PAMLA’s 2019 Conference Theme: “Send in the Clowns”

Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association
2019 Conference: San Diego, California
Conference Theme: Send In the Clowns

We live in a time of great contentiousness, an age in which opposing social and political factions appear to share little with respect to art and culture much less ideology. One archetype that traverses a polarized polis, however, is that of the clown. In his essay “On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist,” Jewish Romanian novelist Norman Manea (Bard College) reflects on the ways in which variations of the punchinello emerge as a tropes for the fascist despot and the subversive poet:

And so, in the bright arena, Auguste the Fool faces the Clown of Power. Their eyes meet. Is all of human tragicomedy concentrated in that brief exchange? Is it attraction by repulsion, a powerful reaction catalyzed by the meeting of opposites? Can they be compared to each other, these actors playing different parts in the coded scenario called “Life on Earth”?…An artist who has lived under tyranny (and even one who hasn’t) cannot ignore the insurmountable moral barrier that separates the two roles. He can watch the spectacle from a cosmic distance-and yet he is ready to play the part of his opposite to the point of identification with him, he will cross that distance in order to scrutinize the counterpart with ail the curiosity, imagination, and precision required by his task.

Manea’s allegorizing was born of his own experiences in a Central Europe dominated by successive “White Clowns” of totalitarianism. And yet his reflections are all-too-topical, reminding us of the clown’s extraordinary flexibility, power, and pervasiveness. Whether political despot, ritual trickster, circus performer, or monster of coulrophobic horror, the clown dances among our canons and national traditions, haunting our collective imagination and defying our attempts at pigeonholing and settled definitions.

Inspired by Manea’s Auguste the Fool, PAMLA 2019 will emphasize the theme “Send in the Clowns.” Special sessions might address the following thematics:

  • Archetypal Clowns, Fools, and Idiots
  • Dramaturgical Clowns from the Ancients to the Contemporary
  • Fictive Clowns
  • Purgative Laughter and Farce
  • Clowning as Political Discourse
  • Aimee German, Cindy Sherman, and Feminist Clowning 
  • Representations of Coulrophobia and Coulrophilia
  • Horror Clowns on Page and Screen
  • Clowning, Krumping, and Hip-Hop
  • Bozo, Clarabell, and TV Clowns
  • Cuadrillas and other Latinadad Payasos
  • Ritual Clowns of Oceania and the US Borderlands

Some 2019 PAMLA sessions ask that you engage with the conference theme. Others do not. Please visit our Call For Papers site to find more information about each approved session and its requirements:

For more information about the conference and the special theme, contact Executive Director Craig Svonkin ([email protected] or 626-354-7526).