Lost in the Archive: Writing and Self-Effacement in Bureaucratic Subjectivities - ACLA 2020

Alexandra Irimia's picture
Call for Papers
March 19, 2020 to March 22, 2020
Illinois, United States
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Humanities, Literature, Cultural History / Studies, Graduate Studies

Clerks, bureaucrats, copyists, scriveners, archivists, bookkeepers – they are, along with the repositories of written facts they work and sometimes live in, organs of the greater corpus of the archive. This human machinery of archons (Derrida) is hidden in full display, at once peripheral and essential to the archive, managing its material flows, embodying the Law, maintaining and guarding the archive’s very possibility of existence. Kafkian clerks, Gogol's scriveners, Bartleby in Herman Melville’s 1853 eponymous story, Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet, Henri Sorge in Maurice Blanchot’s 1948 The Most High (Le Très Haut), or Senhor José in José Saramago’s 1997 All the Names are only some examples of “pure recording entities” (Vismann) whose senses of self have either dissolved in or rebelled against the laws of repetition that feed the proliferation of writing.

How are fictional bureaucratic subjectivities shaped or effaced by the act of writing? How does the corporeality of the writer relate to the materiality of the archive in literary works? What are some of the strategies through which the writing subject may accommodate or subvert demands for impersonality and absolute neutrality? What are the ethical and the aesthetical implications of institutionalized practices of encoding, storage or retrieval requiring writing? Do literary deployments of this topos have any potential for self-reflexive thought on writing as a medium?

The seminar invites explorations of this typology of fictional characters in ancient, modern, or contemporary world literature, in possible association with cinema and/or other visual arts. Comparative approaches are encouraged, yet not mandatory. Possible directions of inquiry include, without being limited to:

  • Law and literature

  • Aesthetic mobilizations of legal/administrative rhetoric

  • Institutional ethics and bureaucratic subjectivities

  • Bodies of writing and the corporeality of the archive

  • Politics and poetics of the archive

  • Truth and secrecy in the archive

  • Legal fictions, fictional laws, and the question of interpretation

  • Constructions and deconstructions of the writing self

  • Impersonality and the affective regimes of writing subject


Please submit your abstracts of ~300 words and a brief biographical note online via ACLA website by September 23, 2019. Questions are welcome at airimia2@uwo.ca.

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