American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA), Annual Meeting 2018

Los Angeles March 29–April 1, 2018



Technologies of Chaos: 1800/1900

Organizers: Jocelyn Holland (UCSB/Caltech)
Edgar Landgraf (Bowling Green State University)

The rise of a discourse on technology in the eighteenth century testifies to a dual compulsion for order: both in terms of processing objects in the natural world in the service of human interests and in an attempt to systematically order these same processes. At the same time, however, technologies are also discovered as a source of instability, unpredictability, and chaos. From Goethe’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” to Kafka’s “The Penal Colony”—to mention but two well-known examples that bracket the historical period we would like to examine—technologies are also experienced as disturbing the natural order, and as confusing attempts of systematic comprehension.


In this ACLA session, we intend to examine the history of practices of technologies of chaos from the Enlightenment era into the early 20th century in literature and science. We will inspect instances where techniques of calculated disorder and disruption are introduced experimentally into technological environments. In particular, we are interested in approaches which are able to connect historical case studies to broader theoretical concerns of technological order and disorder.  


The range of historical cases is surprisingly broad. Papers may include examinations of:

The emergence of chaos as a key concept in Romantic poetics

Techniques of artistic improvisation

Controlled stimulus in medical treatments and shock therapies

Gene disruption in biomedical research

Techniques and technologies of warfare

Writing techniques and technologies

Educational techniques and technologies

Educational environment manipulations

Marxist theories of (alienation) technologies

Subversive media technologies

Automata and technologies of the human

Destructive and distractive technologies in the arts


250-300 word proposals for twenty-minute papers can be submitted at the ACLA website ( from August 31 to September 21. Please feel free to contact the seminar organizers by email with inquiries.


Jocelyn Holland ([log in to unmask])

Edgar Landgraf ([log in to unmask])

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