Seminar: The Forgotten Forms of Contemporary Fiction

Co-organizer: Mitch Murray

Are there ghosts haunting the study of the contemporary? What undead forms and themes continue to shape the arts of the present, even as critics ignore or decontextualize them? This seminar invites participants to conjure forgotten forms—critically passé, outdated, obsolete, uncool, or overlooked literary devices, stylistic elements, genre conventions, and media elements—to discuss how they inform contemporary fiction and its study.

Acknowledging forgotten forms is no easy task for contemporary literary critics, not least because the academy rewards scholars who identify and name new paradigms. As we move further into the 21st century, the last decades of the 20th have especially fallen out of fashion, as if their proximity to the present makes them both outdated and insufficiently historical. But the 1970s, 80s, and 90s—their literature and artistic productions as well as their political and socioeconomic conditions—were formative for many authors writing today. The late 20th century’s seismic events—Reaganomics, the Latin American debt and 1973 oil crises, the aftershocks of decolonization, a new consciousness of “global warming,” the ascent of postmodernism— resonate throughout contemporary literature. This seminar invites contributions from scholars who consider the presence of forgotten forms from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s in today’s fiction.

More broadly, the seminar asks what becomes possible when we consider the varied present of fiction without the narrowing constraint of newness. Bracketing the new, we recognize that a host of historical forms and concerns endure in fiction and clear space to explore unfashionable forms and texts, as well as peripheralized regions and aesthetic movements, that have the power to explain those concerns and our current critical preoccupations.

This seminar will foster a broad and inclusive conversation about the status of contemporary literature and its study. We will bring together scholars from diverse institutions and of all ranks working in different traditions, media, and genres that reflect the necessarily heterogeneous field of contemporary fiction. We welcome contributions from scholars with a wide range of methodologies: papers may articulate theories of the contemporary, be literary historical or grounded in archival materials, draw upon visual or media studies, etc.