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69. Dreaming the Actual: Chicago Literary Voices

Thursday, 9 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., Grace, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature

Presiding: Marilyn Judith Atlas, Ohio Univ., Athens

1. "Chicago as Salvation," Nancy Bunge, Michigan State Univ.

2. "'Walking round Downtown Chicago': The Utopian Possibilities of the Modernist Midwest in Dos Passos's U.S.A.," Katherine Ryan, Univ. of California, Irvine

3. "American Babel: Chicago, Globalization, and the Subject(s) in Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End," Sadek Kessous, Newcastle Univ.

Sadek Kessous's Annotation:
Roland Robertson has recently argued that there has been a general misstep in the study of globalization whereby the topic is considered ‘the preoccupation of sociologists who are interested in ‘big’ macro-sociological problems, in contrast to those who have micro-sociological – indeed, ‘local’ – perspectives’ (Robertson, 2012). A similar error can be noted in scholarship on contemporary US fiction where texts are praised or pilloried for their global scope or their perceived domestic isolationism (Morley, 2011; Gray, 2008; Rothberg, 2008). This paper will seek to redress this imbalance by demonstrating that, first, a regional novel is not inherently insular or isolationist, and, second, that it can evoke “globality” without diluting its particularism. Working from the representation of Chicago in Joshua Ferris’ 'Then We Came to the End' (2007), where the city plays host to the downturn of an ad-agency, this paper will demonstrate that Ferris presents a critically rich problematic through his use of Chicago to consider the interface of the local and global.

Both the popular and (albeit few) scholarly readings of Ferris have typically denuded the work of its geographic and historical context. This owes largely to Ferris’ elliptical treatment of history, his unobtrusive Chicagoan topography, and the formal inventiveness of the novel’s singular-plural narration. However, while working largely by allusion and omission, Ferris clearly signals the deep interpenetration of global and local themes. Chicago is itself seen to be an intricate network of socio-cultural relations while also functioning as a node in global networks, subject to world history and global flows. Indeed, perhaps most indicative of this is the often-overlooked fact that the main body of the novel runs to 10th September 2001 while at no point making reference to the terrorist attacks of that year. Wedding these features to the singular-plural narration – the ‘we’ voice that speaks for the characters and complexly switches between object and subject of any given sentence – proves to be generative of vital observations about how the contemporary American city is to be considered in an age of globalization. Here, Chicago represents the meeting of global forces and local specificity and is, therefore, a site of resistant, regional identity. The city, however, is also oppressive, figuring as the very symbol of the characters’ economic crisis, split in Manichean aspect between affluence on the Magnificent Mile and vagrancy on Lower Wacker Drive. This apparent paradox serves as this paper’s key research question: does the American city in globalization reproduce or resist patterns of cultural domination, and how might literary representation short-circuit this dualistic split between domination and resistance?

4. "Resisting Chicago in Peter Orner's Love and Shame and Love," Marilyn Judith Atlas


  • American Literature – Twentieth and Twenty-First Century

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