CFP; Ghostliness and Purgatorial Wastelands in Modernist Literature (NeMLA, Baltimore, 2022)

Stefano Rossi's picture
Call for Papers
March 10, 2022 to March 13, 2022
Maryland, United States
Subject Fields: 
Literature, British History / Studies, American History / Studies

53rd NeMLA Annual Convention - Baltimore, Maryland, 10-13 March, 2022.

The theme of ghostliness is often present in modernist literature and boundaries between life and death are very often blurred. What can the recurrent invocation of spectrality say about modernism and modernists? How do modernist authors represent their characters who dwell a death in life (or a life in death)?

This panel revolves around the passion of several modernist authors for the theme of ghostliness: spectrality and indefiniteness are in fact pivotal elements in several modernist literary works. Dealing with the destabilising finiteness of human existence and the precarity of a universe (shell-)shocked by the horrific impact of the war, modernist literature often presents characters deprived of their awareness of being alive. J. Joyce, T. S. Eliot, V. Woolf, S. Beckett – to mention only some – often depict spectral figures that appear as stuck in between life and death, neither utterly living, nor dead. Associated to the deranged and the marginalised, several modernist characters find themselves disoriented in a (non-)world made up of rubbles, insanity, and nothingness, where - haunted by the memory of the trauma (and by the trauma of memory) - they meditate on the utter pointlessness and meaninglessness of existence. Exiled to a provisional world and persecuted by the horrors of the war, the modernist character is condemned to wander aimlessly in purgatorial wastelands in which no salvation seems to be conceived.

Spectral figures in modern literature become thus symbols of a society that has failed miserably: what does the modernist engagement with spectrality say about modernist characters and modernist aesthetic? How do modernist writers narrate ghostliness in their works? Is there a connection between ghostliness and the alienation that psychosis or trauma might cause? What is the role of trauma in the construction of one’s own condition of spectrality? How does ghostliness impact on the identity of modernist characters?

Please, submit your abstract (no more than 300 words) here by September 30, 2021:

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Stefano Rossi is a PhD candidate at the University of Padova (Italy). It has been working on Samuel Beckett's and Wilfred R. Bion's literature for two years now. He has carried out a research on hysteria and women in late-Victorian literature, with a specific focus on Sensation Fiction. He has also investigated into Victorian medical discourses on sexuality and late-Victorian pornography. His research interests include medical humanities, trauma studies, phenomenology, and representations of insanity in Irish and British literature of the nineteenth and twentieth century.