Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Call for Papers on Literature and the Mystical Foundations of Authority-UGC-SAP-DSA-I sponsored National Young Researchers’ Conference 2017 22-23 February 2018; JNU, New Delhi.

‘No, you don’t understand,’ the Knight said, looking a little vexed. ‘That’s what the name is called. The name really is “The Aged Aged Man.”’
‘Then I ought to have said “That’s what the song is called”?’ Alice corrected herself.
‘No, you oughtn’t: that’s quite another thing! The song is called “Ways and Means”: but that’s only what it’s called, you know!’
—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Concept Note:

The White Knight’s formula, which is characterized by Giorgio Agamben as ‘the name of the name is not the name’ sums up the problem of the mystical and ineffable in language. Is it possible in language to express the very fact of the existence of language? The ineffability that all mystical literature essentially discloses is the unnameable opening that must precede language. Walter Benjamin, in a letter to Martin Buber, admits that he ‘can understand writing as such as poetic, prophetic, objective in terms of its effect, but in any case only as magical, that is as un-mediated’. Poetry and prophecy alone are capable of the ‘purest disclosure of language’s dignity and nature’. If literature as such has a relation to the mystical, not through its transmitted content but as pure disclosure, the study of its effectiveness must be channelled through certain critical considerations which this conference will try to outline. 

Contemporary religious discourse in the Indian subcontinent assumes a monopoly over the mystical but in most cases only to legitimize power. The discourse of godmen and saints is almost always willingly co-opted by the state. Literature, on the other hand, now more than ever, is under attack and censorship, usually in the name of ‘hurting religious sentiments’. In a world where censorship has become commonplace, both by state and religious authorities, it is crucial to ask what exactly is the nature of the threat art poses to power? How are we to understand the contemporary prevalence of censorship as rooted in a conflict over the provenance of the mystical?

Stephen Mallarme once wrote that ‘nothing takes place but the place’. Only the work of poets, writers and mystics, is able to bring about the manifestation of language as the space on which the political can be founded. Can the existence of state power and control over literature thought to be premised on a complicated relationship of jealousy, rivalry, dominance, and subservience? In Indian history we have stories of Sufi saints like Baba Shah Palangposh in the seventeenth century whose miraculous powers and knowledge of the ghaib or the unseen was used to prop up the military campaigns of various sultans and satraps in the Deccan. As Azfar Moin has pointed out in his book The Millennial Sovereign, the Mughal Emperors relied on Sufi saints of various orders, like the Nakshbandis and the Chishtis, to legitimize their rule. Even today, godmen and saints play a vital role in propping up political parties and solidifying vote banks. How does their mystical and spiritual appeal translate itself into the political? Can the ever-expanding corpus of what Srinivas Aravamudan called ‘Guru English’ be considered as a form of the literary utilized by such godmen to propagate their creeds and sell their products?

The triumphant return of the mystical can be seen in popular culture’s fascination with the elaborate mythologies of cinematic franchises like The Avengers among others. Can the popularity of such a hyper-technologized cinema be reconciled with its various mystical elements? The relation of the mystical to violence, law, and even technology is also what we wish to consider in this conference. What needs to be proposed are concepts of art and literature which do not merely subvert an existent authority. Rather, literature has to be thought as the provenance of the mystical and thus authority’s inaccessible ground. Can a critique of power be developed which proceeds from this perspective? This conference thus invites papers that engage with the mystical disclosure of literature and art from India and the rest of the world. Our aim is to open up, in a critical and rigorous way, the questions of ineffability, violence, law, language, and sovereignty. We invite papers on mystical texts, esoteric and religious works, popular religious literature, and any other texts which engage with the problems we have outlined above.

Papers can include but not be restricted to the following themes:
• Modern interpretations, adaptations or translations of Sufi and Bhakti texts
• Popular religious literature 
• Problems of censorship and laws protecting religious sentiments
• Questions of sovereignty and political repression of literary texts
• Mystical elements in literary texts
• Scientism and pseudo-scientism in religious discourses
• Esoteric and occult practices or texts
• Discourses surrounding madness and insanity
• ‘Guru English’
• Messianic and pseudo-messianic discourses
• The space of literature and the role of the university
• Secularism and its discontents
• Subaltern mystical and occult practices
• Superstition and the magical
• Cinema and the technological mystical

Abstracts: of not more than 300 words, along with a brief bio (100 words) of the presenter, must be emailed to the conference coordinators at Please write ‘NYRC 2018 Abstract’ in the subject heading of the e-mail while sending the abstract.

Important Dates:
Last date of submission of abstract: 5 January 2018
Notification of acceptance of abstract: 10 January 2018
Last date of submission of full paper: 5 February 2018

Participants must be registered MPhil/PhD candidates at a recognized university, postdoctoral fellows, young career academics, or independent researchers. Unfortunately, BA/MA students cannot present papers in this conference.
Accommodation for outstation candidates (on a twin-sharing basis) will be arranged and paid for by the organizers from 21–24 February 2018. 

Outstation participants will be provided a travel allowance based on return railway Sleeper Class fare between their point of origin and New Delhi, or actual fare incurred, whichever is less, irrespective of whether the participant has travelled by air, or by a higher class in rail. Please note that, if the travel has been conducted by rail, for reimbursement the tickets must have been booked directly from the IRCTC website or the railway counter, and no rail tickets booked from an intermediate site or through a travel agency will be reimbursed. The participants must provide copies of their tickets (and boarding passes, if the journey is conducted by air) for reimbursement. 

• Queries can be addressed to the Conference coordinators at