Calls for Papers: Two special issues of American Literature

American Literature is seeking papers for two special issues, “Queer about Comics” and “Post-Exceptionalist Puritanism.” Read further about each special issue and how you can contribute your work.

Queer about Comics
Deadline: July 31, 2016

There’s something queer about comics. Whether one looks to the alternative mutant kinships of superhero stories (the epitome of queer worldmaking), the ironic and socially negative narratives of independent comics (the epitome of queer anti-normativity), or the social stigma that makes the medium marginal, juvenile, and outcast from proper art (the epitome of queer identity), comics are rife with the social and aesthetic cues commonly attached to queer life. Moreover, the medium has had a long history as a top reading choice among those “queer” subjects variously called sexual deviants, juvenile delinquents, dropouts, the working class, and minorities of all stripes. Despite this, comics studies and queer theory have remained surprisingly alienated from one another. On the one hand, comics studies’ tendency to analyze the formal codes of sequential art separately from social questions of sexual identity and embodied difference has often led to a disregard for a nuanced queer and intersectional critique of the comics medium. On the other, the prevailing assumption that mainstream comics (namely the superhero genre) embody nationalistic, sexist, and homophobic ideologies has led many queer theorists to dismiss comics altogether, or else to celebrate a limited sample of politically palatable alternative comics as exemplars of queer visual culture. In this logic, “Queer zines yes! Superhero comics no!”

This special issue of American Literature solicits scholarship on comics that dwells in the medium’s queerness across genres, time periods, audiences and production histories to show how comic book form functions as a generative vehicle for registering, reimaging, and theorizing questions of sexual, racial, and embodied difference. We are interested in work that refuses the mandate to recuperate the literary or aesthetic value of comics, but instead views their marginality as a productive force that allows the medium access to distinctly queer ways of life, worldviews, and creative experiments.

How might a medium made up of the literal intersection of lines, images, and bodies capture the values of intersectional analysis? How do comics’ attention to the visual orientation of images in space model a conception of sexual orientation? How might the medium’s discontinuous organization of images map onto disability’s discontinuous relationship to heterosexual able-bodied existence? How might the medium’s courting of marginal and outsider audiences allow for the formation of queer counterpublics? These questions only begin to scratch the surface of the inquiries we seek, but they suggest a synthetic approach to comics that considers the medium’s queerness as opening out into a variety of formal and narrative experiments that have attempted to deal with the problem of being literally and figuratively marginal or “queered” by social and political orders.

Take for example two fundamental conceits of queer theory: In what is perhaps the most oft-quoted line from the inaugural moment of queer theory, Judith Butler claimed that “gender is an imitation for which there is no original.” Only second to this then revolutionary statement might be Eve Sedgwick’s first axiom for queer studies that “people are different from each other.” Although both theorists first formulated these claims to describe the instability of gendered and sexual identity, their statements describe the operation of comic strip form exactly. As a serialized medium, comics proliferate images that imitate both material or embodied experience and previous images or copies in a sequence; this proliferation underscores the limitless differences produced between an ever-expanding range of images, and the figures and worlds they depict. Simultaneously, the sheer number of images, texts, and characters the medium produces renders claims to originality superfluous as does the presentation of mutant, monstrous, or altogether fantastical characters that have no “original” form in everyday life. Perhaps more than any other literary or cultural mode then, comics self-consciously multiply and underscore differences at every site of their production. Each iteration of an image, an issue, a storyline, or world has the potential to disrupt, comment on, or altogether alter the flow and direction of what has come before: in this sense, comics function, to borrow from Sara Ahmed, as queer orientation devices, productively directing readers toward deviant bodies that refuse to be fixed in one image or frame, new desires for fantasy worlds that rebel against the constraints of everyday life, and new kinds of counterpublic affiliation among readers who identify with the queer, deviant, maladjusted form called comics.

We solicit scholarship that considers how queer theory might transform the aesthetic analysis of sequential art beyond the question of gay and lesbian or “minority” representation, as well as the ways comics’ distinct aesthetic formal codes and production histories might inform theoretical debates in queer theory and literary studies (including, but not limited to queer temporalities, queer phenomenology, intersectional critique, critical race studies, disability studies, and affect). Rather than only analyzing the visual representation of queerness in comics, we ask how the formal and aesthetic structures of the comic book medium—serialization, temporal dissonance, collaboratively produced narratives, portable texts among others—have lent themselves to articulating the broader field of queerness, race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability at distinct historical moments and in particular artistic productions, and how these formal codes have interpolated an array of unexpected publics. We hope to see scholars engaging in analytical practices and approaches as diverse as comics themselves, in essays that capture the playfulness, exuberance, and eccentricity of the medium, while providing new concepts for incorporating comics into the theoretical and cultural study of sexual and embodied difference.

Submissions of 11,000 words or less (including endnotes and references) should be submitted electronically at by July 31, 2016. When choosing a submission type, select “Submission-Special Issue-Comics.” For assistance with the submission process, please contact the office of American Literature via email or call (919) 684-3396. For inquiries about the content of the issue, please contact the coeditors: Ramzi Fawaz and Darieck Scott.

Post-Exceptionalist Puritanism
Deadline: October 31, 2016

The Puritans were a group of people loosely defined through a shared and often zealous adherence to the reformed theological tradition, largely following the work of John Calvin. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the Puritan movement took root in specific regional locales throughout Germany, Scotland, the Low Countries, and England. Religious conflict simmered from the 1580s forward and intensified during the reign of Charles I (1625–49) as Puritans repeatedly called for further reform, often through appeals to the early church and antiquity. Religious tension and persecution caused groups of Puritans over the years to leave England in search of new lands and communities.

Given this schismatic beginning, it is perhaps ironic that in the twentieth-century, particularly in the work of Perry Miller and Sacvan Bercovitch, the New England Puritans bore the weight of American origins, standing at the head of a tradition that would eventuate in the United States and its national literature. The postexceptionalist wave of Puritan scholarship, which has been ongoing for over a decade, has effectively decoupled Puritanism from this larger telos of American origins. As a result, new historiographic tools have emerged for studying and understanding Puritanism in a variety of contexts. In this special issue, we seek reflections on the contributions of Puritanism and Puritan studies to American literature and literary studies writ large, with a special emphasis on three keywords: temporality, geography, and aesthetics.

What happens, for example, if we imagine the Puritans as the end of an historical era, rather than the beginning of something else? If we invoke their relation to Catholicism as one of debts and borrowings rather than decisive schisms? If we follow the trajectory of Puritanism beyond the colonial era, what new places, forms, and guises appear? How does a consideration of temporality as an analytic category shift our understanding of Puritanism? Can we speak of Puritans in Southern literature, in Western literature, in Caribbean literature? If so, how? And why? How do we write about and teach such matters in the classroom? Where do Puritans fit in American literature today and what does that tell us about our scholarly paradigms?

Second, what new geographies recontextualize our understanding of the Puritans? Books such as Carla Gardina Pestana’s Protestant Empire (2009) and John Elliott’s Empires of the Atlantic World (2006) place Puritanism squarely within Atlantic and hemispheric frames. How might we reconsider a Puritan diaspora, set apart from the long-standing geographic fixity of Puritan New England? Puritanism was radically transformed through missionary encounters, interactions with foreign landscapes, new peoples, and new religious communities. How do we understand these changes as both rooted in a particular time and place and also as part of a larger Atlantic world? Can we talk of Indigenous or African Puritanisms? The Puritans advance Atlantic perspectives and resist them. One larger question that we wish this special issue to address is how the Puritans can inhabit both American and Atlantic Studies.

Finally, how might we imagine new approaches to Puritan studies as specifically literary, aesthetic, and hermeneutic endeavors? How can we account for and grapple with global and Atlanticist respatializations in explicitly literary terms? That is, what new texts and textualities, new objects of analysis, new literacies, and new ways of reading do we make available to students and scholars when we attend to the real and fictive contexts of Puritanism? What portable hermeneutics carry forward to later literary periods? Conversely, what hermeneutical perspectives gained from other fields might enable us to approach the Puritans in new ways? More pointedly, what practices and literacies make new and fundamental contributions to our understanding of the relation between narrative form and colonial history?

Submissions of 11,000 words or less (including endnotes and references) should be submitted electronically at by October 31, 2016. When choosing a submission type, select “Submission-Special Issue-Puritanism.” For assistance with the submission process, please contact the office of American Literature via email or call (919) 684-3396. For inquiries about the content of the issue, please contact the coeditors: Sarah Rivett, Cristobal Silva, and Abram Van Engen.

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