Science and American Literary Discourse in the 20th and 21st Centuries

As a prolongation of its one-day conference
(March 21, 2008) on "Scientific Objects and
Discourse in 19th-century American Imagination"
the CEMRA (Centre d’Etude sur les Modes de la
Représentation Anglophone) of Stendhal University
in Grenoble
(France) is organizing an
international conference on the theme "Science
and American Literary Discourse in the 20th and 21st Centuries", to be held on March 26-28, 2009.

Since its origin, American literature has always
had an uneasy relationship with science: born at
a time when science was becoming a profession, it
repeatedly referred to it, implicitly or
explicitly, in order to assert its difference or,
on the contrary, to gain a certain form of
legitimacy. This specificity of 19th century
American literature continued to develop
throughout the 20th century, with literature
pursuing its epistemological exploration of
fundamental scientific questions.
The purpose of this conference is not to analyze
the ways in which science and scientists are
represented in American literature, but to show
how scientific discourse informs literary
writing, and to consider the relationship the two
types of discourse have maintained: mutual
metaphorization, questioning or legitimating, or,
to borrow John Limon’s terms (in The Place of
Fiction in the Time of Science), "preemption,"
"treachery," or "alienation". The following
questions will be addressed:

  •  To what uses does American literature put scientific models and metaphors?
  •  How does literary writing constitute a vector of epistemological reflection?
  •  What sort of knowledge does literature offer, and what is its relation to scientific knowledge?
  •  How does the recent media revolution
    affect American imagination and its modes of

    These questions will also be considered from a
    historical perspective, in order to see whether
    the diverging paths taken by science and American
    literature in the 19th century have not started
    to converge in the 20th and 21st centuries.

    300-word proposals should be sent by October 15,
    2008 to the three following addresses. Authors
    will be notified by the beginning of November.

    Claire Maniez, Professor of American Literature

    Frédéric Dumas, Associate Professor of American

    Ronan Ludot-Vlasak, Associate Professor of American