CFP Narrative Democracy in 20th- and 21st-Century British Literature and Visual Arts, Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, 18–19 October

SEAC 2018 conference, Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, 18–19 October 2018

This conference will consider the aesthetic and literary significance of the concept of narrative democracy. Many recent works have examined the interactions between art and democracy, be it the way the latter sheds light on the fictitious component of politics, or its pivotal role in Jacques Rancière’s régime esthétique and the structural similarities between its littérarité and the disruptive agenda of democracy. In Modernism and Democracy, Rachel Potter looks at the cultural context of democracy so as to suggest innovative critical frameworks to assess the ideological and political links between democracy and literature. Nelly Wolf’s seminal work in Le Roman de la démocratie distinguishes between “la démocratie du roman” and “la démocratie de roman” (42), and argues that the links between democracy and the novel form pertain to modernity: the novel, as the “egalitarian genre” (23), reorders the world and language itself (47), reinvents realism and becomes democratic when blurring the lines between individual and collective choices (75).

In the wake of Paul Ricœur’s notion of “narrative identity”, and Michael Hardt’s and Antonio Negri’s arguments in Multitude, Pierre Rosanvallon has coined the phrase “narrative democracy” in order to better understand the political and sociological contradiction of democracy as “a society of individuals”. In our new era based on “an individualism of singularity” (Rosanvallon 21), individual experiences matter more than ever and lead to new “democratic expectations” (22). This is when narration comes forth so as to validate individual experiences and build up new forms of commonality thereon. Narrating one’s singularity renews democracy. In the last pages of Le Parlement des invisibles, Rosanvallon explores the democratic function of literature, as one individual medium among others, in reinventing a plurality of voices and experiences (50)—another cogent premise to this conference.

We will analyse the concept of narrative democracy around three main axes: what are its formal and aesthetic potentialities and meanings? Can it turn into an innovative critical tool? (How) Is it tailored for the study of 20th– and 21st-century British literature and visual arts? Should it be the case, it may for instance be worth returning to the initial meanings and aesthetic implications of democracy. In Styles, Marielle Macé offers a fresh perspective on the semantic but also theoretical connections of the word with the ideas of conflict, contact, visibility, uncertainty, anxiety and plurality. Thomas Docherty’s Aesthetic Democracy analyses how democracy is both founded and conditioned by aesthetics: “it is in art and in aesthetics that we find a privileged site or a paradigm of the very potentiality of selfhood that establishes this democratic condition” (xviii). How does individualism collide with the democratic challenges but also limitations? How does the literary form perform these ambiguities of democracy?

Other recent theoretical concepts may be investigated, such as Anthony Giddens’s “pure relationship” as “the promise of democracy”, Judith Butler’s ethics of cohabitation and coalition, Cynthia Fleury’s emphasis on subjectivation, Michaël Fœssel’s philosophical interrogation of contemporary democracy, and Pierre Zaoui’s work on discretion as “the most accomplished form of democracy”. Rancière’s writings on democracy as both politics and aesthetics will undoubtedly be another fruitful starting point.

To study democracy as an essentially textual and symbolic creation in a British context, participants may for instance develop new perspectives on naturalist novelists and their work on the ordinary; on the supposedly apolitical and antidemocratic modernist novel; on the democratising process perhaps at work in the anger of the 1950s novel; on postmodernist playfulness as challenging democratic aesthetics; on the humanist celebration of the individual in contemporary fiction as a democratic enterprise. In the wake of Richard Dellamora’s study of democracy in the Victorian novel, Janice Ho’s work in Nation and Citizenship in the Twentieth-Century British Novel offers many insightful such examples (particularly on Forster, Woolf and Bowen) which could help us question narrative democracy. Others can be found in Against Democracy, in which Simon During writes that democracy in Howards End emerges through its formal and narrative “resistance to interpretation” (120). In Virginia Woolf’s Ethics of the Short Story, Christine Reynier investigates the democratic quality of the short story in its conversation with other narrative forms (133). Her claim that “conversation is a democratic form, a political as well as an ethical and aesthetic space” (89) will help us analyse the short story as a specific form of narrative democracy. For those working on photography, film or TV series, it will be worth remembering Auden’s assertion that “[photography] is the democratic art”, as well as Badiou’s conviction that cinema is the most democratic form of art. Finally, we could explore seminal British essays on democracy (Lawrence, Eliot, Forster, for instance) and their relevance when working on aesthetic and narrative forms of democracy.

In the wake of the latest SEAC conferences, and more particularly of the 2016 conference “Bare Lives: Dispossession and Exposure” (Ganteau 142), the 2018 annual conference will look at “Narrative Democracy in 20th– and 21st-Century British Literature and Visual Arts”. The conference will be convened by the research team CAS (EA 801) and the members of its programme “Constructing the individual and the collective” and of the research group ARTLab (Atelier de Recherche Toulousain sur la Littérature et les Arts Britanniques) working on “Stratégies de l’intime: objets, enjeux, politiques”.

Proposals will be examined by a scientific committee.

A selection of contributions will be published in the peer-reviewed online journal Études britanniques contemporaines (

SEAC website:

CAS website:

Scientific committee: Isabelle Keller-Privat, Sylvie Maurel, Laurent Mellet.

Organising committee: Laura Benoit, Anasthasia Castelbou, Laurent Mellet, Jean-François Tuffier.

Abstracts (300 words + short biographical note) should be sent to Laurent Mellet ( by May 31, 2018.