Special Issue of Textus – call for contributors

The Archival Turn in Modern Literature

Special Issue of Textus: English Studies in Italy

Editors: Daniela Caselli, University of Manchester and Caroline Patey, Università degli Studi, Milano

This special issue of Textus will explore the ‘archival turn’ in modern literature and criticism. The archive has always been central to literary scholarship, especially in the pre-1900 period. However, the past decade has seen a resurgence of the critical and theoretical importance of the archive for studies of modernity, modernism, and even contemporary literature. At the same time, the motifs of the archive and archival research are increasingly infiltrating the form and structure of creative texts, blurring the boundaries between fictitious literary constructs and documentary writing. Archives and stored memories seem to be a favourite mode of narrative, dramatic or poetic re-visitations of the past and to inform a lot of exciting writing in the modern period (from Flann O’Brien’s The Dalkey Archive and Martha Cooley’s The Archivist, from A.S. Byatt to IanMcEwan). This archival passion has also triggered fresh and original approaches to canonical authors (among others, Henry James, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Joseph Conrad) and contributed to the opening of new theoretical approaches (first among them, ‘genetic criticism’).

The discovery of empirical data in criticism has also been portrayed as a new form of knowledge able to withstand the security risks created by cultural and critical theory. Recent uses of the archive have also contributed to the transformation of the late nineteenth century and twentieth century from avant-garde periods into epochs – from intractable critical challenges into historical objects of study. Thus, while contemporary writers increasingly encroach upon and incorporate the archive as an imaginary world, critical interventions have placed the archive at the core of their claims to advance scholarship. We have recently witnessed considerable investment on the part of institutions such as the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in the acquisition of papers by J.M. Coetzee and David Foster Wallace and of Cambridge and Oxford University Press in the publishing of the letters of twentieth-century writers such as Samuel Beckett and Dorothy Richardson. In addition to this, the acrimonious dispute in France over Michel Foucault’s papers was a battle not devoid of irony given that ‘What is an Author?’ is a seminal critique of archive formations. The Digital Humanities are also playing an increasingly strategic role in departments of English literature, while genetic approaches to modern literature are expanding across Europe and North America (see, for instance, the ongoing Beckett Digital Manuscripts Project, or the work done by the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities).

In this special issue we ask: what are the challenges in making sense of the archive in the context of modern literature criticism? How does it work as a cultural phenomenon and as a practice of close reading? What has the practice of ‘archival writing’ to say about the tension between collection and creation? What happens when we encounter letters, or drafts, and we try to read them not only as ‘archival material’ or as ‘documents’ able to tell us something about the author’s intentions or the history of production, but we try instead to read them as texts in their own right? What new questions can be asked about the history of material culture in the modern period? How are these archival matters transformed when they migrate from the library/museum/collection to the writer’s page and become part and parcel of new fictions?

Among the issues that we would like to explore in this issue are:

  • new archival findings in modern literature
  • archival leanings in modern literature
  • archival motifs in fiction and poetry
  • the relationship between archival turn and critical theory
  • the role of the archive in historicizing modernity
  • how archival research affects the personae of modernist artists
  • the different uses of the archive in medieval and early modern studies in comparison to

studies of modernity and modernism

  • the digital humanities as a cultural phenomenon
  • genetic criticism in studies of modernity and modernism
  • the manuscript as fetish
  • the place of correspondence in the archive
  • life-writing and the archive
  • the relation between archive and memory
  • the neurosciences and the archive

Please send a 300-word abstract to both editors by Friday 24th July 2015:

Caroline Patey caroline.patey@unimi.it

Daniela Caselli daniela.caselli@manchester.ac.uk

The editors will notify contributors by Friday 7th August 2015.

The deadline for article submissions (6,000 words) is Friday 13th November 2015.