CFP: 41st GSA Conference - Art and Fiction Articulating Norms

Alex Holznienkemper's picture
Call for Papers
February 3, 2017
Georgia, United States
Subject Fields: 
German History / Studies, Intellectual History, Law and Legal History, Literature, Philosophy

CFP: Panel Series at 41st Conference of the GSA

October 5th – 8th, 2017 in Atlanta, GA

“Enabling or Restricting? Art and Fiction Articulating Norms”


Intellectual Scope and Aims:

In this series of panels, we intend to bring together scholars from various fields to test, explore, and complicate the correlation between normativity, the possibilities available to social actors, and art’s particular role in articulating these possibilities. The predominant mode of envisioning social norms has long focused on their epistemic validity and their impositions on human action. Thus, norms of action and aesthetic norms have largely been viewed as separate realms of inquiry: moral philosophy and autonomous art. To be sure, moral norms may be reflected in artistic portrayals of the (often fictitious) world, and certain aesthetic norms of vividness or clarity may be assigned to particular articulations of moral norms; but in both cases separate rubrics of interpretation are presented as being constitutive of each realm’s intellectual autonomy. In his 2015 book Die Möglichkeit der Normen, Christoph Möllers urges us to rethink this relationship. A hallmark of Möllers’ analysis is his attempt to highlight commonalities among all norms, arguing that they can be understood as “positively marked possibilit[ies]. They represent a possibility to be realized. Normativity hinges on the possibility of a deviating world condition (Weltbeschaffenheit).” According to this understanding, fiction figures prominently in fostering a fruitful distancing from the status quo and imagining the afactual, while normativity gains a new enabling dynamic.

Our panel series seeks to critically engage 1) this more constructive notion of normativity as possibility and 2) art’s constitutive role in imagining the normative. In a first step, we hope to extend the thought set in motion by Möllers. In a second step, we seek to examine its viability by interrogating case studies that exemplify, complicate, or run counter to these notions.

Some Guiding Questions:

Aesthetic Case Studies:

·       Which authors or artists are particularly adept at portraying normativity as a realm of possibilities?

·       Might some artists offer convincing cases against such an intimate relationship between norms and aesthetics?

·       How might certain genres (e.g. utopian writing, science fiction, stream of consciousness, Heimat, Bildungsroman, poetry) embody normativity as possibility?

·       Does an account of the afactual enrich notions of fiction?

·       How do the visual arts figure in portraying the normative as a realm of possibility? How does form shape the limits of what content can conceivably be portrayed and articulated?

·       If norms can be postulated as possibilities, to what degree is this necessarily the case? Must the relationship between norm and possibility be either/or, or can it be both/and? And how might one distinguish between the two constitutive elements?

Theory, Methodology, Curriculum:

·       If norms can generally be viewed as tied to normativity and action, how might this affect notions of artistic autonomy?

·       To what degree is a distinction of intra-aesthetic (purely concerning beauty) and extra-aesthetic (action, thought) normativity useful or viable?

·       Which concrete sets of norms (e.g., trade, human rights, traffic, etc.) can help to shed light on the degree to which norms can generally be viewed as marking possibilities (or not)?

·       Can we specify particular visions of alternative possibilities that arise from existing sets of social norms?

·       Is the basic presumption that norms restrict action as widespread as we believe? Has this always been the case? Are there specific thinkers potentially being overlooked in this generalization?

·       Have there been periods of more or less constructive literary criticism in terms of normativity?

·       In light of literature’s/art’s contended role in undergraduate curricula, to what degree might a new notion of the possible / afactual provide new insights into literature’s/art’s cognitive capacity?

·       Considering that the linguistic distinction between prescriptive and descriptive rules already points towards such a view of the possibilities of normativity, how might such a shifted view of normativity effect foreign language pedagogy?

·       How does this view of norms and possibilities bear on conventional notions of the factual / counterfactual / afactual?

·       Does a focus on the afactual help bridge the gulf between theoretical knowledge and pragmatic action?

·       How might such a view affect the fact/value dichotomy?

·       How might a normativity of the possible / afactual carve out a new, more intimately connected role for art in articulating social norms and possibilities?


Please submit abstracts of roughly 300 words to and by no later than February 3rd, 2017.