A one-day symposium at the Institute of Modern Languages (IMLR), Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU, UK
With support from the Cassal Endowment Fund and the Society for French Studies
Friday 20 September 2019
Keynote Speaker: Dr Steven Wilson (Queen’s University Belfast)
What is sickness, and how is it represented in literature? In his twenty-volume Rougon-Macquart novel cycle (1871–93), Émile Zola creates pathological bodies living within Napoleon III’s Second Empire (1852–70), a period which is represented as being engulfed by political and social sickness. It is in the last volume, Le Docteur Pascal, that there is hope embodied within Pascal’s newborn son, the potential ‘messiah’ of the French nation. In the aftermath of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), Zola’s cycle may be a literary reaction to the state of a weakened France in exalting the mythicised image of the mother and child, at once a symbol of purity and new beginnings. Reflecting on the multi-dimensional aspect of Zola’s Naturalism, Henri Mitterand writes that these novels are not merely a form of social and historical documentation, but, instead, offer a knowledge that is more intuitive, modern and poetic, and which might be termed an ‘anthropomythic naturalism’ (preface, Émile Zola, Le Docteur Pascal, p. 48). This symposium aims to explore the nexus of fears, anxieties and desires that society projects onto the body within European literature and culture, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, tracing the birth and development of modern medicine. It will examine the widest meaning of sickness and the power dynamic between the body and society. Is sickness ever ‘just’ sickness, or is there often a covert ideological agenda that drives and constructs it? How can literature help us understand the relationship between the body and society? The symposium will take a transhistorical and transnational approach in order to see whether, and how, cultural anxieties which appropriate the body change and differ across European national boundaries during a time when medicine is establishing and asserting its increasing authority. The symposium will be an opportunity for colleagues to forge connections and to compare different approaches within the growing field of Medical Humanities within the Modern Languages.
Suggested themes include, but are not limited to:
Fin de siècle
Sacred and the religious
Illness and cure
Life and death
Proposals of c. 250 words for 20-minute papers in English and a 100-word biography should be emailed to the conference organiser, Dr Kit Yee Wong, by Sunday 28 April 2019. Notifications to potential speakers will be sent out by Saturday 25 May 2019.