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Call for paper for no.13: "Margins and deviance"

Deviating from the norm, whether it be social or literary, always entails a return to its interrogation, to questioning its validity or the conditions of its existence as well as the possibilities opened by moving to its margins. In the etymological sense, to deviate means “to go astray” : deviance implies a distancing that may not be of the magnitude of a transgression, a term that evokes the deliberate crossing of a border. Between assumed subversion and simple diversion, deviance questions or provokes the norm from its margins. Beyond the recurring figure of the marginal artist, to what extent can we speak of deviant writing or art ?

For example, it’s at the margins of society that the authors of the Beat Generation sought out new formal and thematic routes : Jack Kerouac, in On the Road, invented “spontaneous prose,” a technique inspired by bebop jazz, underground music developed by African Americans in the 1940s. However, deviating from the norm can also be a way of brutally confronting it, of creating a hiatus as in the case of Jean Genet, an apologist of thieves and traitors, who described homosexual loves and delinquents’’ lives in a classicist language bordering on preciosity. As such his work proposes a brutal collision between the norm of language and the deviance of the intention. At this point deviance becomes provocation in the sense revealed by its etymology, from the Latin provocare : “to call out, to make come.” Accordingly deviance becomes the way to shake up the points of reference upheld by the norm.

The presence of marginality in an artistic work likewise provides visibility to individuals whom society attempts to maintain in obscurity. The surrealist movement, by taking an interest in work by those still referred to as “alienated,” has thereby worked towards this unveiling and questioning of the notion of “normality” both in society and in writing.

Since deviating from the norm comes back to distancing oneself from the field of the commonly accepted, but also from the commonly understood, the reception of authors such as Antonin Artaud or William Burroughs, initially censored and later acclaimed as brilliantly innovative, reveals an at times lengthy process of recognition whose journey includes a reevaluation of the norm itself.

The “deviant” writer thus holds the contradictory posture of being recognized as marginal. This border state simultaneously questions the notion of deviance in society and the status of literature as an authority : Does literature integrate the marginal or does it approach the margin ? The deviant writer, by definition marginal or according to sociologist Howard Becker disobedient, by exposing his or her subversive position through literary writing inscribes him or herself in a process of recognition and literary institutionalization. What subversive power do the writings of Villon, Sade, or Henry Miller retain today ? The notion of deviance, like the norm itself, is relative to a cultural space, but also to a given time : it interrogates the modes of constituting the common and the community as well as the capacity of literature to make the divisions between inside and outside, the center and the margin, the normal (law, code, rule) and the pathological (deregulation or derivation). Is literature a privileged site of reclaiming transgression or an organ that regulates marginality ? The sociological statute of the literary act as well as the literary imaginary of deviance can thus be considered simultaneously ; marginality opens new directions for fiction because it is “hidden” in society.

This topic, which is intentionally broad, is open to all periods and genres (novel, story, drama, poetry, etc.) and may be open to comparisons with film and other visual arts ; the only requirement is that the approach be comparative. Proposals (3000 characters or 500 words), along with a brief bibliography and a short author’s statement, must be sent before October 22, 2011 in Word or RTF format to Selected articles must be submitted by December 15, 2011. As a reminder,TRANS- accepts articles in French, English and Spanish.

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