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The right to speak ?

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Organizer: Christophe Schuwey

Co-Organizer: Cynthia Laura Vialle-Giancotti

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The current media landscape puts legitimacy at the core of nowadays debates on the freedom of speech and behaviors. Who is authorised to speak, from which starting point, and on behalf of whom? Contemporary post-colonial and feminist scholars such as Rachel Busbridge,Beatrice Jauregui Miranda Fricker, and Kristie Dotson, among others, have undermined Habermas’s definition of the public sphere as a space for all individuals to gather, form and utter opinions on even footing with one another, and have moved to a more nuanced approach. They have been able to show that the origins, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, social and economic status, and political views, affect the access, the legitimacy and the possibility of sharing one’s opinions. 

Early Modern European literature played an essential role in this kind of process. Less a reflection of what is, representations are actively constructing or denying legitimacy. Fiction is a space where some discourses, including disturbing ones, can blossom. Pamphlets use fictional characters and social stereotypes to convey their message more efficiently. On stage and in books, stereotypes like novellisti, mentideros, précieuses, politics, and many others are used to discredit those they designate. Such a control device is one of soft-power: while being called a name is not the same as being arrested or killed, stereotypes nonetheless control speeches and behaviors. However, as Judith Butler has noted in Excitable speech, the injurious address also runs the risk of « inaugurating a subject in speech who comes to use language to counter the offensive call » (2).

We envisage two axes for this seminar: the role of literature as a space that allows for certain speech, and the ways in which literary representations restrict or bar certain individuals or groups from being legitimate in the public fore. Specifics topics include but are not limited to, political instrumentalization of fictions across languages and literatures ; theatrical representations and the denial of legitimacy; gendered representations and negotiations in literature; cultural stereotypes; age stereotypes (wise/old, young/foolish); literature and political debates; the use of insults and satire to control a field; royal/religious censorship and its effects in literary representations.

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