Ethics of Alterity in 19th- to 21st-Century British Arts

full name / name of organization: 
EMMA (Études Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone) Research Group - Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier III

Call for papers

An EMMA conference to be held at
Montpellier III University on April 4-6, 2013.

Ethics of Alterity in 19th- to 21st-Century British Arts

In the wake of the conference on The Ethics of Alterity in 19th to 21st-Century British Literature held at the Université Paul-Valéry-Montpellier 3 in May 2011, the EMMA research centre (team) is now moving on to the exploration of Modern British Art, from the 19th century to the Present. Our previous conference took us back to Victorian moral philosophers, like Sidgwick and Moore, the debate between Utilitarians and Intuitionists, and Moore's advocacy of a more open approach to ethics, turning its back on more prescriptive moral determinations. Moore's definition of good as 'the pleasures of human intercourse and the enjoyment of beautiful objects' spells a relational ethic which, in many respects, will be adopted and practiced by Modernist authors and anticipates the Levinasian ethical turn of the late 20th century. By addressing the writings of Josephine Butler, E. M. Forster, Iris Murdoch or Zadie Smith, our first conference set out to envisage how the work of British or Continental philosophers seeps into or starts a conversation with that of the Victorian, Modernist and contemporary novelists.

The second conference, while taking its lead from those debates, will move on to the field of arts, from aestheticism to the most contemporary manifestations, through Modernism. All art forms will be taken into account: visual arts, opera, radio plays, film, video and crossover forms, etc. We will be especially interested in the ways in which the various art forms inscribe, program or perform the preference of relationship. In so doing, they put otherness high on their aesthetic agenda by caring about the cultural other, the other of gender, race, class or history. We will be happy to address the ways in which various art forms from different periods promote a mode of sensibility to the other (primitive art in Roger Fry or Gaudier-Brzeska's art, Aztec art in Henry Moore's sculpture, Byzantine art in Clive Bell's theory of visual art, etc.). This might be difficult to accept in the case of the more sensational presentation of the yBa, in which violence is unremittingly thrown into the viewer's face, yet what such works may be said to summon negatively is the powers of vulnerability to the other. The sculptures of Marc Quinn or Anthony Gormley, Martin Parr's photographic series or Sam Taylor-Wood's videos carry the brief for the representation of contemporary vulnerability. This they do while inventing vulnerable forms by privileging corrosive materials (Gormley), bearing witness to the ordinary (Parr's Last Resort series), tapping the powers of the spectral (Whiteread), and rehearsing various forms of cultural trauma, as earlier war artists like Paul Nash or Sybil Andrews had done.

The conference will be interested in observing the ways in which art objects to the tyranny of the same and promotes such values as attentiveness, responsiveness and responsibility to forms of otherness, i.e. in the ways in which art cares about, or even takes care of the other. This implies the practice of an ethic of the Aristotelian type (as distinct from the formulation of general rules) that is accountable for making the spectator or listener pay attention to social, economic and cultural invisibilities. We will be concerned, ultimately, with the ways in which such an ethic of alterity joins hands with the political and may help chart the evolution of the objects and forms of engagement from the Victorian period to the present.

Proposals of about 300 words should be sent to Jean-Michel Ganteau ( and Christine Reynier ( by November 30, 2012.