CFP: Special Issue of American Literature: Pain

Call for Papers—Special Issue of American LiteraturePain

Submissions are due September 5, 2022

Pain is notoriously tricky. Pain is central to the human condition, but its very nature—at once biological, cultural, and social—slips easily from grasp. Recent events like the murder of George Floyd and, more broadly, the public spectacle of recorded Black pain, the COVID-19 pandemic, the refugee crisis, and the opioid crisis have moved problems of pain and its representation to the fore.

The moment is ripe to reevaluate pain in literary and cultural studies. Thirty-five years after its publication, Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain (1985) remains a cornerstone of pain studies, as scholars continue to read the experience of pain through its diptych: pain “unmakes” the world of the subject by destroying language even as it “makes” art and culture from emotional, psychological, and physical suffering. Pain destroys, but it also creates. Pain exhausts as much as it enrages, inflames, and inspires. From narratives of enslavement to sentimental fictions—from tales of labor injuries to stories of war wounds, illness, and chronic suffering—American literature provides a voluminous archive with which to interrogate and reimagine this dialectical model of pain as well as to reflect on the many ways pain is experienced, suffered, inhabited, resisted, and transformed through representation. Building on the more recent work of Rachel Ablow, Cynthia Davis, Justine S. Murison, Margaret Price, Michael D. Snediker, Simon Strick, Keith Wailoo, and Xine Yao, among others, this issue calls for scholars to attend to the complex work of pain in American literature and culture in the wake of Scarry’s critical paradigm and cultural shifts over the past few decades, perhaps reassessing how pain operates at the level of discourse, ideology, subject formation, and collective affiliation, as well as its social, political, and aesthetic forms. How we know pain, how we experience it, and how we understand its nature—that is, questions of epistemology, phenomenology, and ontology—are also ripe for rethinking.

We welcome submissions on any period or genre of American literature, but we are particularly interested in the shift from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, when pain became “unacceptable” (Karen Halttunen) and the culture of pain moved from “prayer to pain killers” (Joanna Bourke). We are also especially interested in reconsiderations of the race, gender, ability, sexuality, and class dimensions of pain and its cultural forms.

We invite essays that might address any of the following topics:

  • The aesthetics, representations, and genres of pain
  • Varieties and intensities of pain and/in the politics of suffering
  • Race and pain
  • Gendered pain; pain and sexuality
  • The global politics of US pain; American figurations of pain in and beyond US borders
  • Acute or chronic pain; pain and disease
  • Pain and illness; pain beyond/outside of illness; pain and disability
  • Feeling/unfeeling
  • Pain and the will
  • Religious and/or secular understandings of pain
  • Pain and memory; pain and public memory/memorialization
  • Technologies of pain management; pain, drugs, stigma
  • Pain, woundedness, and vulnerability
  • Pain and the bodymind; pain and personhood
  • Pain and the subject/object; pain and subjectivity/objectivity
  • Communities of pain; communal or distributed pain
  • Human and nonhuman pain, especially in relation to environmental justice
  • Epistemologies and ontologies of pain
  • Spectacles of pain and pain’s invisibility

Submissions of 11,000 words or less (including endnotes and references) should be submitted electronically at by September 5, 2022When choosing a submission type, select “Submission-Special Issue-Pain.” For assistance with the submission process, please contact the office of American Literature at [email protected] or 919-684-3396. For inquiries about the content of the issue, please contact the coeditors: Sari Altschuler ([email protected]) and Thomas Constantinesco ([email protected]).