CFP: Romanticism and Self-Destruction

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University of Bristol
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Call for Papers:
Romanticism and Self-Destruction, May 9th, 2014.

Centre for Romantic and Victorian Studies
University of Bristol

The University of Bristol’s Centre for Romantic and Victorian Studies is pleased to announce a one-day conference on the theme of Romanticism and Self-Destruction. The conference will be held on May 9th at the University of Bristol, and will include plenary talks by Professor Andrew Bennett (Bristol) and Professor Caroline Franklin (Swansea). The conference will be held at 43, Woodland Road.

In the turbulent years of the late-eighteenth to early-nineteenth centuries, the Romantics witnessed wars and revolutions, riots and public executions, mass protest and its forceful suppression. Such violence and upheaval found expression in the works the Romantics produced; but this destructiveness was also notably turned against the self. The theme of self-destruction is a marked feature in poetry, in prose fiction, and in the drama of the period. David Hume’s Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul offered philosophical respectability to the act of suicide when it was published posthumously in 1783; Goethe’s influential The Sorrows of Young Werther, with its famously suicidal hero, appeared in England in 1779; and Chatterton’s apparent suicide at seventeen in 1770 captured the imagination of Romantic-period writers.

This conference will address questions of self-destruction in Romanticism: is self-destruction an essential feature of the Romantic project? What is the relationship between suffering and self-knowledge? Is Romantic subjectivity constituted by the desire for its own annihilation? The conference will also go beyond literary and other representations of actual suicides, to investigate wider questions of masochism, self-sacrifice, and self-harm in Romantic literature. It will ask how far the self-destructiveness of alcoholism and drug-addiction are exploited by the Romantics as ways of transcending the self. To what extent are these impulses linked to an escape from the self, body and world, on the one hand, and to the production of literary and philosophical works on the other? And it will seek to reconfigure aspects of nationality, ethnicity, class and gender within the context of representations of Romantic suicide and self-destruction.

Topics for papers might include:

Dark Romanticism
Suicide and self-harm
Drug addiction and alcoholism
Suffering and knowledge
Self-fashioning and self-destruction
The Passive Self: Negative Capability, indolence, prophetic inspiration
Transcendentalism and the loss of selfhood
Travel and death
Writing and the loss of self

The conference organisers would particularly like to encourage participation by postgraduates and early-career researchers. Please submit abstracts of c.250 words for twenty-minute papers on the theme of Romanticism and Self-destruction to the conference organisers, Stephanie Codsi and Jimmy Packham at The deadline for abstract submission is December 1st. We will be in touch with all applicants by December 16th.

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