Aesthetic Time, Decadent Archives

Aesthetic Time, Decadent Archives

Goldsmiths, University of London

18-19 July 2019

Call for Papers

Aestheticism and Decadence are fundamentally preoccupied with time and archives, with medievalism, apocalypticism, fallen Classical civilizations, as well as with collections and connoisseurship. Aesthetes turn to the past as a locus of utopian renewal, and Decadents experience their historical moment in terms of exhaustion and decline. The Decadent literary tradition has come to be associated with a queer vision of temporality, an anti-progressive sensibility that rejects teleology and futurity, and scholarship on Aestheticism and Decadence has cast into question Modernist notions of literary history that stress novelty and rupture. Yet, even as Aesthetes and Decadents see themselves as living in a fin-du-monde/fin-du-globe moment, they are deeply preoccupied with history and with collecting and documenting. Indeed, Decadent literature often resembles archives or takes on a catalogue-like form. J.-K. Huymans’s novel À rebours, for example, functions as an extensive catalogue of outré tastes and serves as both inspiration and reference resource for subsequent Decadent authors. The ‘bibliophilic dandyism’ of Des Esseintes, as Octave Uzanne described it, was a metaphor for a relentless egoism that finds satisfaction only in the archive. In addition, scholars of Aestheticism and Decadence studies have for many years been deeply engaged with archival work, with the disinterring of hidden histories and figures, and the construction of digital archives that allow for a new vision of literary history.

This two-day conference, co-organized by the British Association of Decadence Studies (BADS) and the Aestheticism and Decadence Network, will explore the ‘archival turn’ in Aestheticism and Decadence studies and investigate Aestheticist notions of history, temporality, and periodization. Our aim is to extend discussion of the Aestheticist and Decadent archive beyond the bounds of the fin de siècle, to foreground a long history of Aestheticism and Decadence that looks back to their roots in the ancient world and ahead to their continuing presence in Modernism, neo-Victorianism, Steampunk and other twentieth and twenty-first century literature and art.

Notions of ‘archive’ and ‘archiving’ are to be understood in the broadest sense, including libraries; special collections; museums, formal and informal private collections (both real and virtual); and digital and social media platforms. The conference will consider the archive as of interest not only as a research resource but as an object of study and theorization in itself. We are also interested in work that engages with the theorization of time and history in Decadent and Aestheticist literature and the manner in which ideas about temporality, literary history, and periodization have functioned in scholarship on these movements. We welcome proposals for papers or panels on any aspect of Aestheticism and Decadence in relation to archives, history, temporality and periodization. Individual papers should be about 20 mins in length. 

Abstracts of 500 words plus brief biography should be sent to: by 1 February 2019.



Registration is not yet open. However, this will be a discounted event for BADS members.

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Goldsmiths is located in New Cross, South East London.

It is a short walk from both New Cross Gate and New Cross stations (Zone 2) on the main rail network and London overground; about a 7 minute journey from London Bridge and 30 minutes from London Victoria. It is on bus routes 21, 36, 53, 136, 171, 172, 177, 225, 321, 343, 436, 453.

The conference will be held in rooms 314 and 326 of the Professor Stuart Hall building.

For exact directions to Goldsmiths please see the How to Find Us page on the Goldsmiths website.

Where to Stay

There are a number of hotels, B&Bs, and hostels convenient to Goldsmiths and New Cross at a range of prices:

Travelodge, Greenwich - 0871 984 6508
Telegraph Hill B&B - 0207 653 1890
Premier Inn, Greenwich - 0871 527 9208
Premier Inn, Lewisham - 0871 527 9480
Ibis, Greenwich - 020 8305 1177
Hotel Novotel, Greenwich - 020 7660 0682
Clarendon Hotel, Blackheath - 020 8318 4321
StayCity Aparthotels, Deptford Bridge - 020 8694 0793
New Cross Inn Hostel - 208 691 7222

We strongly advise consulting the reviews of anywhere you consider before booking. If you need further assistance, please email and we will do our best to help.

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Conference Organizers

Jane Desmarais (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Kirsten MacLeod (Newcastle University)

Kristin Mahoney (Western Washington University)

Assisted by Alice Condé (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Jessica Gossling (Goldsmiths, University of London)