Literature and Emotions

full name / name of organization: 
Christian Dahl, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen

Literature and Emotions Conference
March 24-25 2011, University of Copenhagen

From the excesses of fear and laughter in Aeschylus and Aristophanes to the provocative writings of contemporary novelists like Salman Rushdie, Elfriede Jelinek or Michel Houellebecq, literary history has clearly demonstrated that the capacity of describing, arousing, and distributing affects and emotions is a crucial function of literature. Nonetheless, the importance of affects and emotions to literature has only rarely been recognised as a topic of major interest in modern literary criticism and theory. Strong emotional appeals in literature are often regarded as vulgar by literary critics, and affective reactions to literature are correspondingly thought to be inferior to those of critical interpretation. Such evaluations generally assume that affective and critical reactions are mutually exclusive. Contemporary emotional theory and much literary history beg us, however, to question such presumptions. When works of literature have a direct impact on public debate and opinion, it is almost always thanks to literature's capacity of affective appeal.

The aim of the conference is twofold. First it is to investigate literary ways of describing, unfolding, arousing, and manipulating human affects and emotions. Second it is to discuss how literature's ways of describing, arousing, and distributing affects and emotions interact with different cultural contexts. We call for papers that will address these issues, and preferentially papers that combine empirical investigations (historical or contemporary) with a theoretical scope. Panels or individual papers may include topics like:
- Affects and Emotions: Fear, Pity, Disgust, Rage, Shock, Offence, Love, Hate, Joy, Shame, Melancholy.
- Genres: Satire, Comedy, Tragedy, Melodrama, Sentimental novel, Grotesque, Horror.
- Concepts: Affects, Emotions, Passions, Expression, Simulation, Mimesis, Provocation, Reaction, Aesthetic Emotions, History of Emotions, Literature and Politics.

Keynote speakers:
Rita Felski, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English, University of Virginia, editor of New Literary History
Winfried Menninghaus, Professor of Comparative Literature, Freie Universität, Berlin, principle investigator of the Excellence Cluster research project "Languages of Emotions"

For participation, please send an abstract (200-300 words for individual papers, max 500 words for panels) and a brief CV to by 1 February. Paper presentations will be scheduled to 20 minutes.
For further information see our homepage:

Conference contacts: Christian Dahl, Assistant Professor, PhD ( and Dennis Meyhoff Brink, PhD fellow (

The Conference will take place at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen, and is organized by the Section of Comparative Literature.