11/12-13 Home/sickness: Desire, Decay, and the Seduction of Nostalgia

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English Graduate Organization at University of Florida
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The University of Florida's 9th annual English Graduate Organization conference will explore nostalgia, focusing on the contradictory relations among desires for recovered pasts as well as deliberate attempts to manipulate the present through representations of the past. Of particular interest will be the extent to which both nostalgia and the desire for utopia are linked to historical trauma, as textual manifestations of an extratextual cause.

When Johannes Hofer coined the term "nostalgia" in 1688, it referred to a literal disease plaguing French soldiers who were dying from homesickness. By the 1870s, it had lost its medical usage but had been taken up by culture to frame Romanticism's desire for both the concept of the homeland and the past. Despite connotations of rosy naïveté, nostalgia retains pathological connotations in its implicit desire to recreate or reformulate the past. This decay of the so-called historical truth, then, is replaced by a necessity to invent conceptions of the past and/or loose conceptions of home—whether a geographical or ontological distinction. How this preoccupation with decay frames possibilities for both personal and cultural reinvention through representation, demands further investigation.

Its cultural complications have continued to reinvent the term, both positively—in cases where the past is looked at in fondness—and negatively—when the (longing for a) past becomes again a sickness. This bi-polar logic is manifest in cultural texts as disparate as the decrepit streets and uncanny fashion of Ridley Scott's Bladerunner and President Obama's invocations of JFK's Camelot. Theorists such as Foucault, Benjamin, Jameson, and White have continued to reflect upon representation and recreation of the past, a theoretical counterpart to authors such as Flannery O'Conner and Tim O'Brien. Present in all these examples are versions of a desire to re/create the past in order to overcome trauma, create a political version of historical narrative, or to manipulate the present and/or future.

We welcome both creative and critical presentations on a variety of topics dealing with any aspect of nostalgia: desire, the past, representation, notions of home/identity. Please submit an abstract of 250 words to ego09atuf@gmail.com by September 28th. If accepted, plan on a presentation of 15 minutes. This year's conference will be held on November 12th and 13th, with a keynote speaker (TBC) on Friday evening with a reception to follow.

Possible (but certainly not exhaustive) Topics:

Identity crisis
Managing trauma through representation
Theories of memory

Representations of youth and childhood
Nostalgia in text, film, or television
Reconfiguring personal or collective memory

Nostalgia as the repression of historical memory
Nostalgia as physical/cultural displacement
Recovering pre-colonial identity

Nostalgia and the reproduction of gender
Theory as a form of nostalgia
Nostalgia as origin: Foucault's critique.

Visions of utopia/dystopia