CfP: Telepoetics, London, 27 May 2020 (deadline 10 March)


Dana Research Centre, Science Museum, London, 27 May 2020

Deadline for proposals: 10 March 2020

From the ‘waves of sound, transmitted o’er the line’ in Jones Very’s ‘The Telephone’ (1877) to the ‘thin voice speak[ing] / from a drowning world’ in Imtiaz Dharker’s ‘Six Rings’ (2018), telephones have been calling in and across literary texts for almost one hundred and fifty years. But although considerable research on the smartphone has been undertaken in recent media and cultural studies, the relationship between telephony and literature remains largely neglected. In fact, as Nicholas Royle points out in Telepathy and Literature (1991), ‘really we have no idea what a telephone is, or what a voice is, or when or how. Least of all when it is linked up with the question of literature’. Taking the ‘question of literature’ as its starting point, this AHRC-funded symposium will address the telephone’s propensity to facilitate and mediate but also to interrupt communication on a local and global scale, as well the ways in which it taps into some of the most urgent concerns of the modern and contemporary age, including surveillance, mobility, resistance, power and warfare. Exploring its complex, multiple and mutating functions in literary texts from the nineteenth century to the present day, we will consider both historical and recent manifestations of the telephone, and its capacity to call across languages and cultures.

Celebrating the potential of the telephone to operate at the intersection between the literary, the critical, the personal and the political, we envisage a structure to the symposium that will facilitate a range of voices, conversations and modes of address: rather than keynote lectures, the day will consist of short 10-minute papers, variously ‘interrupted’ by creative and critical calls from invited speakers including Mara Mills (New York University), Eric Prenowitz (University of Leeds), Nicholas Royle (University of Sussex) and Will Self (Brunel University). Further speakers are to be confirmed.

We invite proposals for 10-minute critical and creative papers that explore the relationship between literature and telephony in a range of global contexts and from the nineteenth century to the present day. Topics might include (but are not limited to):

  • privacy and surveillance
  • communications warfare
  • mobility and globalization
  • technologies of desire
  • telephony as translation
  • textual interference, interruption or interception
  • lyric calling and texting
  • telephony and D/deaf experience
  • telephony and labour
  • ethics and answerability
  • voice and address

Please submit a 250 word proposal to by 10 March 2020.

We are committed to fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion and have set aside a travel fund to support independent early career scholars and under-represented groups in academia. If you wish to be considered for a bursary, please include a 150-word statement explaining what you will gain from attendance and an estimate of your travel costs.

The symposium will be followed by a Communication-themed ‘Lates’ event at the Science Museum from 18:45 to 22:00 on 27 May. The Science Museum’s Lates are free and open to all, and typically attract more than 2500 visitors per night. Inviting members of the public to reflect on the history of telecommunications and to imagine its possible futures, our event will provide a space to think about the relationship between language, culture and technology. If you are interested in contributing to this ‘Lates’ event, please email by 10 March 2020. For more information, visit

This event is part of the Crossed Wires project led by Dr Sarah Jackson (Nottingham Trent University) and funded by the AHRC.