Congrès de la SAES. Université de Clermont-Auvergne – 2 au 4 juin 2022. 

« Failles » / « Faults and Fault Lines »

Atelier 5 : Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC) / La Nouvelle de langue anglaise 

In Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet, the main character embraces instability, both her own and the world’s: “the ground was always trembling, and of course the fault lines spread through her from top to toe, and faults in human beings always open up in the end, like cracks in the groaning earth.” (130) A fault, geologically defined as a break or fracture in the earth’s crust, appears when a volume of rock is split apart as a result of rock-mass movements and friction. Earthquakes typically occur along fault lines when the strain and stress that have built up have reached such a level that they need to be released. Far from being restricted to geological mechanisms, faults and fault lines are referred to more broadly to connote splits, cracks, ruptures, rifts or divisions in various domains and on diverse scales, which are likely to have long-lasting consequences. In literature and arts, fault lines reveal oppositions and dissensions between differing aesthetics which may lead to clashes but can also open up new perspectives and explorations. 

The 20thand 21stcenturies, from the disruptive and agonistic intensity of modernism to postmodernism and beyond, have seen countless examples of such seismic changes, shifts and breaks resulting from tensions between tradition and the avant-garde, convention and experimentation, whose mechanisms and outcomes could be analysed in our workshop. Andreas Huyssen’s seminal study After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernismexamines more specifically the divide between high modernism and the market or mass culture, but continuities may also be perceived, as shown for instance by Christine Reynier in Virginia Woolf’s Good Housekeeping Essays (2019) where she explores the links between modernism (and the form of the essay) and popular culture (Woolf’s ‘Six Articles on London Life’ had been published in Good Housekeeping magazine). In the same way, the fracture between modernists and realists (the “Georgians” and “Edwardians” whom Woolf opposed in “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown”) could be re-examined and qualified (see Reconnecting Aestheticism and Modernism: Continuities, Revisions, Speculations(2017), edited by Bénédicte Coste, Catherine Delyfer and Christine Reynier). 

Also worth exploring are the fault lines that result from frictions between literary genres (the novel and the short story, flash fiction, poetry in verse and prose poems …) or discontinuities between various forms and conceptions of visual art. The revision and inclusion of short stories into longer works may also provide a stimulating point of entry into a writer’s creative world – authors such as Jamaica Kincaid, Don DeLillo or Joyce Carol Oates have often reworked previously published stories into novels or hybrid works that relate to the short story cycle. Special attention could also be paid to the very materiality of fault lines and the significance and function of their more or less blatant inscription within the work of art itself, through syntactical ruptures or blanks on the page, stanzas, caesuras or line-breaks in poetry, the division of plays in acts or scenes as well as silences onstage, or concrete fissures in art installations. For instance, the 2019 group exhibition “Fault Lines” at the Freelands Foundation in London addressed the physical and metaphorical qualities of fault lines, bringing out in sculptures both the sense of tension and that of precariousness. 

Contributors could also analyse the modes through which writers and artists highlight in their work the visible and invisible fault lines running through British society, which are emblematic of rifts and fractures between social classes, communities, cultural, ideological or geographical groups. As noted by Catherine Bernard and as examined by Kristian Shaw in Brexlit: British Literature and the European Project (2021), “Brexit literature has been intent on probing the fault lines that the 2016 referendum has brought into full view” (see Anthony Cartwright’s aptly-named novella The Cut [2017], Amanda Craig’s The Lie of the Land [2017] or Jonathan Coe’s Middle England [2018]), while climate and dystopian fiction has unearthed the fundamental fault lines which have caused the current environmental crisis. Scholars interested in nature writing might wish to explore the short fiction of Rick Bass and “the lives of rocks,” delve into the infinite spaces Barry Lopez describes in Field Notes(1994), or go “night swimming” with Pete Fromm’s mysterious characters. Ecopoetic and ecocritical readings will also be welcome; Bénédicte Meillon’s recent collection Dwellings of Enchantment: Writing and Reenchanting the Earth(2020) will certainly prove a useful companion book.

Drawing from trauma, memory, vulnerability or disability studies, and bearing in mind the historical fractures which have shaken the 20thand 21stcenturies, contributors may also examine the psychic effect of inner splits or multiple cracks at the individual level, which can lead to a fragmentation of the self or to various forms of mental disorder. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up(1936), his numerous essays and autobiographical stories could provide the foundations of studies on the American Scene and the short story form. A fault, understood as flaw, failure, blemish, weakness, slippage or shortcoming, can affect individuals (one may think of the wounded or vulnerable heroes examined in Jean-Michel Ganteau and Susana Onega’s collective volume, The Wounded Hero in Contemporary Fiction[2020]), but it may also concern society at large and artistic creation itself in its “capacity to fail”, to quote Paul Ricoeur who has engaged with the notions of fragility, frailty, vulnerability and fallibility as early as his extensive phenomenological study in Fallible Man(1960). Fault lines, ruptures and liminal spaces could finally be explored for their capacity to generate new worlds and perspectives after a slippage, displacement or split has taken place (see, for instance, Jochen Achilles and Ina Bergman, eds., Liminality and the Short Story: Boundary Crossings in American, Canadian and British Writing, 2015). 

The workshop organised jointly by the Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC) and the Journal of the Short Story in Englishwelcomes proposals that address faults and fault lines from a wide range of perspectives, the directions suggested above being non-exclusive. Papers may take as their focus British literature and visual arts of the 20thand the 21stcenturies. Contributors may also turn to the genre of the short story in English from the 19thto the 21stcenturies. 

Proposals for papers in English (300 words + short bibliography) and a brief biographical note should be sent jointly to Vanessa Guignery (vanessa.guignery@ens-lyon.fr) and Gérald Preher (gerald.preher@univ-artois.fr) before November 15th 2021.

Papers will be submitted for publication to the peer-reviewed journals Études britanniques contemporaines or The Journal of the Short Story in English.