CFP: USC Graduate Conference


University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
April 12-13 2013

Deadline for proposals: January 6, 2013

Keynote Speakers: Chandan Reddy (University of Washington), author of Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality and the U.S. State (Duke, 2011) & Sarah Manguso (New York University), author of The Guardians (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) and The Two Kinds of Decay (Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2008).

This conference will explore the many definitions of cruelty, both banal and extraordinary. Cruelty can be inherent in the ways that we perceive, interact with and take pleasure in one another and ourselves. At times it cannot be distinguished from violence. Cruelty is lived and experienced differently across boundaries, borders, bodies, and time periods. It continues to spread and mutate with globalization in the 21st century.

The evolving representational stakes of cruelty help to define what horrifies and what titillates us, or both, in literature and culture. Cruelty in The Duchess of Malfi differs structurally and historically from cruelty in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, from the cruelty of contemporary cyberbullying and from masochism in the works of Kathy Acker. As individuals and in groups, we participate in and shape spaces, ranging from utopias to classrooms, that can be defined by and in response to cruelty.

Cruelty entangles desire and intimacy with modern technology, social media, and surveillance. It can include self-perpetuating violence endemic to systems, state-sanctioned cruelties, state-level schadenfreude, investment in goals or strategies that harm more than heal, indifference to others’ suffering, and delight in inflicting pain. Cruelty indexes the transnational and the cognitive, the systemic and the intimate.

We invite submissions that explore the topic of cruelty from diverse perspectives and fields, including:

  • Slavery, racism, imperialism, colonialism
  • Sex, intimacy, affect
  • Law, incarceration, biopolitics, surveillance
  • Humor, performance, pedagogy
  • War, terrorism, trauma
  • Pornography, sex work
  • State violence, torture, revolution
  • Homophobia, shame, masochism
  • Genre, narrative, poetics
  • Archives and material culture
  • New media, social media, technology
  • Animals and animality
  • Disability
  • Theatre of cruelty
  • Horror, spectatorship, “body genres”

For individual submissions, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words by Friday, January 6, to We also welcome panel proposals composed of three to four presenters on a related theme. To propose a panel, please send a 300-word panel abstract, and include all paper titles.

In addition, creative presentations relating to the theme of the conference, such as poetry, short fiction readings, films or performances, are enthusiastically encouraged. In addition to an abstract of no more than 300 words, please indicate the estimated duration of the event, as allotted time may vary depending on the proposed project.

Direct any specific inquiries to Chris Belcher at, or see the conference website at

About Steve Mentz 1265 Articles
I teach Shakespeare and the blue humanities at St. John's in New York City.

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