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Cruel Encounters

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Organizer: Philip Armstrong

Co-Organizer: Ashley Pérez

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Seminar: Cruel Encounters
2020 ACLA Convention
Organizers: Philip Armstrong (Ohio State University) and Ashley Pérez (Ohio State University)
This seminar invites participants to consider the role of cruelty in our encounters with narrative works. Whereas violence consists of force and inflicting pain, cruelty encompasses indifference to or pleasure from suffering—responses that can exist without direct perpetration. As a concept that defines a relation to suffering, cruelty demands reexamination of many notions we have about ourselves. The act of reading or viewing ultimately establishes an audience’s relation to narrated events, so cruelty in a text may spill outward, implicating the audience in complex, often disturbing ways. 
Cruel encounters—or encounters with cruelty—pose ethical questions that invite closer examination. What can literature, film, and other narrative forms show us about how we respond—or fail to respond—to the pain of others? How do texts mediate our understanding of others and of our relationships or obligations to others, whether those “others” are our human fellows or texts that variously confirm or challenge our sense of self? How do fictional works complicate our efforts to distance ourselves from cruelty? Is there something distinctive about how cruelty resides in narrative texts? How might encounters with literary cruelty alter our awareness of the ethical stakes of reading? What options do we have in navigating these encounters? 

We welcome proposals of 250-300 words in response to these or related topics. Please also send a current CV. Materials should be submitted to and

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