The Institute of Romance Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz is hosting an interdisciplinary Autumn School from 4-9 October 2015, in cooperation with ZIS, the Centre for Intercultural Studies (JGU), and funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, on the topic of: “Distance and/or Close-up: Visuality, Community, and Affect in Representations of History”
Dr Karin Peters (Romance Studies)
in cooperation with Dr Julia Bruehne (Romance Studies), Dr Susanne Mersmann (Art History) and Lisa Zeller, M.A. (Romance Studies)
Subjects: Literary Studies, Art History, History, Cultural Studies, Ethnology, Media Studies, Political Studies
Hayden White argues in his influential study Metahistory that representations of history offer narratives employing narrative means to present a certain version of historical events. For his part, Benedict Anderson stresses that the development of modern nation states would be unthinkable without written and printed media, and, with that, the telling and reading of national history. However, imagined communities do not only relate to history by means of shared practices and knowledge but also by means of shared affects. This is to say that members of an imagined community deem to truly feel the verity and reality of their own history. The time of an imagined community takes form and becomes ‘real’ through historical narratives that carry affective overtones, have political effects, and become almost ‘mythical’. This is not only the case in the context of the modern nation-states that Anderson analyses; it has been so ever since the early modern era. Whenever narratives evoke a vivid close-up of collective history—irrespective of their medium, be it visual or textual—, these narratives operate through visualisation. This is why visuality, community, and affect are inter-dependent in represented or imagined history. They can generate identification or a critical distance towards history. We intend to trace this relationship chronologically in different thematic sections—from the early modern era to our age—and discuss it further by referring to current theories about political affects, such as Jon Beasley-Murray’s theory in Posthegemony (2010).
If we understand “affect”, departing from its semantic origin in the Antique pathemata, as such an emotional quality that primarily ‘happens’ to us but can thereafter unfold a calculated aesthetic impression—in visual or textual form—, we can also affiliate our question to literary and art studies. Hence, affects are activated or refreshed in textual and visual narrations whose representation aims at an intended effect. For this reason they are repeatedly the focal point of analyses dedicated to the interface of representation, politics, and affect, and, as such, to the relationship between the power of emotions and the way they are constructed. Moreover, it is part of the imagined community’s ideology that the fact it has been constructed must be disguised or denied. In each field of political affects, a certain ‘borderland’ of uncontrollable or ambivalent affective effects cannot be avoided. Beasley-Murray calls this the affective “escape”: even though affect goes hand in hand with the emergence of socio-political structures, it must be subsequently transcended into the idea of a state—one that denies its own irrational story of origin, without being able to fully contain its affective heritage.
It is likewise plausible, however, to speak of reactivations of the affective escape that accompanies this official representation of history, because the activation of an affective sphere of national history ranks among such immanent processes that are not antecedent but simultaneous or ex post to the institutionalisation of communities. Depending on its context and intention, this identification with history can be both libidinal-foundational (almost pedagogical) and/or phobic-destructive. One might think of historical examples such as representations of the revolutionary Liberté in France, engrained by Delacroix’s pictorial code in Western visual memory—and evoked again after the attacks of January 2015 during the republican march in Paris. But one ought not to lose sight of the fact that the French counter-revolution had already produced a number of caricatures and pamphlets in 1789 and the years following the Revolution—images that consistently went against the identification of the French people with their form of government. On the contrary, images depicting the revolution devouring its children and having ‘emasculated’ a strong monarchical France spread fear and, therefore, phobos.
At this point, it is essential to clarify the relationship between pictorial representation, images in the mind, and their narrations. One cannot deny, for example, that Zola’s reinvention of Delacroix’s Liberté in his La fortune des Rougon (1871) unfolds almost visual quality: Here, it is young Miette who leads the people once more against the soldiers of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in 1851, before succumbing to an ignominious death described in explicit detail. The aesthetics of excessive description developed in Zola’s naturalism are therefore committed to the affective visualization of French history. This example permits the description of how history and its transformation into ideological mythemes function as a structure enabling and/or impeding aesthetic forms—to the effect that aesthetic (textual) images are not completely absorbed by the ideological myth.
For this reason, we would like to concern ourselves from an interdisciplinary perspective with the questions of how texts create images, how images tell (hi)stories, how politics use images, and what the fact that affect plays a role in it means. Following the presentation of individual papers, we will discuss a number of selected theoretical texts and analyse chosen textual and pictorial examples. In order to ensure the interdisciplinary arrangement, we have invited external specialists from political science, cultural studies, and art history who will each place their own particular emphasis on the topic in short introductory lectures, before leading the discussions that follow.
This Call for Papers is addressed to PhD candidates and postdoctoral researchers in the early stages of their careers, specialising in subjects such as literary studies, art history, history, cultural studies, ethnology, media studies, or political studies. Each participant is expected to give a presentation (90 minutes in total: 30-minute presentation, 30 minutes of discussion, and another 30 minutes for the close reading of texts and/or images). In order to ensure active participation during discussions, participants are required to have strong passive knowledge of at least two of the event’s official languages (German, English, and French). If your proposal is accepted, you will receive an individual travel grant of maximum 500 euros (if travelling from Germany), 800 euros (if travelling from elsewhere in Europe), or 1,500 euros (if travelling from overseas).
In accordance with the programme, all participants will be expected to contribute to all sections, which take place in succession and not in parallel. Your application, however, should refer to a specific section and should include an abstract of your envisaged presentation (400 words max.), an academic CV with your contact details and publication list (if available), as well as a short motivational letter explaining how the topic of your presentation is related to your own research and where you place yourself within the overarching concept of the Autumn School and the section, respectively. To assist you with your preparation, you can request a more detailed version of the event’s concept in advance (in German only) via Email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
1st section to be led by: Jon Beasley-Murray – theoretical section overarching several centuries
2nd section, to be led by: Karin Peters – Early modern period
3rd section, to be led by: Bertrand Tillier & Susanne Mersmann – 19th century
4th section, to be led by: Philip Manow & Lisa Zeller – 19th century
5th section, to be led by: Stephanie Wodianka & Julia Bruehne – 20th/21st centuries
Please submit your application documents before 30 June 2015 (date stamp) either via post to Dr Karin Peters, Romanisches Seminar, Johannes Gutenberg-Universitaet Mainz, Welderweg 18, 55099 Mainz, Germany, or via Email to email@example.com (reference: “Autumn School 2015”). Successful candidates will be informed in early August.
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