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Literature and Event: Reformulations of the Literary in the 21st Century

A one-day interdisciplinary conference

Saturday 15th February 2020

Registration has closed.


What is an event? From a theoretical perspective, events are irregular occurrences, moments of great change or interruptions that can potentially alter the already existing course of history, politics and thought. These changes also simultaneously remould, or at least aim to, human perception and language, which makes them an indispensable part of literature and literary thinking. While literature has referred to these calamitous changes directly, by way of description or through diegetic context, on numerous occasions literature has, for various reasons, failed to come to terms with these events or has actively resisted or undercut them. The literary has also been defined, particularly after the post-structuralist interventions, as an event in its own right, with its own strategy and ambitions to affect change. At the same time this relationship has also been entirely dismissed in readings where literature has been thought of as registering the non-events or the micro-events (madeleine cakes for Proust) that would otherwise pass unnoticed in a political or a historical discourse. This conference is addressed to all such relations between literature and its events, but more eagerly to the event that literature itself becomes and the non-event that it is said to sometimes emerge from.

This dense, and often challenging, relationship between literature and event(s) has been, arguably, the driving force behind many of the reformulations of the literary carried out in the twenty-first century so far. These changing ‘definitions’ of the literary event or what the event, generally, entails have come from fields as diverse as literary studies, history, political theory, psychology, natural sciences and, more significantly, philosophy. The conference will appeal to scholars from all these diverse disciplines who at some point either have had to define literature/event or had to grapple with its new and elusive stipulations.

The questions that this conference aims to address are three-fold:

What is literature's approach to the event? How does literature respond to event(s), monumental changes, ruptures and transitions? Can literature be understood as an event in its own right?

1. Concept

The papers in the conference can address some of the pressing concepts related to the event directly, such as irregularity, chance, accident, hospitality and non-event, that have occupied literary studies, political theory and philosophy in the recent past. Addressing the literary fold specifically, the conference will be able to build on more recent research by scholars such as Derek Attridge, whose The Work of Literature(2015) understands events as having a singular, disruptive and yet formative presence in literary work, Ilai Rowner, who provides the event with a conceptual and literary history with his The Event: Literature and Theory (2015) and, written in a very different vein, Terry Eagleton’s The Event of Literature (2012).

2. Testimony

The question of testimony, or its lack, looms large when discussing literature’s response to event. The conference invites scholars to re-think literature’s response to the event and entropy that surrounds us, on the lines that it has been thought about in the last decade. If literature testifies, or tries to testify, to events of insurrections, it also testifies to sexual awakenings, to natural disasters, personal trauma and pain. These testimonies do not find an easy utterance, and despite finding a medium they can be a source of embarrassment, discontent and shame, as argued in Timothy Bewes' The Event of Postcolonial Shame (2010). The papers in this conference could look at all such events and their importance for literary work, they could also simultaneously expose the impossibility of testimony itself, if not its need in the first place. Taking a cue from Heidegger's use of the word Ereignis (event)—an event is as much a moment of revelation (Eräugnis) for the literary work as a site of appropriation (Eriegnung) and ultimately loss, which is how this conference wishes to broach the question of testimony too.

3. Literature as Event

Provocations of ideas such as plasticity and contingency, strongly forwarded by the philosophers Catherine Malabou and Quentin Meillassoux, are exciting new responses to the event and what it means for literature. While plasticity destabilizes our understanding of form, and thereby what constitutes as anevent, contingency revokes the claims of reason and causal necessity that is often attached to events. In this segment of the conference, the experience of literature—as an act of both writing and reading—will be understood as an event in its own right. Despite the struggle to capture the intensity of the event, or remain faithful to it, literature can, and often does, become the site of change and alterity itself. Papers will be able to take forward the imaginings of a literary event put forward by influential thinkers like Derrida (on Celan) and Deleuze (on Proust), whereby literature is appraised for the transformative encounter it allows in the shape of an event.

Following the conference, a proposal would be submitted to the Warwick Series in the Humanities (with Routledge) for a collected volume.

Schedule of Events

09.00 – 09.30 Registration and Coffee (Ground Floor, Social Sciences)

09.30 – 09.45 Introduction—Mantra Mukim

09.45 – 10.45 Keynote Address I Room S0.21

Prof. Derek Attridge (York), Event, Experience, Literature 

Chair: Prof. Daniel Katz


Parallel Sessions 1 The Time of Event

Session 1 – Chair: Prof. Emma Mason, Room S0.20

10.45 – 11.05 Paper 1: Stephen Darren Dougherty (Agden), Event, Non-Event, and Interpretation: Catherine Malabou with Anne Carson

11.05 – 11.25 Paper 2: Thomas Gould (UEA), “A trait for a trait”: Literature and the Graphic Event

11.25 – 11.45 Paper 3: Naomi Waltham-Smith (Warwick), Unexceptional Events: Or, Scarcely Audible Literature 

11.45-12.00 Questions


Session 2 — Chair: Dr. Nick Lawrence, Room S0.19

10.45 – 11.05 Paper 4: Min Ji Choi (Harvard) Withnessing Climate Change in Literature

11.05 – 11.25 Paper 5: Bryan Counter (SUNY Buffalo) Recherche as Event: Proust, Nietzsche, and the Aesthetic Disposition

11.25 – 11.45 Paper 6: Beatrice Bottomley (Warburg Inst.) Time pours out: understanding time, testimony and translation through the event in Raji Bathish’s ‘An al-bilād wa-l-fanādiq, “On Countries and Hotels?


11.45-12.00 Questions




Parallel Sessions 2 Possibility/ Impossibility

Session 3- Chair: Dr. Eileen John, Room S0.20

12.00 – 12.20 Paper 7: Alireza Fakhrkonandeh (Southampton), Death as the Virtual in Howard Barker’s Evental Ontology: The Virtual, Phantasm and Impossible Desire in The Theatre of Catastrophe

12.20 – 12.40 Paper 8: Kurt Cavender (Kutztown Pennsylvania) Althusser, Badiou, Leibniz, and the Compossibility of Events

12.40 – 13.00 Paper 9: Matt Rosen (Colarado), The Text as a Site of Hope: Meillassoux’s Virtual God and the Advent in Literature

13.00-13.15 Questions


Session 4 - Chair: Dr. Michael Meeuwis, Room S0.19

12.00 – 12.20 Paper 10: Alexander Scherr (JLUGiessen), The Uneventfulness and Failure of ‘Projects’ in Contemporary Literature

12.20 – 12.40 Paper 11: Barbara Dolenc (Zagreb), We have literary events, what is the meaning of this possibility?

12.40 – 13.00 Paper 12: Koenraad Claes (Anglia Ruskin), ‘To wait the course of events’: Walter Scott and Counter-Revolutionary Narrative

13.00-13.15 Questions


13.15-14.00 Lunch


Parallel Sessions 3 Aftermath

Session 5- Chair: Mantra Mukim, Room S0.20

14.00 – 14.20 Paper 13: Sarah Bouttier (École Polytechnique, Paris), What happens when nothing happens?

14.20 – 14.40 Paper 14: Thomas Clément Mercier (CEFRES, Prague), Plastic Events, Spectral Events: Literature and the ‘Real of the Phantasm,’ between Malabou and Derrida

14.40 – 15.00 Paper 15: Giulia Scialpi (SNS, Pisa), Dire l’événement: approximations between Jacques Derrida and Annie Ernaux

15.00 – 15.15 Questions


Session 6, Chair: Esthie Hugo, Room S0.19

14.00 – 14.20 Paper 16: Nicholas T. Rinehart (Dartmouth), Testimony and Event in the Study of Slavery

14.20 – 14.40 Paper 17: Irmak Saygin (Münster), The Eventful Shipwreck: Robinson Crusoe, Jenichiro Oyabe and the World Literary Map of the Drifters

14.40 – 15.00 Paper 18: Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús (USC), Historia res lacrimæ: Hamacher’s Literary Events and the Historicity of Abschied

15.00-15.15- Questions


Parallel Sessions 4 The Literary Thing

Session 7 - Chair: Prof. Leslie Hill, Room S0.20

15.15—15.35 Paper 19: Lucas Scott Wright (UCI), Das Ereignis des Seyn & la epifanía del otro: Narrative Language of Event and the Temporality of Alterity

15.35—15.55 Paper 20: Ian Tan (Warwick), To Give the Literary Event: Blanchot and Lawrence’s Narrative of Life/Death

15.55—16.15 Paper 21: Alex Obrigewitsch (Warwick), The Event of Literature and the Non-Event of Death: Maurice Blanchot and the Exigency of an Impossible Response

16.15 —16.30: Questions


Session 8 - Chair: Prof. Derek Attridge, Room S0.19

15.15—15.35 Paper 22: Jack Robert Edmunds-Coopey (Durham), An Absolute of Literature as Event: The Literary Absolute (1988) and Jean-Luc Nancy's Philosophical Literature

15.35—15.55 Paper 23: Lucy Benjamin (Royal Holloway), Structures of Climate Change: Acting without the Event

15.55—16.15 Paper 24: Oliver Haslam (Loughborough), The (Non)Event of Telephony in the Stories of Raymond Carver

16.15 —16.30: Questions


16.30 – 16.45 Tea and Coffee



16.45-17.45 Keynote Address II Room S0.21

Prof. Esther Leslie, Eventually Dust: On the Particulars of the Present as Seen Through Its Devices

Chair: Dr. Naomi Waltham-Smith


17.45-18.00 Vote of thanks—Mantra Mukim

18.00-19.00 Wine reception


Keynote Speakers

Prof. Derek Attridge (York)

Prof. Esther Leslie (Birkbeck)

Conference Contact


Mantra Mukim, PhD candidate in the Department of English and a HRC Doctoral Fellow 2019-2020