Abstracts due: January 1, 2007
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Conference date and location: April 21-22, 2007 / Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

"In the Flesh: Revisiting the Body in German Literature, Film, and Culture"

The graduate students of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University invite proposals for their Graduate Student Conference, to be held on April 21-22, 2007 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This conference welcomes abstracts on the theme of the body in German-speaking literature, culture, and film that explore the material aspect of the body in all periods, from the Middle Ages to the present.

In recent years, the notion of the ‘natural’ body has been dismissed due to Foucault’s insight that the body is socially and politically constructed in discourse. While it holds true that the body cannot be grasped outside cultural practice, nonetheless the narrative of the ‘natural body’ – the body as antagonist of the spirit, as origin and limit, as point of material reference – persists and continues to haunt cultural texts. At all times, writers and thinkers have sought to make contact with the body as a ‘window’ to the material world: they have used writing to express and alleviate the body’s physical needs, and have also explored the theme of the body as a way of positioning the self in the natural world and obtaining knowledge about the material. In other contexts, the body’s materiality was used strategically to resist social demands. Even after the material turn in the 19th century, the relationship between the self and the body remained a pressing issue: Nietzsche’s philosophy of existence and Freud’s psychoanalysis made it clear that the reversed hegemony of the material over the spiritual did not solve the problem of the self relating to the body in anthropologically meaningful ways.  Today, as we search for ways to characterize our age beyond the terms of the postmodern paradigm, the body has become a site for cultural redefinition.  Currently we are witnessing the ascendancy of the visual, the growing importance of technological media, massive change in communicative conventions, the loss of power of traditional nation states, and new and ever more aggressive forms of political opposition.  Within these new trends, the meaning of the body exhibits a dual tendency: on the one hand it is rendered redundant and replaceable by technology, and on the other hand it has become a (frequently violent) means by which political statements are made.  Examining the history of the materiality of the body, as performed in literature in many different ways, might help us grasp the direction in which our own time is

This conference is particularly interested in questions of:

Topologies of the body: how do writers map and explore (colonize) the body? What kinds of topologies and narratives are used to describe the body and its extension in space? What tropes and metaphors are at hand to describe bodily processes? How is the body conceptualized as origin?

Body experiences: how do writers mark the moment ‘beyond language’ when the inexpressible body comes to the fore in experiences of physical pain, the primordial, drug-induced hallucinations, birth, aging, and death? What are moments of reversions between language and pre-language in texts? How are the boundaries between the human and the animal body negotiated? What are ‘true’ experiences of femininity or virility?

The sick body: how do narratives of sickness and healing negotiate the mind-body-problem? How does disease make visible or obscure the meaning of human life? How are sick people integrated or cast out from society and family? How can the dialogue with the mute body be turned into a “language of agency”?

The grotesque body: how does the figure of the grotesque body re-introduce the material into the realm of symbolic order? How does the grotesque defy traditional categories? What role does the bodily abject play in the economy of the symbolic? 

Between bodies: how do bodies communicate with or affect other bodies? What are images of attraction, synchrony, and connection? How are ideas of penetration, mutilation, and cannibalism narrated and what meaning do they carry in stories of hate, war, love, friendship, and kinship? 

The ritualized body: where does the material body figure in theories of world order, society, and state? How is the body restrained and molded in rituals of religion, hygiene, sports, fashion, and art? 

The political body: how are bodies dehumanized in war, work, torture, voyeurism, pornography, and propaganda? What are strategies of re-humanizing the body in literature?

Body movements: what are movements that seek to assign novel cultural meanings to the body? How does the body figure in trends like nudism, sports and reform pedagogy? In which way does pop culture bring about a new cult of the body and what is its meaning?

The performing body: how do acting methods expose the materiality of the body, or express the relationship between the bodily and the spiritual?  For example, what do the physically impossible demands of the Grotowskian technique (“throw your voice against the wall and then mop it up off the floor”) say about our relationship to the material body and the limits of bodily expression? What trends are there of performing ‘narratives of the body’ in film, photography, and theater?  

The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Stefani Engelstein
Assistant Editor:  Megan McKinstry
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
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