Conference 9-10 Dec 2016
Birkbeck, University of London
Conference at Birkbeck Research in Aesthetics of Kinship and Community.
In a recent film, 45 Years (dir. Andrew Haigh, 2015), a couple about to celebrate forty-five years of marriage hear of the recovery of the body of the husband’s erstwhile girlfriend – whose name resembles that of the wife – found perfectly preserved in Alpine ice. This discovery implicitly affects the two differently: it appears that the husband is shocked at reminders of lost youth, while the wife is affected by the vivid idea (supplemented by slides she views) of a rival who pre-existed her and thus has a permanent kind of precedence. The same effect is experienced by the unnamed narrator-protagonist of Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier, 1938), who enters a house and a marriage dominated by her predecessor and the violent enigma surrounding her. Yet at one point she writes: ‘Perhaps I haunted her as she haunted me; […] Jasper had been her dog, and he ran at my heels now. The roses were hers and I cut them. Did she resent me and fear me as I resented her?’
In the face of changing family relations in the west, we have moved rather suddenly from one replacement series to another: one or two centuries ago, replacement children were commonplace as child mortality led to families naming a baby after an earlier sibling that had just died, or – as in Wordsworth’s ‘We are seven’ (1798) – children lived with the dead as well as living among a large group of siblings. Nowadays serial monogamy has created a structure more akin to Rebecca, in which children or adults must contend with others both absent and present, whether living or dead. Thus the structure of replacement, which is always both diachronic and synchronic, has effects both across and within generations and signifies both unruly passion and the attrition of passions lost, exchanged or conserved.
This conference is about modes of personal haunting, looking both forward and back, and may focus on any of the three main positions in the drama of replacement: the ‘replacement’ child or partner; the never-entirely-dead predecessor; or the effect on the empowered or disempowered person whose desires move between these two others.
KEYNOTE SPEAKERS: Juliet Mitchell, Laura Mulvey, Naomi Segal, Naomi Tadmor
Please send proposals for a 20-minute paper (or for a panel of three 20-minute papers) to the two organisers, Jean Owen and Naomi Segal. Deadline: 30 May 2016. A proposal should comprise your name, email address & academic affiliation if any; the title, a 300-word abstract and a 100-word mini-bio. Please see the conference website for more information.