University of Toronto
March 8-10, 2012
Keynote Addresses by J. Hillis Miller (University of California, Irvine) and Rebecca Comay (University of Toronto)
The 23rd annual conference of the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto will be held from March 8-10, 2012, and will focus on the concept of “Absence”: the aesthetics, ethics, and politics of that which is not present. Following from last year’s conference, “Iconoclasm,” we now consider not that which has been broken, but that which is simply—and yet profoundly—absent. This year’s conference invites explorations of the representation and sensation of absence, be it the absence of things, of ideas, of text or of language, and the epistemological consequences of theorizing what is not, or no longer, there. Our interrogation of absence is a broad one, one that includes notions of loss, lack, and scarcity, but which also stands in contradistinction to them. Furthermore, we wish to
investigate the function of absence as an aesthetic that stimulates sense and sentiment and also as an anaesthetic, which negates the former, which numbs and desensitizes.
Absence may cause the heart to wander or grow fonder; the absent beloved, a lost book, or alienation from a desired place or person has plagued literary and artistic representation throughout centuries, from Orpheus and Eurydice to Dante, the Romantics, and beyond. Presence is replaced by verses, images, and synaesthetic evocations of a once-present self or thing: all remnants, traces, or representations of an absence that demands recognition. Authors and artists, as well as literary and cultural theorists, have dealt significantly with questions of absence and lack, focusing on that which is lost, missing, in ruins, and irreparably dismantled.
We wish to examine the “determinate negation” of absence in a wide a range of sources, contexts, and meanings, in order to understand what is at stake in absence. The notion of in absentia is a powerful political, ethical, and social convention; what is the connection between agency and absence? In accordance with the structuralist impulse to binary, does absence necessarily imply a kind of presence? Or, to speak in Derridean terms, is the trace always a “simulacrum of presence”? These are some of the many questions that are of interest to us.
We welcome scholarly papers across chronological periods and genres on topics which include but are in no way limited to:
• The ethics, politics, morality of absence
• Absent signifiers, absent texts
• The anti-aesthetics of absence
• Authorship in death, in exile, in absentia
• Absent God(s), authors, voices
• Absent senses and questions of ability/disability
• Trace and absence (Derrida)
• Absence of consciousness; consciousness of absence
• Numbness, lack of feeling (momentary or permanent)
• Absence of reality: simulation and simulacra
• Performing absence
We call upon scholars, intellectuals, and creative writers to submit proposals of no more than 250 words for a 20-minute talk, as well as a brief biographical statement of no more than 50 words, by September 30, 2011 via our website at conference.complit.utoronto.ca/Absence/Submissions.html.