The Fairy Tale Vanguard
Conference Call for Papers
Ghent University, in collaboration with the University of Antwerp.
Saint Peter’s abbey, Ghent (Belgium), 20 – 22 August 2012.
Confirmed keynote speakers: Jack Zipes (University of Minnesota) – Ute Heidmann (University of Lausanne, European Institute of the University of Geneva) – Cristina Bacchilega (University of Hawai`i)
During the past decades, a lot has changed in the field of fairy tale studies: moving away from typological, structuralist and hermeneutically essentialist approaches, scholars today have again come to appreciate the specificity of individual fairy tale texts, the historical context in which they originated, and the many ways in which they have functioned. This general turn to history has brought about a variety of interesting new approaches, many of them focusing on questions of a social, political or ideological nature.
However, when it comes to the fairy tale’s functioning as a literary art form, i.e. as partaking in the dynamics of larger literary fields, research interests have been much more moderate. During the upcoming conference, we intend to re-examine the fairy tale in ways that will shed light on the genre’s position within the conservative and innovative forces that make up for the historical development of literatures. More specifically, we will take off from the idea that throughout its history, the fairy tale has provided authors with a space in which they could engage in literary experimentation and self-consciously reflect on contemporary trends in the literary field. As a result, it was often tied up with or even constituted literary vanguard impulses.
Examples of this are plenty, perhaps most obviously in postmodernist writings, but also in the Grimms’ careful construction of a national Natur/Volkspoesie, the exploration of mondain préciosité by the French salon writers, the Baroque textual games of Basile’s Pentamerone, etc. When we go back further into the genre’s prehistory, we encounter even more texts, both in “sacred” and vernacular languages, which display this same propensity for reflection and innovation.
We can at least partially explain this phenomenon by considering the general traits of the genre itself: as fantastic narrative par excellence, the fairy tale has tended to ostentatiously distance itself from more realistic modes of experience and representation. Though often engaged with very tangible historical realities, its general discourse is not so much characterized by faithful mimetic description as it is by creative fabulation – by the act of weaving language into unconventional textures.
The tale’s relatively short format only aids to heighten our awareness of its (sometimes intricate) architectural construction as a textual artifact – as Angela Carter once said: “The short story is not minimalist, it is rococo. I feel in absolute control. It is like writing chamber music rather than symphonies” (The Bloody Chamber, Vintage 2006, xix). It is exactly this kind of textual control which far exceeds the boundaries of more conventional mimesis that makes the fairy tale into a world of words, at least as much as of things. Not surprisingly then, authors have used this little world of words as a laboratory in which they could experiment with the art of literature, self-consciously explore its subjects, forms, aims and boundaries and comment on other literary forms and cultural debates (both in meaning and in form).
We welcome any proposals for papers regarding these ideas. Possible topics include:
• Theoretical and historical reflections on the literary discourse of the fairy tale genre
• The metaliterary use of fairy tales
• The programmatic paratextual framing of fairy tale collections
• Literary experimentation in fairy tales
• Fairy tales and the formation of national literatures
•The fairy tale’s response to and impact on developments within the larger literary field, e.g. its active participation in literary vanguards and movements, its shifting properties in globalized literature, its response to the introduction of new media
A three hundred word abstract and five line biography should be submitted to fairytale (a) ugent.be.
Abstract deadline: 1 March 2012
Notification of acceptance: April 2012
Stijn Praet (°1986) is an FWO-funded doctoral researcher at Ghent University. He holds a BA in Latin and English, an MA in Comparative Modern Literature and a specialized MA in Literary Studies. He has recently published in Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment (Cambridge Scholars 2011) and is currently preparing his doctoral thesis on the Latin prehistory of the fairy tale genre. stijn.praet (a) ugent.be
Vanessa Joosen (°1977) is an FWO-funded postdoctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp. She is the author of Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales (Wayne State UP 2011) and has published in a.o. Marvels and Tales, The Greenwood Companion to Fairy Tales and Children’s Literature in Education. vanessa.joosen (a) ua.ac.be