CFP: ACLA 2018 Seminar on "Automation"

Thursday, March 29, 2018 (All day) to Sunday, April 1, 2018 (All day)

According to psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch, an automaton incites a feeling of intellectual uncertainty in the beholder—“doubt as to whether an apparently animate object really is alive,” doubt that, for Sigmund Freud, amounted to an experience of das Unheimliche/Heimlich. If uncanny automatons raised questions about the role of science and progressive mechanization in early-twentieth-century continental Europe, then, arguably, they perform a different function in the contemporary, global world. Today, automatons, and their conceptual cousin, automation, have sunk beneath the domain of the visible. Far from being typified by an encounter with a nearly-animate object, automation generates parts of our material experience—as when algorithms trade on the global market, or when software programs connect soldiers in Nevada to targets in Pakistan. 

This seminar invites participants to reflect on automation, in term of its long history and in terms of its contemporary instances. How does automation in its contemporary guises differ from the wind-up dolls of the late nineteenth century? How do forms of creative expression (literature, music, cinema, visual art) and currently available aesthetic modes (romanticism, modernism, and realism) fare against widespread scientism? By convening specialists of a number of literary traditions and historical periods, this seminar will host conflicting perspectives on the cultural meaning of automation, and showcase innovative approaches to scholarship at the intersection of literary studies and technology studies.

Papers may pursue the following lines of inquiry:

—— Automation and the humanities: issues of digitization, “informatization,” big data, and digital humanities

—— Automation and philosophy: problems of will, freedom, agency, ontology

—— Literary theories most helpful in the study of automation or computer culture (psychoanalysis, historicism, digital humanities, post-critique)

—— Historical events critical for the study of automation

—— The impact of political ideologies (liberalism, neoliberalism, etc.) on a culture of rapid automation and technologization

—— Automation and financialization 

—— Automation and uneven development

—— Comparative (or comparative literary) approaches to technologies or science

Please submit abstracts through the ACLA portal (, which closes at 9am EST on September 21st. Contact the seminar organizer at with questions or concerns.


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