Desire, Literature, Culture
University of Malta Postgraduate Symposium
29-30 March, 2012
The present pleasure,
By revolution low’ring, thus become
The opposite of itself
– Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra
If, in the near future, all data, movies, etc., were to become instantly available, if the delay were to become minimal so that the very notion of “searching for” (a book, a film …) were to lose meaning, would this instant availability not suffocate desire?
[d]o not give way on your desire
Might desire be in decline? At first glance the suggestion seems almost preposterous: we live in an age in which near-instant gratification has, on many levels, never been so widely available, keenly desired or insistently promised. The past century has seen the development of a highly theorised understanding of desire as well as the emergence and astonishingly rapid growth of the various culture industries that sustain the ever increasingly complex economy of wish-fulfilment that structures our daily lives, reinforcing what seems to be the contemporary injunction par excellence, namely to ‘enjoy’ or ‘consume’. One might even be inclined to look back upon modernism as marking the emergence of the literary text, and the artwork more generally, as a self-absorbed exploration and cultivation of memory and desire, which is then taken to its self-reflexive, playfully autotelic and freely libidinal extreme by postmodernism. And yet there seems to be a pervading sense that desire is not what it used to be.
Could it be that we are quite literally spoilt for choice? That desire is either coming to be sated or is now in some sense vitiated or impoverished, and that, in any case, there is – and perhaps has always been – something unsatisfying about the satisfaction of desire? Moreover, if – and we ought not to take this for granted – the last century traces the undulating rise and fall of desire, how has this been reflected in literature, theory and culture? From the current crisis in global capitalism, to the academy’s critical default of post[–]ist discourse, to a cursory glance at recent, notable publications – Living in the End Times, What Ever Happened to Modernism?, Theory after ‘Theory’, The Poetics of Disappointment, On Late Style, The Philosophy of Boredom – it is impossible to escape the pervading sense of an ending (to echo deliberately both the title of Julian Barnes’ 2011 Man Booker winner, and Frank Kermode’s influential study of literature and apocalypse).
Or might it be the case that desire is alive and well but simply elsewhere, constituting alternative sites of cultural and political expression? Might this, for instance, account for the popularity of grassroots politics – from Occupy Wall Street to the so-called Arab Spring – at a time when political apathy has supposedly never been greater? What, then, are the sites of desire today and how are they figured in literature and culture? How, in particular, are literature and culture negotiating the redirected flows of desire of the digital age?
If, however, our contemporary cultural reality is indeed marked by ‘vanishing desire’ (Lacan) or ‘the disappearance of desire’ (Žižek), then, at least on one reading, we live in the tension between fantasy and anxiety. How, in such a context, might both literature and culture be seen to be responding to Lacan’s imperative not to give way on one’s desire? This conference invites papers that respond to these issues and to the topic of desire, literature and culture more generally.
Papers may discuss, but need not be limited to, the following topics:
- Waning/saturated desire in literature and culture
- Desire in literature and literature in desire
- Other desires – marginal, multiple, forbidden and deviant desires
- Desire and modernism/postmodernism
- Figures of desire in literature
- Desire and power
- Erotic desire
- The poetics of desire
- Desire and death
- Desire and freedom
- Desire and ideology
- Cultural desires
- Desire and cinema
- Feminism and desire
- Desire and censorship
- Kristeva: desire in language
- Desire in and for realism
- Desire and the sense of an ending
- Capitalism, individualism and desire
- Theories of desire and the representation of the self in literature
- Desire, promise and l’avenir
- Recalculating proximities: psychoanalysis and desire
- The aesthetics of desire and contemporary culture
- Towards a stylistic understanding of desire
- The economics of desire
Abstracts of no more than 300 words, accompanied by a brief biographical note, should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by 16th December.