Call for Paper: Play and Space in Literature (Spielräume und Raumspiele in der Literatur) Conference for PhD students and young researchers, Berlin

  • WHERE? Freie Universität Berlin, Peter Szondi Institute for Comparative Literature
  • WHEN? July 4-5, 2014
  • ORGANIZATION: Julia Dettke, M.A. (Berlin) and Elisabeth Heyne, M.A. (Münster)

All play moves and has its being within a play-ground marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course. […] The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., are all in form and function playgrounds, i.e. forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain. (Huizinga: Homo Ludens)

[L]e discours qui fait croire est celui qui prive de ce qu’il enjoint […] Il fait place à du vide. Par là, il ouvre des jours; il ‚permet‘ du jeu dans un système de lieux définis. Il ‚autorise‘ la production d’un espace de jeu (Spielraum) dans un damier analytique et classificateur d’identités. Il rend habitable. À ce titre, je le désigne comme une ‘autorité locale’. (de Certeau: Arts de faire)

play-and-space-in-literatureSpaces by playing – Playing with space: Are spatial boundaries a necessary condition of play? And is play of particular significance in opening new spaces? Huizinga in his seminal work “Homo Ludens” claimed that space is a crucial requirement for ludic activity. In a complementary perspective, de Certeau describes narration as a spatial practice which opens up a “space of play” (Spielraum). This dynamic between processes of opening and closing, between freedom and rules, ‘contrainte’ and imagination, everyday life and magical states, coincidence and necessity is of great importance: it is the limitation by rules of a space of play which opens up a potentially infinite space of possibilities, imagination and creation.

The connection of play and space brings to light the fundamental interdependence of these two key concepts of cultural theory, which are widespread particularly because of their ambivalent meanings. Nevertheless, there is still no systematic research on their entanglement. The conference aims to bring these two research topics together and to refine them. On the one hand, interest in space has lead to a constant discussion and differentiation of the concept since the spatial turn. On the other hand, play is also a crucial concept in cultural anthropology and textual studies, as evinced by the recent ‘ludic turn’ and the large number of writers (e.g. Caillois, Freud, Huizinga, Schiller) and academics (e.g. Anz, Gascoigne, Matuschek, Motte) who are preoccupied with the notion of play. While, for example, game studies take a multimedial perspective, we want to focus on the distinctive literary characteristics of space and play.

The conference aims to analyze the interference of space and play on a motivic as well as on a formal level, and thus, to see how these concepts can be productive both for literary theory and for the analysis of individual texts. What kinds of spaces of play and play with spaces can we find in fictional and factual texts, and what functions do they fulfil? To what degree do they affect the story within the diegesis, but also between narrator and reader and within the spatial materiality (the page, the letters, paratexts) of the book? What space-building forces does playing set free?

Papers might address but are not limited to topics such as:


    • The connection between space and play as well as between forms and functions of spaces of play and playing with space, e.g. hide and seek, chess, puzzles, playing cards, arena, fairground, stage or labyrinth
    • Spaces of play and playing with space in the works of specific authors, e.g. Benjamin, Borges, Butor, Caillois, Calvino, Cortázar, Danielewski, Foer, Kafka, Ollier, Perec, Proust, Rabelais, Sterne
    • How are spaces of play related to other categories of space, e.g. sacred space, space of ritual, panoptic space, for instance in the works of Durkheim, Foucault, Mauss, Girard, Bataille amongst others? What is the role of spatial transgressions?
    • What is the cultural, poetological and/or epistemological significance of space-play relationships in the work of authors such as Bachelard, Caillois, de Certeau, Foucault, Huizinga, Schiller, Turner?
    • How are play-spaces entered and exited? And, accordingly, how is the opening and closing of these spaces represented in texts, and by what processes are they realized? How are these processes related to concepts in literary theory (e.g. Barthes, Derrida, Eco, Genette)?
    • What is the ontological status of play? Where can we best situate play between Huizinga’s “sacred seriousness” and play for its own sake?
    • How do texts represent or enact certain kinds of spatial adaptations or appropriations and spatial dynamics? What is the function of play elements in these processes? (e.g. Bachelard, Benjamin, Caillois, Proust)?


    • Fiction, poetry and mimesis seen as (spatial) play (e.g. Freud, Huizinga, Caillois, Walton, Iser)
    • To what degree and by which means can the text itself become a space of play? How can the materiality of the book, the letters or the narrative levels, the diegetic and the grammatical space and paratextual thresholds be used as construction material for play (e.g. Butor, Calvino, Danielewski, Foer, Haas, Mallarmé, Ollier, Perec)?
    • The reader as a player and adversary: poetological and reader-response theory implications, for instance, in the works of Calvino, Cortázar, Iser
    • How are regulatory constraints related to the creativity of play, and how can we best grasp the connection between play spaces, textual play and the imagination? (Iser)
    • Intertextual, intermedial and quotelike processes as a playful way to connect different medial/artistic spaces (e.g. Caillois, Simon, Robbe-Grillet)

The conference will be held July 4-5, 2014 at Freie Universität Berlin and wants to open a forum for the presentation (approximately 25 min) and discussion of research projects for PhD students and young researchers. The conference has an international and comparative focus and is open to all philologies as well as to philosophical and socio-cultural approaches. Confirmed keynote speakers are Gerhard Neumann (Berlin), Astrid Poier-Bernhard (Graz) and Regine Strätling (Berlin). Expenses for travel and overnight accommodation will be reimbursed, if they can’t be paid by your home institution. We intend to publish the conference papers.

Please send your abstracts (max. 250 words) to by March 15, 2014. The abstract should include the preliminary title, content and questions of the paper, as well as your name, email address, postal address, institutional affiliation, research interests and published publications.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact:

Julia Dettke:
Elisabeth Heyne:
Visit the website at

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