Contemporary British Fiction: Narrating Violence, Trauma and Loss (International Conference, 17-18 September 2010)

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Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany
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Contemporary British fiction is preoccupied with scenarios of violence, trauma and loss: destruction, guilt, traumatic experiences and apocalyptic anxieties are prevalent thematic and aesthetic concerns that seem to be related to incisive and far-reaching political events. With the postmodern fascination with fragmentation and the dissolution of meaning on the wane, the preoccupation with physical and psychological collapse has prompted some critics to postulate the ‘traumatological’ (Philip Tew) nature of contemporary writing and to detect a post-millennial aesthetic of responsibility and conscience. These trends and tendencies have been identified, but have not yet received due (and differentiated) critical attention. In particular, the concern with trauma, violence and loss has not yet been examined in its complexity and potential ambiguity: while narrative negotiations of these issues may be genuine and convincing, their compelling allure also means that they lend themselves to manipulation. The tension between the uses and abuses of trauma, violence and loss – their ethical relevance and their potential exploitation – opens a set of questions that need to be critically explored and investigated.

This conference seeks to contribute to the critical debate around contemporary British fiction, with the aim of more fully comprehending the meaning, aesthetics and ethical implications of its preoccupation with violence, trauma and loss. The conference will provide a forum where violence, trauma and loss can be discussed in their broadest sense, where these concerns can be variously conceptualised and where their inflections with identity, meaning, ethics, history, memory and related issues can be explored. Investigating narrative constructions of violence, trauma and loss, we are interested to trace the processes by which these issues have become cultural preoccupations and areas of fascination, and to ask what this means for our understanding of ourselves, our cultural moment and the role of fiction within it.

We welcome proposals for papers that engage with the following, or related, questions:
How can we adequately conceptualise the current literary concern with violence, trauma, loss, guilt, apocalypse, etc?
How are anxieties, traumatic experiences and apocalyptic scenarios fictionalised?
What ethical uses, but also manipulative abuses may these concerns be put to?
Which critical and theoretical approaches can help us shed light on these preoccupations?
How do they reflect on our understanding of ourselves and our world?

Keynote speakers:
Dr Anne Whitehead (Newcastle University, UK)
Professor Philip Tew (Brunel University, UK)

Please submit paper proposals (abstracts of around 300 words and short bio) to both conference organisers by 15 December 2009:

Professor Dr. Anja Müller-Wood (
Junior Professor Dr. Ulrike Tancke (

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