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Experimental Writing in English (1945-2000) - The Anti-Canon

Location: Palace of the Academies, Brussels
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Anthony Reed, Associate Professor of English, Vanderbilt University

Georgina Colby, Reader in Modern and Contemporary Literature, University of Westminster

View the programme (also listed below) and abstracts

This conference aims to focus on experimental writing in English from the second half of the twentieth century which is less well known, has been positioned outside of the literary mainstream or is simply deserving of more attention. It particularly invites proposals on experimental writing by women, queer authors, people of colour and working-class writers

Much research in recent years has been concerned with nuancing accounts of post-WWII literature which either largely ignored experimental writing in the wake of the war and/or only paid attention to certain canonical postmodernist texts when experimentation was considered. In Breaking the Sequence: Women’s Experimental Fiction (1989), Ellen Friedman and Miriam Fuchs proposed that twentieth-century experimentation by women might be the missing link in the crucial intersection between feminism and modernity as literature and feminism share a “profound quarrel with established, patriarchal forms, but also a sense of identification with what has been muted by these forms” (xii). Since their groundbreaking work and especially in recent years, several anthologies and critical studies have contributed to the ongoing project of rectifying the critical neglect of women’s experimental writing of the second half of the twentieth century. The absence of contributions by writers of colour, queer authors and working-class writers to most conversations about experimental literature is similarly striking and problematic. Thus, Anthony Reed, in Freedom Time: The Poetics and Politics of Black Experimental Writing (2014), has suggested that the “abstractness” of black experimental writing and its resistance to “preemptive understandings of black life” has resulted in the exclusion of experimental writing in standard genealogies of African American literature (7). 

This conference then adopts the term “anti-canon” as a provocative invitation to reflect on the ways in which experimental literature in English in general - but writing by certain authors in particular – has regularly been neglected or sidelined in overviews of the literary landscape in the second half of the twentieth century. By adopting the term, we also acknowledge and invite reflections on Ellen Friedman’s suggestion that if canonical novels are strategic constructs to reinforce a society’s values, then works which undermine those values might be thought of as “anticanonical.” More recently, Tyler Bradway has connected the “affective agency” of formal innovation to a specifically queer tradition in literature in Queer Experimental Literature: The Affective Politics of Bad Reading, suggesting this agency reveals “literary form’s capacity to work on and through the bodies of readers, immanently restructuring our felt relations to the aesthetic object” (viii).  

Following on from this recent research on the topic, this conference invites reflections on the following questions: To what extent can the notion of anti-canon represent a shared condition for the politics of experimentation? In what ways does it engage with, and perhaps suggest a move beyond, certain categories - such as that of “women’s writing” - as the “other side” of dominant literary form? How might anti-canonical works of literature subvert established ways of looking at the world and at society?

Day 1: Thursday 15th September

8.45 – 9.15       Registration & coffee

9.15 – 09.30      Opening remarks (Rubens auditorium)

9.30 – 11.10      Parallel sessions

Panel 1. (Im)material conditions and the everyday (Rubens auditorium)

Chair: Kris Pint (Universiteit Hasselt)

Nonia Williams (University of East Anglia) - Ann Quin: Gender and Precarity 

Laura Haynes (Glasgow School of Art) - I who want to run in one river and become great: The Maternal Reconciliation of Tillie Olsen

Matthew Rana (Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis) - B W B R B B W R W R G W G B W G B R B: Analogical Representation and Sexual Difference in Bernadette Mayer's Studying Hunger Journals

Hilary White (University of Manchester) - Hypnagogic hallucinations: Bernadette Mayer and Wanda Coleman's dream poems 

Panel 2. Re-forming identity (Stevin room)

Chair: Delphine Munos (Université de Liège / Universiteit Gent)

Florian Zappe (independent researcher, Berlin) - A most curious case: Kathy Acker vs. Identity Politics 

Luna Chung (University of Arizona) - “Vietnamese American Literature: Watermark as 20th century experimental writing”

Tara Stubbs (Oxford University) – ‘Precarious words like rocks’: the contemporary (African) American Sonnet 

Juliette Bouanani (Paris Nanterre) - "who is speaking?" Lyn Hejinian, feminist poetics and the Anti-Canon 

11.10 – 11.40    Coffee break

11.40 – 13.00    Parallel sessions

Panel 3. The twists and turns of an African American anti-canon (Rubens auditorium)

Chair: Janine Hauthal (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Jesper Olsson (Linköping University) - Spirituality, Politics, Technology: A Reading of N. H. Pritchard’s Concrete Poetry

Solveig Daugaard (University of Copenhagen) - Why these blues come from us

Christa Holm Vogelius (University of Copenhagen) - Claudia Rankine’s Image-Text [online]

13.00 – 14.00    Lunch

14.00 – 16.00    Parallel sessions

Panel 4. Language, meaning and authority (Rubens auditorium)

Chair: Siebe Bluijs (Tilbur University)

Nora Fulton (Concordia University) - Objective Feeling - Laura Riding's Rational Meaning and the Stakes of Non-Correspondence 

Wanda O'Connor (Open University Wales) – ‘Refusal of silence': Excess and new forms of writing in Fraser, Duplessis, and Howe [online]

Gi Taek Ryoo (Chungbuk National University) - The textual ecospace of Lyn Hejinian's experimental poetry 

Helena Van Praet (UC Louvain) - "Who are you?" Poetic Metalepsis in the Work of Anne Carson 

Marija Cetinić (University of Amsterdam) - The economy did this to you. Penetrability in Lisa Robertson's Cinema of the Present 

Panel 5. Affects, (un)readability and reception (Stevin room)

Chair: Carole Sweeney (Goldsmiths University)

Iris Pearson (University of Oxford) - Don't Read B.S. Johnson: Rebarbative Forms and Readerly Affect 

Salomé Honório (University of Lisbon) - An ethos of refusal: on the brutalist edge of Kathy Acker's poetics 

Andrew Hodgson (École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris) - “Undo the Normative Conquest”: Cut-up, DIY and the Ergodic in the Experimental Novel 

Chris Clarke (independent researcher, Southampton) – ‘A faded negative’: Photographs and other (dis)possessions in the work of Ann Quin 

Kelly Krumrie (Western Colorado University) - The Mathematical Affect of Pamela Lu 

16.00 – 16.30    Coffee break

16.30 – 17.30    Keynote (Rubens auditorium)

Chair: Hannah Van Hove (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Anthony Reed (Vanderbilt University), ‘Between Subjects: Black Lyrical Voicing Against the Canon’

17.30 – 18.30    Reception


Day 2: Friday 16th September


08.45 – 9.10      Registration & coffee

9.10 – 10.50      Parallel sessions

Panel 6. Crossing and remaking genres (Rubens auditorium)

Chair: Hilary White (University of Manchester)

Ali Chetwynd (American University of Iraq) - Carlene Hatcher Polite's The Flaggelants as an Experimental Road Not Taken 

Melissa Tanti (University of Manchester) - Multilingual experiments as Anti-Canonical Practice in Queer Women's Writing from Québec 

Susannah Thompson (Glasgow School of Art) - Maud Sulter: Poet as Heretic

Panel 7. Postmodernist and philosophical expressions (Stevin room)

Chair: Jade Thomas (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Steven Forbes (University of Edinburgh) - Cubistic Time and Phenomenology in William Demby's The Catacombs 

Adam Guy (University of Oxford) - ‘Good for nothing craft’: John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, the Theatre of the Absurd, and Artistic Autonomy in Global View

Suhasini Vincent (University of Paris II – Panthéon Assas) - Exploring Suniti Namjoshi's Experimental Feminist Fables in the Light of Displaced Immigrant Experiences 

Kerry-Jane Wallart (University of Orléans) - Tragic anomalies in a transnational context. The case of Cherrie Moraga

10.50 – 11.20: Coffee break

11.20 – 13.00: Parallel sessions

Panel 8. Forms of “outside” in art writing (Rubens auditorium)

Chair: Andrew Hodgson (École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris)

Sam Buchan-Watts (Newcastle University) - Inside of the Outside: Skateboarding as Art Writing

Alice Butler (Royal College of Art) - Writing Beside, Outside and Inside: The Reparative Desire of Cookie Mueller’s Crochet Gloves

Rebecca Birrell (The Fitzwilliam Museum) - Orts, Scraps and Fragments: Writing Forgotten Women Artists

Panel 9. Writing the body (Stevin room)

Chair: Tessel Veneboer (Universiteit Gent)

Joule Zheng Wang (University of Amsterdam) - (Dis)integrating into Fragments: The “Typewriter Writing” in David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives

Julie Dickson (Freie Universität Berlin) - Paradoxical Bodies, Ambiguous Books: The Representation of Marginalized Subjectivities, Communality, and Embodiment in Late 20th-Century Short Story Cycles 

Simon Eales (University at Buffalo) - Making Anti-Canon Poetics Dance: Leslie Scalapino and Choreographic Poetics

13.00 – 14.00    Lunch

14.00 – 15.00    Keynote (Rubens auditorium)

Chair: Tessel Veneboer (Universiteit Gent)

Georgina Colby (Westminster University), ‘Forms of Solidarity: Contemporary Feminist Avant-Garde Writing’ [online]

15.00 – 15.30    Coffee

15.30 – 17.30    Parallel sessions

Panel 10. Disorientations, contradictions, queer desires (Rubens auditorium)

Chair: Adam Guy (Oxford University)

Alice Hill-Woods (Glasgow School of Art) - “Which piece fits in precisely where?”: Disorientation as Queer Strategy in Ann Quin’s Three (1969) 

Carole Sweeney (Goldsmiths University) - ‘Things irreconcilable’: Reading Brigid Brophy’s baroque.

Michael Kindellan (University of Sheffield) – Graphic Wieners 

Sophie Corser (University College Cork) – ‘Her little deviations': queer reading and form in the novels of Barbara Trapido 

Panel 11. Procedure & form (Stevin room)

Chair: Daria Baryshnikova (RWTH Aachen University)

Victoria Miguel (University of Glasgow) - Palimpsest and Process: John Cage's Mesostic poetry 

Anne-Grit Becker (Humboldt Universität Berlin) - "Go to Work on a Poem": Reflections on David Medalla's Writings 

Miriam Ould Aroussi (Université de Paris Cité) - Against "absolute regularities": David Antin's Poetics and the Subversion of Writing 

Paisley Conrad (Concordia University) - " What an associative way to live this is”: Materials of Distraction in Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day

17.30 – 17.45    Closing remarks (Rubens auditorium)


This conference is organised by Hannah Van Hove (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and Tessel Veneboer (Universiteit Gent), in association with the research groups CLIC (Centre for Literary and Intermedial Crossings), SEL (Studiecentrum Experimentele Literatuur) and 20cc (Twentieth-Century Crossroads), and with the support of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), the KVAB and the VUB’s Doctoral School of Human Sciences.


Tessel Veneboer, Universiteit Gent

Hannah Van Hove, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Anneleen Maschelein,  KULeuven

Kris Pint, Hasselt University

Andrew Hodgson, Université Paris Est

Adam Guy, Oxford University

Carole Sweeney, Goldsmiths University



Tessel Veneboer, Universiteit Gent

Hannah Van Hove, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Gert Buelens, Universiteit Gent

Janine Hauthal, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Cedric van Dijk, Universiteit Gent

CLIC logo

20cc logoSEL Cropped

FWO Doctoral school logo