Sexuality in the Fin de Siècle: The Makings of a “Central Problem”
A Conference to be held at the Centre for the History of European Discourses, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
5 - 7 August 2005
Call for Papers
Convenors: Peter Cryle (University of Queensland), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or Christopher Forth (Australian National University) email email@example.com.
The deadline for abstracts is 31 May 2005.
After Foucault, it has come to be widely accepted that "sexuality" as we know it took shape at the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, when in 1897 Havelock Ellis declared sex to be "the central problem of life", he was focussing and confirming a vast general tendency in European and North American thinking of the time. Hysteria, widely regarded since the mid-nineteenth century as a feminine malady, was considered by some to be a veritable epidemic, as were forms of neurasthenic effeminacy and degenerate loss of willpower in men. 1900 came to be known, in Paris at least, as the season of Sappho. A catalogue of sexual "perversions" was being extended and refined by the new "science" of sexology. Psychoanalysis was to find both its task and its raison d'être in the exquisitely complex study of psycho-sexuality. This was the time when, in Foucaldian terms, circuits of knowledge and power linked truth to sexuality, and sexuality, almost always, to pathology.
The fin de siècle is thus a particularly fertile terrain for exploring the emergence of “sexuality” as an object of medical attention and a subject for aesthetic experimentation. Nevertheless, historical and literary scholars have rarely confronted the close interplay between medical and literary discourses during this period. Following the lead of cross-disciplinary scholars like Janet Beizer, Carolyn Dean, Vernon Rosario, and Judith Walkowitz, this conference seeks to bridge the gap between academic disciplines, connecting, on the one hand, scholars primarily concerned with the intensive reading of texts, and on the other, scholars whose overriding preoccupation is with cultural-discursive extension. Our assumption, and our claim, is that fin-de-siècle sexuality provides a quite precise topos for the close collaboration of these two groups. Sharing the topic may permit, in addition, a better understanding of the disciplinary habits that currently divide and organise the history of discourses, and the history of sexuality in particular.
We invite papers of 30 minutes in duration that explore the interplay between medical and literary discourses in the construction of sexuality. While essays may address any Western country, we ask that submissions address historical developments roughly between 1880 and 1914.
Carolyn Dean, Gert Hekma, Vernon Rosario, and Martha Vicinus have accepted invitations to be keynote speakers.
For further details, contact Peter Cryle or Christopher Forth.
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