Call for workshop proposals :

Scientific coordination :
Guillaume Marche (Universite Paris-Est Créteil) and Sophie Vallas (Aix-Marseille Université)


Mobility, a tendency to keep being in motion, a capacity to move ahead, ever farther: these images of America are to some extent stereotypical, yet Americans themselves do partly identify with them. While movement is central to collective representations of America—be they endogenous or exogenous—, the notion of place mirrors a national construction process that is based on migration and colonization. Americans have thus compensated for the prevalence of movement in their national narrative by constructing—sometimes retrospectively—a sense of an intrinsically spiritual or natural relationship with the territory, or even by inventing the idea of an American “race” deriving, in part, from the peculiar experience of the Frontier.

Movement and place, according to Ira Berlin in The Making of African America, thus complement each other: together they make up one dialectic paradigm which accounts for the experience of pioneers and migrants, but also for that of the slaves to whom movement was an imposition. Many ethnic/racial groups in the United States have thus had to make up roots on the American continent through their vernacular cultural practices, which has left a deep trace in popular culture—ranging from folklore to television. But finding place has also involved official civic rituals that institute or even reify the sense of a situated, territorial national identity.

While movement and place may be regarded as the two sides of a “contrapuntal narrative” opposing “fluidity and fixity” (Berlin), finding place is in fact also a dynamic process that may be contrasted with fixity, which is by definition static. Thus social and political movements usually seek to oppose or counteract fixity, immobility, and apathy—although this rhetoric is sometimes twisted since conservative leaders and organizations will appropriate the language of movement and progress in order to stigmatize as archaic their opponents’ desire to protect social rights, for example. How can progressive social movements attempt to offset such accusations—by enhancing their placement in a given turf or among a given constituency? Or are they forced to question the very forms of collective action and to privilege grassroots-based action over top-down, elite-based action? Is movement per se a matter of constantly reinventing collective action modes, or of choosing identifiable, attainable goals? These questions are particularly acute for social movements that address gender, sex, and sexuality since the degree to which these identities are biologically fixed, or rather embedded in embodied practices is part of the political and anthropological challenge they raise.

Ever since the birth of the United States, writers and artists have constantly been invited to produce new and modern works that would hopefully fit the (dis)proportions of a country whose immensity, (alleged) virginity, and revolutionary ambition demanded boldness both in terms of gaze and voice. But this oft-repeated call for typically American movements has always paradoxically gone hand in hand with a desire to build a tradition and to turn literary and artistic references into roots. How does a literary or artistic movement take shape or get identified in retrospect? How is a tradition—an “American Renaissance”—constructed or deconstructed? Conversely, from the mid-twentieth century on American art has been characterized by “the tradition of the new”: with his famous oxymoron Harold Rosenberg sees motion as central to the pictorial school rooted in the United States. Besides, the ever-expanding circulation of artists and works in the context of globalization also impacts the development of artistic movements and possibly even the very concept of work of art.

Thematically, of course, “the road” runs across American literature. How do authors who hit the road or go out to sea represent the movement toward a boundless West as well as its corollary—settlement and rootedness? To what extent does this hesitation between the wilderness and the enclosure impact the American subject, an “I” who is at once “everywhere and nowhere” (Whitman), who has given up former European roots, erased his memory and must now find new coordinates in an endless prairie? It is the subject’s very identity which is moving and changing, tempted by the writing of its own fiction. American literature abounds with those who drift away, carefully avoiding every anchorage point, but possibly taking easier root in the heart of the heart of the country, where geography is often mythological or magic. Even in cities, it is questionable whether the systematic grid ever managed to anchor the urban space despite its stone foundations, or to prevent the Bartlebys from dreaming behind a green folding screen.

In what movements of language itself, in what folds of the voice, in what literary, referential or imaginary spaces does the text appear, develop, snuggle or escape? Writing may be a motion towards the outside world or towards other texts, an exchange, a translation—which calls into question the very notions of original and copy, hypo/hyper/inter/textuality, thresholds… But the motion initiated by writing can also be turned inward, folding writing upon itself, turning it into a self-reflexive gesture in seeming isolation from the rest of the world. What movements—the term is also to be understood in its musical or choreographic sense—shape a piece of writing? In what chapters, in what leaves of grass or scrolls of asphalt do American writers manage to structure their “rhapsodic writing” (Pétillon)? What punctuation do they invent to allow words to take root on the page?

In visual arts, finally, movement and fixity may evoke the difference between the moving image of cinema and the fixity of photography. But such fixity is a process rather than a given, the outcome of choices in terms of perspective, focus or framing. In the same way, the vocabulary and syntax of cinema are partly based on a confrontation between camera movements and static shots. The complementary tension between movement and place, as well as the opposition between the two terms and fixity, are an invitation to question the very medium of expression, both literary and artistic.

Please send your workshop proposal (history, social sciences, literature and arts) both to Guillaume Marche Guillaume Marche and Sophie Vallas, The deadline for submission is October 20, 2014.



Colloque - Projet soutenu historiquement par l'Union Européenne dans le cadre du programme Innova-TIC.
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