Skip to content

CFP: Comparative Literature in the Age of Sexting

Organized by Eftihia Mihelakis and Jonathan A. Allan
From popular romance texts like You’ve Got Mail and Fifty Shades of Grey to the global phenomenon of social media, sexting has become a part of the common vernacular, a part of the “every day.” Whether it is as an everyday practice of publishing a version of one’s intimate self on Instagram/Snapchat or a form of digital sex that can substitute, enhance, or expand sex in the real world, sexting happens—it does more than just “happen”: it requires that we curate a version of ourselves, it necessitates transmission, it demands reception. The “everyday” has historically
been something that happens “quietly and inexhaustibly on and on” (Langbauer, 1999); often associated to the drudgery or imprisonment of domestic life.
Comparative literature often reflects on the everyday, whether it be in the Bernheimer report (1995) which attended to multiculturalism or the Saussy report (2006) on globalization. Those theorists who come to mind when we think of the everyday, Freud and The Psychopathology of the
Everyday Life
, Lefebvre with his Critique of Everyday as well as Everyday in the Modern World, de Certeau and The Practice of Everyday Life—have largely contributed to legitimizing the concept but often at the expense of what Langbauer calls the “heritage of gender exclusion” (1999). What
would a heritage of gender inclusion look like in the case of sexting and comparative literature? If sexting is more that something that happens, can it serve as the nexus of intimacy and politics in transnational spaces?
Additionally, sexting, like comparative literature, shares another distinct trait. They have primarily been understood through binary signifiers. Sexting is either loaded as the root cause for moral corruption (Tacopino, 2019; Bonner, 2019, Salter, Crofts, and Lee, 2013, Wastler, 2010;
Lupton, 1993) or it is applauded for its capacity to renew/revamp the constraints of monogamy (eg. Dan Savage’s sex advice column in The Stranger).
We can return to Spivak’s Wellek Lecture (later published under the title Death of a Discipline) in which she suggests that comparative literature “has been looking to renovate itself” (2003: 1); while Bernheimer writes that comparative literature is always “anxiogenic” (1995: 1). If Saussy
asks, “what is the object of comparative literature? What is it about?” (2006) we, in turn, endeavor to ask: How can we read sexting alongside comparative literature? Does sexting cure, contain, or exploit the anxiety of comparison? In turn, does comparative literature cure, contain, or exploit the anxiety of sexting? How can these types of comparisons make us “productively anxious”, to paraphrase Bernheimer? How does sexting understood alongside comparative literature generate the interesting questions, probe thought beyond traditional boundaries, build a creative practice unbound by ideology?
In the last couple of years, sexting has been at the centre of artistic and literary practices, whether it be in open access images on social media which are then transformed through digital curatorial practices (Bystöm, Soda, and Krau, 2017), playful mise-en-scène molded as museum exhibits
(Finley, 2013; Laska, Wright et al., 2016; Stroyer, 2016) or cartoons (Rice, 2018; Anderson, 2016). How can comparative literature offer a reading of these types of “texts”?
Sexting thus becomes, we contend, a “space of comparison” recognizing that such a space “is mapped out as a result of negotiations that happen in the practices that form the objects of sociology (class, race, gender, sexual preference), historical geography (the West, the non-West;
conditions before and after European colonization), the history of technology (forms of communication, the media of different arts), and the disciplines that take “cultural construction” as their concern (anthropology, history, sociology, political science)” (Saussy 20). In turn,
comparative literature, we contend, opens itself up to another “time of comparison,” one with a vocabulary entangled by brevity and immediacy. Like comparative literature, sexting is not limited to one discipline, to one tradition, but rather enmeshes itself in a range of disciplinary traditions, disciplinary traditions that have informed comparative literature. Just like to Polaroid shifted our relationship to the medium (and the message), and just like comparative literature shifted our relationship to the nation, so too is sexting today providing us with models for imagining a productive interaction of different mediums and mediations.
In this panel, we seek presentations that reflect on the intersections between sexting and comparative literature. We will also invite papers to be developed into full-length articles (6000-7500 words) to be published in The Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de
Littérature Comparée
(subject to successful peer review).
Some of the questions this panel sets out to consider include:
● What would a comparative study of sexting look like?
● What is the historical relationship between sexting as a medium shift in erotic or pornographic expression and literary thought?
● What might a poetics of sexting look like?
● What might comparatists offer to the critical study of sexting, especially given the field’s interest in text and image?
● Is sexting a kind of “untranslatable”? How do linguistic or semiotic specificities of sexting “translate” across cultures?
● What might discussions of authorship look like when considering sexting? For instance, how would Barthes or Foucault think about sexting? Who is the author of sexting? Does sexting have an author?
● Does an author’s sext become a part of their archive, especially, for instance, if we recall how Derrida imagines the archive? What does a sexting archive look like?
● How might we think about the rise of sexting alongside the rise of e-reading?
We ask that paper and/or article proposals explicitly describe how their contribution addresses one or two of the questions asked. Authors are not required to present at CCLA (Canadian Comparative Literature Association meeting at Congress) to be considered in the special issue of
CRCL (The Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue canadienne de littérature compare).
Congress is held at the Western University in London, Ontario, (May 30-June 5, 2020).
Please send abstracts (250 words) to Eftihia Mihelakis ( and Jonathan A. Allan ( accompanied by a brief biographical note, which mentions institutional affiliation (100 words) in one Word document by November 30, 2019. Please indicate if you are submitting to CCLA for Congress and/or the Special Issue intended for CRCL. Submissions in French or English are welcome. Full articles will be expected by September 15, 2020.

%d bloggers like this: