Accidents in Literature and Theory
- Sang Wu (Cornell University)
To speak a language of collapse and catastrophe, of crisis and change, is to speak of a crisis and change in language itself: a crisis and change in the relation of referent and figuration. In texts such as those of the Romantic period and of psychoanalysis, this gesture of self-representation as an attempt to make meaning in the face of something unspeakable has been both formulated in terms of and disrupted by accidents. From the assertion that there are no accidents in his early interpretations of unconscious desire (The Psychopathology of Everyday Life) to the railway accident in his later speculations on trauma (Beyond the Pleasure Principle), Freud reads and fails to read accidents for meaning. In Wordsworth’s Prelude, a series of accidents – a child stealing a boat by chance or happening across a drowning – sets the scene for the image-making power of the imagination. Yet, the accidental alterations in punctuation and capitalization between different manuscripts and editions of the poem problematize any definitive reading of its meaning.
If, broadly speaking, accidents are as much to be read for meaning as they are disruptive of and remain resistant to assimilation by it, how might we read and misread accidents in relation to the making of meaning? In relation to literal and figurative language? In relation to the syntax which conditions the possibility of meaning and language? This seminar invites papers that engage formally and thematically with accidents, and accidentality, in literary and theoretical texts.