parallax Join the Conversation on Unidentifiable Literary Objects


‘Who’ll ever be able to read a thing like this?’ (Jacques Derrida)

In H.C. pour la vie, c’est a dire… (2000/2006) Jacques Derrida describes his first reading of Hélène Cixous’s writing as an encounter with an ‘unidentifiable literary object’ [objet littéraire non identifiable] or ‘ULO’: ‘What is this? I asked myself more or less. What is happening here? What is happening to me? What genre? Who could ever read this?’ The ULO ‘arrived like a meteor in my garden’, he remarks elsewhere, recalling the ‘double feeling’ of ‘dazzlement and anxiety’ it engendered (‘From the Word to Life’, 2004/2006). The ULO is, of course, the domain of both Derrida and Cixous: their texts stretch genre, press at the limits of creative and critical thinking, and resist identification at every turn.

Engaging with their potential to enable us to think, read and write in radically new ways, this special issue aims to explore the nature and possibilities for such unidentifiable literary objects, bringing together the work of writers and scholars whose own texts play at the intersections between creative and critical theory and practice.

How might we begin, asks Derrida of Cixous’s text, to ‘read a thing like this?’ In starting to read, write and think about the ULO, there is a distinction to be made between the ‘unidentifiable’ and the ‘unidentified’. While ‘unidentified’ hints at something that might be comprehended at some point in the future, Eric Prenowitz (2006) stresses that the ‘unidentifiable’ cannot and will not be determined, deciphered or appropriated—it remains unknown. By excluding the possibility of its identification, Prenowitz says, ‘Derrida is precisely leaving its future open—to reading(s). He thus implicitly opposes reading to identification, the readable to the identifiable’. In this way, the ULO is something that is necessarily unforeseeable, not recognised when it arrives, perhaps not even arriving. This links in clear ways to Cixous’s writing on the ‘unforeseeable’ and Derrida’s thinking of futurity (‘l’à venir/l’avenir’), but also feeds into a wider discussion of the literary object as ‘unnamable’ or even ‘unthinkable’. Such ‘intransigent, willful writing’, as Rachel Blau du Plessis (1996) calls it, is not limited to so-called ‘postmodern’ texts or those that overtly trouble the borders of the creative and the critical, but rather has a long and secret history in both literature and critical or philosophical writing.

Seeking to consider the effects and impact of ULOs—from Cixous’s Le Prenom de Dieu (1967) to Love Itself: In the Letterbox (2005/2008)—this special issue also looks to open out the discussion to include the ways in which other literary or critical texts might be re-interpreted as ULOs. Thus while it is inspired by Cixous, whose approaches to the fruitful tensions between creative and critical writing have had a profound and lasting influence on literary theory, we encourage work touching on or touched by the ULO in any number of ways.

We welcome scholarly and creative-critical work in relation to (but not limited to) themes such as:

  • Unidentifiable literary objects
  • The work of Hélène Cixous and/or Jacques Derrida
  • Creative-critical writing, creative criticism, ficto-criticism or other criticism
  • Deconstruction and creative writing
  • The unnameable, unthinkable or unforeseeable
  • The future / writing to come
  • Unclassifiable species / literary animals / the monstrous

Submission Guidelines

Potential contributors should submit abstracts of 400 words to the guest editors Camilla Bostock and Sarah Jackson by 13th July 2018. Final essays must be submitted by 7th January 2019 and should not exceed 7000 words including references. All essays are subject to peer-review.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page for more details.

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