Call for Papers: “The Taboo”

For its next issue, Digressions invites paper proposals and reviews that offer critical and theoretical interventions on the subject of “the taboo” in its many social, cultural, and discursive manifestations. We also welcome creative submissions that engage with the taboo, such as short stories, poetry, and visual art.

Psychoanalytical theory considers the taboo a foundational element in society (e.g. Freud’s Totem and Taboo). Moreover, through works like Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, “the forbidden” itself has been understood through the lens of discourse. Social discourse is simultaneously comprised of what it encompasses as well as what it excludes. The presence of a taboo is precisely a presence and suggests that it will remain in the ether and take on a discursive incarnation of its own. The taboo, then, can be at once a blind spot and an instrument of elevated perception. We encourage entries that consider the taboo as a contradictory site for in/sight.

The Body: The taboo can have a discursive relationship with the body; it can be thought of as embodied or mirroring/mimicking the body: think of the notion of proximity in relation to the taboo: skin-like connotations of “touchy” and “sensitive,” subjects that can be “too close for comfort.” The taboo can thus be theorized through affect, embodiment, and experience. Consider, for instance, Kristeva’s discussions on abjection in Powers of Horror, especially in relation to the body, or Tim Dean’s treatments of unconventional sexual subcultures in Unlimited Intimacy.

Art: Taboos can haunt social imaginaries and artistic practices. The “unspeakable” can also be the main subject matter of an artist’s expression (Maggie Nelson’s discussion of such works in The Art of Cruelty comes to mind). In addition, censorship can curtail a discussion or strengthen an artist’s momentum. Critique of the artist’s work, even by the artist themselves, can become the subject of the artwork, for example in the works of Robert Mapplethorpe and Jean Genet.

The Sacred: The unorthodox always exists with respect to what is “sacred” or “untouchable” (think of Mary Douglas’s anthropological intervention into the notion of “dirt” and its many manifestations and equivalences in different societies). Often, these disruptions or transgressions can be associated with a form of insight or knowledge; the forbidden fruit in Biblical texts equals a form of consciousness; and blasphemous texts in literature regularly move on to acquire “subversive” or “trailblazing” status, for example The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis De Sade, and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Academia and Discourse: What is the role of the taboo within the act of “being offended” or “causing offense”? How can the taboo be theorized as a (discursive) border “crossing the line” or acting/speaking “out of line” that sets temporal and spatial delineations? We also welcome explorations of the taboo as a border within academic institutions and “liberal” Western societies (consider, for instance, the repercussions against Rebecca Tuvel’s writing on “transracialism,” or the controversies surrounding Jordan Peterson’s talks in universities around the world, including Amsterdam’s UvA). How can we think about the relationship, then, between queer or liberal academia and the different types of taboos, old and new? Who polices language, and how? And what does this mean in juxtaposition to the concept of “political correctness”?

We welcome submissions exploring the notion of the taboo related to:
• the arts and the artist
• power, regulation, control
• (self-)censorship
• language and semiotics
• popular culture
• affect
• horror and abjection
• disease, sickness, suffering, loss of control over the body/mind; what makes “skin crawl,” elicits bodily reaction, and how?
• mental health
• un(der)represented bodies: elderly bodies, disabled bodies
• death studies
• religion(s), sects, cults, spirituality, the occult
• notions of (un)representability, (un)thinkability, (un)speakability
• taboo and/in institutions such as war (soldiers’ experiences and traumas, war crimes), prison (captivity, kidnapping, torture, isolation), genocides
• the temporality of the taboo regarding values, morals, ethical paradigms, traditions
• sex, sexual identities, gender, and/or sexual practices
• spectrality
• taboo as border
• academia and pedagogy

We invite papers, reviews, and creative writing on these and all other taboo-related matters. Abstracts are due on 31 March 2019. Please submit by using the e-form. First full draft is due on 1 July 2019.