One Mighty Sepulchre: Scales of Death in Literature, Environment, and Culture
One Mighty Sepulchre: Scales of Death in Literature, Environment, and Culture Brandeis University March 20, 2020 Keynote Speaker: Melinda Hunt
In the poem “Thanatopsis” (1817) William Cullen Bryant refers to the world itself as “one mighty sepulchre.” Today, in the era of climate change, species extinction, and mass shootings, the argument that our earth is a tomb may be even more compelling. The term thanatopsis comes from the Greek thanatos (death) and opsis (view or sight), translating literally to “a view of death.” Art, song, public policy, private correspondence, funerary practices, and more have long held traces of human engagement with the phenomenon of death. But how does the scale of death (individual, mass, global) challenge our perceptions of death and life? How does the mourning process affect those who continue living, and how do we mourn life’s endings when the scale at which death occurs exceeds comprehension? Does death on a large scale (e.g., extinction) call us to action in a way that death on a small scale (e.g., murder) does not?
This conference seeks papers that will help us think together about the relationship between death at various scales and the human responses to it in daily life, in literature, and in ideas. We call for papers from multiple disciplines—including, but not limited to, environmental science, philosophy, sociology, psychology, archaeology, literature, genetics, gender studies, cultural studies, history of science, history of the mind, religion, and business—papers practical, academic, and artistic that may help elucidate the relationship of our living space to the sphere of nothingness and dying. We also seek literary interpretations, performance, digital media, short film, and other artistic renderings in relationship to theme.
Possible topics include but are not limited to:
- Mass death (war, genocide)
- Institutionalized deaths (police brutality, medical institutions, socioeconomic inequality)
- Precarity and disposability
- The death drive
- The “little death” (“la petite mort”)
- Climate change, extinction, and decay
- Hauntology and memory
- Interpretations of the afterlife and religion
- Artistic conversations (music, literature, fine arts) with death—the carpe diem motif, elegy, etc.
- Public monuments, memorials and other acts of architectural memory
- Cultural responses to death
Please feel free to submit both academic and artistic works. Please send a 250–300 word abstract for your 15-minute presentation to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 12, 2020. For creative submissions, please submit a 300-word description of your project and its relation to the conference theme. Proposals should include a working title for the paper along with the presenter's name, institutional affiliation (including department), and email address. Since this is a graduate conference, preference will be given to graduate students; however, we welcome proposals from graduating undergraduates, independent scholars, and others who do not fit in these categories. Applicants will be notified by January 20.