The title of the conference has been borrowed from Goethe’s 1809 novel Elective Affinities. There, the term “elective affinities” is the subject of an energetic debate. A chemical term that was in currency from the late eighteenth century, in the novel it extends to human relationships, both intimate and political. Since this is a novel that foregrounds “mixed media” such as tableaux vivants (i.e. dramatic performances of artworks) and the picturesque garden, the concept of “elective affinities” also has profound implications for the relationship between words and images. Like the alkalis and acids of which Goethe’s characters speak, words and images, though apparently opposed, may have a remarkable affinity for one another. At the same time, as one of the protagonists objects, such affinities are problematic, and “are only really interesting when they bring about separations.” The conference seeks – in the spirit of Goethe’s allusive discussion – to explore word/image interactions in literature and visual arts from a broad historical perspective, and also as they extend to fields as diverse as Political Science, Religious Studies, and History of Science.
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