Conference: Decadent Bodies, Goldsmiths University of London, 28 – 29 July 2022 (deadline 31 March, 2022)

Decadence has an uneasy relationship with the body. It is at once a site of profound sensorial pleasure, and a material trapping to be escaped through aesthetic or narcotic stimulation. Decadence is ‘of’ the body – it augments its sensorial capabilities and cultivates uncommon tastes – but it also recognises the body as that which threatens to limit more refined and perfectly debauched pursuits of the imagination. This was the case in the late nineteenth century when different artistic movements were jostling for the limelight – naturalists, decadents and symbolists, especially – but it is also the case in our own time, which has seen a revival of ‘pleasure activism’ and unabashed aestheticism at the very same moment when afrofuturists, among others, have turned to the imaginative realm to escape the impact of systemic racism on visibly marked bodies. The recent publication of Ross Douthat’s The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success (2020) also suggests that decadence is once again entering popular discursive terrain in ways that mark a striking contrast with its non-conformist pedigree. Moreover, at the heart of a resurgent culture war, we find competing perspectives on the body: those bodies that are deemed suitably productive, useful, and appropriate in their tastes, dispositions and orientations, and those that are not.

What, then, are we to make of the decadent body both historically, and in the present moment? What makes a body ‘decadent’, and for whom? How has the body been shaped by accusations of decadence, and in what ways have individuals or groups reclaimed decadence as a site of reaction, resistance, transcendence, or disidentification?

Decadent Bodies is a two-day conference co-organised by the British Association of Decadence Studies (BADS) and the Decadence Research Centre (DRC) at Goldsmiths, University of London. We encourage proposals considering diverse forms of cultural expression including literature, poetry, theatre, live art, dance, visual art, film, fashion, and performativity, as well as a range of geographical and historical contexts, from antiquity to the present day.

In focusing on the body, we aim to emphasise corporeal, sensorial and sartorial concerns in practices and studies of decadence. However, we also encourage reflections on artificial bodies: statues, automatons, avatars, and so on. We are also soliciting proposals exploring sickness and disease, bodies that buck the trend of ableism, bodies that find refuge from or that react to white supremacy, bodies that transcend binary configurations of gender, queer bodies, wild bodies, sacred and profane bodies, and bodies that seek out and revel in uncommon pleasures.

We welcome both conventional and unconventional presentation formats, including 20-minute papers, performance lectures or screenings, as well as panel proposals, or contributions to an art exhibition that will be curated as part of the conference. Abstracts of 300 words plus a brief biography should be sent to by 31 March 2022.

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