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Call for papers for no. 12: "The trace"

In Clues, Myths and the Historical Method (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), Carlo Ginzburg delineates how a “indicial paradigm” is constructed, and how its roots can be traced back to humanity’s hunting past. It is because of the scent left by his prey that a hunter can tell stories; it is the hunter alone who can “read the silent, or at least imperceptible, trail left by his prey, reconstructing a coherent series of events.” This trace is subsequently inscribed within the story by its telling. How can an emplotment (“mise en intrigue”, P. Ricoeur) demonstrate the trace’s organizing principle?

Due to the links between fiction and History, it can be interesting to study how plot creation can find an inception within historical events which have been reduced to ghostly traces, and how this process of fictionalization can reveal certain conceptualizations both of History and fiction itself. The figure of the ghost, for example, can be considered a manifestation of a past both troubling and persistent which returns without returning, demanding an investigation of cultural legacy and alterity (Derrida, Spectres de Marx, 1993). Through the resuscitation of a past that no longer exists, the trace inscribes upon the present an invisible past, simultaneously articulating past and present, interrogating the construction of time. In La Transcription de l’Histoire (PUR, 2006), Emmanuel Bouju underlines the potency of this indicial paradigm within late-20th-century European novels that try to “transcribe” history: it allows for the reconstruction of an almost-invisible past within the present. In addition, the trace creates the opportunity for investigating what is at stake, ethically and aesthetically, when History is obliquely represented in fiction.

The trace also implies a material dimension; it is “imprinted” by a person or an object. Certain texts of fiction allow for this materiality of the trace, which remain open for interpretation; the inclusion of photographs in Sebald’s Austerlitz can be considered as such an example. Transmediality and intertextuality can be reconsidered through the prism of the indicial paradigm; it can question the authority of the author and his relationship to his text. From quotation, collage, and montage, to all textual spaces, the door has been opened for an interrogation of what is indeed a “trace” and what is “art.” Can the recourse to another medium limit or expand the boundaries of a genre? What values are added to these borrowed elements within their new context when they come from a different sign system?

From the collection of traces in a coherent system can emerge an a priori undetectable order. Certain literary genres, such as the detective novel, are entirely based on the hermeneutics of the trace: the search for justice and manipulation are the two sides of each clue which the detective must determine. Articulating both presence and absence, the trace is never clear and demands the interpretation of not only the character, but also of the reader. In fact, the interpretation of a literary text is possible only because of the traces left by the author. The detective is no longer just a character in the text, but is also the reader himself who must reconstruct the traces left by a mischievous or enigmatic author. The indicial paradigm also reveals the hermeneutics at work in the act of reading.

This topic, which is consciously vast, is open to all literary genres of all periods ; the only requirement is that it be comparative. Proposals, along with a limited bibliography and brief biography, must be sent before March 28, 2011 in Word or RTF documents to The articles which will be selected must be submitted by May 30, 2011. The TRANS-journal of general and comparative literature accepts articles in French, English and Spanish.

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