International Conference “Objects of Desire”
Abstr. due: 15.12.2017
Dates: 24.05.18 — 26.05.18
Organizing comittee e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Organizers: Lille Catholic University
Literature, religion and art began with objects of desire and have never abandoned the theme. From Helen of Troy and the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden via Novalis’s blue flower to the throne of Westeros, numerous examples spring immediately to mind, and if the ten commandments tell people not to covet anything that belongs to their neighbours, this surely implies that they are highly likely to do just that.
As the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe defines it: “The primitive sign of wanting is trying to get,” which explains why desire provides the motive for action, in history and in literature. Every love story, but also every crime novel and every political empire starts with desire, and its object may be a person, a diamond or a continent. Although there is a certainly a difference between desiring the presence of God, desiring a million dollars and desiring a large ice cream, any and all of these may inspire the artist or the writer.
Opinions also differ on the desirability of desire. If Buddhists and Stoics tend to believe that we should seek to free ourselves from desire and Plato felt our desires should be put aside for the greater good, Freudian and Lacanian analysts encourage us to recognise our desires and many Christians, like Pascal and C.S. Lewis, have declared that “we are too easily pleased” and should desire far greater joy than we have yet known. Artists, writers and film directors still continue this debate, incarnating the good, bad and indifferent results of desire in their works.
Desire may be understood in relation to gender—do men and women long for the same things? Sexual attraction is a theme to be considered and so is the very idea of love. Carson McCullers has famously proposed a definition in “The Ballad of the Sad Café” (1943): “love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries.” Exploring these countries could give way to discussions that could use, as a starting point, Judith Butler’s approach in her first published book Subjects of Desire in which she analyzes the interplay between desire and identity. Looking at desire through the prism of gender studies will also make it possible to reflect upon ideals of femininity and masculinity, but also of beauty, the way they are (re)presented in the media, in advertisements…
What does the act of desiring tell us about the object of desire? Is the one who desires truly seeking love, beauty, wealth, immortality or power in the object and if so, are they right to do so or is the object merely the attractive facade of a powerful illusion or delusion? Do objects of desire exist through necessity? How are they created? What role do advertising or video clips accompanying popular songs play in their creation? Has the way objects of desire are represented changed over the centuries? Did particular periods of history have specific ways of portraying them?
As a concentrated and intense form of prose writing, short fiction lends itself very well to representations of desire. As Sarah Hall says, “The form is very good at unzipping the mind’s fly.” Think of Katherine Mansfield’s “Bliss” (1918): “For the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband;” or of J. G. Ballard’s “The Subliminal Man” (1963), where hypnotic techniques of advertising turn the desire for consumer items into an irresistible compulsion. The short story form itself may be driven by desire as a structuring principle, the desire for instance of the reader to explore its gaps and mysteries. In Towards the End (1985), for instance, John Gerlach suggests that closure may be an object of desire. Several critics have analysed desire and its objects in the novel. Peter Brooks speaks of “a dynamics of desire animating narrative and the construal of its meanings;” René Girard’s concept of “mimetic desire” suggests that a human instinct for imitation drives fictional characters. Do these ideas also apply to the short story or do desire and the short story interact in a different way? We welcome proposals that explore the relation between short fiction and desire across different periods and genres, including flash fiction, the novella and short story cycles.
We welcome papers in French or English from the areas of literary studies, cultural studies (including cinema and television), philosophy, psychology, theology, communication, history and history of art. Although we expect most proposals to be individual, panel proposals of three closely related papers will also be considered.