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Conference on Writing Slavery

Call for Papers

Writing Slavery after Beloved

Literature, Historiography, Criticism

International Symposium

Université de Nantes – France

March 16-17, 2012

Can Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) be considered as a watershed in the contemporary representations of slavery and the slave trade, not only in the literary field, but also in historiography and Cultural Studies? This Symposium will attempt to assess whether this major text, together with its reception, represents a possible paradigm shift in the remembering and rewriting of slavery. After two decades and more, the time may be right to re-read these two decades of post slavery writing in the transatlantic as a body of work which, however non-homogeneous, shares certain trends and characteristics, and has impacted massively on transatlantic postmodern cultures.

The novel engages – to use Paul Gilroy’s phrase from The Black Atlantic (1993) – “a counter-culture of modernity,” in which the triangular trade and the commodification of Africans represented the dark side of the European and Euro-American rhetoric of Enlightenment and Progress, and displaced the discourse of the nation. It also spells out the dire need for genuinely coming to terms with a past that continues to haunt the present.

The emphasis on “re-reading” and “re-writing” could lead us to probe the different, yet complementary ways in which literature, historiography, and criticism reinscribe the past within the framework of the present; how they dialogue with their object, as well as with each other; how they foreground textuality in various forms.

As a “science of the particular,” literature plays in a different key from either a historical essay or a political pamphlet. Novel or poem can supplement, through the imagination, a lack of historical documents from the enslaved, and therefore often silenced, part of the population. They can also offer alternatives to the time coordinates and teleology of classical historical narrative. Contemporary historiography has taken up the challenge and brought history closer to lived experience, vernacular forms of expression, and non-written documents. The recent republishing of 19th century texts about slavery has made accessible to a broader public more varied materials, and entailed new re-readings of the questions. All in all, the interplay between different regimes of writing has contributed to blurring generic lines – between “fiction” and “non-fiction,” poetry and prose, etc. The key prefix here is “trans-,” as in transatlantic, or transdisciplinary.

Organized in partnership with CAAR (Collegium for African American Research), this Symposium aims at confronting and stimulating European research first and foremost in the field of African American Studies but also in Postcolonial Studies, particularly in the context of fiction and historiography written in and about the Caribbean, Canada, South Africa, or the Indian Ocean. In these areas, fiction related to slavery has found a new lease of life in the past twenty years. What are the conditions that have led to the so far unarchived (hi)stories of slavery and indentureship being pushed into existence? And what are the modalities of such an emergence?

Therefore, the different reception histories and responses to Beloved and later literature and criticism about slavery in various European countries will be a proper subject of inquiry. The workshop will also focus on the ground-breaking advances that the “post-Beloved” literature of slavery has initiated in the field of novel and literary writing in general, and of writing historical trauma in particular; it could address the legacy of criticism of post slavery writing in the sense of critical gains for other fields (memory, trauma, representation of history in general), but also in terms of its problems (traumakitsch; popular fiction or film); its pros (its pathbreaking advances to give faces and voices to the enslaved, to retrieve the history of the enslaved from abjection, to counter national limitations of history, history from below etc., all massively stimulated by slave trade and slavery historiography) as well as its cons (the “iconisation,” and thus containment of history in “safe data”… in very problematic museum installations and popular culture and the media). Since textual strategies are often context-specific, what are the hopes and challenges that the new forms of writing / rewriting slavery attempt to meet, in many languages, across the Atlantic?

Please send a 1-page abstract and biographical sketch before November 1st, 2011 to the local organizing committee:

Michel FEITH:

Ambre IVOL:

Xavier LEMOINE :

Françoise LE JEUNE :

Scientific Committee:

Sabine BROECK – University of Bremen, Germany:

Giulia FABI – University of Ferrara, Italy:

Claudine RAYNAUD – University Montpellier 3, France:


2 thoughts on “Conference on Writing Slavery

  • 10th July 2011 at 7:20 pm

    great work i like this and its very useful keep it up

  • 15th July 2011 at 2:18 am

    Writing is truly liberating, especially if you are able to comment and offer opinions on a subject you feel strongly about.


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