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Wallace Stegner and the Changing American West:

Reimagining Place, Region, Nation, and Globe in an Era of Instability

 

-A Call for Papers and Other Creative Work-

 

Center for Western Lands and Peoples

Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies

College of Letters and Science / Montana State University, Bozeman

By the time of his death, Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) had become the epitome of the politically engaged western American writer able to express himself across a range of genres, from fiction to history, autobiography, and essays. In books such as The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wolf Willow, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, Angle of Repose (Pulitzer Prize), and The American West as Living Space, Stegner brought to life and illuminated the West like few other authors. Of uppermost concern to Stegner were issues of transiency and community, landscape quality and degradation, family life, the importance of place, and the need for ways of living that foster stable social bonds and stable economies within the realities and constraints of western environments.

Twenty-five years after his passing and on the eve of the 110th year of his birth, we seek to assess the state of the North American West and its study through the lens of Stegner’s life, work, and legacy. We invite proposals for essays that revisit and reinterpret Stegner, but more broadly, we welcome proposals for work that reconsiders and reimagines Stegnerian themes and issues in light of the political, economic, and ecological tumult of our times. We seek insights from across disciplines, genres, and forms. Although we emphasize the written word, we seek contributions from the visual arts as well. What aspects of Stegner’s life and work have enduring value? How do contemporary issues of Indigenous sovereignty, gender inequality and feminism, immigration, the status of refugees, extreme economic disparities, and changes to the Earth System, especially global warming, alter our understanding of the West and the ways that Stegner envisioned it? How might our efforts to grapple with these issues compel us to reimagine the western past? How might Stegner and his work—critiqued, revised, updated—help us negotiate our unsettled present and point us toward alternative futures?

Contributions selected for this project will be presented at workshops and public events at Montana State University, May 9-11, 2019, and will be edited and included in an anthology of essays and illustrations. Please send 300-word abstracts to westernlandsandpeoples@montana.edu by November 5, 2018.

Mark Fiege (mark.fiege@montana.edu)
Professor of History
Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies
Montana State University

Susan Kollin (susan.kollin@montana.edu)
Professor of English
Director, Center for Western Lands and Peoples
Montana State University

Mary Murphy (mmurphy@montana.edu)
Professor of History
Co-Director, Center for Western Lands and Peoples
Montana State University


Willa Cather Foundation Scholarship for Student Research

The Willa Cather Foundation is supporting emerging Western Literature Association scholars who increase our understanding and appreciation of the life and work of Willa Cather. As a part of this effort, we have created a $400 annual scholarship to support a student presenting their Cather-associated work at the Western Literature Association Conference and who meets the criteria below.

Criteria

  1. Recipient must be a graduate student or advanced undergraduate student.
  2. Recipient must be on the program to present a paper related to Willa Cather at the Western Literature Association. All scholarly and critical approaches are welcome, as long as Cather’s work is a central focus.
  3. Recipient must have travel and registration expenses not already covered by other external sources.

How to Apply

Applicants should send a message to Cather Foundation Education Director Tracy Tucker at ttucker@willacather.org with the following attachments:

  1. One-page cover letter which clarifies that the applicant meets all of the above criteria
  2. Copy of accepted proposal for scholarly presentation

Applicants who seek a scholarship should submit their application no later than September 29, 2018.

WCF Emerging Scholar Scholarships

The Cather Foundation is awarding three annual $400 scholarships. We prefer to award at least one scholarship to a student presenting at the annual conference of the American Literature Association and another to a student presenting at the annual conference of the Western Literature Association. A third scholarship is undesignated to a specific conference, but preference is given to students presenting their research at conferences that are not Cather-specific (such as the International Cather Seminar, for which there are other available scholarships).


Percival Everett: Theory, Philosophy and Fiction

organized by the ERIAC Research Center (ED 4705)

at the University of Rouen

on May 2ndand 3rd 2019

Percival Everett’s work has been delighting its readers with engaging plots, rich with suspense and surprises. The diverse gallery of his characters offers many an opportunity for sympathy, identification, empathy, criticism, amusement or estrangement. One of the feats achieved in Everett’s work consists in blending sometimes complex theoretical and philosophical backgrounds into his (breath-)taking plots, thus granting further degrees of satisfaction to the attentive readers. The extra layers thus admitted into the reading experience, variously perceptible according to the readers, contribute to the singularity of Everett’s style. Despite the variety in genres, tones and topics from one book to another, all are marked by such tension between realism and theory, illusion and metafiction, all happily resolved in Everett’s unique literary pieces.

Theory and more specifically philosophy feed his narratives, and visibly appear through quotations, of authors’ names, words and sentences, and inform the structures of his novels and stories. Literary criticism, its excesses and deviations are targeted in erasure, for instance, through a parody of S/Zand the absurd behavior of the representatives of the Nouveau Romansociety, as well as in Glyph, in which Roland Barthes is given the part of an inveterate seducer. Mathematics and more precisely logics widely inform Everett’s work, as perceptible in Glyphfor instance, through baby-genius Ralph’s calculations and speculations. Percival Everett by Virgil Russellincludes mathematical formulae (pp.127, 129), refers to Russell, while mathematical symbols even offer their structures to the title of Everett’s poetry collection Re: f(gesture).

Many a passage throughout Everett’s works consists in playful logical arguing, as ironically emphasized through numerous logical links and markers. Dialogues especially bring out the ambiguities and logical discrepancies in communication, hence the numerous opportunities for misunderstanding. At the heart of such playful dialogues, sometimes verging on the absurd, Everett’s studies in Language Philosophies pervade his whole oeuvre, partly turning it into a playfield. The great names of Language Philosophies run throughout his work: Wittgenstein, Austin, White, Russell, Frege appear in GlyphThe Water CurePercival Everett by Virgil Russell, to name but a few. According to Everett himself, fiction allows one to try out language structures much more efficiently –and enjoyably-than in readymade, artificial dialogues, disconnected from any actual situation or context. Yet in his fiction many a dialogue, in its forms and structures, is redolent with those artificial test samples, as in The Water CurePercival Everett by Virgil RussellI Am Not Sidney Poitier, with its ontological quiz set by the protagonist’s first name, “Not Sidney”. 

More generally Everett’s whole oeuvre abounds in puns, jokes and witticisms. Overtly or more insidiously the many ways in which language escapes its user’s control are being explored, to enhance the infinite possibilities for ambiguity, misunderstanding and creativity offered by language. The distorted passages in The Water Cure bring to the fore the vulnerability of meaning and language while exposing some of the main principles upon which reading and communication rely, mostly anticipation, thus opening ways for prejudice to deviate the speaker’s/writer’s originally intended meaning. Such wide philosophical questions are raised in Everett’s work, through both its topics and forms, with the question of responsibility looming in the background, so to speak, as well as that of the canon and more largely of norms.

Some of the following questions may be pursued:

How do theory and philosophy inform Everett’s narratives in their topics and structures, at the macro- and micro-levels both? How does such massive presence inflect the nature and definition of fiction, allowing for a renewal of the genre? What is the specific part played by metafiction in his work? How does it contribute to blur the limits between tones, genres and possibly art forms while questioning the very creative process? More largely, the emphasis may be laid on the making of books, and the various sources of inspiration flowing into them.   To what extent and in what ways do Everett’s writing and painting relate, and what forms does the quest for abstraction take in each? What can narrative and fiction in general bring to the theoretical and philosophical fields?

Alain Badiou has emphasized the necessity to reconsider the relationships between philosophy and art at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, after the didactic, Romantic and classical schemes have proved to no longer be able to define the relations between art and philosophy. Badiou’s concept of “inesthétique” may offer an angle of approach of the specific place of philosophy in Everett’s art: “By ‘unaesthetic’ I mean a specific way for philosophy to relate to art, itself understood as a source of truths, so that philosophy in no way claims to take art as an object of philosophical study. Against aesthetic speculation unaesthetics describes the strictly internal philosophical effects generated by the independent existence of a few artworks.”[1]

Indeed the reflection carried out in common during the conference may keep as an aim the attempt to bring forth some of the truths produced by Everett’s work, or at least some of the main phenomena observable in the work, as related to our perception of and being in the world. Among them, one may try to highlight both “the ambivalent role and the absolute singularity of the literary fact” (Jean-François Favreau, Vertige de l’écriture, 8), as well as its subversive power. Indeed Everett’s work brings to the fore the nature of the artistic writing as resistance, according to Foucault’s view of literature as “some kind of monster as well as a resource, but also as a formidable resistance”, the “permanence of some subterranean trend in Western thought that has been kept aside by the ruling order” (Favreau, 9). The conference will ultimately have as one of its ambitions to explore the complex interactions between the canon and the margins, creative practice and critical thought, art and philosophy.

Abstracts should be sent to Anne-Laure Tissut (altissut@yahoo.fr) by September 30th2018

[P.S.: Percival Everett is one of the WLA’s Distinguished Achievement Award recipients for 2018. He will be present at the WLA Conference in St. Louis.]


 



The Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University is pleased to announce multiple awards for 2018 that are available for research and public programs related to Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, or Wyoming. Please see the descriptions below.

 

 

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  • Western Literature Association (WLA)

    Founded in 1965, the Western Literature Association (WLA) is a non-profit, scholarly association that promotes the study of the diverse literature and cultures of the North American West, past and present.

  • Western American Literature (WAL)

    (The Journal)

    Published by the Western Literature Association, Western American Literature is the leading journal in western American literary studies.