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Call for papers for the 24th issue of TRANS-: Contra-bridges

Deadline to send your proposals: September the 20th, 2018

An obvious symbol of crossings, transitions and rites of passage, the bridge, a recurrent figure in literature, is a natural metaphor for signifying union or circulation. The history of bridges goes back to the origins of humanity, it reminds us of our travels, our wars, our commercial enterprises, and the progress of our technology. We can only adhere to the vibrant homage paid by the Serbo-Croatian language writer Ivo Andrić: “Of all that man in his vital impetus has produced or built, there is nothing in my eyes better or more precious than bridges. They are more important than houses and have a more sacred nature than temples because they are more common to all1.” However, it is from a position “against bridges” (à « contre pont ») that we make this call for papers, a call to go beyond the placatory vision of this figure.

  • 2 Simmel, G., « Pont et porte » (translated from German by Sabine Cornille et Philippe Ivernel), in (...)

The imagination surrounding bridges, indeed, sometimes leads us to forget the self-evident nature of their origins: there are no bridges without obstacles, without empty spaces, without difference in the world order. In his short article entitled “Bridge and Door”, Simmel asked us to be wary of the promise of union figuratively represented by bridges: if the bridge establishes a point of contact, it also draws attention to the incompressible gap that separates the two banks2.” Therefore, bridges lead us to question not only junctions, but also the discontinuous nature of what they connect. In integrating distance in the relation to the other, the bridge pits itself against aspirations to fusion and the illusion of assimilation. It is thereby not surprising to find, among writers writing about bridges, authors who practice the art of fragmentation, such as Rimbaud or more recently, Pascal Quignard.

An attentive study of bridges figured in literary works can help unhinge the metaphor of the bridge from a pontificating vision, toward a signifying one. In order to grasp the complexity of this movement, it is essential to consider it at the intersection of several critical and disciplinary approaches. Proposals that integrate literary studies and ideas from the fields of engineering, architecture, philosophy, history, geopolitics and urbanism are of particular interest to us. Thriving on reflections from other disciplines, the figure of the bridge will be examined as a reconfiguration and “discursive” construction of our imagination and of the plurality of our disciplines.

A place of crossing

  • 3 Translated from French: « on ne traverse un chemin que dans sa largeur ; car y marcher dans sa long (...)

A bridge seems to be defined as a place of connection. In Antiquity, pontos designated a place of crossing, such as the Black Sea, the “Pontus Euxinus,” beyond which, for the Greeks, the Barbarians could be found. A series of questions about the modalities of passage can then be asked. What is the nature of these spaces that exist only through the banks they bring together? In The Bridge Crossed, Paulhan notes that the expression to cross a bridge is clearly illogical since “we can only cross a path by walking its width; as walking its length is following it3”. Nonetheless, Paulhan himself makes use of the expression in the title of his book, as if to suggest that linking two separate points is a more complex and perilous act than following a path. The strangeness of the expression to cross a bridge provides us with a first point of reflection that encourages us to think of relation not only as what brings things together, but also as the discovery of what resists passage, as something over which we might falter, something that makes us stumble.

Link to the past, to the future

  • 4 Translated from French: « n’est pas étonnant de voir, ici ou là, dans beaucoup de livres de notre é (...)

Considered negatively, in terms of the obstacles or distances it engenders, the bridge also invites us to consider time in terms of continuity and discontinuity. When he published The Bridge on the Drina, Ivo Andrić still believed in a world that could potentially be rendered coherent by the positive accumulation of time, a world where bridges bring things together and defy death and oblivion. In Oublier, trahir puis disparaître, the French writer Camille de Toledo notes that it « is not surprising to see, here and there, in many books about our transitory era, bridge figures. We, the last ones born in the twentieth century, have taken on the linking of two eras, two worlds that are turning their backs on one another4.”

  • 5 Vitaliano Trevisan, Le pont : un effondrement, Paris, Gallimard, 2009.
  • 6 Mathias Enard, Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d’éléphants, Paris, Actes sud, 2010.
  • 7 Francesco Pecoraro, La vie en temps de paix, Paris, J.-C. Lattès, [2013] 2017.
  • 8 Trajei Vesaas, Les ponts, Paris, Autrement, [1966] 2003.
  • 9 Maylis de Kerangal, Naissance d’un pont, Paris, Verticales, 2010.

Yet, this task seems to have become irremediably too difficult. Figures of bridges that contemporary novelists integrate in their fiction are often fleeting or elusive. Bridges crumble like in Vitaliano Travisan5’s work, reveal themselves as mirages (Mathias Enard6), or vestiges (Francesco Pecoraro7), or even wells (Trajei Vesaas8). Even when the erection of a bridge brings the promise of a new order of relations, it comes with compromises and separations (Maylis de Kerangal9). Questioning bridges that inhabit (and maybe even haunt) contemporary literature therefore implies asking ourselves how our relationships reflect or alter our relationship to time. Although we spontaneously think of water flowing, or of a river in which we never bathe twice to represent the passage of time, the failure of these bridges seems to point to a sort of time that doesn’t go by, or rather that goes through.

The politics of bridges

Bridges are often centers of geopolitical tension: places of crossing for migrants, like the Simon Bolivar bridge between Colombia and Venezuela, but also points of control such as the Allenby Bridge in the West Bank. In Europe, while paper bridges circulate on currency, as symbols of reconciliation, openness and union, real bridges often become the last refuge for asylum seekers, patent proof of a hiatus in the proclamations of unity and openness between European countries. For these reasons, bridges, doubtless, merit to be freed of the mysticism of the link, in favor of the finer observation of the ways of life they make possible or that they impede.

As soon as attention is paid to the singular, the symbol diffracts and makes room for more tenuous, uncertain, and conflictual objects of reflection, keeping with our era drained by the contradictory movements of openness and withdrawal. We might analyze here more specifically political concerns related to the figure of the bridge, in asking ourselves, for example, if this figure might shed light on or help us to imagine new forms of sociability.

This issue of the journal TRANS- will be devoted not to the bridge, but to bridges, be they real or imaginary, painted, sculpted, filmed, recounted or deconstructed. This subject is not exclusive to any time period or genre. It does however require a comparative approach that can take the form of a comparison between different objects – bridges coming from geographies, histories, literatures, or technologies – and can be understood as a meeting point of several approaches, and as the excursion of a scientific perspective in a work of fiction, or an historical approach to a concept. Proposals (3000 characters), accompanied by a short bibliography and a short description of the author, must be sent before September 20th 2018 in .DOC or .RTF format to lgcrevue@gmail.com. Selected articles must then be sent before January 10th 2019. We remind you that the journal of comparative literature TRANS- accepts articles written in French, English, Italian, Spanish.

1 Ivo Andrić, Mostovi, 1933, http://www.yurope.com/people/nena/Zabeleske/Ivo_Andric/Mostovi.html, consulted 06/05/18 ; Translated from the French translation by Alain Cappon, « Les Ponts », Europe n°960, April 2009, p. 308-310. « De tout ce que l’homme dans son élan vital élève ou construit, il n’est rien à mes yeux de mieux ni de plus précieux que les ponts. Ils ont plus d’importance que les maisons, un caractère plus sacré, parce que plus commun à tous, que les temples. »

2 Simmel, G., « Pont et porte » (translated from German by Sabine Cornille et Philippe Ivernel), in Simmel, G., La Tragédie de la culture, Paris, Rivages, 1988.

3 Translated from French: « on ne traverse un chemin que dans sa largeur ; car y marcher dans sa longueur, c’est le suivre ». Félicité de Genlis, Œuvres complètes, t.V, Histoires, mémoires et romans historiques, Bruxelles, P.J. de Mat, 1828, p.90. Passage cité par Paulhan dans Le pont traversé (1921), Œuvres complètes, t.1, Paris, Gallimard, 2006, p.158.

4 Translated from French: « n’est pas étonnant de voir, ici ou là, dans beaucoup de livres de notre époque transitoire, des figures de ponts. Nous, les derniers-nés du vingtième siècle, nous avons eu la charge de relier deux époques, deux mondes qui se tournent le dos ».  Camille de Toledo, Oublier, trahir puis disparaître, Paris, Seuil, 2014, p.118.

5 Vitaliano Trevisan, Le pont : un effondrement, Paris, Gallimard, 2009.

6 Mathias Enard, Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d’éléphants, Paris, Actes sud, 2010.

7 Francesco Pecoraro, La vie en temps de paix, Paris, J.-C. Lattès, [2013] 2017.

8 Trajei Vesaas, Les ponts, Paris, Autrement, [1966] 2003.

9 Maylis de Kerangal, Naissance d’un pont, Paris, Verticales, 2010.