The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of a modern city culture within a globalised economy, built on industrial mass production, an early consumer society, and colonial expansion. Both modernism and colonialism led to the creation of otherness. Non-industrial, pre-modern or exotic societies, and furthermore the racial, moral or female other were not just conceived in reaction to the emergence of modernism, but were also interiorised. Otherness, for example, surfaced in the modern world’s own pre-modern past as well as in the unconscious of the modern self, where the remains of the primitive lurked, as both a threat and a source of creativity and primeval meaning. These ambiguities at the very core of modernism continuously reconfigured the relationship between the public and private dimensions of the self, between domesticity and sociability. They equally affected the self-image and the (re)construction of the history of the modern nation states.
The way in which spaces and spatial contexts were experienced, and disciplined their occupiers, or were represented and imagined in art, literature and various types of discourses, is revealing of this process of reconfiguration. Belgium has proven itself particularly susceptible to this process, sometimes in radical and even unique ways. Its position at the crossroads between different traditions and languages, its peripheral situation vis-à-vis French modernism, and its radical sense of self-exoticisation and resilience to self-definition, contributed largely to this susceptibility. In this context, the representation of otherness through imageries of distant or past places, the voyeuristic dimensions of exteriority, the uncanny and ambiguous depictions of domesticity, the masses and the self in the city, shifts in the definition of gender identities and the expectations thereof in public and private spheres, and the interconnections between the home, the museum, the city are but a few of the most salient examples of how spaces and spatial imageries reveal this significant cultural change.
This conference will bring together a number of papers that focus on how spaces can be read as the communication, disruption, counterpoint or subtext of modernism in Belgium. To this end, the chronological scope, from the 1850’s and 1860’s, when the generation of late nineteenth-century city culture was born, to the publication of the magazine Correspondance in 1924/1925, suggests an open beginning and ending around the central last decades of the nineteenth century. It aims to detect and explore the reshaping and (dis)continuity of legacies, such as that of German subjectivist idealism, as well as to bear in mind, at the same time, the particularly Belgian continuity towards a modernist future and surrealism, towards Flemish expressionism and (proto-) modernist literature.
We expect that proposals will deal with space and focus directly on Belgium and/or Belgian culture. Belgium need not be invoked directly as the topic; but the persons, problems, output and/or spaces, for example, discussed in these presentations will be Belgian. Within this rubric, some suggested topics, themes, and fields of interest might include:
- Architecture and art
- Urban design
- Space and objects
- Gendered space
- Space and narrative
- Poetic space/ space in poetry
- Liminal spaces
- 'Le non-lieu'
- The void and emptiness
- Hidden spaces
- Interior spaces
- Public spaces
- Religious spaces
- Landscape and countryside
- Exhibition and exposition spaces
- Spaces in music(al) criticism
Particular spaces/places (town, country, The house, the home, the factory, the greenhouse, the salon, the (theatre) stage, the concert hall, the museum, the studio, the wasteland…) Spaces of leisure and spectacle (e.g. the cinema, the zoo, the theatre) Etc.
Keynote speaker: Patrick McGuinness (St Anne’s College, Oxford, UK)