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Call for papers for n° 23 : Encyclopedic temptations in literature

Deadline to send your proposals : January the 15th, 2018

If the congruence of literature and knowledge remains a recurrent theme in literary history, the idea of « encyclopedic temptations » takes us a bit further and can lead us to attribute to a text a tendency toward the exhaustive recension of the world as well as toward a mission of classification and elucidation of the unknown. Distinct from erudition in that it remains exempt from any form of specialization, encyclopedism can be characterized by its desire to be total: it can be understood in this capacity as the manifestation of a hypertrophied realism or of an insatiable appetite for knowledge. More than a superlative version of “universal reporting”, the contemporary manifestations of encyclopedism appear however like a step sideways, or even a burrowing into the scholarly or literary margins: although characterized by abundance and surplus of information, the encyclopedia is indeed often perceived as a negative gesture – temptation, failure, deconstruction.

The study of encyclopedic forms opens a passage for several types of inquiries, in the field of literature and literary studies and in the study of the modalities of the distribution of knowledge.

Encyclopedic forms and fictions

  • i See for example Hubert Haddad, Le nouveau magasin d’écriture, Paris, Zulma, 2007.
  • ii See Umberto Eco, Écrits sur la pensée au Moyen-Âge, Paris, Grasset, 2016, p. 533.

Investigating into the encyclopedic inflation means examining a temptation that hinders linear plot development as well as the rigor of scientific demonstration: the encyclopedia and its variations – cabinets of curiosities, bestiaries, herbariums, lapidaria and other forms of inventory or metaliterary stockroomsi – can therefore be viewed as porous, uncertain zones between science and fiction. Founded, according to Umberto Eco, on the cohabitation between myth and scientific formula, between “sulfuric acid” and “Merlin”ii, the encyclopedia can be read as a kind of in-between space, stemming just as well from vulgarization as from collage. In what way has the current encyclopedic model, apparent especially in such collective processes as Wikipedia, found an echo in literature? We could analyze for example the interaction between artistic and literary forms and the construction of a reticular encyclopedic space.

The encyclopedia and indiscipline

  • iii See Umberto Eco, Comment voyager avec un saumon, Paris, Grasset, 1997, p. 223-264.
  • iv See for instance Anthony Mangeon (dir.), L’empire de la littérature : penser l’indiscipline francop (...)

At a time when expertise is given utmost importance, encyclopedism presents itself as a potentially nostalgic remainder of the fantasy of universal knowledge, emancipated from disciplinary logics. In the manner of Umberto Eco’s “cacopedia”iii, the encyclopedia can then become the parodic mirror of knowledge, driving the codes of Western erudition to the absurd. Without going as far as the pastiche of scholarly rhetoric, it delimits the heuristic horizon of a process of knowledge-acquisition recalcitrant to any pre-established classification: it constitutes one of the possible points of entry for thinking pluridisciplinary approaches that defend free movement among fields of knowledge. The return to a transversal polymathy, of which encyclopedism is one of the models, allows us to better understand the contemporary demand for a practice of hermeneutical “indiscipline”, introducing points of friction between criticism, research and creationiv. What echoes do these proposals find in contemporary research in comparative literature?

Literature and its connoisseurs

  • v On the position of the connoisseur, see Patrice Flichy, Le sacre de l’amateur : sociologie des pass (...)

Armed with possibilities created by networks, the encyclopedic temptation finds itself nonetheless confined to the margins, which brings it closer on certain levels to mainstream literature: hostile toward any form of expertise, it is closer to forms of workmanship or dilettantism of which the documentation of fictional and serial universes constitutes a potential expressionv. Reflecting on the encyclopedic temptation would then lead us to question what might constitute amateurist literature, and to analyze in particular the contemporary posture of the fan.

Figures of the polymath

  • vi See Laurent Demanze, Les fictions encyclopédiques : de Gustave Flaubert à Pierre Senges, Paris, Cor (...)

The apparition of the encyclopedic motif, durably discredited by the Flaubertian characters of Bouvard and Pécuchet often implies an impossible ambition – whether it be anachronistic, promethean, or risible. Identified by Laurent Demanzevi, the popularity of encyclopedism in contemporary literature has led to the placement of figures of maniacal encyclopedists doomed to failure at the center of the literary text: this is the case of Athanase Kircher, placed by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès at the heart of the plot of his novel Là où les tigres sont chez eux. What preoccupations do these marginal collector characters, distinct from the madman or the idiot, bring to the foreground? Can the shattering of knowledge come to incarnate the reflection of an identity crisis? Thinking about the role of the encyclopedist in the modern and contemporary world also leads us to examine the position of the individual confronted with the excessiveness of the vast and disproportionate world we live in.

This subject is not exclusive to any period or genre. It does however require a comparative approach. Proposals (3000 characters), accompanied by a short bibliography and a short description of the author, must be sent before January 15th 2018 in .DOC or .RTF format to lgcrevue@gmail.com. Selected articles must then be sent before May 15th 2018. Articles will be subjected to the peer review process. We remind you that the journal of comparative literature TRANS- accepts articles written in French, English and Spanish.

Note de fin

i See for example Hubert Haddad, Le nouveau magasin d’écriture, Paris, Zulma, 2007.

ii See Umberto Eco, Écrits sur la pensée au Moyen-Âge, Paris, Grasset, 2016, p. 533.

iii See Umberto Eco, Comment voyager avec un saumon, Paris, Grasset, 1997, p. 223-264.

iv See for instance Anthony Mangeon (dir.), L’empire de la littérature : penser l’indiscipline francophone avec Laurent Dubreuil, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2016, and Myriam Suchet, Indiscipline ! Tentatives d’univercité à l’usage des littégraphistes, artistechniciens et autres philopraticiens, Montréal, Nota Bene, 2016.

v On the position of the connoisseur, see Patrice Flichy, Le sacre de l’amateur : sociologie des passions ordinaires à l’ère numérique, Paris, Seuil, 2010.

vi See Laurent Demanze, Les fictions encyclopédiques : de Gustave Flaubert à Pierre Senges, Paris, Corti, 2015.

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