Conference: Worlding Symbolism: Texts, Images, Objects: Université Libre de Bruxelles, 16 – 17 May 2024 (deadline 19 January 2024)

The rise of Symbolism at the end of the nineteenth century coincided with rapid developments in communication and transport technologies that facilitated the transnational movement of people, texts, images and art objects. Writers and artists linked to Symbolism were therefore able to profit from an increased global mobility: they incorporated forms and ideas from other cultures that gave rise to new artistic practices and aesthetic theories; they questioned local standards of taste, promoting transnational and cosmopolitan outlooks; they revised their own artistic identities and social affiliations. This engagement with an enlarged, world perspective caused the breakdown of traditional hierarchies and systems of values. However, it simultaneously also triggered new forms of competition and inequality, especially in the evolving relationship between European, African and Asian cultures.

This conference aims to shed light on the worlding of symbolism as a dynamic process that brought together literary, material and visual cultures. We will ask, for instance, how Symbolist writings and aesthetic theories intersected with the global movement of embodied objects ranging from the fine arts to decorative objects designed for daily use. How did the artistic and industrial exhibitions that proliferated in this period affect literary traffic? How did the material form of books and periodicals contribute to disseminating Symbolism across borders? And, conversely, what was the impact of the transnational circulation of Symbolist literature, for instance through translation, on artistic practices?

While many critics have attempted to set the boundaries of Symbolism, for instance by seeking to define its notoriously elusive relationship with Decadence, our emphasis is rather on investigating the dynamics of worlding that brought literature into dialogue with a variety of visual media ranging from advertisement to the performing arts, from book illustration to cinema. By focusing on how Symbolism evolved and expanded in different countries and language areas, we also aim to question its chronology and overlap with other literary and artistic movements (Decadence, Expressionism, Modernism, etc.).

We welcome proposals for papers on all geographical and language areas covering a broad definition of Symbolism from its first origins in the mid-nineteenth century to its aftermath in the interwar period. Proposals might address the worlding of Symbolism from one or more of the following angles:

  • Global circulation of objects, images and art theories
  • Translation and the visual
  • Illustrations and typography
  • Textual materiality (paper, bindings, formats)
  • Multi-disciplinarity
  • Periodical culture and international magazines
  • Technologies (telegraph, electricity, mail, typewriting)
  • Fashioning national/local/global identities
  • Colonialism/Decolonialism
  • The aesthetics and ethics of cultural appropriation
  • Symbolist archives and libraries
  • Public and private networks
  • Exhibitions/cafés/salons

Please upload 300 word abstracts together with a 150 word biographical blurb by 19 January 2024 using the following link:

We welcome proposals for papers in English or French. The conference will be bilingual and language support will be available.

This event builds on two previous workshops that explored the role of Geography and Travel in Symbolist literature. The project ‘Symbolism and Decadence as World Literature’ is a collaboration between the Universities of Brussels and Oxford funded by the Wiener-Anspach Foundation. For details, please visit:

Please direct enquires to the conference organisers, Clément Dessy, Stefano Evangelista and Patrick McGuinness, at the following address:

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