Paradoxes of the threshold : literature, place and the environment in 19th-21st century literatures 25-26 october 2012

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Université de Louvain (Belgium)

Human beings continuously experience the threshold space between what separates them from and what connects them with the world. Literature and theatre have never ceased to question this dimension, which fore and foremost involves words, discourses and representations. Immersed in their environment, human subjects however maintain with the latter a relationship that is fundamentally problematic, as exemplified in the multiplicity of forms this relationship can take. Between radical solutions of inclusion (when humans fit in with the world in a mode that is significantly utopian) and exclusion (when they attempt to separate from it) appear a whole range of possibilities: humans colonize the world, denature and even destroy it, convert it, inhabit it, build it, respect it, submit to it, venerate it ; they fear it to the extent that they feel persecuted by it. The present conference will attempt to highlight specific paradigms (mastery, hospitality, reverence, engulfing, e.g.) that structure human experience (eminently cultural) with what surrounds us, an experience that is inherently paradoxical since it calls for a balance that cannot be achieved.

If this paradoxical relationship with the world is considered as a permanent anthropological feature, one can argue that it has been dramatically reinforced since the beginning of the industrial era to the extent that is has lead to aporia. How do literature and theater testify to this crisis? How do these artistic endeavours enable us to rethink these questions? What kind of responses do they offer? These are some of the questions this colloquium will address.
Several investigatory areas will be privileged:
1) How do (digital) technologies change the subject's anchorage in space and how do literature and theatre give voice to this spatial dimension?
2) What are the new literary and theatre motifs associated with this crisis (waste, ghettoization, new urban and rural configurations, ecological agendas) and how are they transcribed into form?
3) Contemporary human experiences of the environment are generating new (literary) paradigms or challenging/modifying those that have existed (from the wild child to Frankenstein, to name some extreme examples)? How have scenarios and literary figures been re-worked /re-appropriated in contemporary writings?
4) How do critical discourses, in particular the literary discourse, take into account (or not) this fundamental dimension of human experience, at the theoretical, conceptual and historiographical levels?
5) Where 19th and 20th century literature and theatre address a specific crisis related to the threshold dimension, have they engendered as a result new genres, new aesthetics, or even artistic forms?

This international colloquium is organized by the research center Ecriture, création, représentation : littératures et arts de la scène (ECR) of the Université de Louvain (Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgique). The center includes specialists in the fields of theatre studies, literary studies from different geographical/linguistic locations (French and francophone, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch/Flemish and English). The focus of the colloquium will consequently be apprehended from an international perspective. For practical reasons, French and English will be the languages of the event but proposals in German, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian are welcome as well.

Abstract (about 250 words) for 20-minute presentations should be sent to Véronique Bragard ( or Pierre Piret (, before November 30th 2011.

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