An Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference
Friday, 2 November 2018
The Graduate Center – City University of New York


In 1952, in his essay on the Goethian idea of Weltliteratur, Erich Auerbach stated that “our philological home is the earth: it can no longer be the nation. The most priceless and indispensable part of a philologist’s heritage is still his own nation’s culture and language. Only when he is first separated from this heritage, however, and then transcends it does it become truly effective.” The essay ends with the idea that the spirit [Geist] is not national, and that the one who thinks of the world entirely as a place of exile can “earn a proper love of the world.” Auerbach’s crowning Mimesis was, of course, written from Istanbul, while he was in exile during the second World War. A masterpiece within our discipline of Comparative Literature, Mimesis is a critical example of how displacement might be that which enables the very act of comparison itself.The situation of encounter necessitated by displacement moreover requires the overcoming of the limits of specific languages. Exile, migration, and diaspora – all are concrete, traumatic experiences of displacement that have fed and enriched literary and artistic productions. Not only physical, however, displacement can also be metaphorical. In different times and places, while in externally mandated or self-imposed exile, writers have had ambivalent feelings towards their ethnicity and nationality, against which time after time they have answered with impulses to cosmopolitanism and nomadism. Edward Said (1983) frames this phenomenon within what he calls the ‘worldliness’ of literature, bringing to the foreground the twofold essence of literature. On the one hand, its temporal and earthly dimension; on the other hand, its capacity to transcend a specific context to create new connections, to reshape territories, and to rethink borders. In this conference, we wish to explore how and to what extent the experience of displacement challenges writers and artists to deepen the relationship between ‘otherness’ and the ‘self,’ and consequently, to break down self-other cultural essentialism: the idea that people and things have natural characteristics that are inherent and unchanging.

Displacement is likewise an affect, that internal feeling out-of-place with one’s surroundings or with the accepted or taken-for-granted. Being in the position of displacement, either physically or metaphorically, can lead to isolation, but can also lead to the impetus to community. When displaced we are thrown into a crisis of identity-forming and world-making – when the world is at odds with us, we must make our own worlds within and without. Affects of displacement enable for and indeed necessitate the creation of alternative identities and communities. Counter-cultures flourish in the interstices and resist the norm. We are interested in aesthetic pushings against the constraints of the norm compelled by displacement, individuals and communities formed from the position of the physically or metaphorically displaced and their cultural production. New paths of thought are forged when set against the grain.

Further, displacement also figures into the formal features of world-making in art and literature as well. Works like Monique Truong’s 2003 The Book of Salt restitute the lives of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas from the perspective of Bình, their Vietnamese cook, displacing the location of queerness. Marcel Duchamp’s readymades displace originals through reuse, duplication, and disfigurement. From Deleuze and Guattari’s Toward a Minor Literature, we can ground a consideration of the value, significance, and function of the minor in literature. How does the borrowing of or carving from major elements lend itself to the minor in the novel or in other aesthetic productions? How does formal displacement in literature constitute itself as perspective, genre, setting, character, etc.? And beyond formal elements of narrative and art, how do the algorithms that shadow and shape our lives today created by companies like Amazon and Facebook reshape or displace conventional notions of literary canonicity, and our appreciation of literature, and what types of texts are readily available and lauded?

We welcome proposals working in a variety of disciplines including literature, philosophy, gender studies, art, history, anthropology, film. We are looking for papers that address (but are by no means limited to) the following topics:

  • Literatures of exile
  • Literature of migration
  • Literatures of diaspora, diaspora studies
  • Displacement and post/colonial studies
  • Displaced communities and isolation
  • Outsiders and the process of becoming embraced by people/states/others
  • Mad culture; mental health communities; altered thoughts
  • The subaltern and displacement
  • Trans theory; politics of passing
  • Queer theory; failure, temporality, and displacement
  • Meaning across translations
  • Neurodiversity (autism; schizophrenia)
  • Affects of displacement – Narratological balance between majors and minors
  • Displacement necessitating world-making and functioning as a method for creating art works (ie. Duchamp’s Fountain)

Please send us a 300 word abstract for a 15 minute presentation and a 50 word bio, including your current affiliation, by August 15 2018.

The title of the paper, presenter’s name, affiliation, e-mail address, and a brief bio should appear on a cover sheet, as well as any requests for technical equipment.

Accepted speakers will be notified by September 10, 2018.

Please email submissions to: displacement.conference2018@gmail.com




Please direct questions to:

Ariel Leutheusser, PhD student in Comparative Literature, aleutheusser@gradcenter.cuny.edu

Anna Chichi, PhD student in Comparative Literature (Italian Specialization), achichi@gradcenter.cuny.edu

Christopher Campbell, PhD student in Comparative Literature, ccampbell3@gradcenter.cuny.edu