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

Thursday, 15 September, 2022 - 08:45 to Friday, 16 September, 2022 - 17:45
Palace of the Academies
Rue Ducale 1, 1000 Bruxelles
Hannah Van Hove and Tessel Veneboer
International Conference


Anthony Reed, Associate Professor of English, Vanderbilt University

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

To view the programme, please visit the event page.

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?


The registration fee for the conference is 80€ (40€ for one day). All participants (presenting and attending) who can claim back their expenses (e.g. doctoral candidates, postdocs, professors, employees of governments/organisations) are kindly asked to fill out the registration form and pay the fee using the online form.

The conference fee is waived for all presenting and non-presenting participants who cannot claim back their expenses (e.g. independent scholars, artists, interested BA- and MA-students). If you would like to register in this capacity, please email Hannah Van Hove (havhove@vub.be) and Tessel Veneboer (Tessel.Veneboer@ugent.be) and let us know of any dietary and/or access requirements you may have. 

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Price: 80 €