[UPDATE] Undressing the Bawdy
"When I'm good I'm very good, but when I'm bad I'm better." –Mae West
Derived from "bawd," a word of uncertain etymology associated with practices of female prostitution, "bawdy" describes something that is boisterously or humorously indecent. Considering that one of the earliest known works of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh, with its many descriptions of the randy exploits of a Sumerian prince, can be considered bawdy, one might suggest that bawdiness is an intrinsic quality of literary discourse. From Rabelais's laughing pregnant hags, to Rochester's copious odes to genitalia, and Joyce's "obscenities" in Ulysses, the bawdy has titillated centuries of readers. Shakespeare's statement, "it is a bawdy planet," further suggests that bawdiness is in fact a condition of earthly existence, rather than a specifically literary phenomenon. One might wonder, however, if our hypersexual society, with its tendency to overexpose the body, is limiting our ability to engage in a form of expression that seems to be at least partially enabled by sexual restrictions. Or has this contemporary tendency to "bare all" created a unique environment in which bawdy forms like the burlesque can be all the more attractive, because we yearn for the mystery, the comedy, the provocation, and the tease—because for once, we want NOT to see it all, or at least NOT to see it all at once?
These are just some of the lines of inquiry that will be explored at the 2010 York English Graduate Students' Association Colloquium, Undressing the Bawdy, on May 14th and 15th. We invite participants from across disciplinary borders to present on any aspect of what is undoubtedly an exciting and daring field of inquiry. Be forewarned, however, that the "bawdy is a Pandora's box," as critic Joan Hutton Landis writes, "once opened, it is hard, if not impossible, to close the lid."
Possible topics could be inspired by, but should not be limited to, the following thematic concerns:
Gender and the body: Body/Bawdy; The connection with the dirty and abject; Bawdy genres and mediums (the dirty joke, folksongs, limericks, erotic cartoons, graffiti, the burlesque, etc); Performing bawdiness: bawdy as commodity; The bawdy in the Eastern and Western canon; The intersections of bawdy and grotesque, camp, and kitsch; Changing standards of censorship; Bawdy and satire; Eating, drinking, screwing: the bawdy and other appetites; The interaction between the erotic, the pornographic, and the bawdy; Famous bawds (real and fictional)
Please send a 400-500 word abstract and a 200 word autobiography by March 31st to our group email at: