Thursday, April 25, 2013

On Cosmopolitanism Seminar - Birbeck Forum for Nineteenth-Century Studies (5/30/2013)

The Global and the Local: the NAVSA/BAVS/AVSA joint conference in Venice (3-6 June 2013) is fast approaching. With that in mind, the Birkbeck Forum for Nineteenth-Century Studies is hosting a warm-up event, On Cosmopolitanism, to give those interested in the topic a chance to hear three eminent speakers - Stefano Evangelista, Alex Murray, and Matthew Potolsky - discuss their research in this field. All are welcome to the session, which will be held on 30 May 2013 at 6pm in the Keynes Library (Room 114, Birkbeck, University of London, 43 Gordon Square, London, UK, WC1H 0PD)

Stefano Evangelista (Oxford), 'Cosmopolitanism and Sexual Freedom in George Egerton's Norwegian Stories'
George Egerton's collection of short stories, Keynotes (1893), created a sensation for its frank exploration of female sexual desires and became one of the iconic texts of British Decadence. While Egerton's feminism has been discussed by various critics, she remains almost completely undiscovered as a crucial mediator of Scandinavian culture into Britain at the moment of the Northern Breakthrough. Some of the stories in Keynotes use a Scandinavian, mostly Norwegian, setting, as a backdrop to their pioneering discussion of female sexual freedom. Egerton discovers the untapped potential of the North which in her writings becomes, for modern English women in search of sexual freedom, an anti-type to the South imagined by homosexual male writers.

Alex Murray (Exeter), 'Venice, sans hope': Transatlantic Decadence and New York Writing'
Recent years have seen a rise in studies of Transatlantic Decadence and aestheticism, mapping the importation of French and English intellectual developments in to American cities, primarily Boston, New York and San Francisco. While we are beginning to develop a clearer picture of how these works were received, less attention has been paid to their effects. In this paper I offer an introduction to the ways in which Edgar Saltus, James Huneker and Carl Van Vechten negotiated between European models for writing urban space and the singular demands of writing New York City. In drawing on Huysmans, Verlaine and other European models these writers shed the language of impressionism and the metaphors of haunting, developing a new form of Decadence which was indebted to, but ultimately refashioned, the writing of the Old world.

Matthew Potolsky (Utah), 'Aestheticism and Politics'
It has often been noted that Romantic writing was born in the shadow of the great revolutions of the late eighteenth century, reflecting upon and responding to political experiments and personal testimony. Critics have long understood aesthetcist writing as a turn against the explicit political works of the romantic era, but I want to argue in this paper that this opinion needs to be revised. Politics are in fact a significant concern of aestheticist writers.

This paper will take up two poems about war and revolution in aestheticist writing. It will be my argument that, although these images seem to argue for or imply a withdrawal from the political, they in fact try to understand politics in ways that differ significantly from romantic models. Where romantic writers speak openly as "unacknowledged legislators of the world," to borrow Shelley's famous phrase, aestheticist writers seek the sources of political change in the dark corners of private life. What seems to be a turn away from politics is often a kind of politics by other means.

I begin with Theophile Gautier's "Preface" to his most avowedly aestheticist collection Emaux et Camees, which depicts the poet closing his window against the street violence of 1848. I find in this poem, however, a cosmopolitan openness that complicates the speaker's turn to poetry. Dante Rossetti's poem "After the German Subjugation of France" casts the fall of Louis Napoleon in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War as akin to the vengeful return of a child born of a liaison with a prostitute. As in his earlier poem, "After the French Liberation of Italy," Rossetti defines politics in explicitly erotic terms.

Chair: Ana Parejo Vadillo (Birkbeck)

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