Matter(s) of Fact
20th Annual Graduate Student Conference
presented by the Graduate Programs in Comparative Literature, Hispanic Studies, and Theory & Criticism at Western University
March 15-17, 2018
Abstract submission deadline: January 3, 2018
“What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.” –
Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism
In his treatise Rhetoric, Aristotle details three principal means by which an orator can attempt to persuade an audience: by appealing to credibility and authority (ethos), by engaging the emotions of the audience (pathos), and by deploying logic and fact (logos). While Aristotle believes that presenting a strong body of proof is the most effective way of persuading people given what he argues to be humanity’s natural inclination towards Truth (Rhetoric I.1, 1355a15f.), he also concedes that those who have a masterful command of rhetoric can use their skills to arouse incendiary emotions, distract attention away from the subject, and override the rationality of any given audience. In drawing attention to the problematic manipulability of truth perceptions, Aristotle invites us to consider the epistemological affinity between belief and experience, as well as the ethical implications of all forms of communication.
Coinciding with such diverse phenomena as the rise of digital culture, the upsurge of political populism, and the hyper-technologization of modern life, competing narratives of factuality and truth have gained frontline visibility in our day-to-day reality. The discussions surrounding truths and facts have even inspired the Oxford English Dictionary to declare “post-truth”—an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”—as 2016’s Word of the Year. This parallels, in a supremely ironic way, the fabricated epigraph that Jean Baudrillard uses to open Simulacra and Simulation, the insight of which resonates even stronger now in our day with the accelerating digital age: “The simulacrum is never what hides the truth—it is truth that hides the fact that there is none. The simulacrum is true.” In the age of artificial intelligence, social media, and reality television, the notions of simulacra and creation of narratives impact ever more strata of our lives and bring to the fore questions such as: What kind of “new reality” exists in the era of post-truth, and how is that translated in cultural production? Is postmodernity, given its constant interrogation of realities and truths, the most productive way of helping us make sense of shifting epistemes? What responsibilities and challenges arise with the novel ways that knowledge—and perhaps by extension, truth—is produced and communicated? Are we, indeed, in an era of “post-truth”? Are we done with facts?
Furthermore, in the realm of narratives and material production, questions around literariness and fiction arise: if fiction is inevitably infused with a certain degree of reality, then is fiction, in turn, able to modify the Real? How are facts integrated into fiction and what happens when fiction interpenetrates with facts? In what ways can we speak about literariness as a post-factual regime? What have been some of the literary strategies deployed towards fictionalizing facts, truth, or epistemes? On the flipside, in what ways has fiction been historicized as fact, truth, or “real”? How have these polyvalent strategies evolved, if at all, over time?
This conference invites papers on literary, historical, and theoretical investigations of narratives, hermeneutics, and myths of facts and truths. Topics of discussion may include but are not exclusive to:
1) Myths and narratives: literary/historical/theoretical intersections of mythification; postmodernism and truths; hyperreality; simulacra-as-truth; rhetorics; “Post-truth”; hermeneutics of suspicion; populism and propaganda; emotion vs. logic; demagoguery and xenophobia; opportunistic narratives; the trans/de-valuation of facts-as-truths and truths-as-facts; truth-value; philosophy of language; trans-human, post-human, alternate ecologies
2) Wikileaks and whistleblowing in the digital age: digital humanities; ethics in the digital world; truth in the digital age; piracy and hacking; AI; AI and paranoia narratives
3) Critique of institutions: (post-)faculties; ideology, institutions and institutionalization; writings on art history and literary history; approaches to history writing; museums and art history; capitalism; avant-garde theory; culture industry and the Frankfurt School.
4) Material culture in the post-truth era: virtual objects; mythical and/or “real” and/or virtual artifacts; material culture and virtuality; artifacts and their faculties; art forgery; facts and things; representation of objects, objects as representation; surrealism and its legacies.
Related fields of interest may include but are not limited to: Comparative Literature and Literary Theory; Critical Theory; English, French; and Spanish Studies; Studio arts; Sociology; Anthropology; Political Science; Queer Theory and Gender studies; Interdisciplinary Studies; Digital Humanities; Cultural Studies; Linguistics; History; Philosophy; Film and Media studies; etc.
We are asking those interested in delivering 15 to 20-minute presentations to submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 3, 2018. Please include your name, abstract keywords, institutional affiliation, technical requirements, and a 50-word bio in your email. Abstracts and presentations in English, Spanish, and French are welcome.
Expanded versions of conference presentations will be considered for publication in The Scattered Pelican, the peer-reviewed graduate journal of Comparative Literature at Western University.