-scientific innovation (Donna Haraway, The Cyborg Manifesto)?
Presentations may be in French or English and touch upon:
Trans- and posthumanism in fiction
Literary approaches to the ethics of medical technology
Narrative faced with biotechnologies
Literature and responsibility
Writers' Twitter accounts
Fiction against/for new media
Technology and capital, neoliberalism
The press and whistleblowers
Internet and totalitarianism
The face (Facebook)
Acceleration, hyper speed and narrative temporality
Mimesis and the transparency society
Addition/algorithms in narration
Reading as connection compulsion
Cybernetics and technical systems in literature
Literary and digital languages (code across media)
Writing, pornography, and the regimes of the contactless
Ecological catastrophe and technology
250-500 words proposals accompanied by a short bio. should be sent to:
Submission deadline is July 14th, 2019.
Proposals will be subjected to blind peer-review by the scientific committee. Authors will be informed of the results of their submission before July 15th 2019.
Arnaud Regnauld (University Vincennes Saint-Denis Paris 8)
Béatrice Pire (University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3)
Pierre-Louis Patoine (University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3)
This conference is a joint initiative of Paris 8 University (EA 1569 – Transferts critiques et dynamique des savoirs) and Sorbonne Nouvelle University (EA 4398 PRISME – Groupe 19-21 Modernités critiques).