CFP: World Novels and 21st-Century Media at ACLA 2016

Seminar: “World Novels and 21st-Century Media”

2016 Annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association

Harvard University

March 17-20, 2016

Abstracts due September 23, 12am PST; submit through the ACLA online portal at


Organizers: Annie Galvin, University of Virginia ( and Jap-Nanak Makkar, University of Virginia (

As Jessica Pressman and Sven Birkerts have noted, digital media technologies challenge the cultural priority we give to book-bound texts. To a reader of a novel, the book is just one reading format among others in our twenty-first-century media landscape. At the same time, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, John Johnston and Daniel Punday have considered the fate of literary fiction in a cultural environment saturated by a variety of visual media, including television, film, the internet, surveillance apparatuses and video games. These latter scholars suggest that novels compete with other media to remain a culturally significant conveyor of meaning and narrative. Challenges have been issued to both the novel’s materiality and its representational strategies in the contemporary media ecology.

But rather than accept their inevitable displacement or even expiration, novels respond by incorporating, using or refusing new media. Certain texts that exhibit an awareness of twenty-first-century media have done so while intervening in global political conditions, mobilizing the form of the novel while incorporating visual media as part of their narrative and representational approaches. Texts by authors including Ruth Ozeki and NoViolet Bulawayo, among many others, render our new media environments an issue of world politics. Other authors, such as Jonathan Safran Foer and Ali Smith, respond to our media-rich environment by exploring new storytelling potential within the medium of the book, their stories often hinging on the materiality of the object in the reader’s hands.

This seminar invites reflection on the capacity of novels to narrativize, use, or otherwise represent the contemporary media ecology. We welcome papers that address the following questions or pursue any related lines of inquiry:

  • How do novels represent concerns of digitization, “informatization,” big data, and new media ecologies?
  • How does the materiality of the book—or the materiality of information—become a resource for invention and innovation in a digital age?
  • How do global novels contend with an expanding media environment, now constituted by old media forms (print, film, photography, radio) as well as newer media (Internet content such as blogs, email, video games, SMS)—an environment which is inherently global in nature?
  • Are new forms such as electronic literature, the hypertextual novel, and print/digital hybrids fundamentally superseding the form of the print novel, or is there more to be said about the respective places that all of these forms might hold in our culturally mediated future?
  • Might concepts such as “world literature” or “global literature” provide a strong conceptual foundation for considering literature’s relationship to digital media?
  • Given the novel’s capacity for generic cross-pollination, how can the form incorporate adjacent media in addressing global conditions such as poverty, war, migration, or inequality, which are by nature difficult to apprehend, represent, or visualize?
  • What theoretical approaches might prove useful in analyzing the increasingly complex imbrications of verbal literature, visual media, and global politics?

Please submit abstracts through the ACLA online portal, which opens September 1 and closes at 12am PST on September 23rd: Submitters are advised, also, to familiarize themselves with the unique structure of the ACLA conference by visiting Please contact the seminar organizers with questions or concerns.