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CFP: “The Child’s Voice, the Child’s Gaze”

Deadline: September 30th

Details Below: _______________________________________________________________________

27-28 March 2015

Université Bordeaux Montaigne

Organizers : Stéphanie Benson, Sarah Dufaure, Stéphanie Durrans and Lhorine François

“As part of the project entitled “Powers in Minor Mode”, the research group CLIMAS is holding a two-day symposium on the place and the status of children in literature, cinema and the visual arts. The notion of minor is not here to be seen as a derogatory term indicating the lower rank in a binary hierarchical structure, but as a dynamic space of empowerment bringing new vitality to the notion of major. Although the very concept of major usually centres around the overbearing nature of an established model demanding conformity, or the enduring presence of a prescriptive power structure dictating norms and rules, we shall explore the ways in which the notion of minor may also contribute to the deconstruction of the prevailing system, to its collapse due to internal contradictions. In this respect the minor can be seen as a potentially permanent dynamic process that does not seek to access the field of the major and establish any kind of comfortable status therein, but on the contrary explores the active power concealed in margins, asides, retreats.

The Latin origins of the term (infantem / infans) indicate the inability to speak, give a name to those who are silenced, who have no say. The voice of the child has, however, taken over a whole field of literature bringing some critics to belittle the phenomenon as a passing fad. Actually, the phenomenon is much deeper than the commercial trend to which it is commonly associated, and often an ideological and aesthetic project is at work, projects that this symposium proposes to look into. Whether through Walt Whitman, who resorts to a child’s voice at the beginning of Leaves of Grass in order to lay the groundwork for his philosophical and poetic reflexion, or Emerson who develops in his essays “Nature” and “The Poet” the idea that children are natural poets and that poets should seek the child dormant inside them, this perspective potentially undermines the major modes of perception that have frozen into rigidity and inflexibility through constantly needing to label, pigeon-hole and discriminate the world around them. On the contrary, the child creates his or her own rules, transcends prohibition and gazes on the world with a creative and refreshing innocence near to original creativity that has not been tainted by the disillusions of experience. The child, gifted with the almost god-like ability to create his own alternative world, becomes a source for propositions and revolutions in the poetic world. More recently, many writers have also used the voice and gaze of a child in order to express fear, anguish and pain in the face of death, for instance. For psychoanalysts, recovering one’s infant ego may also prove necessary during therapy in order to understand and overcome fear and suffering or to counteract a pathological fear of death.

But how can the writer represent the world of childhood once it has been left behind, once experience has erased the innocence of the child’s gaze? Is this gaze not always already mediated through that of the adult? A number of writers, aware of the challenge offered by the simple choice of a child as “center of consciousness,” have tackled this aesthetic question (Henry James in What Maisie Knew). The world seen through a child’s eyes is simplistic in a way that could appear incompatible with the conception of literature as a noble art. This symposium also addresses the tension between these high and low modes of writing: the ways in which the minor mode of children’s stories informs the major art of writing. Papers should also examine the stylistic strategies employed by writers to represent the word and world of the child. Are specific figures of speech or literary devices more likely to convey the child’s gaze (parataxis vs. hypotaxis, metaphor vs. metonymy, asyndeton vs. polysyndeton, etc.)? Are some writing strategies more appropriate for giving voice to a child’s perception of the world (repetition indicating limited vocabulary revolving in circles, figures of transfer or displacement such as hypallage deriving from the child’s encompassing approach to his or her environment)?

The symposium will also try to analyze the pitfalls of the minor mode. The notion of minor may sometimes appear as a convenient opportunity, an aesthetic or political niche in which to position oneself deliberately as a strategy to gain access to dominant modes of power and representation. By smoothing the child as a category to be opposed to the adult, the risk is that of simplifying a child’s subversive powers and alternative gaze on life, of stifling the creativity and diversity of his vision. How can we avoid framing the child in the homogenous category of the minor?

15-20 line paper abstracts are to be sent to Stéphanie Durrans ( by September, 30 2014. A selection of peer-reviewed articles will be published in 2017 along with other papers from an additional symposium to be held in 2016 on the relationship between children’s literature and “noble” literature.”

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