Conference Organizers: ROC English and American Literature Association (EALA, Taiwan) and National Tsing Hua University
Date: October 19, 2024
Venue: National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan
What do Instagram selfies, the affective polarization around COVID-19, and the systemic racism that sparked Black Lives Matter have in common? All these phenomena thrived on the strength of filters. Image filters creating convincing deepfakes facilitate the rise of “profilicity,” the new “paradigm of identity formation” theorized by Hans-Georg Moeller and Paul J. D’Ambrosio. Social media content filters polarize citizens by presenting different realities to different users, creating a post-truth multiverse that even science fails to solidify. Filter bubble-fueled affective division may be a symptom of what Bernard Stiegler calls the “proletarianization” of citizens into consumers by the “programming industries.” In their algorithmic forms, filters can be considered what data scientist Cathy O’Neil terms “opinions formalized in code,” whose seemingly neutral technologicality obscures the subjective prejudice of their human creators. Moreover, as Safiya Umoja Noble notes, the monetization imperative coded into search engines could potentially turn innocent pursuit of information into the osmosis of biased, racist thought, thus giving rise to occurrences of law enforcement violence and other prejudicial practices informed by racial profiling.
The prevalence of algorithmic filters may be a contemporary phenomenon, but the instrumental or subjective reason it expresses has a long genealogy. If we agree with Horkheimer, its roots date back to Montaigne and the rationalism of Descartes and Spinoza. Furthermore, as David Graeber notes, human desire for rationality itself dates back to antiquity, when rationality was valued for its power to restrain the arbitrariness and destructiveness of unbound creativity. It was with the rise of the modern state that rationality became conceptualized as enabling rather than constraining. Creative play was thus unthinkable without being embedded in rule-bound games. In posthuman thought such as Levi Bryant’s object-oriented “onticology,” filtering figures in objects’ active relating to others, representing themselves in “local manifestations,” and their simultaneous withdrawing of their “virtual proper being” from others. As we don our masks on to filter out coronavirus, does it occur to us that, as Bruno Latour reminds us, it may be humans that need to be filtered out for the future of Gaia?
In the history of English and American literatures, filtering actions—everything from perceiving to mediating, presenting, receiving, and feedbacking—are ever-present. We receive the mysticism of Medieval pilgrim Margery Kempe through multiple filters: her persona as “this creature,” plus the male scribes to whom she dictated, plus the categories of hagiography and autobiography. Many Victorian romances and adventures are rendered via the temporal filters of serial fascicles and the spatial filters of word-illustration configurations. We may also think of how, for Native American Renaissance writers, their sociopolitical ambition to engage with non-Native audiences tinges literary representations of indigenous reality. And how does that compare with the filters of non-Native lens, such as Tony Hillerman’s Navajo detectives? On a more general level, how do we reset the national filters implicit in the studies of English and American literatures through a perhaps unfiltered inclusion of hybrid, interethnic, and transnational identities and contexts?
Understanding filters in their discrete incarnations throughout the history of literature and culture compels us to consider a wide range of questions: How does filtering figure in our sense of self and group-identity? How does filtering make the world legible through aesthetic encounters and narrative framing? What roles do filters play in the construction of new imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries and the globalized capitalist empire in the 21st century? How do we resist or recalibrate the filters that give us both autonomy and precarity?
For this year’s conference, EALA is inviting submissions on the theme of the filter in its manifold definitions. We encourage discussions related but not limited to:
Artificial intelligence and big data
Technologies of self-presentation
Digital and biological viruses
Medicine and bio-technology
Border and migration control
Critique in the 21st century
Object Oriented Ontology and Actor-Network Theory
Translation and adaptation
Media, mediation, and intermediality
Publishing formats and platforms
Representation of minority groups