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Sexuality in the Fin-de-Siècle: The Makings of a "Central Problem"
Brisbane, August 2005

Sexuality in the Fin de Siècle: The Makings of a "Central Problem"

A Conference to be held at the Centre for the History of European Discourses,
University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
5 - 7 August 2005
Call for Papers

Convenors:  Peter Cryle (University of Queensland), email, or
Christopher Forth (Australian National University), email

The deadline for abstracts is 31 May 2005.

After Foucault, it has come to be widely accepted that "sexuality" as we know it took
shape at the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, when in 1897 Havelock Ellis
declared sex to be "the central problem of life", he was focussing and confirming a
vast general tendency in European and North American thinking of the time. Hysteria,
widely regarded since the mid-nineteenth century as a feminine malady, was considered
by some to be a veritable epidemic, as were forms of neurasthenic effeminacy and
degenerate loss of willpower in men. 1900 came to be known, in Paris at least, as the
season of Sappho. A catalogue of sexual "perversions" was being extended and refined
by the new "science" of sexology. Psychoanalysis was to find both its task and its
raison d'être in the exquisitely complex study of psycho-sexuality. This was the time
when, in Foucaldian terms, circuits of knowledge and power linked truth to sexuality,
and sexuality, almost always, to pathology.

The fin de siècle is thus a particularly fertile terrain for exploring the emergence
of "sexuality" as an object of medical attention and a subject for aesthetic
experimentation. Nevertheless, historical and literary scholars have rarely
confronted the close interplay between medical and literary discourses during this
period. Following the lead of cross-disciplinary scholars like Janet Beizer, Carolyn
Dean, Vernon Rosario, and Judith Walkowitz, this conference seeks to bridge the gap
between academic disciplines, connecting, on the one hand, scholars primarily
concerned with the intensive reading of texts, and on the other, scholars whose
overriding preoccupation is with cultural-discursive extension. Our assumption, and
our claim, is that fin-de-siècle sexuality provides a quite precise topos for the
close collaboration of these two groups. Sharing the topic may permit, in addition, a
better understanding of the disciplinary habits that currently divide and organise
the history of discourses, and the history of sexuality in particular.

We invite papers of 30 minutes in duration that explore the interplay between medical
and literary discourses in the construction of sexuality. While essays may address
any Western country, we ask that submissions address historical developments roughly
between 1880 and 1914.

Carolyn Dean, Gert Hekma, Vernon Rosario, and Martha Vicinus have accepted
invitations to be keynote speakers.

For further details, contact Peter Cryle or Christopher Forth.

Dr Peter White,  PhD
Project Officer
Centre for the History of European Discourses
The University of Queensland, Qld 4072
Tel: +61 (0)7 3346 9492; Fax: +61 (0)7 3346 9495

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