Appels à contributions
Matters of State: Bildung and Literary-Intellectual Discourse in the 19th Century

Matters of State: Bildung and Literary-Intellectual Discourse in the 19th Century

Publié le par Sophie Rabau (Source : Arne De Winde)

Matters of State: Bildung and Literary-Intellectual Discourse in the Nineteenth Century

Leuven University, April 23-25 2009

The American and French Revolutions are generally considered as decisive episodes in the emergence of what we have come to know as modern democracy. Their displacement of time-honored models of hereditary rule and of monotheistic conceptions of sovereignty inaugurated Western modernity. The fall-out of these ruptures made the 19th century an era of unprecedented intensity in the history of politics and the political. As a time of massive demographic change, new patterns of production and distribution, seismic surges in geopoliticization, and relentless social differentiation and specialization, the 19th century became a ‘condition’ demanding to be addressed. This challenge was met by a multiplicity of discourses, few of which can be decisively told apart: poetry, political economy, cultural criticism, historiography, philosophy, and science in their different ways all attempted to measure the impact of the displacements that defined their modernity and to shape an adequate response to them.

It is from this context that nineteenth-century discourses of the State derive their urgency. As strategies to imagine – and to actively pursue – forms of collectivity that can serve as a concerted response to the challenges of modernity, these discourses enlist (or reject) categories such as the nation, education, or the imagination in order to formulate a new rhetoric of community. What distinguishes the discourse on the State is its express ambition to contribute to an appropriate response to the modern condition by training its audience to become responsible citizens of the State. This typically involves the adaptation of models for the cultivation of the modern self, such as those inherited from the German discourse on Bildung, to contexts of increased scale and complexity that challenge these models to the core. Not only in Britain or Germany, but in every locality where the task of articulating the nation with the State is recognized as a discursive challenge, literary-intellectual discourse becomes an archive where many of the tensions and contradictions of the nineteenth century intersect in a particularly condensed way.

Because the imagination of the State, as a political and social unit, relies on rhetorical, tropological, and imagistic processes, disciplines that explicitly focus on textual and imagistic strategies are crucial in the analysis of the politics of the State. ‘Matters of State’ proposes to revisit significant instances of the literary-intellectual attempt to re-think the State, and relevant intersections of these attempts with related and/or competing political, literary, scientific, (crypto-)religious, iconographic, … discursive strategies to imagine the State. We are interested in papers that focus on explicit or implicit contributions to a public aesthetics of the State by way of new or modified rhetorics of community.

Possible topics include but are not restricted to the following:

  • What are the means of production, cultivation, preservation and reproduction of “moral sentiments” appropriate to an ethos of the State?

  • How do affective dispositions like sympathy and trust travel from the intimate sphere of personal encounter to the public sphere of citizenship?

  • Given the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment reassessment of the impact of religion on the individual, what are the discursive formations that take over, at least in part, the public administration of emotional investment traditionally monitored by religious institutions?

  • How do available or emergent routines of identity formation in terms of class, gender or race relate to models of citizenship?

  • How do concepts such as “region,” “country,” “nation,” and “Empire” find a place in a rhetoric of community centering on the State?

  • What are the effects of the interaction of organic metaphors and an increasingly industrialized nineteenth-century reality?

  • In what way do present-day discourses on governmentality, biopower, and sovereignty allow us to reflect on nineteenth-century conceptualizations of the State?

  • How do discursive constructions of the State differ in different countries, both in Europe and abroad?

  • To what extent do literary-intellectual discourses exploit not only the educational but also the imagistic denotation of the term Bildung?

  • How do constructions of the State construct the State’s other?

  • How did poetry, and literature more generally, operate as a privileged space for the embodiment, testing, and subversion of models of the State?

  • To what extent do imaginings of citizenship, equality, fraternity … inevitably entail the persistence, or even the promotion, of economic, ethnic, and/or gender inequalities? How do inclusive models (fail to) account for their exclusions?

  • How do scientific models taken from mathematics and the natural sciences influence discourse on community and citizen formation, and to what extent are these models (biological, psychological, sociological, anthropological, economic, …) accommodated in a prospective science of State or Staatswissenschaft?

  • How do nations and individuals come to terms with modernity as a growing dependence on the specialized, expert discourses of science and technology, and how are these ideas of dependence and expertise themselves constructed rhetorically?

Keynote speakers:

Amanda Anderson (Johns Hopkins University)
Karl Heinz Bohrer (Stanford University)

Eva Geulen (Universität Bonn)
Thomas Pfau (Duke University)
Tilottama Rajan (University of Western Ontario)
Joseph Vogl (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, to be confirmed)

We welcome proposals for panels and for 20-minutes papers in English, French, or German. Please send your one-page proposal (two pages for panels), together with your contact data, in a separate word document to, before September 30. For panel proposals, provide a general introduction and short abstracts for the different papers (3 or 4). Notification of acceptance no later than November 15. For more information, check The conference website will be updated regularly as more information becomes available.