American Literature Symposium

* Saturday 17 May, 2014 *

Faculty of English

University of Cambridge


PROF. DAVID BLIGHT (Yale University)

PROF. LAWRENCE RAINEY (University of York)

American literature has long taken creative energy from the overlap between the real and the imagined. From Columbus’s letter to Sant Angel, through Winthrop’s ‘city upon a hill’, to Emerson’s ‘poem in our eyes’, the American continent has been idealized as a literary utopia. Yet the riptides of historical crisis have always run counter to this idyllic conception. In 1782, de Crèvecoeur’s Farmer James lamented ‘the desolating consequences of a rupture between a parent state and her colonies’, and by 1865 the Civil War had devastated Whitman’s democratic vision. Writing  after 9/11, Slavoj Žižek noted the troubling way in which the World Trade Centre disaster marked the cataclysmic collapse of fantasy and fact in modern American art.

In one form or another, American writers have always concerned themselves with the nation’s seismic shifts, with its ruptures and reimaginings. ‘Breaking & Remaking’ thinks about the resilience of American exceptionalism in the face of social, cultural and political upheaval. We are interested in concepts of severance and unity, of schism and soldering which shape literary texts, constructions of ‘nation’ and contemporary critical methodologies. Papers may explore, but are not limited to, the following topics:

Crises and Reconstruction; Living Through, Responding To America’s Wars

Tearing and Binding; The Material Text

Unity, Disunity and the American Geographical Imagination

American Forms; Literary Rifts and Innovations

The Politics of Togetherness; American Minorities

Visas, Passports and Borders; The American Frontier

American Trauma

Development and Demolition; The Trials of Urban America

The Americanness of Broken Things

Breaking-up and Getting Back Together; American Sentimentality

Derivation and Dissent; Literary Influence vs. Making It New


Papers should be 20 minutes in duration. Please send abstracts of 300 words to Kristen Treen and Joanne OLeery at before THURSDAY 17TH APRIL. Places are limited, and free registration is now open:

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