CFP: JAm It! (Journal of American Studies in Italy), Special Issue #7
It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding): (Hi)Stories of American Fragility
Guest Editors: Pilar Martínez Benedí and Chiara Patrizi
In 2020, as many Western governments adopted restrictive measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of philosophers, sociologists, political and cultural theorists started thinking about such an unprecedented state of affairs in terms of state of exception and biopolitics. If Giorgio Agamben famously inveighed against “the invention of an epidemic” by state power so as to normalize the state of exception as a legitimate “governing paradigm,” others, like Slavoj Žižek, focused on the “reality of the threat.” “Even if life does eventually return to some semblance of normality, it will not be the same normal as the one we experienced before the outbreak,” Žižek claims, as such, “we will have to learn to live a much more fragile life with constant threats.”
In this context, the idea of fragility, traditionally confined to the private sphere, has forcefully entered the public debate. More than ever, neoliberal capitalism is failing to cope with the challenges of the present. Not surprisingly, such inadequacy has been nowhere as glaring as in the US, where the pandemic has exacerbated class, gender, and racial differences. Indeed, far from being oblivious to such differences, Covid-19 hit harder those—such as the lower and working classes, minorities, disabled, women, LGBTQ+ people—who were already living a “fragile life with constant threats”: either because they were more exposed to the disease or because they suffered more from the economic, social, and personal consequences of the pandemic, or both.
Social and personal fragilities have taken on a different meaning in the aftermath of the pandemic. Words and concepts such as loss, grief, alienation, debility, distance, have become part of a broader discourse which includes the personal and the communal as two elements that cannot be separated to understand US and Western society in the present. The interplay between these two elements, and/or between bodily debility and socio-economic fragility, is especially visible in the two global events that marked the year 2020: the Covid-19 pandemic and the rekindling of the BLM movement (worldwide) after the murder of George Floyd. Both, uncannily, under the same cry: I can’t breathe—a cry that calls for bio- and/or necro-political interpretations, but not only.
Covid-19 was a totalizing event—but what about other, non-Covid-related personal sufferings, which often had to be endured in even greater solitude, due to the impossibility of social interaction and physical contact? The intersection of individual and global tragedies is increasingly generating narratives of loss that are at once personal and communal, as in the case of Jesmyn Ward and Claudia Rankine. Similarly, recent BLM activism embraces vulnerability as an instrument of witnessing and protest. Fueled by the recent global traumatic events, over the last year and a half vulnerability and debility have become categories that seem to encompass all aspects of life; the defining features of a society marked by loss—of resources, health, physical contact, time, air to breathe. And since the personal can be political in powerful ways, debility has come to represent a political stance. At the same time, vulnerability, fragility, debility are not solely negative conditions that move us to pity, but may conversely turn into strength, resilience and, to use Ward’s term, “respair”—that return to hope after a period of despair. Either as a sign of suffering and grief, or as a valiant fight against adversity, private fragilities might have a lot to say about the world we live in. As Walt Whitman put it after having witnessed the horrors of the Civil War first-hand, “in the glints of emotion under emergencies . . . we get far profounder clues to the . . . world than all its more formal history” (Specimen Days).
The seventh issue of Jam It! seeks to recuperate that emotional (under)current below the notorious “emergencies” of formal history. We are interested in minor, domestic, intimate scenes and experiences that more often than not remain muted, dampened, by official narratives of public events. We invite contributions from across the disciplines that not only discuss how literature, cultural artifacts, social and political manifestations are registering the ways in which the current situation should foster a meditation on the category of vulnerability/fragility, but also that analyze what does it imply for US society—and Western society at large—that personal grief took place in the midst of communal grief.
Interested scholars should submit a 500-word abstract and brief academic bio to the editors Pilar Martínez Benedí (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Chiara Patrizi (email@example.com), and cc’ing firstname.lastname@example.org by December 31, 2021. In case of acceptance, essays of no more than 8,000 words will be due April 1, 2022.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Sentimentalism in literature, art, and political discourse;
- Debility as a disruption of the ability/disability binary: politics of debilitation, debilitated bodies and their potential for activism;
- Trauma, witnessing, memory, especially in the intertwining of personal and communal tragedies;
- (Hi)stories of respair, hope, and positive change;
- “White fragility”: vulnerability, condescension, and privilege;
- Personal tales of inmigration;
- Grief and mourning, especially after traumatic events (i.e. War, 9/11, global pandemics);
- Love in the time of catastrophe;
- Bodily pain, illness, disability, ageing, in fiction, poetry or memoir;
- Conviviality (and lack thereof)—narratives and politics of distance;
- Resilience and plasticity as tools of biopolitical power: “white” resilience and the denied malleability of the racialized body;
- Affective narratives of historical catastrophe;
- Writing/Telling/Recuperating (Her)stories of War, Revolution, political and social unrest.
JAm It! Journal of American Studies in Italy is an annual open-access and peer-reviewed journal of American Studies that publishes academic articles, book reviews, interviews, and creative writing, favoring innovative methodologies and contributions.
JAm It! is an inclusive hub of intellectual exchanges open to a wide range of critical approaches to the field of American Studies. The critical debates on JAm It! cover (but are not limited to) the fields of literature, cultural studies, history, linguistics, geography, political science, and pedagogy. We encourage trans-disciplinary and trans-hemispheric approaches and are especially eager to publish contributions that put in conversation European and non-European approaches to the study of North American culture, aesthetics, history, and politics.
Our thematic section is periodically open to submissions via CFPs and we accept unsolicited submissions for all the other sections of the journal. We especially invite submissions from Italian and international postgraduate and early-career researchers.