CfP: This Way Down: Discourses of Decline and Degeneration in Germany and Beyond (Event: 03/2010, New York); DL: 01.01.2010

Ninth annual Columbia University German graduate student conference; Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures Columbia University New York (Web)

Ort: Deutsches Haus, 420 W116th St.
Deadline: 01.01.2010

Keynote Speaker: Prof. Jennifer Kapczynski (Washington University)

Narratives of decline and degeneration have long pervaded political, cultural, and aesthetic discourses in the West. Alongside utopian fantasies of technological progress, the gradual perfection of mankind, and teleological philosophies of history, modernity in particular has frequently inspired conceptualizations of art, culture, and the human being, articulated in terms of contamination, regression, and decay. Such accounts are typically coupled with nostalgic romanticizations of the past that devalue the future, or regard it merely as a path to inevitable extinction, while perceiving in the present only that which has disappeared or been lost over the course of history. Yet, pessimistic pronouncements of cultural decline and the assumption that things are, for the most part, perpetually getting worse have also been understood as a productive and necessary precondition for theorizing and engaging with the present. In this way, the boundary between rigorous critique and cynicism is often unstable and difficult to distinguish.

This conference seeks to explore the rhetorical strategies and discursive elements constitutive of narratives of decline, focusing on issues related to the production and interpretation of art, race and ethnicity, gender, the family, new media, science and rationalization, the body, generational conflicts, politics, and the emergence of the modern metropolis, among others. How, for example, have psychological conceptions of insanity, hysteria, and physical illness been taken up within modern art, and how have new modes of representation within the arts been analyzed by cultural critics as an extension and clear manifestation of illness or degeneration? How have the body, ethnicity, and race been used as explanations or evidence for cultural decline? How has literature and the visual arts responded to and critically commented on strategies of representation employed by new media, and in what ways have these new technologies been discussed in terms of a broader intellectual decline? In what ways do concepts such as ‚decline‘ and ‚degeneration‘ shed light on intergenerational conflicts?

We invite papers from all disciplines approaching the subject from a variety of critical perspectives.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Theories of Language and its Contamination
  • Decadence and the Arts in the Late Nineteenth Century
  • Kulturpessimismus and the Philosophy of Decline: Schopenhauer – Nietzsche – Adorno
  • The End of Ancestral Lines: Representations of the Family in Realism and Naturalism
  • Effeminization, Changing Gender Relations, and the Decline of Masculinity
  • Insanity, Criminality, and the Healthy/Sick Binary in Aesthetic Discourse
  • Eugenics and Disability
  • Poverty, Disease, and Decay in Urban Spaces
  • Max Nordau, Zionism, and Jewish Identity around 1900
  • Degeneration and the Third Reich
  • Intergenerational Conflicts
  • Nostalgia
  • New Media, Mass Culture, and the High Arts
  • Animals and Humans: Darwin, Evolution, and Discourse of Species

Please submit a 300 word abstract for a 15-20 minute paper by January 1st to <>. Proposals should include the title of the paper, presenter’s name, institutional and departmental affiliation.

Kári Driscoll
Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
Columbia University

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