Open Call for Papers on Marxism and World Literatures

David Mabb Poster

Claps of Thunder: Disaster Communism, Extinction Capitalism and How to Survive Tomorrow

Central London, 7-10 November 2019


For all queries, email only please:

For the other call for papers and further details about the conference, please go here.

To submit a paper, go here.

Open call for papers and panels on Marxism and World Literatures

(NB: Open calls are themes around which we would like to particularly emphasise our desire for submissions. They are different to streams that run throughout the conference.)

Historically Marxists have had a fair deal to say about literature, with Marx’s own patchy analyses, and those of daughter Eleanor Marx, ballooning into full-blown aesthetics with warring factions on questions of base and superstructure, Realism and expressions, Surrealism and the unconscious, decadence and progressivism, social realism and Ideologiekritik, conditions and factors of production and distribution, the role of audiences and the part of alienation and so on across the twentieth century. These debates play out in works such as Lenin’s writings on Tolstoy, Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution, the investigative and practical work of Bertolt Brecht, the prescriptions of Georg Lukacs, the efforts of Christopher Caudwell, the lyrical voice of Aimé Césaire, the utopian cryptography of Ernst Bloch, the conjunctural methods  of Pierre Macherey, the sociology of Lucien Goldmann, the capacious view of Raymond Williams, along with many others.

Such a variety of approaches has led Imre Szeman, for one, to argue that ‘There is no such thing as a Marxist literary criticism: no established approaches, no clear methodology, no agreed-upon ideas about how to approach a text or what count as appropriate texts to read, or, indeed, no clearly established sense of why one might expend energy on literary analysis to begin with’. It may indeed be so, but in that sense Marxist literary criticism is an exemplary site of Marxism, arranged around debate, argument, reinvention constantly of the relevance of the object of study, criticism and self-criticism, unsettled. It should also be noted that Marxism has often had recourse to literature. Engels claims to have learned more from Balzac ‘than from all the professional historians, economists and statisticians put together’, and Marx’s writings are shot through with literary reference, as well as literary flair. He participates in a politics of form, (from manifestos and pamphlets to the multi-genre Das Kapital), a practice of literary production which is carried on in various ways by those who follow. Rosa Luxemburg is only one obvious figure who marshalled the powers of literature for and in Marxism.

With the arrival of ‘theory’, literary studies of a critical bent seemed to move towards non-Marxist approaches, and much of the energies of socially-informed analyses shifted towards cultural studies and the re-valuing of other apparently more popular media: such as film and TV or pop music. Of course, not everyone moved this way, and through the years of theory Marxist-inflected books and projects on literature continued to appear regularly, for example books by Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, the Warwick Research Collective’s Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature (2015) and Barbara Foley’s work, including her recent Marxist Literary Criticism Today. Prompted by this book’s appearance, it might be a moment to observe, in particular, in recent years there has been a resurgence in Marxist approaches to literature. One example is new writing in online journals such as Endnotes, Viewpoint, Commune, Mediations, Jacobin, and other fora, which have responded to the situation of the global financial crisis and its aftermath. Marxism is present in the domain of literature as a context for engagements with political economy, as literary criticism addresses the value form, declining rates of profit, circulation and logistics, communization, expropriation, debt, and so on. Alongside this there are the emergent reading methods (as part of debates across literary studies about reading practices) rooted in systematic dialectics, political formalism and Marxian theories of real abstraction

In the context of ongoing and sharpening economic crises, of environmental degradation, the rise of reaction and hate, the peculiar subjectivity fostered by Neoliberalism, new recourse to the knowledges conveyed in literary forms have been developed: for example its capacity for other-thinking or the hosting of excluded voices, its ability to connect granular experience to larger contexts, and its capacity for combinatory thinking, in an orientation to the world. It is this orientation to the interactions between the local and global in recent world literary analyses by Neil Lazarus, Benita Parry, Sharae Deckard, Stephen Shapiro and Imre Szeman, amongst others, that has reinvigorated the development of a materialist world literary studies, for which capitalism is the horizon of world literary and economic systems.

In the forefront of Marxist materialist approaches to literature are fields such as World Literatures, developed out of comparative literature, but in recent times taking its materialist energy and critique in part from postcolonial literary studies, and Petrofiction analyses, or World Energy Literature, a politically-conscious variant of ecocriticism. Marxist literary criticism engages too, newly challenged, with the extraordinary ground opened up by a plethora of politically-engaged approaches in the humanities: including Critical Race Studies and intersectionality, working class fiction, Marxist-Feminism and social reproduction theory, migrant and refugee studies, ecocriticism, energy and resource extraction.

This CFP has a broad remit, but is especially interested in bringing together intersectional materialist analyses with world literature because analyses of the combined and uneven development of the capitalist world-system can help develop a materialist critique of subordinated positions, resource extraction, and radical forms of imaginative and narrative resistance across the capitalist world-system.

Please Note: Although we welcome preconstituted panels, after extensive feedback from previous years we are tightening up on panels with just titles or incomplete names. Panels should provide title, abstract and full names, emails of each participant and abstract/note of contribution (where relevant). Incomplete panel proposals will be put on the reserve list and may ultimately be rejected. We also reserve the right to reject certain papers in a preconstituted panel and to reconstitute panels as we see fit.

DEADLINE EXTENDED: 1 JUNE 2019 at midnight GMT

For all queries, email only please:

For the other call for papers and further details about the conference, please go here.

To submit a paper, go here.