CFP: Annual Confe­rence - Para­texts of the Popu­lar

This conference (October 4th to 6th, 2023) is about how paratexts relate to phenomena of the popular.

The deadline to submit an abstract is February 15th, 2023.

Submissions (1 page) can be sent to:

Prof. Dr. Georg Stanitzek

[Deutsche Version] Paratexts, the framework of textual material and similar cultural forms, enable the reception, production, and circulation of texts; in short, they enable their communication. This makes paratexts relevant to the transformation of the popular. Early on, Gérard Genette pointed out that paratextuality changes and takes new forms as media evolve. Recent research has considered the paratextual concepts in the study of cinema, and has also adapted and applied them to the study of “television flow.” There have also been attempts to apply terms from the theory of paratextuality to significant digital phenomena such as games, posts and threads, and hypertexts of many kinds. While Genette’s original theoretical approach focussed on the work in book form and was therefore centred on the author, ever-evolving forms of media have opened up new frames of reference. Research in the fields of literary studies and scholarly editions focussing on magazines, letters and miscellany has led to a reconsideration of the text-paratext relation and a reconfiguration of its terminology. Research that focusses on epitextual phenomena has elevated its subject to textual status; that is to say, second-degree paratexts are analysed as text. In some cases, the seemingly easy original distinction between text and paratext has dissolved almost completely. It has been replaced by a complex architecture of paratextual relations, possibly even a reversal of the original distinction.

It is tempting to assume that paratext is a simplistic term; that its pieces can simply be added to or removed from a text without effect. Rather, as defined by Jacques Derrida, they are parerga. Whether in the peritextual or in the epitextual dimension, they are never completely internal, nor completely external to a text. Consider the relationship of the paratext to its interior: paratexts are liminal, in fact; interwoven, possibly even making up the fabric of the text. In the heteronomous supporting discourse that is the paratext, there is always some possibility that it is affecting the autonomous composite that is the text, and vice versa. Even when the paratext takes the form of packaging, it is exerting its influence on the contents. In many contexts, the paratext functions as a conduit for marketing strategies and tactics. However, it resonates beyond these limits. So, in relation to the text, are they as parts to a whole? This is a question for which there is no simple answer. While it was Genette’s ambition, as a structuralist, to create a generalized grammar of the paratext, he also suggested that individual paratextual phenomena should undergo a historical, hermeneutical analysis. Critical research which modifies and further develops his initial approach is strengthened by this recognition.

Paratexts maintain a special relationship to the objects of the popular. The paratextual zone is where the presentation, the reception, and the circulation of texts or other cultural artefacts are negotiated. As paratexts are parergonal, their profile is also directed externally. So, what is the relationship of the paratext to its exterior? It can be quite controversial. For example, the early modern age saw satirical critiques of “academic charlatanism” as blatant self-promotion. Today, in other contexts, we have the problem of “clickbaiting”. However, there are paratextual forms that deliver on the promises they make. They are true paratexts of the popular. They make use of signifiers of popular culture that catch our attention and resonate with meaning. At the same time, they also attempt to generate such signifiers. This is typified in the mass media practices of blockbuster movie-making. Sales rates are the constitutive measure of popularity and warrant consideration in other media. In books, the peritext has included the numbers of copies sold since the mid-19th century. Today, in many digital media, the standard measure is for views, clicks and likes to be registered and presented. They are programmed into the paratextual regime of social media. There are “golden” record albums; books, DVDs, and video games advertise their placements in bestseller lists, and so on. Peri- and epitexts not infrequently become drivers or generators of popularity, as they are varied, multiplied, and proliferate. Because the production of popular culture tends to be serial, it poses a challenge to paratext theory which began as centred on a single work. This also applies to the self-evidence with which these productions enter into new intermedial and material connections, in which the function of paratexts would have to be investigated. The conference devotes for four sections to these issues:

  • Book and Paperback
  • Periodical Literature, Journals, and Letters
  • Film, Television, and Videogames
  • Digital Platforms

In all of these areas, and in further areas, there is an enormous range of paratextual forms to explore, as well as, in some cases, new concepts to create. We invite interested researchers to apply to our conference at the University of Siegen by submitting a brief proposal by February 15, 2023 (please address submissions to: