CFP: Professor Debabrata Mukherjee Memorial Annual Students’ Seminar (Online), 2023

Theme: Conceptualising Nonsense in the 21st century

Organizer: Department of English, Jadavpur University

About the Seminar (Online)

  • When: 10th March 2023
  • Final Date of Abstract Submission: 10th February

Concept Note

A century after its publication, Sukumar Ray’s collection of nonsense verse Abol Tabol (1923), continues to enchant readers through the “spirit of whimsy” in which it was purportedly conceived [Preface to Abol Tabol]. To mark this occasion, at this year’s Professor Debabrata Mukherjee Memorial Seminar organised by the Department of English, Jadavpur University, we are seeking papers that would explore the various manifestations of nonsense in literature and the present-day world. ‘Nonsense’, relatively a modern coinage, has acquired a range of definitions over time, going beyond the margins of its exclusively
literary terrain. The origin of nonsense may be traced back to folktales, as well as the nursery rhymes of Mother Goose, and later, in the writings of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Ogden Nash, and others.

Closer home, an indigenous tradition of nonsense may be located in oral and folk narratives, such as the Bengali rhyme “Iching Biching” (“Nitter-Natter”), or the Gujarati verse “Paado chadyo peepale” (“The Buffalo Climbed a Peepal Tree”). Modern and literary nonsense in India on the other hand emerged as a
result of colonial contact. Apart from Ray, some of the notable exponents of this genre include Mangesh Padgaonkar and Vinda Karandikar (writing in Marathi), J.P. Das (in Oriya), Anushka Ravishankar (in English) and Kunjunni (in Malayalam).

In its usual understanding, nonsense may refer to a lack and/or a deconstruction of meaning, as well as a certain ‘play’ with meaning, thus problematising the established semantic structure. In effect, it produces an unsettling ground with an array of possibilities including inversion of order, disruption of natural laws and power relations, generation of laughter and satire, the multiplicity of meaning-making, and more. Ray’s mischievous language games, for instance, allowed him to subvert conventional expectations, as well as indict social and cultural norms, and structures of power in his time.

Any attempt to define the word, however, has always necessitated an examination of its intriguing relation with ‘sense’. Without a balance between the two, nonsense may be at risk of becoming either plain common sense or utter gibberish. As T.S. Eliot remarked, while referring to Edward Lear’s
verses in “The Music of Poetry”- “[nonsense] is not vacuity of sense: it is a parody of sense, and that is the sense of it”. It is this relationship of nonsense with sense, order, and meaning-making in the 21st Century, as well as its place in popular culture, its function, and the various forms it takes in the Age of Information and New Media, that we are interested in addressing through our seminar. How nonsense may be detected in global and political events and actions, and in what forms it transpires, is also one of the seminar’s thematic concerns.

We are thus seeking abstracts of not more than 300-350 words from undergraduate and postgraduate students across the country, on the following sub-themes

  • Nonsense and Colonial Politics
  • Nonsense, Subversion, and Power Politics
  • Nonsense and the Non-anglophone Literature (not limited to the Indian
  • Subcontinent)
  • Nonsense and Children’s Literature
  • The Seditious Potential of Nonsense
  • Nonsense on the Screen
  • Authorial Intention, Language Games, and their Interpretations
  • Perceptions of ‘Woke Culture’ and ‘Political Correctness’ within the Neo-
  • liberal trends of Nonsense
  • The Racial Connotations of Nonsense
  • Nonsense and Internet Humour, Memes, Social Media
  • Performing Nonsense and its Aesthetics
  • Nonsense and Controversies
  • Nonsense and the Postmodern Condition
  • Nonsense and the Slapstick Comedy Genre
  • Translating Nonsense

The thematic areas are representative and not limited.

Abstracts are to be duly mailed to:

Important Dates

  • Final Date of Abstract Submission: 10th February
  • Intimation of Acceptance/Rejection: 17th February
  • Final Date of Full Paper Submission: 6th March
  • Date of Seminar: 10th March

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