CFP: Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages

Last post was all about me, let’s have one with no connection to me at all. This got circulated to me and though I’ve no interest myself I think there are people reading who may do…

Call for Papers: Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages

University of Oxford, 22-24 April 2010

  • Concept and Organization: Manuele Gragnolati (Somerville College,
    Oxford) and Elena Lombardi (Bristol); with the support of the Paget
    Toynbee Fund, University of Oxford, and Somerville College, Oxford
  • Assistance: Tristan Kay (The Queen’s College, Oxford)
  • Keynote speakers: Bill Burgwinkle (King’s College, Cambridge) and
    Christian Moevs (Notre Dame)

Dante’s Divine Comedy has been appropriately called “the poem of desire”, not only because it features desire as the fundamental trait d’union between the self and God, but also because it covers the whole semantic area of this very large concept and its implications. Although rooted in the sensual (if not erotic) love for a woman, it also encompasses the theme of rational desire for knowledge, and combines the two in the spiritual drive towards the divine and the transcendental. Thus, Dante’s magnum opus explores the multiple tensions through which the notion of desire has been articulated and discussed in the diverse cultural fields since antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages ? tensions which still reverberate in modern theories. Desire in Dante’s work questions the tension between lack and fulfillment, absence and presence, and earthly and divine love, with which Western culture had long engaged and would continue to do so.

Dante’s formulation of desire in the Comedy is the result of his long meditation on this concept in his other works (Vita Nuova, Rime, Convivio, De vulgari eloquentia, Monarchia), as well as his reception of many other discourses of desire in the Christian Middle Ages. Indeed, from courtly literature to theology, from medicine to mysticism, from spirituality and devotional practices to political theory, the question of desire is central to medieval culture, matching, and occasionally surpassing, our contemporary “obsession” with it. Whilst in each of these fields desire has a specific significance and its own terminology, it also transcends the borders of these single disciplines and is a truly inter-discursive feature of medieval culture. Although often in service of normative relations (such as the relation between matter and form, lover and beloved, soul and God), desire can also be subversive, endowed with a protean nature and transformative powers.

This conference takes Dante’s multifaceted discourse of desire as an occasion to investigate medieval concepts of desire in their multiplicity, fragmentation, and interrelation. We therefore invite papers engaging with notions of desire in Dante and/or other authors, contexts, and discourses. We particularly welcome papers that, in addition to close readings of their chosen texts, explicitly address and theorize how desire operates within them. Possible topics include:

  1. desire as a bridge between the human and the divine or between soul and body
  2. desire in relation to eroticism, sensuality, sexuality
  3. desire in relation cosmology and the sciences
  4. desire in relation to knowledge and power
  5. desire in courtly literature, medieval Aristotelianism, medicine,
    mysticism, and political theory
  6. desire in relation to memory, loss, or death
  7. desire between lack and fulfillment, excess and control, suffering and
  8. desire negotiating between the sacred and the earthly/profane
  9. desire in relation to language, poetry, textuality
  10. medieval vs. modern concepts of desire.

Papers will be limited to 30 minutes. Please email an abstract of maximum 500 words and a short bio-bibliographical profile (no more than 1 page) to and by 15 October 2009. An answer will be given by the end of November 2009. For any other information, please contact Tristan Kay:


2 responses to “CFP: Desire in Dante and the Middle Ages

  1. That looks… far too enticing. I think I might have to write a proposal for that. With absolutely no expectation of being taken up on it, of course. But it’s like auditioning for your state/national opera company, right? You don’t expect to get in, but it’s terrifyingly good experience.

    • I don’t see why you wouldn’t be accepted. I realise I have only the blog to go on but in that you resonate with clear-spoken scholarship. I mean, get someone to critique the abstract, and badger your school for possible travel money immediately, but the organisers don’t seem to be old enough to be dragons and Mr McKay is only a doctoral type so I would guess they are OK with postgrads. Go for it! And if you succeed, let me know! Oxford is always worth a visit for me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.