"[C]reating themselves out of themselves, and moulding themselves to what they were, and willed to be"
Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier, France
23-24 September 2011
In 1873, citing Hegel’s vision of the Greeks, Walter Pater wrote in The Renaissance: "They are great and free, and have grown up on the soil of their own individuality, creating themselves out of themselves, and moulding themselves to what they were, and willed to be." This Paterian celebration of autonomy and self-fashioning was read with delight, cultivated, and variously implemented by the members of the Aesthetic Movement. Not only did Aestheticism create new objects, but it enabled singular lifestyles to be born. In the last third of the nineteenth century, the facts of existence ceased to be perceived as heteronomous. Life itself was gradually envisioned as a work in progress for an individual at once more aware of his/her freedom as subject and more conscious of changing societal constraints. New lifestyles flourished and novel representations of life emerged. From the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (which immediately preceded the Aesthetic Movement) to James Whistler, Oscar Wilde, William Morris, "Ouida," "Michael Field," or Edward Carpenter, many were those who devoted themselves to practicing and writing about literature and art while evolving a lifestyle which early twentieth-century critics would later identify with the "men [and women] of the nineties."
Fashioning one’s own life became both conceivable and technically and politically possible as individuals gradually ceased to acquiesce in given social configurations of power and value and started interrogating the status quo. Such questioning was often the source of original individual choices and collective interventions such as the creation of clubs, guilds, presses or journals. Within given social, economic and political structures/strictures, of which writers and artists were highly conscious, "Aesthetic" living became an important embodiment of subjective experience and individual experiment.
After our first 2009 trans-disciplinary international conference entitled "British Aestheticisms," our 2011 conference on "Aesthetic Lives" hopes to focus on issues of Aesthetic subjectivity, on the lived experience of Aesthetic individuality or difference, and on original trajectories in the context of Aesthetic practices. How did writers and artists turn their existence into an artwork? What does it mean to found a club, an artistic community, a new journal when one is (or claims to be) an Aesthete? What were the cultural, social, economic or political constraints which hindered or enabled Aesthetic projects, aspirations, and itineraries?
Importantly, the notion of "Aesthetic life" is not meant in the limited biographical sense, but should be taken in the broad sense of a personal negotiation and a carving of one’s chosen itinerary or ethical choices in the context of Aestheticism. What kind of ethics can arise from Aesthetic choices? What are its daily manifestations, practically speaking? What were the obstacles or aporiae encountered by those who followed Pater’s ideas about self-fashioning and life as a work of art? How were these subjective choices received? And how do they anticipate the choices made by the figures of Modernism?
We welcome papers (in French or in English) studying individual artists and writers, specific formal or informal groups, and various arts of Aesthetic living. Descriptive and hagiographic approaches are to be strictly avoided. A selection of papers will be published. Please email your proposal by May 1st 2011 to firstname.lastname@example.org AND email@example.com.