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Uncovering the Tradition of Vitalism in 20th Century Literature

42nd Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 7-10, 2011
New Brunswick, NY ? Hyatt New Brunswick
Host Institution: Rutgers University

Critics of 20th century literature have begun to focus their attention on the relationship between literature and theories of vitalism, the belief that the material world and humans are best understood as being shaped by a dynamic field of energy and flow. As Deleuze and Guattari argue in *Anti-Oedipus* (1972), a given person is ?a conjunction of flows of life and of society that this body and this person intercept, receive, and transmit.? Developing out of Henri Bergson?s scientific theory of Úlan vital (vital force), in the early 20th century vitalism moved into literature and theoretical work as it became increasingly discredited in science. Within modernist literature, vitalism?s ontological claims are often coupled with ethical and political claims that argue for the free flow of instinct, libido and passion against institutional repression and control. For example, the historical avant-garde favored an explosion of life force against an increasingly mechanized society. Similarly, the New Left and counterculture movements of the mid-century developed their radical politics by equating authoritarian oppression with instinctual repression. As such, Herbert Marcuse in *Eros and Civilization* (1963) claims, ?Today the fight for life, the fight for Eros, is the political fight.? Literature from modernists like D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller and postmodernists like Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Toni Morrison features prominently in discussions of vitalism in the political-theoretical works of Deleuze and Guattari, Marcuse and contemporary critics of vitalist literature. In imaginative literary work, theorists see modes of knowledge, being, and politics which are anti-dialectical, anti-rational, and accordingly, potentially liberatory. This panel seeks to examine literary texts that may be termed ?vitalist,? as well as to account for the historical rise of vitalism and its influence on modernist literature.

Submission Instructions

This panel seeks submissions that address literatures of vitalism as well as ones that examine vitalist theories and politics. We are primarily interested in twentieth century literature, but also welcome submissions about vitalism in other periods (e.g. Romanticism and the Renaissance). Please submit 250-500 word abstracts to Philip Longo,

Deadline: September 30, 2010

Please include with your abstract:

Name and Affiliation
Email address
Postal address
Telephone number
A/V requirements (if any; $10 handling fee with registration)

The 42nd Annual Convention will feature approximately 360 sessions, as well as dynamic speakers and cultural events. Details and the complete Call for Papers for the 2011 Convention will be posted in June:

Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar). Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable. Do not accept a slot if you may cancel to present on another session.

Conference Location: New Brunswick, NJ, USA
Conference Starts: April 07, 2011
Conference Ends: April 10, 2011

CFP Submission Deadline: September 30, 2010

For more information, contact: Philip Longo