Material (a)historicity in the English Renaissance

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Renaissance Studies Association 2015 (26-28 March 2015 in Berlin)

Sir Thomas Browne, in his Dedicatory Epistle to Hydriotaphia, Urne-Burial, wonders, "But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered?" These questions highlight the tensions ever-present within Browne's work between ephemeral meaning and enduring materiality. By asking the ashes to speak, and thus to pronounce meaning, Browne's text insists upon the afterlife of the material, its slippage across the boundaries between life and death, past and present. In this, Hydriotaphia, embodies an Early Modern concern with history and the body by taking the present moment as one constantly inflected by an unknowable past while also anticipating an indeterminate future.

This session solicits papers invested in a reconsideration of the historical narrative of the body and its materials. Engaging with Renaissance discourses on corpses, ashes, remains, ghosts, apparitions, and other bodily materials, this panel welcomes submissions that read texts ranging from Shakespearean history plays to sonnet sequences to religious pamphlets engaging with the intermingling of the body and soul. Building upon the work of critics such as Madhavi Menon and Carla Freccero, this panel hopes to unsettle the notion of a linear historical narrative and instead think through the queerness of temporalities and history.

Please send your title; abstract (150-word maximum); keywords; and a one-page curriculum vitae (300-word maximum) to the organizer, Jessica Pfeffer, Tufts University ( by June 1, 2014.

tags: history, materiality, bodies, spectrality, English literature