Call for Papers: Desire and Dante in the Middle Ages

University of Oxford, 22-24 April 2010

Concept and Organization: Manuele Gragnolati (Somerville College, Oxford) and Elena Lombardi (Bristol); with the support of the Paget Toynbee Fund, University of Oxford, and Somerville College, Oxford

Assistance: Tristan Kay (The Queen’s College, Oxford)

Keynote speakers: Bill Burgwinkle (King’s College, Cambridge) and Christian Moevs (Notre Dame)

Dante’s Divine Comedy has been appropriately called “the poem of desire”, not only because it features desire as the fundamental trait d’union between the self and God, but also because it covers the whole semantic area of this very large concept and its implications. Although rooted in the sensual (if not erotic) love for a woman, it also encompasses the theme of rational desire for knowledge, and combines the two in the spiritual drive towards the divine and the transcendental. Thus, Dante’s magnum opus explores the multiple tensions through which the notion of desire has been articulated and discussed in the diverse cultural fields since antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages – tensions which still reverberate in modern theories. Desire in Dante’s work questions the tension between lack and fulfillment, absence and presence, and earthly and divine love, with which Western culture had long engaged and would continue to do so.

Dante’s formulation of desire in the Comedy is the result of his long meditation on this concept in his other works (Vita NuovaRimeConvivioDe vulgari eloquentiaMonarchia), as well as his reception of many other discourses of desire in the Christian Middle Ages. Indeed, from courtly literature to theology, from medicine to mysticism, from spirituality and devotional practices to political theory, the question of desire is central to medieval culture, matching, and occasionally surpassing, our contemporary “obsession” with it. Whilst in each of these fields desire has a specific significance and its own terminology, it also transcends the borders of these single disciplines and is a truly inter-discursive feature of medieval culture. Although often in service of normative relations (such as the relation between matter and form, lover and beloved, soul and God), desire can also be subversive, endowed with a protean nature and transformative powers.

This conference takes Dante’s multifaceted discourse of desire as an occasion to investigate medieval concepts of desire in their multiplicity, fragmentation, and interrelation. We therefore invite papers engaging with notions of desire in Dante and/or other authors, contexts, and discourses. We particularly welcome papers that, in addition to close readings of their chosen texts, explicitly address and theorize how desire operates within them. Possible topics include:

I- desire as a bridge between the human and the divine or between soul and body

II- desire in relation to eroticism, sensuality, sexuality

III- desire in relation cosmology and the sciences

IV- desire in relation to knowledge and power

V- desire in courtly literature, medieval Aristotelianism, medicine, mysticism,    and political theory

VI- desire in relation to memory, loss, or death

VII- desire between lack and fulfillment, excess and control, suffering and joy

VIII- desire negotiating between the sacred and the earthly/profane

IX- desire in relation to language, poetry, textuality

IX- medieval vs. modern concepts of desire

Papers will be limited to 30 minutes.

Please email an abstract of maximum 500 words and a short bio-bibliographical profile (no more than 1 page) to manuele.gragnolati@some.ox.ac.uk and elena.lombardi@bristol.ac.uk by 15 October 2009.

An answer will be given by the end of November 2009.

For any other information, please contact Tristan Kay: tristan.kay@queens.ox.ac.uk


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