Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC) / La nouvelle de langue anglaise (Journal of the Short Story in English)

Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC) / La nouvelle de langue anglaise (Journal of the Short Story in English), Catherine Bernard and Gerald Preher

The term “exception” has never been elaborated into a concept nor has it been appropriated by criticism or theory to define modern aesthetics, as “subversion,” “revolution” or even “avant-garde” have been. And yet, it may offer a different purchase on some of the persistent traits of modernity and thus bring us to rethink the poetics of the modern, as well as literature’s and art’s relation to history, specifically in its moments of crisis.

As the etymology of the term implies, “exception” suggests that the general rule cannot apply to what is “excepted.” Interestingly, the term does not however suggest any form of agonistic tension between rule and exception. If, according to the popular phrase “the exception confirms the rule”, the relation is above all one of radical difference in which the person or thing “excepted” is one of his / her / its kind and in fact exceeds all comparisons. Exceptions necessarily are stand-alones. They thus lay down their own rules that radically depart from the common law. Such radical difference is of course most prominent in the figure of the eccentric who invents himself / herself in radical contradistinction with the laws — even the revolutionary laws — that define the language of the common, of the tribe or of the faction. The language of the exceptional is thus one that is difficult to define or even to understand with the available tools. Yet even the most exceptional of eccentrics need to establish some common aesthetic ground in order merely to be identified as exceptional and as departing from the common law. As is obvious thus, the definition of exceptionality remains an open and even vexed one. One may even wonder whether extrapolating the notion of exceptionality from its root noun “exception” does not, from the start, imply that one is doomed to essentialize exception and thus to read invariants where there is only unrepeatable uniqueness.

The range of possible topics to be broached is wide, from issues that have to do with the aesthetics of “exception” and the way “exceptions” engage with the law of art, to more historical and political variants of the notion, as manifest in the dystopian “states of exception”.

The 2019 SEAC – JSSE workshop will be the occasion for us to address some aspects of literature and the arts that have not yet been granted systematic attention. The recent vein of dystopian fiction, both in Britain and the United States may offer a point of entry to explore how fiction and the arts address history at its most contradictory when the exception becomes the law. One may also turn to the function played in 20th and 21st century literature and the arts by such exceptional figures as Edith Sitwell, author of The English Eccentrics (1933), or the artist duo Gilbert & George in the forging of different aesthetic idioms. How have these exceptional figures staged their exceptionality and turned it into some performative strength? Have they worked as what Michel Foucault defines as “operators of discursivity” in his essay “What is an author?” (1969)? Can we thus extrapolate a history of forms for the 20th and 21st centuries that would structure itself around what Alain Badiou has defined as “events” (L’Être et l’événement, 1988), i.e. moments of opening that except themselves and manifest themselves unexpectedly and in a radically utimely way?

Papers may address these issues from a historical perspective, analysing the exception in relation to its context and possible legacy, but also how literature and art engage with historical states of exception. Papers may also choose to focus on close-readings of exceptional works, whether literary or visual. The 2019 workshop will thus also be the occasion to turn to understudied works or forms that have not received detailed attention yet: from stand-alone works in the broader corpus of an author or artist, to works that have no equivalent in their context, and that, as a consequence, may have been neglected by critics and scholars. Writers who claim they are solely novelists, though they have published numerous short pieces, could be explored as well as writers who have used short stories as starting points for longer works (plays, novels…) since the initial text often remains uncollected (if not unknown) and thus an “exception” in their production.

In all cases, it will be crucial to address the critical status of those works and to recontextualize them in order to assess in what radical way they resisted established aesthetic norms and what their reception has been across time. One may also thus turn to the crisis exceptions produce in the system of aesthetic values and the way they put these values to the test.

Corpus to be addressed:

— 20th and 21st century British literature or visual arts

— The genre of the short-story (19th – 21st centuries, GB / US)

Proposals for papers in English (300 words, plus critical bibliography,) should be sent by October 31st to:

Catherine Bernard:

Gerald Preher: