This working group will be co-convened by Taylor Black, Michael D’Alessandro, Jarvis McInnis, and Priscilla Wald.

Each of whom has a working interest in some aspect of the broad category of the paranormal as well as in its relation to the field of literary and cultural studies.  

Literature and the arts generally, as well as literary criticism, religious studies, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology, can all be seen as having formed, in part, as an attempt to understand, control, use or repudiate the presence of “the paranormal.” These institutional children of Enlightenment have worked long to determine the meaning of this most flagrant of the displays of unreason. And yet, it has been argued, we are now in an historical moment where the paranormal is precisely what cannot be truly discussed within academic discourse, when it is discussed at all, without reducing the concept to the dominion of reason, however that dominion asserts itself within the various disciplines. Even the most cursory look at the contemporary moment tells us that the paranormal is one of the principal obsessions of our age. Still, we find ourselves as literary and cultural critics—as humanists more broadly--unable fully to grasp a powerful and longstanding component of human culture. This working group will seek to explore the critical silence as well as consider how and why the paranormal appeals to literary and other artists and how it can serve as an art form in its own right. 

The term “paranormal” is a convenient twentieth-century label for what previous centuries understood under a variety of attempted definitions: the supernatural, the uncanny, the weird, the magical, the daemonic, the numinous, the sick, the unworldly, the alien. We wish to address any number of these permutations of terms. The center of our research, however, might best be understood by historian of religion Jeffrey Kripal’s term, anomalous experience. How are we to describe and analyze such happenings in a way that respects their particularity, but understands their place in the course of a day? What would a phenomenology of the anomalous look like? Kripal’s work stands as a particularly inspiring example of what is needed to do justice to the paranormal, to this category of experience that has survived all attempts to explain, dismiss or conceal its persistence. Following the lead of Kripal and others at the intersection of scholarship, personal experience, and ethical concern, this working group will approach this topic from the particular perspective of literary and cultural analysis for what we can learn about the power of the paranormal and the experience of the everyday as well, conversely, as what an inquiry into the paranormal—the limits of explicable human experience and understanding—can tell us about the nature of our inquiry as literary and cultural critics.