Crisis, a term that can convey both chance and chaos, has in recent decades become a fashionable concept. Crisis is present in everyday discourse; a popular figure in modern media and cultural studies. Its common usage in social controversies as well as acute clashes in political and military contexts represents a wide range of conditions associated with the terminology of crisis: from the problems of a deficient educational system that permanently seem to fester in the background to the conjuring of doomsday scenarios linked to concrete conflicts and states of emergency. The more frequently the term is evoked, the more difficult it is to define; what makes a crisis a crisis?
Assuming a specific life cycle of crises, the question arises of whether its beginning and end are actually already determined. Conversely, considering an actor perspective, how are these phases, and their popular acceptance, determined and mediated? In what conditions can a crisis be declared? Is the end characterised by media silence, or is this also staged?
Languagetalks seeks to pursue different conceptualisations, manifestations, and effects of crisis across the disciplinary perspectives of cultural history, linguistics, and literary studies. Rather than considering this much-quoted term as an ontological category, we aim to interrogate crisis as a cultural and linguistic construct with various and varying characteristics depending upon the diverse forms of representations in changing media. The issues to be discussed include, but are not limited to:
Identity and Crisis
Up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, it is still possible to determine diverse, distinct uses of the term crisis (such as medical, legal, theological). However, with the establishment of modern media, there has emerged a less nuanced socio-political understanding of the term. From a cultural-historical perspective, therefore, it is critical in understanding differing contexts of crisis to analyse the relations between the proclaimers of crises and the recipients. This enables the critical interrogation of the foundations, character, and development of crises. Besides patterns of perception and legitimacy, crises are often associated with the question of identity. The constitution of a ‘self’ against an ‘other’ shapes contexts of crisis. Examples such as the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘Cold War’ are negotiated through media representations of ideological constructions authored toward an absolute otherness. Are historical examples of crises ever perceived of or narrated without the binary structure of self and other?
Literary Depictions of Crisis
In times of crisis, the popular perception places demands on the author to take a stance and be committed to a realistic writing style, while the actual literary production is more complex; the spectrum includes – among others – comic genres such as parody and persiflage as well as fantasy. Crisis-ridden states are particularly associated with the form of the manifesto, which can pursue very different intentions. The Futurist Manifesto regards the status quo as problematic and therefore strives to definitively break with the past. In contrast, Don DeLillo perceives 9/11 as a painful fracture, and attempts in his essay “In the Ruins of the Future” to avert crisis by conjuring a revival of America’s cultural past. A moment of crisis also can directly impact literature itself: through radically challenging the possibility of conveying meaning with language, or denying the creative moment in understanding literary production as purely reproduction.
Language in Crises
Language itself can be the subject of a crisis debate, if, for example, elements of a foreign language are perceived as a threat to the integrity of a local language and culture. Often, language also serves as a vehicle for forming and constructing identity; foreign speakers might suffer socio-cultural exclusion, lacking access to the nuances of specific communicational means within a society. Another very prominent linguistic feature of crises is the formation of neologisms, e.g. with the suffix –gate. Originating from the Watergate Scandal in 1972, adding –gate to keywords of certain discourses will add a connotation of scandal, deficiency, or outrage. Examples are: Nipplegate (entertainment), Fingergate (politics), Deflategate (sports), or Antennagate (technology). Apart from that, existing (potentially simple) words or phrases can be altered in their semantic and pragmatic functions. Using them in an exposed manner, e.g. as a rhetoric figure, might change their message in a significant manner. In this way Obama’s “Yes we can” formed a popular political lexeme.
The call is open to doctoral and post-doctoral candidates from areas of study in literature, linguistics, and cultural history. Presentations should be around 20 minutes in length and can be held in German or English. Please send an abstract (maximum of 300 words) along with a short CV to: firstname.lastname@example.org by 31st October 2015. Selected papers will also be published in the conference proceedings.
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